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The Zen of Long Lines

Have you ever been really keyed up, in a huge hurry -- to see a movie, get on a plane, buy a Nintendo Wii -- only to find, after you round that last corner, that you're suddenly standing at the back of a huge, snaking line? To stop yourself from screaming or committing ritual Seppuku right there takes an enormous and immediate readjustment of your frame of mind -- you have to get into what I like to call Long Line Zen Mind. After all, I'm the kind of guy who refuses to be stuck in traffic on the freeway; once I crest the hill and see brakelights stretching out in front of me, I dive off the highway at the nearest exit -- even if I'm in the middle of the desert -- convinced that any misadventure I happen upon while forging my own path is preferable to being stuck in the mindless herd.

"In our everyday life our thinking is ninety-nine percent self-centered. "Why do I have suffering? Why do I have trouble?" ["Why do I have to wait in this ^%$#ing line?"] In [Long Line Zen Mind], your mind and body have great power to accept [lines] as they are, whether agreeable or disagreeable." *

To help us prepare, we meditate on lines longer than any we dare to dream we'll be ensnared in. Here are some of our favorites. Before we get started, though, what's the longest line you've ever waited in?

The Heathrow Airport Customs Screening Line, February, 2007

Line to Get Groceries in Russia, 1991
According to the folks at EnglishRussia, "Just fifteen years ago you couldn't just walk in the shop and buy what you need. Instead, you had to stand the longest line you've ever seen and as a regard you could buy not more than some limited amount of a limited choice food or other products. That was Russia in the beginning of the 90s - right after the collapse of USSR, when old Communistic supply system was already ruined but new, capitalistic, hasn't been built yet."

Turns out Russians were standing in long lines just during the 1917 transition into Communism, as well. Here's a sight: thousands of Russian citizens (all cheerily clad in black) waiting in line to buy bread, being watched over by trigger-happy Imperial Police.21bread.jpg

"Because we enjoy all aspects of life as an unfolding of big [lines], we do not care for any excessive joy. So we have imperturbable composure [in excessively long lines]."

Line to Buy Gas in Iraq
This line is more than three miles long. People literally spend all day getting gas in some parts of Iraq (in 117-degree heat), which must require an absolutely heroic amount of patience.

(Here's a better video of people waiting for gas in Iraq, but embedding was disabled so I couldn't post it.)

"Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact, we have no fear of [long lines] anymore, nor actual difficulty in our life."

Line to Get into Japan's First Apple Store, 2003

"When you [wait in a long line], if you fix your mind on the activity with some confidence, the quality of your state of mind is the activity itself. When you are concentrated on the quality of your being, you are prepared for [at least a four-hour wait]."

Line to Get into the Vatican Museum on a Saturday Morning
I like art, too. But not this much:

"For Zen students a [long line] is a treasure."

* Adapted (with slight alterations) from Zen Mind Beginner's Mind

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9 Things You Should Keep in Mind Around Someone Observing Ramadan
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To mark the ninth (and most holy) month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world observe Ramadan. Often compared to Lent in Christianity and Yom Kippur in Judaism, Ramadan is all about restraint. For one month, Muslims observing Ramadan fast during the day and then feast at night.

By abstaining from food and water (as well as sex, smoking, fighting, etc.) during daylight, Muslims strive to practice discipline, instill gratitude for what they have, and draw closer to Allah. To be respectful and not annoy observers, here are nine things you should never say or do to someone observing Ramadan.

1. DON'T JOKE ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS.

A traditional iftar meal.
A traditional iftar meal.
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Although it might be tempting to joke about Ramadan being a good excuse to lose weight, it is a time for spiritual reflection and is a serious matter. Observers undertake the challenge of fasting for religious and spiritual reasons rather than aesthetic ones. And, once the sun sets each night, many Muslims prepare a hearty iftar (the meal that breaks the fast) of dates, curries, rice dishes, and other delicious foods. The suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) is often fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and dishes that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. So the idea of a cleanse is pretty far from their minds.

2. DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.

An Indian Muslim student recites from the Quran in a classroom during the holy month of Ramadan.
NOAH SEELAM, AFP/Getty Images

There are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, but not all of them observe Ramadan the same way. Although most observant Muslims fast for Ramadan, don't assume that every Muslim you meet has the same methods, traditions, and attitudes towards fasting. For some, Ramadan is more about prayer, reading the Qur'an, and performing acts of charity than merely about forgoing food and drink. And for those who may be exempted from the daily fasting, such as pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, or those with various health conditions, they might not appreciate the reminder from nosey busy-bodies that they aren't participating in the traditional way.

3. SAY "RAMADAN MUBARAK" INSTEAD OF "HAPPY RAMADAN."

A sign which reads
A sign which reads "Ramadan Kareem" in Arabic is seen pictured in front of the Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai.
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Rather than wishing someone a happy Ramadan, being more thoughtful with your choice of words can show that you understand and respect the sanctity of their holy month. Saying "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem" are the traditional ways to impart warm wishes—they both convey the generosity and blessings associated with the month. The actual party comes after Ramadan, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, an up to three-day festival that involves plenty of food, time with family, and gifts.

4. DON'T BE A FOOD PUSHER.

Muslim woman saying no to an apple.
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Even if the idea of not eating or drinking all day might be unfathomable to you, don't push food onto anyone observing Ramadan. While fasting all day for a month can cause mild fatigue, dehydration, and dizziness, don't try to convince participating Muslims to eat or drink something—they are fully aware of any side effects they may feel throughout the day. Instead, be respectful of their decision to fast and offer to lend a hand with something like chores, errands, or anything unrelated to food.

5. ACCEPT THAT WATER ISN'T ON THE MENU.

Dates and a glass of water.
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Muslims who observe Ramadan don't sip any liquids during daytime. No water, coffee, tea, or juice. Zilch. Going without water is even harder than going without food, so be aware of the struggle and accept it. It's all part of the sacrifice and self-discipline inherent in Ramadan.

6. RESPECT PEOPLE'S PRIVACY.

Pregnant woman doing yoga.
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Some Muslims choose not to fast during Ramadan for medical or other personal reasons, and they may not appreciate being badgered with questions about why they may be eating or drinking rather than fasting. Children and the elderly generally don't fast all day, and people who are sick are exempt from fasting. Other conditions that preclude fasting during Ramadan are pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menstruation (although, if possible, people generally make up the days later).

7. BE MINDFUL OF ENERGY LEVELS.

Woman running on the beach.
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Eschewing food and drink for hours at a time can cause lethargy, so be aware that Muslims observing Ramadan may be more tired than usual. Your Muslim friends and coworkers don't stop working for an entire month, but they may tweak their schedules to allow for more rest. They may also stay indoors more (to prevent overheating) and avoid unnecessary physical activity to conserve energy. So, don't be offended if they aren't down for a pick-up game of basketball or soccer. We can't all be elite athletes.

8. DON'T OBSESS OVER FOOD AND HUNGER.

Family playing in the park.
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One of the worst things you can do to someone on a new diet is to obsess over all the cheeseburgers, pizza, and cupcakes they can't have. Similarly, most Muslims observing Ramadan don't want to have in-depth conversations about all the food and beverages they're avoiding. So, be mindful that you don't become the constant reminder of how many hours are left until sundown—just as you shouldn't joke about weight loss, you shouldn't call attention to any hunger pangs.

9. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EAT YOUR OWN FOOD.

Coworkers discussing a project on couches.
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Although it's nice to avoid talking about food in front of a fasting Muslim, don't be afraid to eat your own food as you normally would. Seeing other people eating and drinking isn't offensive—Muslims believe that Ramadan is all about sacrifice and self-discipline, and they're aware that not everyone participates. However, perhaps try to avoid scheduling lunch meetings or afternoon barbecues with your Muslim colleagues and friends. Any of those can surely wait until after Ramadan ends.

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