Thursday, 11 December 2008

Time is money - busy producing, or busy consuming?

I have written this particular blog countless times over the past month or so. I’ve done any number of drafts; turned random phrases into coherent sentences; taken a jumbled mass of thoughts and transformed them, with the most awesome of eloquence, into words that have almost overflowed the page.

But only in my head.

See, the thing is, I haven’t had the time to actually sit down, and put that all down on paper. Each day, I would have the best intentions in the world, but somehow the hours all seemed to be swallowed up, mostly by work, with household chores and arbitrary errands coming in second. Oh, there’ve been little pockets of free-time, there always are, to squeeze in a quick chat on the phone, a couple of hastily composed e-mails, or a few hurriedly-made moves on Scrabble. But never really enough time to actually get my mind in gear (believe me, that takes a while) enough to make anything sensible appear on my computer screen.

I have an uncle who nearly always greets us with the question:
“Are you busy producing or busy consuming? If you’re not producing, then you must be consuming!”.
I guess that pretty much sums up what my days seem to have become since I’ve left uni – a non-stop conveyor belt of producing, 5 days out of 7, and the rest of the time, consuming as though my life depended on it.

And that is the way it’s seen, isn’t it, as this complete given – you leave school, you start work, end of. The 9-5 (or in my case, 5.30), investing in the economy, spending, and working hard, to save up, and spend some more – that’s the way of the world, right? Because where would I be without all the money I earn? I need to work all the hours God sends, because, other than the necessities, there are just so many things I need to spend money on – new books, holidays, eating out with my friends, live music and comedy. How do I even manage on the rate of pay I’m on now? Working for a charity’s all well and good, but I’m never going to be earning enough to get myself on the property ladder. I really should be striking out for a better-paid job, get myself back in the NHS or maybe go private – sure, it’s not what I want to do, but at least that way I’d have more chance of a rise, maybe work my way up to manager, start earning enough to live the life I’ve always dreamed of…

Or maybe not. I remember once, my mum bemoaning this fact:
“You children nowadays, you don’t seem to understand the importance of money”.
I’ve tried, I really have, to understand the great press that money gets in comparison to free time. And also to understand why people seem to consider free time such an indulgence, a luxury that we don’t really have that much time for, compared to the necessity of earning a living.
I know I need enough money to pay bills, to pay a rent, to put clothes on my back and food in my belly. But beyond that, do I really need that much more? I do like to go out with friends, expand my library, add to my music collection. But, to do this, do I really need to be working as hard and spending as much as I do? For a long time (probably as long as I’ve been working full-time…) I’ve felt that the answer to this really should be no. Surely it’s just a matter of looking for alternatives?

This summer, I went to visit a friend on the
Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. I travelled by train and ferry – it took me nearly 24 hours, and was the prefect way to reach the island, with a gradual introduction to the stunning beauty of the place. On the ferry, I had conversations with friendly strangers, and during the few hours I spent waiting for my transfer bus, I had a few more. The week on Lewis was spent roaming the beaches, hiking, and visiting a few of the towns. We ate out most days – picnics of cheese and tomato sandwiches and squash – and evenings were full too – cooking together, playing music, and talking – lots of talking.

And during that week, I had a vision of how life could be if people really were to move away from ‘working’ as the ideal, and towards ‘free time’ as the alternative. I know it was only a holiday, and almost like taking a step out of the real world, but what a beautiful step, and surely not so far removed from how things could possibly be. I found that I interacted with people more – shop-keepers and café owners didn’t treat me as just more money in the till, they seemed genuinely interested in our little chats as they served me. Being such a remote and scarcely-populated place, I expected people to be strangers to one another. Instead, there was a close-knit community feel that I very rarely find in London - I don’t really know the people who live in my block of flats, talk less in the community around me.

So it was that my little trip outside of the real world set me even further along the path away from the idea that money is the be-all and end-all. It supported all my ideas that living that little bit simpler could be a possibility, and a happy one at that. It set my resolve to actually start working my way towards that new ideal, instead of just dreaming about it. Free time, here I come.

To be continued…

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Fasting: The Personal, the Political and the Privilege

Growing up I had a limited understanding of why one should fast and little experience of it as something meaningful. As a child, I bought sweets with my pocket money. I remember being told at a certain time, I should stop eating sweets, and save them up until after the fast period. This took place within a religious convent and children’s home, where faith was practiced in a cold and routine fashion. This had very little positive impact on me.

The notion of fasting as a deeply valuable practice came much later as result of reading books such as Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to oppression. When Gandhi witnessed structural inequality both in Apartheid South Africa and in India under colonial rule, he used fasting as a self-sacrificing ‘action’. Fasting was inflicting pain on himself rather than his adversary. The purpose to jolt the colonial consciences, wake them up to the effects of their actions and seek to influence a change in hearts and practice. It came from his values of social justice, purifying the heart and mind, simplicity and community. I’m remembering for the first time as I write this my Nigerian father who lived these values of simplicity, sharing and compassion.

Nurtured by a deeper inner reflection, I felt the urge to fast given the suffering of those dying of famine and hunger. I began to see how I contributed to a world where those with the economic and monetary wealth over consume and pollute. I underwent a process of realisation of the privilege I had to look away, to eat too much or be wasteful of resources, while our sisters and brothers elsewhere, withered and died. Fasting help me empty enough to deeply contemplate this process to cultivate awareness of the need to practice the nobility of my own and others humanness, to care for our environment and wholeness as global community. For me, ‘Fast for the Planet’ embraces these entire elements.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Workshops at first Fast for the Planet Main Event

I thought I'd share the three workshops that will be held at the main Fast for the Planet event in a weeks time, Sun 19th Oct 2008 to be precise! All workshops will take place at the same time, so it's only possible to do one! I have to say it feels exciting to be a part of this project, and i'd like to thank all those who have been soooo supportive :) Please spread the word and hope you can make it!

Workshop 1: A very brief introduction to Permaculture

with Nicole Freris (Naturewise)

This much is becoming clear - the industrial growth society ain't working for us and the planet. The symptoms of distress are manifest and multiplying. With so much undoing, it can be difficult to know where and how to begin to find a way through into a more sane and gentle way of being. Permaculture is one way among many that helps us start to reconnect with self and the world. Evolving from an understanding of how natural systems function, it provides deep but very practical insights into how we can design truly sustainable systems, that provide for our needs and recreate our place on the earth. In this workshop, we will have a very brief introduction to some of the basics of Permaculture and look at the practical ways in which it can re-engage and re-connect us.

About the facilitator: Nicole Freris is a part of Naturewise, (, a network of people in London seeking to practice and promote Permaculture. In her spare time she is a GP and is currently studying medical herbalism.

Workshop 2: Debt-free Home Finance
with Tarek El Diwany (Author, 'The Problem with Interest')

How does a debt-free product work? What are the consequences of interest-based lending? What universal values are relevant to this issue?

About the facilitator: Tarek El Diwany worked as a city financier and later in the "Islamic banking" sector for many years. He is the author of the best-selling book, The Problem with Interest, and runs the website, ( Tarek is a partner at Zest Advisory LLP, a London-based firm providing consulting services in Islamic banking and finance.

Workshop 3: Sharing Stories & Poetry: 'New Perspectives Emerging as Story'
with Peter Challen (Christian Council for Monetary Justice).

Telling, hearing, sensing communicable accounts of how we have grown in vision and maturity.... when entering the open space of fasting. We can use such space to re-envision, reflect and commit. Using poetry, pithy quotations, catch phrases, mantras, pictures and other modes that you enjoy. Stories about: our development, the earth, mutual awareness [Ubunto = 'I am because you are'], public awareness, my/our vocation, auditing effects of our behaviour, serving the source of our being A trigger to story telling - "Beauty is in the second glance.... when you have dealt with the predjudice aroused by the first glance."
If participating in this workshop, you are welcome to bring a short piece to read (optional), that resonates with the Fast for the Planet concept, or you can simply listen to stories/poetry being read.

About the facilitator: Canon Peter Challen chairs the Christian Council for Monetary Justice and moderates the London Global Table on inclusive Monetary Justice. He was formerly Senior Chaplain of the ecumenical South London Industrial Mission (SLIM) for 29 years; He chaired the Southwark Credit Union Development Association and works with the LETSlink London group to find synergy between Credit Unions and Local Exchange Trading Systems.

More about the concept and the main event is is of course on our website

Sunday, 5 October 2008


Brought up as a Muslim in Egypt, fasting during the Holy month of Ramadan was a prescribed part of life from an early age. At first the perception of this practise was a sort of celebration. A celebration of solidarity, compassion and good will between people on various levels, which included the Muslim world at large, the nation, the society, right down to our community and family.

The ethos seemed to encompass a spiritually refined way of living, which manifested in outward displays of self-restraint, patience, kindness and generosity towards other people, a particular type of good behaviour or adab.

Later in life, the observance of this adab began to forge links with a deeper spiritual heritage. The extension of hospitality, the sharing of meals and other socially binding actions reflected inner opportunities to embody a remembrance of God within traditions shared through the generations.

This significantly transformed my attitude towards fasting, realising that although it was evidently possible for people to achieve a heightened mode of mindful existence, outside the context of Ramadan we tended to slip back into old habits. So it became clear that nurturing this remembrance of God was a key to an increasingly consistent adab towards life and our world.

The Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) said, "Fast so that perchance your hearts may seek God in this world."

So it appeared that the essence of fasting was to move towards the illumination of the heart and purification of the soul, a way of leading the spirit closer to the presence of God. Perhaps this cultivating of spiritual nature would ultimately lead us to devote ourselves entirely to God. And what this actually meant for me was a sort of tuning in to our innermost sacredness and to the sanctity of all of Creation, each in our own way and in our own time.

By slowly being drawn towards this tuning one could begin to behave more responsibly and with increasing care for others and for this Earth, our home and refuge. Becoming more conscious of the bigger picture, the cause and effects of our thoughts, words and actions would take on new light. There seems to be no limit to how finely we chose to tune ourselves. Fasting seems to nurture the will to do so.

"O you who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God" Holy Qur’an (2:183) Asad

So, perhaps, whatever we chose to fast from, however and whenever we chose to do it, this non-action and detachment from the worldly realm and subsequent deepening into the Sacred, bestows us with inner gifts of peace, stillness and reflection, which in turn can transform us towards deeper levels of personal freedom, awareness and interconnectedness.

For me, this poem by Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi (R.A) beautifully encapsulates this essence of the fast.


There's hidden sweetness in the stomach's emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less.
If the soundbox is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears,
and new energy makes you run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you're full of food and drink,
Satan sits where your spirit should,
an ugly metal statue in place of the Kaaba.
When you fast,good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon's ring.
Don't give it to some illusion and lose your power,but even if you have,
if you've lost all will and control,they come back when you fast,
like soldiers appearing out of the ground,
pennants flying above them.
A table descends to your tents,Jesus' table.
Expect to see it, when you fast,
this table spread with other food,
better than the broth of cabbages

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Not Hasty to Assume - But Fast - Take Time to See for Real

As I contemplate the call to Fast for the Planet I pen this


I was nurtured and continued in the Christian tradition of making Lent and Advent periods of voluntary abstention from habits and patterns that I took for granted. These not unhappy extended periods of discipline fed the weekly practices associated with preparing for worship and for the application of the same in daily disciplines of sustaining and practising the wholistic faith in which I had been gently nurtured.

These great seasons led me to value the stimulus of a weekly discipline of standing aside from the pace of life, that seemed always to be building up, and to value regular reflection on the wisdom of ancient traditions that still served well over time and translated into pertinent commitments in my own times. I was slowly learning the value of contemplation in a world of action and making the practice my own.

It was in such times that I opened my narrow mind to wider ranges of reality, read and listened to writings that stretched my conditioned ways to include the perspective of others living in different cultures and countries than my own.

It was in such times that I renewed and expanded my understanding so neatly expressed in that delightful quip, 'I have a point of view, but God has a view of points'.

It was in such times that I read 'Only One Earth, the Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet' and discovered the cosmic perspective embedded in the 'Gaia Atlas of Planet Management - for Today's Caretakers of Tomorrow's World'. On every one of its 258 pages of that atlas an aspect of life on earth is depicted with pictures or symbols of a person, of corporate structure, and of the world itself, leading me to my now indelible understanding that real life is endless gift events and consists in an unceasing oscillation between the intimate, the corporate and the global perspectives on its integrity. It taught me also that all life on earth shares the common ground of 'earth identity'

Over time the practice of fasting, contemplation, standing outside my ordinary patterns, confirmed and increased my ecumenical and ecological sensibilities and readied me to adopt such guiding mantras as 'inclusive justice', as 'an economy that works for everyone and protects the earth', and as 'holistic theology and earth system science'.

Fasting in its various manifestations keeps me committed to developing the will and the way to check and change my behaviour so that I work from 'a psyche the size of God's awesome creation', to find again my own meaning in that context, lessening the tendency to dwell in 'a psyche the size only of my self' and my conditioned, encultured and vested narrow interests.

Out of standing aside in these ways from time to time with the discipline of regularity I make thrilling sense of the words of Thomas Berry - 'We will go into the future as a single sacred community or we shall perish in the desert.' .

Peter Challen

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Activists Invite People to 'Fast for the Planet'

Main Website:




To encourage deeper action towards caring for the environment, two organsiations based in London are taking a novel approach by asking people to fast. By drawing attention to the way that fasting from food has been used by key figures in human history to facilitate large-scale social change, the London Islamic Network for the Environment (LINE) and St Ethelburgas Centre for Reconciliation and Peace launched their Fast for the Planet website today, which sets out the details of their message. In addition they are organising a participatory event scheduled for Sunday October 19th 2008 in the City of London.

By encouraging people to voluntarily fast from something essential, albeit temporarily, the organisers consider this to be a form of direct action that will nurture our collective ability to let go of patterns that are not only not essential to our survival, but in fact are rapidly destroying the planet. Using this approach, the organisers believe that people can better strengthen their intention to move away from consumerism and other unhealthy patterns, and instead move towards life-styles and community relationships, that are nurturing to people as well as to the earth.

In the build-up to the day of fasting, their website invites people to take part in a choice of actions, including mending any damaged clothing they may have, purchasing only if they really need something, and letting go of using a credit card. The main event will end with the sharing of food and personal experiences, and people who are unable to attend are invited to fast at home or organise an event of their own.

Muzammal Hussain, initiator of Fast for the Planet, and Chair of LINE said:

"There is no doubt that we need a radical approach like this, because although intellectually most of us know what needs to be done, old patterns of living continue to dominate, and green-house gas emissions continue to rise. Now, here's a way to really get our bodies and hearts directly involved in a process that will help break us out of outdated destructive patterns and lead to a better world".

Helen Gilbert, co-organiser of Fast for the Planet, and events coordinator at St Ethelburgas said:

"We are pleased to be hosting this event at St Ethelburga's because it challenges us at a deep level to consider what reconciliation means in the context of humanity's troubled relationship with the earth. As a practice that has deep roots in many spiritual and faith traditions, fasting is a powerful and unifying resource we can draw on in challenging, both the personal and societal, status quo."