Monthly Archives: March 2012

Inevitable Impact

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A friend of mine wrote another outstanding blog post this morning. I love most everything he writes, and today’s was definitely one of my favorites (you can link to it here: http://islamicsunrays.com/when-the-unstoppable-force-meets-the-immovable-object/ )

In it he basically talks about not taking “no” for an answer.  Without rewriting what he’s already put into words, I just want to say that I can totally support his views.  I know from experience what it is to be the immovable object or unstoppable force. I know what it is to feel like my sheer will has contributed toward the desired outcome; what it feels like to believe that my tenacious stubborness brought the victory sought. It is, after all, the same energy that I harnessed to grit through the first few and troublesome years of my now-fantastic marriage.  It was the source I drew from to retain custody of my oldest two sons after and through two arduous and dirty custody battles (even after they spent two years in my ex’s temporary care). It was the only reality I allowed when only a mere three weeks after the death of my daughter, I had to go into the workforce for the first time since I was in college and click tags on box after box of infant girl’s clothing at a retail warehouse.

I know about being the unstoppable force from when I decided to change my course of relating with others from the one I grew up with- a change to being loving, trusting, open and vulnerable instead of cold, suspicious, aloof and steely.  I know about being the unmoveable object even now, when forces in the world at large are trying to rip me from the love of my husband because of his past mistakes and resulting misconceptions. There are probably countless examples I could give to show that what my friend is talking about is indeed the raw truth.

However, while covering these two aspects, he left out a third: Inevitable Impact.  Inevitable Impact is when we are being the unstoppable force or the unmoveable object, and instead of the opposite energy dispelling when the two collide there is a jarring crash.  Despite our commitment (and even success) at moving forward against the odds or standing our ground despite the threat, there are times when we still have to face the pain of meeting the momentum that we are moving toward (or that is moving toward us).

There is another blogger I admire who writes many beautiful and insightful pieces about letting go of this world to gain the next, to gain Allah.  She often talks about holding dunya in the hand and Allah in the heart instead of the other way around.  Many people need to hear what she says about these things, because there are far too many people who are sabotaging their lives and their hereafter by having their priorities out of order.  There is no end to the lessons we can learn about having less attachment to the world, and less pain from that attachment.

Yet, I sense that she is also factoring out the Inevitable Impact.  Sometimes when I read what she writes, I see someone so desperate not to hurt that she tries to let go of everything that could possibly cause hurt.  I hate to say it, but sometimes it doesn’t come across as depending solely on Allah, but depending solely on avoidance of attachment to keep pain away.  One thing Allah shows us very clearly is that the closer we get to Him and the more we love Him and His Messenger (saws), the more we can expect to suffer and experience hardship.  Even the closer we get to Hell, the more we are  stricken so we will be prodded into avoiding it! There is no way to divorce Islam from experiencing tests. There is no way to be on the Siratul Mustaqin without facing pain at certain points.

So while we should absolutely be ready to be an unreckonable force, a stoic and fearless oak, and denouncing all that is truly transient, we have to be ready and able to face that last aspect…the inevitable impact of unavoidable pain.

I understand how natural it is to want to avoid it.  We take care in cooking to not burn ourselves on hot stoves. We guard our driving so we don’t have tragic collisions.  We even put off exercising so we don’t have to deal with the resultant aches! Pain avoidance is an entirely human reaction to the world we live in.  Yet, when it comes to our spirituality, we have to retrain our souls from one of avoiding pain to one of bathing in it.

Don’t get me wrong,  I’m not advocating living a sinful lifestyle so that we can immerse ourselves in the wrong kind of pain.  Pain from heartache after involvement in haraam relationships is to be avoided.  Pain from a hangover after a night of drinking should be shunned.  We avoid those pains by avoiding the prohibited actions that cause them and many other types of turmoil.

No, I’m talking about the pain of having loved someone in marriage, truly and deeply, but yet the marriage failed despite best attempts. I’m talking about the pain of giving everything you have to raise a child to fear Allah and love Islam, and they instead rebel and turn toward sinfulness. I’m talking about the pain of having done everything you possibly could to make things the way they ought to be, but it just doesn’t work out by Allah’s will.  No matter how much we might do well at being unmoveable or unstoppeable, “failure” can still happen, and it will hurt tremendously.

Sitting in that pain, embracing that pain, even loving that pain is one of the most difficult things we can do.  Yet, when we do let ourselves be overcome by that pain, we are given barakah beyond measure. We begin to see divine decree unfold in ways we were previously blind to. We gain insight into our past, present, and future we were not capable of being aware of before.  We are strengthened in a unique way, because once you face the fear of pain and master the ability to be in pain, you find that nothing can frighten you, nothing can harm you, and nothing can kill the eternal light that Allah put in you.  All of the beautiful things that my friends and other writers talk about is only gained through the full experience of pain.

So take my friend’s words, and try to be the unstoppeable force or immoveable object. Take my sister’s words and try to let go of every chain of dunya which binds the heart.  And if, even despite these, pain comes plummeting at you with shattering force, open the arms of your soul to it knowing that the inevitable impact will transform you in such a way that next time it will take something even greater to shake you.

Tears in the Darkness

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There was a night recently where I woke up feeling very alone. I had fallen asleep in a decent state of mind, so when I found myself awake right after midnight with a sinking feeling in my heart I was not sure what to make of it. 

A few seconds later, I heard banging on a door on the floor beneath ours. I thought perhaps that may have awakened me and maybe I was feeling a subliminal mix of emotions based on some subcoscious fears that someone was trying to get in our house. I thought momentarily the feelings would pass, so I tried to settle in and wait for sleep to return.

As the minutes passed and the clock struck one (AM), I realized that I was not getting tired again. I noticed that I began to feel a profound sense of sadness, a feeling of terrible loneliness.  My son was sleeping in bed with me (as he regularly does when his brothers are away at their father’s) and my husband was sleeping in their room.  He also does that regularly so he can stay up at night on the computer without disturbing me.  Was I lonely for his company? No, that was not it.

Why was I feeling this way? I really believed it would pass pretty quickly, as inexplicable states often do. I decided to pass the time posting on Facebook about it…which further inspired me to write a poem about it. As the time went on through the early morning hours, the feeling only intensified.  I could not understand why I was feeling so lonely, so sad…and writing about it only seemed to uncover the pain in a more vivid way.

I have to tell you, I don’t mind pain. While most of the world spends it’s life practicing pain avoidance, I don’t.  If I am in a painful situation, whether physically or emotionally, I try to sit with it until it passes, because it will ALWAYS pass. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, but nothing ever stays the same.  I started doing this because I realized, some years ago, that running from the pain never really keeps it away.  Nor does it help you to handle it any better the next time it comes around…and there will always be a next time.

So I sat in it, like boiling myself in a pot of hot water.  I tried to experience it in its fulness, making it less frightening and powerful.  I thought, “OK, so I am going to be acquaintences with loneliness tonight, the best thing I can do is make the passing of this time productive”.  I realized I hadn’t yet prayed ‘isha salat, so I rose to make wudu and wrapped myself in my gauzy chettar and stood on my sparkling, gold-threaded prayer rug to make my intentions.

As I stood there, I felt waves of pointed convulsions rise up in my chest. It felt like a crescendo of stinging aches.  I had to press on, so I started the salat. “Allahu Akbar…”  Tears were rimming over my eyes and warming my cheeks.  The pain filled me to capacity and I began weeping. I had to press on, so I continued with Al-Fatiha.  I could barely breathe while reciting in silent whispers between the demur sobs.  I could not let this catharsis keep me from correctly performing my salat. So I pressed on, choking out Surah Ihklas while the tears dripped on my wrap.

I still did not know why I was so acutely hurting and lonely. I thought to myself, I am doing better with my deen and everything else now more than any other time, why would I be experiencing this? The reality of being in salat while mysteriously broken-hearted overshadowed my mind’s workings.  I prostrated, and while in sujood all of my soul poured out in hot tears and unadulterated but subdued cries.  “Ya Allah, I may not know why this is happening, but all I can do at this point is come to You and be only to You in perfect submission, physically and emotionally, in this salat”, is what I thought. I stayed in sujood, crying,  for nearly a minute before I could continue.  That moment was a perfect moment, a moment where I was truly in my fitra in every way possible. I could be nothing else if I had tried.

By the time I had finished ‘isha, my state had improved. I wasn’t feeling completely whole yet, but I was not overwhelmed. I went back to my bed and lay, wondering what had happened and what caused it.  I thought about all the people I love and miss and tried to determine which of them I was longing for. I even tried to determine if it was Allah I was somehow longing for.  I wasn’t coming up with much, so I consoled myself by acknowledging that I had taken the right course in managing it by turning to Allah. 

Suddenly, a thought came to me: I only went to Allah after I went to other things first. I tried to solve it in my mind, with my intellect. I tried to put my mind on others, thinking thoughts of them would fill the need.  It was only until I was out of options to try that I turned to Allah. I turned to Him, but I didn’t turn to Him first.

For years, as both a Christian and Muslim, I’ve heard others say to “Turn to Allah (God)”.  I’ve heard about how we should come to Him when we are in need or hurting.  For some reason, I’ve lived that as turning or going to Him when no one else is available…as a plan “B”.  I’ve turned to Him when the only options left were Him or nothing.

I realized then, that I had it all backwards. Allah is not a backup plan when creation fails. Allah is not a safety net when the parachute won’t open. Allah is not the last resort. He is the first resort, the first choice, plan ‘A’. I had not been orienting myself to Him like this, but I needed to.

I still don’t know why I had that episode of loneliness. By the time I woke the next morning, there was no trace of what had happened in my soul the night before.  Yet, I could not go about my day without remembering and checking myself, am I going to Allah first? Am I trusting Him first?

I have to admit, it’s a hard habit to break. Being the kind of person I am, someone who is super-responsible and independent, it’s hard to rewire something I’ve gotten used to doing for at least two decades.  I think I might have even decieved myself into thinking that Allah would be proud of someone like me, someone who tries to find every other way to solve a problem before “bothering” Him about it.  I have to keep working on remembering that the first solution to any of my problems MUST be taking it to Him. 

If I don’t learn that lesson well, then a night of tears was wept in vain.

….But I’m Better Than Them!

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Over the weekend I was laying in my bed, thinking about how accountability works. I was imagining the vast spectrum of sinful actions that people can succumb to, and wondering how in the world it was possible for us to be judged by the same standard when what might be a weakness for one might not be a weakness for another.

I couldn’t help but take note of the many “grave” haraams that I don’t participate in.  I don’t drink,  and have never tried smoking or recreational drugs. I am not promiscuous and I don’t actively watch porn. I don’t steal, murder, or otherwise violently act upon others.  When looking at my prospects for the hereafter, it seems things might be pretty promising for me, considering how many horrible people there are who engage in those very things. Not only that, they boast and brag about it!

Yet, I’m not that naive. I will be held accountable to something. I do sin, and make poor decisions.  Some of them are obvious, like neglecting salat or getting impatient.  I still wondered though, how will Allah look at me on Judgement Day, and decide what’s just for me, when compared to those who are acting worse than I?

Then I realized that it wasn’t about who I am “better than”.  When Allah judges all of us, he’s not judging comparing us to one another.  He’s not going to look at me and my cumulative deeds on this earth, and decide that I deserve paradise because I wasn’t as bad as the person who lives downstairs.  Of course intentions are going to play a role, and of course the example of Prophet Muhammad (saws) is going to be the standard we measure against, but what standard is that exactly? Perfection?

No, because we know that Allah would destroy a perfect creation and replace it with one who depended on Him alone for not only forgiveness, but for strength to do anything right.  We are not expected to be perfect per se, so what are we expected to do? A lot of times we hear the answer- to try our best.  Too many times I know I’ve taken that and put it together like this:  “I need to try my best to be better than those around me.”

But that’s not it.  When we are to excel, it’s not against each other, but against ourselves. The crucial point we will be judged upon (I believe) is whether we tried to better ourselves from whatever we might have been the year before, the month before, the day before, the moment before.  Looking at it from that angle, all of a sudden the choices I make are no less serious than those of any other sinner.  Looking at it that way, I have just as much hope for mercy if I can control my argumentative nafs, as someone who controls their violent nafs.

So now I feel the weight of conviction. I can no longer skate by soothing myself with the idea that just because I’m “not as bad” as some others, that I’m going to be ok in the next life.  I will have to answer for my tone of voice, my argumentative demeanor, my impatient sighs, my missed ibadah, my wasted resources, and much, much more.  Yet, if I can learn to bring even these habits and qualities under submission, I can hope in the same mercy that awaits all the repentant.

Ya Allah, give me the strength and mindfulness to keep my focus on my own weaknesses, and please provide me the means to better myself until I’ve pleased You and not my self. Amin.

Alhamdullilah

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Sometimes (no, actually, a lot of times)  something good happens in my life and I try to give thanks and remain grateful for it. In my mind I will say, “Alhamdullilah”  or “Shukrulillah”.  Usually every time I do this, those seemingly small words seem overshadowed by the blessing I’ve gotten.  I feel that saying it just once, or even 100 times, doesn’t show the magnitude of the appreciation I am feeling.

For example, today before my boss left work he came by my desk with an award certificate and mentioned briefly that an extra $50 would be on my next check.  After he walked away I pinned it up next to the other two awards I have received since starting this new position  last February.  I looked at all three of them and easily recalled the four years prior that I worked in another department, feeling unappreciated despite the hard work I put in. I remembered walking by the cubicles of other workers and seeing them have similar awards, but yet I never received any even though I worked just as hard. Now, I have three awards in less than a year’s time.

I am not thankful for for the extra $50 that came with it, because money like that is easily gained and lost. No, what I am thankful for from the bottom of my heart is knowing for certain that Allah knew about my frustrations all those years I was working at entry level. He saw how much it hurt me to constantly be overlooked when it probably wasn’t deserved. He had compassion on my feelings of hopelessness, especially when I started to believe I would never be able to advance past that department. He cares for me enough to let me be recognized now in even the smallest of ways, just to remind me that He has never forgotten me.  For that, my thankfulness feels deeper than what the words can capture.

It’s not the only thing that has me feeling this way.  Over the weekend, we were out of cash. We were actually playing duck duck goose with funds that were assigned for other things, trying to get by until our next payday.  I called my grandfather (who raised me) to ask about reputable online auto parts vendors as we needed to replace a sensor on our remaining car (our primary one was stolen two weeks ago).  The day after I talked to him, he called me back and told me that he had made $300 on a car part he sold last week, and he was putting that money into my account.

Alhamdulillah, Alhamdullilah, Alhamdulillah, but that just doesn’t cut it.  Every time, I mean EVERY time we have been in financial need, Allah comes out of nowhere and provides from a place we would never expect.  I am not so much thankful for the money, although it helps.  I am thankful that Allah loves me enough to keep reminding me that He is here to care for all of my needs.  Knowing that is priceless.

Ya Allah, when I am giving You Shukr, I am not giving it just for the things You are giving me in this life that pass away; but I am giving it for the realities I am learning about You that will only manifest fully in the hereafter. Alhamdullilah for that, too.

Hope Addict

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After my last post, I was thinking about the coping mechanisms that I’ve used to get me through the tough times I’ve faced. What was clear to me is that my number one default coping skill is being able to plan or dream about my future.  When all means of being able to reasonably and realistically paint a picture for life after the freefall are taken away, I crash.  Part of the planning process involves getting attached, on some level, to the plans.  Getting my hopes up.

All my life growing up I heard my grandmother who raised me tell me not to “get my hopes up”.  She saw how easy it was for me to get wrapped up in the idea of an outcome coming true, and she also saw how badly I crashed when something changed that outcome to one less desirable.  To this day I still go through that cycle.  For a lot of people, I understand that the continual dissappointment is too painful and it’s easier to withhold wishes and anchor oneself in the dreary reality that may have come. For some, that is a safe and peaceful place, and the lack of vibrance in that existence seems a fair trade off for that perceived security.

For me, however, it’s like waiting for death.  I have found, after being burned by countless dissappointments from crashing hopes, that choosing the “safe” path of tempered perseverence makes me feel like I’ve lost an essential quality of being human.  If misfortune has befallen me, and I conjure a fantastic scenerio for my future that has a fighting chance of happening, I invest in that dream. I hang on to that vision like I was rapelling from the moon itself. I replay it over and over each day I am suffering until it either comes to fruition, or crashes to pieces.

Most of the time it actually does come to pass in some way or form.  And yes, there are times when it is blown to smithereens and that grief of loss renews itself like pain I’ve never felt before.   Yet, there’s something about that whole process, that whole death, rebirth, and wishing cycle that makes me feel like life is worth living, that life is worth savoring, and that all the experiences of joy and pain need to be embraced equally.  The soaring elation of accomplishing a long-dreamt plan is so much more vivid when I’ve succumbed to the flooding pains of other plans fallen. These experiences are a constant reminder of what it means to be a human, and how dependent we are upon our Creator for true stability and ongoing joy.  When we try to create our own stability and peace by avoiding things that would hurt us in this life, we are in a sense trying to care for ourselves in a way only Allah can. That sense of sanity isn’t meant to replace the turmoil, it’s meant to steady us through both the ups and downs.

So, like an addict I cling to the fix in my dreams and reveries.  Like a junkie I ache when those dreams are dashed. And like a true, frail, human creature I crawl back to Allah with my broken heart, and in His mercy He shows me another future to believe in. I thank HIM because HE is the One Who is supporting me, guiding me, and carrying me through every bend of this freefall.