You sleep. You wake up. Suddenly everything is different. Or at least something is. The loss of something you cherished has left an imprint on your cognitive skin. Or maybe it’s the presence of something that bothers you. Who knows. Different people. Different lives. Different scenarios.
Although there is a constant.
There always is.
It’s the waves. The ups, and the downs. The presence, or the absence.
The cyclicality of life always baffles me. What baffles me more is our ignorance of this reality. If one standardises, we can (roughly) determine life to be half joy, half despondence. Good most of the time, bad sometimes, right? So, doesn’t it seem illogical, that we only choose to deal with half? To acknowledge and learn to deal with only the positives? To live in half? To breathe half a life?
To deal with this cyclicality, we should be honest with ourselves. Painfully so. And in order to reach this place of sincerity, I often turn inwards. But our times are so externalised, it’s impossible. Or, it nearly is. Society progressively resembles a mass gathering of eggshells, which every so often, knock into each other as a means of interaction. And this is true of Muslims, just as much as those we label unbelievers. We exist in an age where even the most intangible of phenomena, such as spirituality, is being materialised. Spirituality is the yolk, if not the metaphysical epicentre, of faith. Yet something so deeply salient and unapparent is plastered across Facebook, Twitter and other social networking applications. Often not for calculated benefit, but for tangible imagery. To make faith something you can see. Or touch. Or read. My aim is not to deter the sharing of knowledge, where deemed reasonable. But rather that people define religiosity as an externalised phenomenon. Rather that, if you have a beard, upload Surah’s of the Quran on Instagram, and excessively use religious platitudes in conjunction with banal Arabic terms which lazily evoke God’s Will; you’re religious. A lack of hijab or outward display of faith, and you’re spiritually stumbling. And it’s this externalisation of something that is deeply transient which causes an internal collapse. Undoubtedly, the physical manifestation of religious requirements is not wrong (i.e. the hijab or a beard). But the climaxing of faith at the advocating of such tenets, along with a few rushed prayers, accentuates the direness of our predicament.
It begs the question, when have you faced your internal universe? I’m not alluding to the plethora of meaningless talk inside your mind. My reference is to the plantation in your mind where no language exists. A place of real harvest. Real truth. When do you turn away from the external, and face this painfully honest place. To see yourself, and the universe of the ‘you’, as it is. And, most importantly, to ask yourself the really difficult questions. Questions that might impact how you wake up the next morning. How you behave. What your priorities are.
Think about the following exercise. Close your eyes (if you’re a willing participant), and name three things that are most important to you. Done? Now read on. Certainly, there will be some outliers, but here is a standardised list to which most of us will be subject to.
- God (i.e. faith)
- Parents (i.e. family)
- Passion (i.e. friends, career or academia)
The vast majority of us will regurgitate the set of priorities above. Strikingly, if you take a step back, and are painfully unbiased, how much of your time are you actually accruing to this order? The typical answer will dance around the following tune; ‘I have a degree to finish’, ‘I have college’, ‘my job takes most of my time’, or ‘indirectly I am adhering to these priorities’. Rest assured, I know of these excuses. Mostly, because I’ve used them, and still do. The real nail in this coffin of self-reassurance is that these excuses are indefinite. This is what I’ve learnt personally. We have a set of priorities, and our practical lives sway from these rather profusely. We counter this contradiction by saying, “well, currently I am occupied in xyz, after this I’ll do what I can’’. Here’s a telegram, this is a never ending cycle. I thought after I ace my education and degree, I can really breathe life into the list above. Subsequently, with only the Grace of God, I managed to get the best job I could find in my field. And, lo and behold, my current appropriation of time is even less truthful to this hierarchy. When I settle down in the near future, this contradiction will be exasperated.
My suggested panacea to such a conflict isn’t to live a life confined to a prayer mat, whilst camped outside of your parents’ bedroom. Not at all. Rather, by asking such difficult questions, and looking within ourselves, we often open a road of self-awareness and truth. And by being honest, we commence an internal market of sincerity. In such a place, the only trade is action. A response. Since the reality above has been portrayed to me, nothing has drastically changed. Except the recognition of this truth, ofcourse, and my consistent propensity and willingness to rebalance the scale. The outcome has been purely beneficial. A truthful assessment of my real priorities has motivated me to rescale my time, where I can. It has often done wonders. I have the same job, the same timetable, but now remain more aware of the subtleties, and often act upon them where possible. And most importantly, I am more acclimatised with being truthful to myself. To resist myself with the same strength I resist others, to deal with my mental arrogance, and finally, to tackle the crucible of self-mastery. Our most important battle.
My advice, if you call it so, is not a breeding ground of personal opinion or outlook. If you read into the work of great Islamic thinkers, from the current (bronze) age to the (golden) past, the consistency in narrative is resonant, and also very reassuring. If you really focus on the nuances, the subtleties, there is compelling harmony in the principle message. From Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, to Al-Ghazali and Ibn Arabi. There is consistent talk of priorities, of truth, of solace in solitude, of focusing on the basics of faith, and most importantly, the culmination of such ideals into a realm of spiritual stability.
Every so often, take a step back, be honest with yourself, and converse deeply. Rest assured, He will be listening intently. This honesty will take you places. It will help you deal with the ups and the downs. It will force you to rebalance the scales as much as possible, and often, it will draw a smile on the faces you cherish the most. You’ll keep moving forward. And rather than trying to live in each moment, you will learn to make each moment live.
Your life, your heart, or even your eyes, can turn towards a different reality at blistering speed. Undue and unexpected elation, or unwanted distress, are self-inviting creatures. They don’t knock much. God taught them little manners. Wisdom will forever live in always keeping your house tidy.
I hope I didn’t ramble for too long or cause offence in my writing. Please keep in mind, the shortcomings I highlight are always my own.
I will end this post with a beautiful quote I came across recently;
“This place where you are right now,
God circled on a map for you.”
It’s beautiful because it equates life to a map. All of us know where we are going- this ‘final destination’. Defining the harvest we seem to be good at. But the first thing you do when you come across a map, is to locate the red dot. The “you are here” sign. That’s the tricky part.
It begs the question, right now, if you unfold the map, where do you find yourself?
I will leave it here. Just to note; I am taking a virtual-detox, and won’t be writing anything for the next 4-6 weeks. The next post will probably be on November the 17th (not that any of you care!). Until then, Salaam, peace, love, and always remember; live as if every breath is borrowed.