Archive | June 2014

Ramadan Kareem!

 

 

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By Peter Muijres – Culture Class

Getting sloppy with your daily prayers? Do sexy bikini girls make you sigh and your eyes wander off? Do feelings of greed, envy, anger or other sinful thoughts clutter your mind? The month of Ramadan offers Muslims a tailored opportunity to get their  spiritual, moral, social and psychological ducks in a row again. However, many people who are not Islamic only have a faint idea what it involves and why Muslims do it.

Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan, because they have to and/or choose or want to. Opting out of fasting without having a good reason means inviting severe critique and social rejection and is therefor hardly an option. At the other hand, Muslims are self-motivated to fast. Fasting is a religious obligation because one of the five pillars in Islam (#4) commands that all adult Muslims have to fast during the month of Ramadan. The other four pillars are: #1: Accept God as the only god and Muhammad as his messenger (Shahadah). #2) Pray at least five times a day (Tarawih). #3) Spend 2,5 % or more of your savings to the poor and needy (Zakat). #5) Make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in your life (Hajj).

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Arabic calendar during which the fasting takes place between sunrise (suhoor) and sunset (iftar). The Ramadan month is holy, because the first revelation of the Qur’an was sent down by God to Muhammed during Ramadan. During the holy month, the ‘thawab‘ for being good or bad are multiplied. ‘Thawab’, entails a sort of religious credits associated with being virtuous as a Muslim. The sight of the crescent moon marks the start of the Ramadan and the break-of-fasting party (Eid-al-fitr) 30 days later marks the end. This year, in 2014, Ramadan starts today on the 28th of June and ends on the 27th of July.

Muslims who are exempted from fasting include children, and adults who are travelling, menstruating, breast-feeding, busy with a Jihad (holy war), ill or pregnant. Who is fasting and who is not has always been an inspiring source of conversation. Modern days have complicated the cut-off line, because it is harder to determine who is travelling, for example. Are first generation Muslims who are temporarily living abroad travelling? Also, are people with mental disorders ill and thus exempted, so they can continue taking their prescribed medication? Even if they are, the ‘spiritual medicine’ and healing effect that the sense of ‘social belonging’ has to offer, motivates many to participate nevertheless. When circumstances force a person to miss one or more days of fasting, these can usually be compensated with fasting extra days after the Ramadan month.

Fasting is associated with religious, cultural, social and psychological benefits:

– Religious benefits: Ramadan offers a great window of opportunity to please God, repent your sins and save your soul because the thawab are multiplied during the holy month. It is a time of reflecting on your belief and reconnect with God, repent your sins. The five prayers a day and recitation of the Qur’an help you remind how you ought to behave.
– Benefits for cultural identity: During Ramadan, all Muslims are doing and focusing on the same thing. That has a strong bonding effect within the ‘umma’, the transnational Muslim community, and strengthens to the cultural identity of Muslims.
– Social benefits: During Ramadan, Muslims try to be nice to each other, not to get upset and avoid feelings like envy, greed, lust, anger and such. They try to keep their coolness and avoid swearing and fighting. This creates a great opportunity to restore social ties, get in touch with people you haven’t seen for a while, settle old conflicts or make new arrangements. Family and friends visit each other after sunset and organise buffet style dinner parties with delicious traditional dishes and drinks in abundance. The charity resulting from observance of the third pillar helps out the poor and needy.
– Psychological benefits: To fast for 30 days during the daytime requires an effort and shows that you are capable of self-restraint and self-discipline. Abstinence, poetically worded ‘dying before you die’ (Rumi), will help you:
(a) regain appreciation for the luxuries you have,
(b) free yourself from the value and dependency you may have attached to wordly goods, and
(c) prepare you to sacrifice yourself and your possesions for a higher goal when necessary.

So, although fasting is in effect a religious and social obligation, in many Islamic countries enforced by rules and laws and an facilitated by an adaptation of daily life, many Muslims consider it a choice to fast. Pickthall illustrates that element of choice in a speech in 1920. He points out that God does not require people to fast, because God does not want or need anything from us creatures. Instead, Muslims themselves decide to fast because in the end the self-disciplinary effort of pleasing God and all social side effects include are to their own benefit. The fasting before and the feasting after sunset brings Muslims closer together and to God, and works as a source of self-respect, social restoration and the acknowledgement of others.

Culture Class is a group of trainers, therapists and performers who train and coach people to realise their potential beyond personal and cultural limits. http://www.cultureclass.org

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Overcoming speaking anxiety and stage fright.

http://www.cultureclass.org  – Thanks to Lenny Laskowski

What are you more scared of: dying or speaking in public? According to the book of lists, the fear of speaking in public is the #1 fear of all fears. People are more afraid of speaking then that they are of dying, which is #7. Over 41% of people have some fear or anxiety dealing with speaking in front of groups. Speaking anxiety is not only an incidental nuisance that is easily circumvented, it also affects the quality of personal lives and helps define who represents a group and their decision makers on a more structural level.

People who are afraid of speaking in groups may fail to contribute valuable ideas, and may  not receive the appreciation and opportunities they deserve. Also, anxiety to speak up in social settings may stop witnesses from drawing attention to people who are doing wrong in public. In England, this is then often followed up by complaining and disapproval only after the opportunity window has closed. On a political level, unease with speaking up in public entails that the political power tends to shift towards the cheeky ones who feel most at ease with influencing group opinions. And these persons need not necessarily be the people most considerate of what others may think.

People who have a speaking anxiety can experience all kinds of symptoms: Sweaty palms, accelerated heart rate, memory loss and even difficulty in breathing. Some of the world’s most famous presenters have freely admitted to nervousness and stage fright. Everyone, even experienced speakers, has some anxiety when speaking in front of a group of people. This is perfectly normal. Lenny Laskowski, a professional speaker and President of Newington based LJL Seminars, says the best way to deal with this anxiety is to first acknowledge that this fear is perfectly normal and you are not alone. To reduce your fear, you need to make sure you properly and thoroughly prepare yourself before you speak. Proper preparation and rehearsal can help to reduce this fear by about 75%. Proper breathing techniques can further reduce this fear by another 15%. Your mental state accounts for the remaining 10%.

Below are just a few suggestions you should use to overcome your speaking anxiety. The first and most important of all is preparation. People who are having a thing for alliteration, can rub their hands now with Larry’s 9 P’s: Prior Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance of the Person Putting on the Presentation. Nothing will relax you more than to know your are properly prepared. Below are 10 steps you can take to reduce your speech anxiety. Many steps also help tackling stage anxiety unrelated to speaking.

  1. Know the room – become familiar with the place in which you will speak. Arrive early and walk around the room including the speaking area. Stand at the lectern, speak into the microphone. Walk around where the audience will be seated. Walk from where you will be seated to the place where you will be speaking.
  2. Know the Audience – If possible, greet some of the audience as they arrive and chat with them. It is easier to speak to a group of friends than to a group of strangers.
  3. Know Your Material – If you are not familiar with your material or are uncomfortable with it, your nervousness will increase. Practice your speech or presentation and revise it until you can present it with ease.
  4. 4. Learn How to Relax – You can ease tension by doing exercises. Sit comfortable with your back straight. Breathe in slowly, hold your breath for 4 to 5 seconds, then slowly exhale. To relax your facial muscles, open your mouth and eyes wide, then close them tightly.
  5. Visualize Yourself Speaking – Imagine yourself walking confidently to the lectern as the audience applauds. Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear and assured. When you visualize yourself as successful, you will be successful.
  6. Realize People Want You To Succeed – All audiences want speakers to be interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining. They want you to succeed – not fail.
  7. Don’t Apologize For Being Nervous – Most of the time your nervousness does not show at all. If you don’t say anything about it, nobody will notice. If you mention your nervousness or apologize for any problems you think you have with your speech, you’ll only be calling attention to it. Had you remained silent, your listeners may not have noticed at all.
  8. Concentrate on Your Message and Your Audience – Your nervous feelings will dissipate if you focus your attention away from your anxieties and concentrate on your message and your audience, not yourself.
  9. Turn Nervousness into Positive Energy – the same nervous energy that causes stage fright can be an asset to you. Harness it, and transform it into vitality and enthusiasm.
  10. Gain Experience – Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking. Most beginning speakers find their anxieties decrease after each speech they give.

If the fear of public speaking causes you to prepare more, then the fear of speaking serves as its own best antidote. Simultaneously Remember, “One who fails to prepare is preparing for failure – so Prepare, Prepare, Prepare”. Especially for unplanned public speaking, preparation entails practicing. Start with small, informal groups and gradually progress to the scarier ones. Relaxation techniques can  assist in soothing and distracting the nerves. And as your success experiences accumulate, irrespective of how many times you failed, your attitude will change as your voice starts becoming an effective tool that helps you realise your goals and represent others.

Culture Class is a group of trainers, therapists and performers who train and coach people to realise their potential beyond personal and cultural limits.  www.cultureclass.org

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.