On Productivity and Motivation

[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]

“Have you been productive today?” 

“How many hours of work have you done today?”

“How productive have you been this week?”

I now find all this talk of ‘productivity’ to be rather tiresome and, at times, almost suffocating. And the above examples are exclusively of the conversations pertaining to social accountability that we may find ourselves being subjected to — but there is a deep ‘self-talk’ element to all this, as well. We stress ourselves out with considerations of checklists, direction, ambition, abstract timelines, productivity. But what are the merits of such a culture, and what might its downsides be? 

To be productive means to produce (much). Actions towards our goals, products… It means harnessing one’s time and efforts towards producing; towards being fruitful.

The value of a tree, surely, is not rooted [pun intended?] in just how many fruits it can produce. Surely we need to deeply care about other aspects of its being – the health of its branches, whether it is being watered enough – too? Moreover, it is not strictly and solely about the quantity of fruits the tree is able to stretch itself towards bearing (and, likewise, it is not about how many hours of work the human being can subject itself to, nor is it necessarily about other quantitative factors like how many chapters of a textbook one can manage to glide through on any given day). Rather, we should care far more about the holistic health of the tree, as well as the quality of the fruits it subsequently – consequently – comes to produce.

I find some individuals to be excessively ‘productivity’-obsessed, hyper-competitive. I feel like I know what they are doing when they emerge, after months of no contact between the two of us, to ask after how “productive” I have been of late. [Is this the new “How are you?”]. And these are the sort of people that, with all due respect, my life could really do without… the ones whose ideas of ‘connection’ are restricted to the kind that one may expect to find on LinkedIn. The ones who will terminate friendships if they think their friends aren’t ‘on the same level’ as they are; if they are not as ‘driven’ or ‘productive’. Pfft.

Of course, I, too, do feel that unique sense of joy and accomplishment whenever I have managed to complete, and to a good standard, the tasks I had scheduled for a particular day. Sometimes I am also prone to being given to unhealthy ways of thinking about this. I think about all the time I have ‘wasted’, for example, on my phone, or on YouTube or Netflix. According to the paradigms of ‘productivity’ that many of us appear to have set out for ourselves, true self-satisfaction must rest in optimum performance in terms of school, work, and more, every single day. But, in truth, such ways of thinking are incompatible with the nature and the condition of the human being. And when – at what point – did we even begin to start thinking like this? We sure weren’t like this when we were ten years old…

Were these attitudes activated within us, perhaps, during the time of our GCSEs? When we newly had exams and grades to think about – and people to compare ourselves to, in this regard? 

When did our worlds become way less about ‘play’ and way more about hungrily seeking professional prowess and ‘productivity’? 

Intrinsically attaching the worth and value of a human being to how much output he or she can produce is akin to perceiving the human body as a machine [insert here an unsolicited ramble about the numerous ‘cons’ of capitalist structures and ways of thinking]. We oil the machines, with the goal of optimal production in mind. But I really do think that the practically Godless world of capitalism seeks to fill the void of meaning with such things. If you do not agree that all human beings have an intrinsic, objective, divinely-given sense of worth, of course you will become prey to notions of selfless competition and machine-like productivity!

I, a person, an ennobled animal, a creation of God, am a do-er. I like to be inspired, and to funnel feelings of inspiration into things like writing and debating. But my purpose here is not to be a perfect performer at all times. I will have days of cancelled plans; days of adventure, and, on the flip-side, of misery. I am not, hopefully, attached to the work I do in order to garner a deep sense of meaning and worth: that comes from God, and from being a creation of His, alone. Heck, I have been designed to feel productive and inspired sometimes, and to make mistakes, and to learn from them, and to be messy and raw at other times. Some days, I will rise with the sun (well, hopefully before the sun, so that I may perform Fajr Salah!) and I will feel the motivation running through my very bones. Other days, undoubtedly, I will want to sleep in; I will want to satisfy my heart with doing things that perhaps do not belong on a neat checklist. Peaks and troughs, peaks and troughs. But in terms of ‘productivity’, the troughs are not always bad; the peaks are not always meaningful. And life was never meant to be a straight line with all these things, anyway.

But, throughout all of it, I know that the true source of my contentment and fulfilment and meaningful (spiritual) productivity rests in my adhering to the rules, rituals, and beautiful wisdoms that Islam provides me with. A day in which I have managed to perform all five daily prayers, for instance, is far better than a day of endless professional productivity, without them. 

Nowadays, when people talk to me about ‘productivity’, I try not to immediately think of ‘professional goals’ and such. I try to think of the tree analogy, and of holistic productivity. Have I eaten well today? Did I laugh today? Did I talk to an old friend today? Did I manage to fit in an hour or two of ‘writing time’, so as to work on a blog article? One thing is for sure: I am not going to forfeit the rest of what makes me human for the sake of ‘grinding’, and to appease those who only want to know about my more material goals and progress [and, of these particular people, I am most ‘done’ with those who seek to know about what I am up to, in order to compare their own doings with mine. I am not in competition with you. I am – Insha-Allah – on a quest for private fulfilment and peace and the nurture of my humanity].

An unchecked box, for instance, on my personal ‘to-do’ or ‘goal’ list might (and, does, more often than not) reinvent itself into something really lovely. A soulful moment shared with a friend, perhaps, a spontaneous decision to cook something nice, two hours spent playing ‘Club Penguin’, a mug of milk enjoyed with cookies! 

I think, as always [and, the veteran readers of my blog have probably already guessed it] that the secret, here lies in balance. We urgently need to grant a higher degree of consideration to things like the quality of the work we commit to, as well as things like inspiration and creativity. Yes, being ‘productive’ in lieu of being absolutely lazy and unmotivated is a virtue. But, when carried out in excess, a virtue becomes the opposite of itself – a vice, unhelpful, oftentimes quite damaging.

Sure, we should, in earnest, respond to these deep senses of responsibility that we have towards ourselves – to have dreams, and to pursue them; to expand our minds; to look after all branches of our lives. But duty devoid of compassion, love, and understanding on a human level is, frankly, pointless. Self-compassion is not necessarily about making so many excuses for ourselves that we become ‘couch potatoes’. But it is about things like sleeping for longer if we feel like our bodies and minds could benefit from it; deleting things from today’s checklist if we find ourselves feeling stressed; refusing to pit ourselves against ourselves by inwardly pitting ourselves against others.

At the end of the day, it will not really matter how many books you have read, how much money you have managed to accumulate, how many hours of your lifetime you committed to sitting at your desk. It is more about how much you really looked after, with a deep sense of duty intertwined with compassion, your heart, your spirit, your body, your mind. And who cares who knows, or who does not know, that you are struggling with, or succeeding in, the pursuit of more outward, ‘material’, goals?

More times than not, people are motivated to randomly ask questions of ‘productivity’ by desires of self-comparison, which can then morph itself into its less pleasant version – competition. But I hope that we – you and I, dear reader – can be secure and content in ourselves and in the truths of being human – to not care at all about bullying ourselves into feeling ‘less-than’ as a result of unchecked boxes on our to-do lists, nor about our own performances in comparison to others’.

[I guess this is a fact that I really need to fully accept and internalise: the worth of anything – be it how one spent one’s day, or a personal hobby or decision – is not contingent on how well it can be justified to others, by their own criteria. I must be brave enough to always commit to adhering to my own criteria!

I also, very much, need to focus way more on what I have done, as opposed to fruitlessly thinking about what I have not done. I appreciate me, and all my efforts! Now, these are some truly ‘productive’ ways of thinking!]

Please share with others, if you found this post beneficial / think others might!

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Tapestry

-.-.-.-.

Well, at least according to good friend Art:

when new life is being made,

It looks quite like long strands of nylon coming together, and falling apart.

 

It swims through linen: a thousand pats on the back, an arrowhead stitch,

Whereby needle soars through well-considered criss-cross,

Counts its own cotton count, and considers itself to be rather rich.

 

Oh, and it is knotted, over and again, blood clot, knot, the finite levels of ink in a pen.

All this, at the site of fledgling tapestry’s very own embroidered hem –

and at the very place where its time will surely arrive at its end. –

See, though you revel now, in all your own intricacies, in your happening-to-be made of the finest polyester blends:

 

[Take heed of this warning, young crimson line:]

 

Be careful with which other threads you entangle yourself, for at a certain point, you will surely find:

That there was only so much space for you here, to begin with, even amid spacious circular hoop.

So be courteous to fellow diamond knots, and be wise with which archways you choose to loop.

 

Now, for this one, I have chosen to use warm colours, autumnal hues.

Should I have, instead, chosen the palette of spring – with all her pinks, and all her blues?

No, I choose autumn. Her gentle fury,

her warmth,

her gorgeous wrath.

 

Yes. for in the leaves’ least beloved season, nature doth make art of time running out, and then:

Life that finds itself dying, decaying, shows hope of waiting, willing, to begin itself again.

 

Needle glides gleefully, and with victory, through eye.

But look a little closer; see all the frayed ends. Know that, to get here, it did take a few disgruntled tries.

 

Ten times already autumnal tapestry has pricked my thumb.

But, regardless, we do go on. an invisible thimble: my fingers, at this point, are already numb.

Needle sinks beneath satin surface once again, then comes right back up for air.

Twenty minutes later, fabric blankness is replaced by pine trees. Back stitch. Now there are daisies everywhere. 

 

Very soon, dear thread, you will meet your knot – the end,

For now, however, you have been given permission to continue to lose yourself, over and over again.

But know that, one day, the hoop will be lifted. Worm’s meat shall be made of me, and

 

Domestic cushions – pretty, silent – of you.

But in the meantime, fear not, fair needle – you are almost invincible.

A deluded thought, and yet at least somewhat true.

 

For now, almost-done tapestry, may you find beauty in it – in loss, and in wonder,

And fear not the little sewing scissors, that, someday, almost effortlessly, will

cast thee and all thy silky threads asunder.

It will wrap itself over and again, around your heart.

running stitch and

catch up with you. It will tear you apart.

-.-.-

One Day, My Friend

One day, my friend,

Big arching windows will be made of what now, to us, may look like walls.

And you, I can promise you this much, will forget to even think of it all.

 

The very air around you will taste somewhat sweeter –

Less heavy, less hostile, and way more like home.

And I promise you, my friend, for as long as the two of us are alive, you will never be alone.

 

The sky’s blue will look that little bit more alive,

Oh, everything around you will sing songs out of that never-ending glint in your eye.

 

It will invite you outside, away from the nest of thoughts that burrow themselves in your head:

But you will forget to think of him, or of her; you will think of all present gifts instead.

 

One day, my friend, as you will ‘most certainly find,

After setting, all suns do rise, and when they do, they know to leave all considerations of dusk behind.

 

Perhaps today is not that day; perhaps it will not be tomorrow, nor was it yesterday.

But in this reality, at least, things do not have a habit of staying still: each and every single thing finds a way –

 

To adapt; to expand; to exert God-given will – to break free from comfortable albeit constrictive shell.

One day, my friend, pretty campfires will be made from what now feels quite like walking bare-bodied through hell.

 

We will build our stories around it, toast marshmallows when night comes, speak fondly of all these times that felt, when they were here, so very dark.

One day, my friend, we will sweeten our tea with long-gone memories; the past will be recalled with ease, over a walk in the park.

 

57 Things to Do in Self-Isolation

[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]

Right now, we find ourselves living through some rather tough and unprecedented times. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us suddenly find ourselves cooped up within our own households: we have been told to practise self-isolation and ‘social distancing’ as part of the fight against this (for many,) potentially lethal virus. These are imperative measures, aimed at achieving the objective of ‘flattening the curve’ of incidences, partly so as not to overwhelm already-strained hospitals and other medical agencies with additional patients, and partly so as to prevent the most vulnerable members of our societies (the elderly, the disabled, the ones who suffer from chronic health conditions) from contracting the disease. 

What a time to be inside! 

There have undoubtedly been some nice things that have come about as a result of these ‘social distancing’ instructions: people are bonding with the members of their family more. Wasting less food; ‘making do’ more. Muslims are engaging in Ibadah (worship) more. The world has finally slowed down a little; we are reconnecting with our collective sense of humanity. We are learning how to be more appreciative of the ‘little things’ – like trips to various places with our friends; like how privileged we are, to have wonderful formal education systems easily available to us. A number of community groups have emerged as a result of the pandemic, with members offering to assist the vulnerable with things like collecting medicines and groceries. We have, essentially, been compelled into confronting some existential and societal truths: like the fact that we are human beings, and not robots; like how the economy is actually built on the backs of workers, and not by executives and hedge funders (and so on); that access to healthcare should be a fundamental human right…

We are also being forced to truly discover the many merits that the practice of seclusion can offer to humankind: it is true that many legendary writers, polymaths, and more, produced some of their best works while in seclusion – which they entered either by their own volition, or as a result of a contemporary pandemic, like this one…

“I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town”

– Blaise Pascal

Together, relative silence and personal space have the tendency to give rise to focus, flow, and creative inspiration-and-industriousness – but only if we give them a chance to do so. Maybe, amid this modern world that prides itself on things like almost nationwide exhaustion, freneticism, hyper-‘productivity’ and workaholism, maybe this pause (granted that we do follow these social distancing protocols, of course) will do many of us a lot of good. [And, all this, without any ‘FOMO’ (‘Fear Of Missing Out’) in sight!]

For some people, these WHO- and government-ordained instructions have resulted in full-blown personal crises: some people have discovered that their entire lives revolve solely around school and/or work, and going out to eat, and so on. Some are finding themselves feeling unbearably bored and sluggish during this time; others appear to be thriving. Freed-up time, indoor space: think of all the possibilities!

In tandem with all the things we are rightfully being told to do – like washing our hands thoroughly and frequently, and staying indoors and away from other people – below is a list of things you could possibly occupy your time with doing, over the coming weeks, as we all eagerly await the abatement of the Corona virus crisis. These are (hopefully) for your own amusement and sanity, as well as the resetting and nourishment of your mind, body, and soul. Please do share this list with others if you found it useful, and let me know if you can think of anything else that can be added to it!

  1. Dopamine fast. 

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This first activity involves quite a lot of… doing nothing. There is a certain wisdom behind doing this: essentially (and especially since we find ourselves continuously exposed to a culture of overstimulation, which can have the effect of lifting our thresholds for pleasure, and of normalising ‘plenty’) this would involve a mental (and spiritual) ‘reset’. ‘Dopamine fasting’ forces us to come face to face with true boredom, if only for a little while. But ultimately, we come to learn that there is certainly value in fewness; our general desensitisation to ‘smaller’ sensory pleasures – like the taste of chocolate – gradually becomes reversed. We become less restless; more mindful.

Personally, I have not been able to observe a ‘dopamine fast day’ just yet, although I certainly do intend to. I will sit in the garden, or perhaps in front of a window, and I will simply sketch what I can see, while drinking water. I will switch off my phone and laptop, and will get up for daily-prayer breaks.

2. Create morning and evening routines that you truly intend to stick to. 

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These can be as complex, or as simple, as you want them to be. But the human spirit certainly tends to benefit from having a certain degree of structure within its days. Now more than ever, when many of us find ourselves away from work or school, it would do a lot of us an immense amount of good to maintain beneficial routines.

Morning routines might include [at least, for my Muslim readers] Tahajjud and Fajr prayer, followed by, perhaps, a small exercise session, followed by… whatever else. And evening routines might include, say, reading for half an hour, and doing some sit-ups before bed – whatever floats your boat.

3. Create daily checklists.

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In addition to the aforesaid daily routines, now might be a very good time to draw up some checklists – for things we will ensure we do each day: things like drinking roughly two litres of water in total; praying our five daily prayers; calling at least one friend. These checklists may look rather simple – like a list of bullet points on a post-it note. Or, they could form part of a bullet journal

4. Read books

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Now is an absolutely brilliant time to get stuck into the books that have been amassing in your book pile; to re-engage with our inner bookworms! Many of us former avid readers had found ourselves neglecting this part of ourselves, as a result of the business of life, and due to the fact that the speedy pace of modern life has drastically shortened many of our attention spans. But hopefully, self-isolation (and the art of dopamine fasting – read: activity 1 on this list!) will bring about a restoration of our capacities for deep concentration, so that we can find ourselves becoming truly engrossed between the pages of some good books, once again!

5. Carry out a deep clean of your living space.

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Right now, and especially since you are probably going to be spending a lot of time at home over the coming weeks, disinfectant (bleach, antibacterial sprays and wipes…) truly are your best friends. Clean living space, cleaner mind…

When was the last time you… dusted your bed-frame? When was the last time you disinfected your light switch? Now is as good a time as ever to carry out all these often-overlooked little cleaning tasks!

6. Makeup looks.

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This one is directed at the ladies. Makeup can be pretty fun to apply to one’s own face – and not just in preparation for an outing or event. Makeup is an art form; our faces are our canvases. Why not use this indoor time to practise your makeup application skills? You could paint your nails; try your hand [pun intended] at some nail art – the tutorials for which can be found on YouTube or Pinterest. You could learn how to contour; how to create the perfect eyeliner flick; how to paint sunsets onto your eyelids; dress up like a 1920s Flapper Girl, for absolutely no reason…

7. Pray alongside all the other members of your household – as a family.

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I would really recommend downloading the ‘Athan Pro’ app  and/or leaving the live audio stream from East London Mosque  playing within your home at all times. These allow you to hear the Athan as soon as it is time to pray. The five daily prayers truly are a gift for mankind: they remind us of our purpose on a daily basis; offer us the chance to have and to maintain a Divine bond; are a form of meaningful meditation; a source of comfort; add structure to each of our days…

8. Baking. 

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Baking – bread, cakes, pies – can be an extremely enjoyable activity. Right now, however, the baking sections at some leading supermarkets are practically empty. Thankfully, many of us already have numerous baking essentials in our pantries. And, what’s more, there are many extremely simple recipes out there, just waiting for us to try our hands at them. You can make (microwave) mug cakes, or you can have a go at baking your own bread. Some bread recipes do not even require the addition of yeast! 

One of the best things about baking is that you get to enjoy your own culinary creations afterwards. And even if they (objectively) taste bad, because they are your own creations, you will almost undoubtedly think they are more delicious than, perhaps, they truly are…

9. Photography. 

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The art of photography is a very lovely art form indeed. Some of you may have access to professional cameras; some of you will have to make do with an iPhone camera, for this. There exist a plethora of resources online, which can teach you how to create extraordinary effects on the camera. You can make ordinary household objects – or family members – look brilliant, with the help of a few domestic tools – like fairy lights and/or string.

Why not begin with these 9 iPhone Photography Hacks?

10. Sketch and paint.

Watercolour paints, acrylics, charcoal pencils… There are so many things one can sketch and/or paint. One’s own reflection in the mirror; the view from outside the window; self-portraits; images found online; ordinary household objects… You may wish to consider beginning with a classic artistic activity – drawing/painting a fruit bowl…

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11. Create some indoor games.

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Use whatever household objects you can, to create DIY versions of popular activities. Egg-and-spoon races; ‘What’s in the Box’; playing ‘keepy-uppy’
with toilet paper; indoor bowling and/or golf; ring toss; a coconut shy… The possibilities are all there; you just need to use your imagination, and ‘make do’ with what you have.

12. Watch some movies.

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Dead Poets’ Society; Interstellar; the Breakfast Club; Spider-man; Disney’s Tangled (whose themes are actually highly pertinent, right now. Fun to watch with kids); Inception. What are some of your favourite movies?

You could even create your own at-home cinema – perhaps complete with cushions, a blanket fort, a snacks table – in order to truly enjoy your movie-watching experiences.

13. Gardening / indoor plants. 

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“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her” [William Wordsworth]. There is just something so soulfully invigorating about connecting with nature – with plants, and with their roots, and the soil – via the activity of gardening. If you have a garden or a balcony, Spring has finally graced us with its presence once again. It is time to cultivate some beautiful flowers, and maybe even some produce!

If you do not have any outdoor space in which to do some gardening, window-sills are an excellent alternative. You could plant a few herb plants; cress (which is unbelievably easy to sow (and can even grow from cotton wool, used in place of soil!); succulents; air-cleaning plants, like aloe or peace lilies…

14. Cooking.

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Ah, the old ‘Blitz spirit’ of ‘making do’, and of wasting as little as possible… It makes cooking – which can be an extremely enjoyable at-home activity – that much more interesting. What do you currently have in your cupboards? And how can you utilise these ingredients in order to create the best meal possible?

If you have siblings or same-age housemates, you could take it in turns to cook for one another. Or, you could even challenge one another to a ‘MasterChef’-like competition, or different tasks could be delegated to each individual. Cooking can be great fun, and it involves several steps, from planning out a recipe, to doing the washing-up (which can be an awesomely therapeutic task!) at the end.

15. Homeschool younger members of the household. 

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I think this can be an insanely rewarding activity: not only are you helping them preserve what they know and fostering their deep-seated intellectual curiosities – you are also giving both them and yourself an added sense of structure: you may wish to draw up a schedule, beginning ‘school’ at 9:00, and ending at 15:30.

‘Subjects’ may include: spelling; PE; DT; Art; Science; Maths; Guided Reading; you could give them research projects; teach them how to use Microsoft PowerPoint; design indoor treasure hunts and obstacle courses for them… Children really can be very fun to hang out with, and to mentor in such a way.

16. Self-therapise. 

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Therapy: the art of healing. Almost all of us could do with some – some remediation and reassurance – especially at such a fundamentally confusing time as this one. Pretty much all of us have some dark or negative thoughts, which can eat away at us if we are left alone with them. But we can work on correcting them, and on making our minds paradises as opposed to purgatories. 

‘Writing therapy’ is an excellent medium through which we can, in the comfort of our own homes, and for free, self-therapise, and to come to know ourselves on a profound level. You do not need to concern yourself with writing ‘well’. You just need a piece of paper – or a notebook – and a pen, and your thoughts, ready to process them. You could light even some candles for ambience…

Personally, I am a fan of taking a ‘two-pen’ approach. One pen colour represents one type of perspective – e.g. all the sad stuff, the bad stuff, the negative thoughts, the bad memories… The other pen can be the remedial pen – the pen of rational emotional perspective, and of hope, proactivity, and rational positivity.

If you are feeling too lazy to write, theatrical self-dialogue might work too… And (hopefully) there won’t be a single soul in sight to judge you for this. You can lie down on your bed and relate, to yourself, all the bad things. Then you can get right up and be your own counsellor, reassuring yourself, and telling yourself how best to move forward. Weird, yes, but hopefully quite effective.

Here are some self-therapy prompt questions to get you started. Just write – or say – your responses to them without any filter. It is primarily through being very honest with ourselves that we can truly begin to heal and improve…

  • Some things I struggle with, in life:
  • Some things I am hopeful about:
  • Some things I dislike about myself:
  • Some things I truly like about myself:
  • Some negative feelings that catch up with me on a regular basis:
  • Some unfavourable memories that tend to replay themselves autonomously in your head:

17. Watch documentaries.

About astronomy, serial killers, food… There is a documentary out there for almost every topic conceivable! Documentaries are a brilliant way to tickle your faculties of curiosity, without the extra mental energy it takes to read a non-fiction book. So expand your mental horizons, and look for a good documentary to lose yourself in – whether on YouTube, or on Netflix, or on the TV, or on BBC iPlayer…

18. Meditation.

Various studies have shown the immense benefits that the practice of meditation can bring to the human mind and soul. Indeed, frequently partaking in meditative activities even holds the potential to boost cognitive function, and to rewire the brain, in a very good way! When we meditate, we calm our minds; connect with our bodies; lower our stress levels; improve our capacities for deep focus; we learn to be kinder to ourselves…

In general, meditative practices do not require much work [that is, sort of, the very point of them]. All it takes is a quiet and cosy space; sitting in a comfortable position; focusing on our breaths, and on little else.

19. Write letters. 

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Perhaps you could do this in preparation for Eid, or just to give to your loved ones as soon as this pandemic comes to an end… In your letters, you could express gratitude to certain individuals, for having them in you life. You could think about how you first met them; some of your favourite memories of them; your hopes for certain joint experiences, in the future…

After all, who wouldn’t love receiving a personally handwritten letter?!

21. Challenge yourself to overcome your smartphone addiction.

Disconnect for a while; overcome your dependency on your little handheld device, which many of us currently find ourselves enslaved to. Bring some true mental rest, peace and clarity into your life!

22. Practise yoga. 

Get your Downward Dog on! Not only could this discipline make you become completely and utterly ‘zen’; yoga workouts can also allow you to work on your flexibility, strength, circulatory health, breathing, and vitality.

23. Plan a party (for the near future).

Whether it be an Eid party, a tea party, or a belated graduation party… parties can be surprisingly fun to plan.

24. Declutter. 

‘Marie Kondo’ your entire living space. Throw some things away; keep some aside to give away to charity once we are all let out. Organise your drawers; wardrobes; cupboards.

25. Indulge in an indoor spa day!

Oil your hair (and remember to wash the oil off); give yourself a facial. Have a bubble bath, perhaps with some essential oils dropped in, and some candles. You can give yourself a manicure, a pedicure, maybe even a haircut if you are feeling particularly courageous…

You don’t require fancy spa products – or even things from Lush or The Body Shop – to give your body a treat. There are many simple recipes online for homemade body scrubs, hair masks, face masks, and more!

26. Create a model of a town, or of a castle, or a house, using cardboard and other recyclable materials.

27. Play some board games. 

Chess, Scrabble, Articulate, Monopoly… And if you cannot find anybody within your household to play with, certain board and card games can be played solitarily – like chess and solitaire – and there are also some apps that allow you to play with others, online.

28. Learn some crafts from Tik Tok.

Because, why not? 

29. Recite Qur’an. 

Qur’an truly is food – life-giving stuff – for the soul. So immerse yourself in it – in reading it; understanding it; listening to it; maybe even to memorising it…

An especially relaxing and enriching practice is that of sitting or lying down in a very comfortable position, and letting the melodies of Qur’an recitations transport you. I would recommend these reciters: Sheikh Sudais, Sheikh Read Al-Kurdi, and Omar Hisham Al-Arabi.

30. Go jogging / bike-riding…

In the immediate vicinity of your home, keeping (of course) adequate distance between you and other people.

31. Do some knitting and/or embroidery.

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Superior art forms, these. You can create some truly beautiful things by practising these skills. To learn how to knit, all you need are some knitting needles and some wool. For crochet, you will need a crochet stick. And, for embroidery, you will need some embroidery thread, an embroidery hoop [optional. You could even make your own embroidery hoop using an old circular take-away container], a needle with a large eye, and, perhaps, a great deal of patience.

And, as always, tutorials for these activities can be found on YouTube; ideas and inspiration can be found on Pinterest.

32. Plan an adventure for the future.

And, often, low-budget adventures are the most enjoyable ones… You can look at maps of places; use TripAdvisor to investigate local amenities; browse through AirBnB to find the type of accommodation you would want to stay at.

33. Do some boxing. 

YouTube workouts are your best friend! From 5-minute boxing workouts designed for beginners, to lengthier ones designed for fledgling pros… The videos are all there! Boxing is an excellent outlet for anger; a brilliant way to break a sweat, while working on your arms and core, in the comfort of your home.

34. Give wood-crafting a try. 

The materials needed for this are actually surprisingly minimal, and cheap. And the end results can be astounding!

35. Converse with the people within your household. Genuinely.

Sit with them and talk, perhaps over some tea or coffee. If you live with your grandparents, tell them to tell you some personal stories from when they were younger. Ask your parents what they remember from the day of your birth.

36. Watch some TV shows. 

Some unfunny-but-still-somehow-funny TV shows include: Friends; How I Met Your Mother; The Big Bang Theory; Ugly Betty. And, of course, the actually funny TV shows, like Brooklyn-99, Modern Family, and New Girl.

If you are feeling nostalgic, you could use this time to binge-watch old Disney/Nickelodeon cartoons and series: Wizards of Waverley Place; Girl Meets World; Good Luck Charlie; Shake it Up; Austin and Ally; Phineas and Ferb…

37. Do some colouring-in. 

Who ever said that colouring-in is only for little kids? Adult colouring books (and colouring pages online) exist too, you know. This particular pastime is actually very good for mental health; doing it can truly alleviate stress, and get you into a nice state of ‘flow’.

All you need are some sheets to colour in, and some sharpened colouring pencils!

38. Become an at-home archaeologist.

Dig out some old pictures and other memorabilia. You could look through your attic; your garden shed; your garage; through ‘memory’ boxes and such.

39. Play videogames.

Fortnite. GTA. Minecraft. Wii Fit [does anybody even still own a Wii console anymore?] Or, if you do not own a gaming console, there are plentiful online game websites, such as Friv.

40. Scrapbook. 

Collect as many magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes (etc.) that you can find, within your home, and produce scrapbook pages. Each page could have a different theme – for example, one could be entitled ‘inspiration’, while another could have a blue colour theme.

41. Learn calligraphy.

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I personally find Arabic calligraphy to be particularly gorgeous. The art of calligraphy can be done using fountain pens, or with paint, or even with permanent markers (preferably those with chisel tips, as opposed to round ones).

According to experts, it takes roughly two hours to learn the fundamentals of calligraphy. Once again, numerous tutorials can be found online – on YouTube, and elsewhere.

42. Watch some YouTube videos.

Maybe you already have a lengthy list of favourite YouTubers. Or maybe now is the time to create one.

There exist myriad genres and types of YouTube personalities and videos: you can live vicariously through these individuals and their content, at least while you’re trapped within the walls of your home… Furthermore, if you are looking to drown in your feels, strangely enough, Thai life insurance videos like this one tend to be real tear-jerkers and/or soulful uplifters.

43. Generate a bucket list of things to do once this all blows over.

Hopefully this entire experience teaches us to really appreciate our freedoms and the comfortable lifestyles we are fortunate enough to be able to lead. Your bucket list could include ‘big’ things, like buying a house. It could also involve lots of ‘little’ things, like taking your little cousins to a museum; walking through a fountain barefoot; treating your friends to a meal at a restaurant.

44. Write.

A lot of people are afraid to write, because they are convinced that their writing “isn’t very good”. But nothing suppresses creativity more than self-criticism and -doubt. Besides, we should write for the fun of writing; the immense rewards that we can reap from the practice, as opposed to any expectation that others will read and enjoy our works! You might want to consider utilising the following prompts, and writing:

    • Lengthy answers to philosophical questions: https://owlcation.com/humanities/100-Philosophical-Questions-that-Make-You-Think-and-Discuss 
    • What you feel like when it rains
    • Letters that you will never send
    • Diary entries from the perspectives of your favourite historical and fictional characters
    • A love letter to the moon
    • About two seemingly very ‘opposite’ people who become friends
    • A play – even if you do not intend to publish your work
    • A novel
    • About what you would do if you were told you only had a week left to live
    • About how you feel about love these days
    • About a strange fictional character who hides themselves under layers and layers of mismatched clothing
    • A poem (or a rap!) – about anything. Try to write some haikus about your immediate surroundings, or a sonnet about your bed.
    • Letters to your future self; to your future children; to your future spouse.
    • ‘Quarantine Diaries’. Make them as melodramatic as you wish.
    • A day in your life if you were of the opposite gender
    • A good life would entail…
    • A story about a zombie apocalypse
    • Write about everybody you love. Perhaps you could give these written profiles to them in the future, so they could be reminded of what they were like, when they were younger.
    • You can find some more creative writing prompts on websites like this one.

45. Listen to podcasts.

Our …recent ancestors… had radio shows. We have podcasts! Plug in your headphones; search up topics of interest on podcast apps [e.g. Apple Podcasts or Spotify] and instantly be transported. A great thing about podcasts is that they can be listened to while you do something else – like the laundry or washing-up, or even some embroidery…

46. Conduct some brilliant at-home science experiments:

You are never too old to marvel at the micro- and macro- marvels of the world around you. There are many simple but ingenious at-home experiments you can carry out, perhaps to better understand how magnets work, or about the water cycle, or about why tornadoes occur. Here is a list of 50 easy educational science experiments to get you started:

https://mommypoppins.com/kids/50-easy-science-experiments-for-kids-fun-educational-activities-using-household-stuff

47. Partake in some online lectures and classes. 

You can learn about absolutely anything you want to. And all you need is an internet connection and a willingness to learn. There are some specialist sites, from which you can download lecture series; many outlets (for example, Islamic ones like faithessentials.online and amaliah.com) are also running free online ‘webinars’, exercise classes, and more; there are hundreds of lecture recordings available on YouTube, too.

48. Download some brain training apps.

Train your brain; improve your memory. ‘Nuff said.

49. Hone your Mendhi (Henna) skills.

This is a (de facto) essential skill that, apparently, all Desi girls must become experts at. Go wild: start with painting flowers on your hands, arms, feet. Move onto attempting dragons. It is highly unlikely that very many people are going to see them anyway…

50. Hadith studies.

There are hundreds of Hadiths – sayings of the Prophet (SAW) – that we Muslims can gain access to (for example, the entirety of ‘Sahih Bukhari’ can be found here). We can analyse them, memorise them, formulate questions for debate, with them. We can think deeply about how we can apply these prophetic teachings to our own lives.

51. Go on social media.

Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Whatsapp. Thankfully, ‘social isolation’ does not mean complete and utter social isolation. We may be physically distant from one another, but we can enjoy memes and fun and interesting conversations via online platforms.

52. Deeply think about your future.

What kind of career would you like to pursue? If you would like to get married, what kind of person would you like to marry? What kind of lifestyle would you like to live? You could create, from all this, a list, or a vision board.

53. Become a faster typer!

You can use this website to enjoy ‘type-racing’ against others across the world. What is your current typing speed [you can find out by visiting the website]. And could you possibly beat the current world record – a truly startling 216 words per minute?! 

You can even use this website to challenge your own friends to type races.

54. Video call a friend.

You could have a tea party or picnic over FaceTime… Granted, you will not be able to physically embrace them, but you can still enjoy enriching conversations with them. You could even simply video call them to ‘have them there’ while the two of you carry out your own respective tasks.

55. Become a pro at origami. 

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The Japanese art of paper-folding. By closely following online tutorials, you could create an entire zoo of paper animals; paper speedboats; flowers; cranes. 

Origami is a beautiful visual art form, and it helps develop hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and mental concentration.

56. Complete some crosswords. 

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Prima facie, maybe a tad… tedious. But, once you really get into them, they can be rather mentally stimulating, and fun. You may even find that your vocabulary expands as a result of doing them.

There are thousands of crossword puzzles available online. Once again, thank the Lord for the existence of the internet!

57. Commit to learning a language…

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… or to learning several. Or to honing the ones you already know. You could even, like Eminem used to do, scour through the English dictionary for new words to add to your vocabulary. And, as well as more traditional languages like French, Spanish and Arabic, you may even want to consider learning how to code, and/or how to speak British Sign Language! If you have ever wanted to become a polyglot, now is your chance!

There are innumerable resources available online to help you with this. For example, this website claims to be able to make you a fluent Arabic speaker in a matter of three months!

Insha-Allah (God-willing) this too shall pass. We will come out of this; we will find ourselves on the other side, whether in a month’s time, or three. But we must focus on how we can make the most of the situations we presently find ourselves in. Hopefully, by the end, we will have deeply reconnected with ourselves, and will find ourselves living ‘Tayyib’ (good, pure) lifestyles: praying on time; eating well; being more present, more ‘in the moment’… I hope that, at the end of it all, we emerge as more content, healthier, happier, more creative, and more at-peace and self-comfortable, individuals.

Happy Quarantine-and-Chilling, my dudes! 


Sadia Ahmed, 2020 

Hādil

Hādil: the sounds that pigeons tend to make. Cooing, as it is otherwise known. Hādil pours some more birdseed from her palm, into the tray of the feeder. Several birds, who had been hiding in the surrounding trees, flap their wings excitedly, and flock toward her. They encircle her, at first, as she gazes upwards in delight. Then, they – all five of them – direct their attention more towards the little feeder that dangles enticingly from the little apple tree. Today, it does so lazily, and yet with much purpose. Today, the painted flowers on its roof beam with a particular pinkness, under this uninhibited orange Spring sun.

The largest branches of the apple tree jut outwards, forming for Hādil the perfect place to go and sit, and to read, and to draw, and to marvel at the tiny forest that she is fortunate enough to call her own – it is, for the young queen, a humble throne, propped up against the backdrop of her miniature kingdom. She sits there, clasping her knees, humming, and awaiting the instructional hiss of the teapot on the stove. The clouds float by in utmost tranquility; politely tip their wispy hats to her, and then they continue on their ways, to some Glorious Nothing. Some feint whistling comes from inside: Danyal, taking a break from the novel he has been working on, rather industriously and at the kitchen table, has decided to bake for their dessert a cherry pie. Later, the two of them will devour a misshapen pie from the same plate – the baking tray itself – while their bodies are doused in its sweet aroma.

Hādil: when the humans in their midst are quiet, the pigeons are known to coo a little louder. They take their food in rounds: peck gently, ferociously, at the opening of the feeder, then fly around, darting from one garden wall to another. They perch atop branches and plant pots, and then waddle across the garden floors, upon which Hādil currently stands barefoot, her cotton white dress tickling the very tips of her toes. And then the tiger-like birds fly away, almost as quickly as they did arrive.

And Hādil often wonders where they go, these little pigeons. Everything they could ever possibly need is right here, surely, in her little garden? What adventures do these pigeons seek out by flying for miles and miles, elsewhere, towards something else – when the little wooden feeder, the fountain, the needle-like trees – are all right here? Does it even get any better than this? Hādil does not know; right now, with her book in her hand and the taste of spring upon her lips, she finds she is simply too content to ever want to know.

What is The Good Life?

[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]

A few days ago my best [is it childish to constantly point out that she’s my best friend? Perhaps] – best – friend and I sat down to record an episode for my podcast, which we had decided to entitle, ‘The Good Life’. It is made extremely evident, simply by taking a look at the world around us, and by having a couple of sincere conversations with people, that many people are simply not living ‘good’ lives, for the most part: many of us live in metropolises – human zoos, if you will – in which our lives are characterised by confusion, stress, dissatisfaction, and the endless endeavours we commit to, so as to distract ourselves. 

Now, there was a slight issue with the podcast app that I use; this episode has been ‘uploading’ for days now. It is likely that the end result will never actually end up coming into publication. So, and while I am still able to recall some of the unexpected but meaningful things that Tamanna and I spoke about, I present to you a blog article on the topic of ‘The Good Life’.

For this episode-which-is-now-an-article, I decided to conduct some (qualitative) research: I carried out some interviews – some face-to-face, and some via online platforms. I amassed a sample that was (hopefully) as representative as I could make it. It contained some Muslims; some atheists; some agnostics; some Christians. Men and women; some little children. Working-class individuals; middle-class individuals. White Brits; immigrants. People who identify as ‘genderqueer’ and such; people who do not. Introverts; extroverts. Students; professionals… I posed four specific questions to each of them, and examined their answers. Their responses were rather interesting… in particular as a result of how similar they were, between these individuals who are rather different to one another on the surface level.

1) What is a good life? 

I think that, although the interrogation of people’s minds with this particular question tends to give rise to a lot of deep-in-thought “I’m-going-to-need-a-moment…or-a-hundred” expressions, the answer to this highly pressing, pretty much universally asked question, is already within us.

Most of the respondents agreed that a ‘good’ life is not one that would be rooted in idealism. Rather, it is more about sustenance and contentment: having enough money to get by, a satisfactory amount of love around you, and being in a content-enough state so as to not find oneself excessively comparing oneself and one’s life to others and their lives; being exceptionally okay with oneself, irrespective of external considerations like salaries or relationship statuses, at any given point in time. Almost everyone who took part in this survey also spoke about the pursuit of knowledge, and learning, as being crucial to the Good Life.

After gathering and analysing the responses I had been given, I realised I did not have any respondents, in my sample, who were over the age of seventy. But I came across a video online in which an 105-year-old woman, Jessie Jordan, shares her views on the ingredients needed for a long and happy life. “I think peace is more happiness. Peace. Having peace in your heart,” she tells us all.

So what is it that we all find ourselves chasing: peace or pleasure?

2) What would the ideal life entail? And how would it differ to the ‘good’ life? 

People tackled this question from a number of different angles. The more religious respondents were inclined towards talking about Heaven. I, personally, would agree with them: in the temporal, highly physically limited states we currently find ourselves in, in this world, although we may have the faculties to be able to think idealistically, in reality, we are simply not suited towards living such lifestyles, right now.

Right now, in this temporal world – in the Dunya – problems are pretty much ever-present; everywhere. But this is how we work, and this is how the societies that we each find ourselves part of work: we experience problems, and we discover great meaning and purpose in the pursuit of solutions. The role of a doctor would have been utterly pointless if human illnesses did not exist. The role of a teacher would have been futile if all possible knowledge had simply been pre-ingrained into our minds; if we were born in a state of omniscience, as opposed to one of utter ignorance.

People’s idealistic fantasies tend to revolve around things that are plentiful, luxurious, unearthly and fantastical. Heaven. Paradise. Right now, we are able to fantasise about such things, but these things would do little to bring us long-lasting peace and happiness in the (earthly, impermanent) here and now. If we were all to achieve all our idealistic fancies here in this life, there would be an evident incongruity between our human conditions, and the lifestyles we would be living: we could accumulate as many supercars, castles (etc.) as we could fathom, but human nature would surely, quickly, catch up with us. We would get bored and restless.

Some people did approach this question from a quite ‘down-to-earth’ perspective: quite a few of the respondents said that their ideal lives would comprise things like having a widespread, meaningful, truly noticeable impact on the world; the ability to go on long bike rides in the countryside…

3. When do you reckon, over the course of your life thus far, were you the most happy? Why? 

Unsurprisingly, most respondents said that they were happiest during their childhoods. Some pointed to specific memories that contributed to this being their truth: memories of waking up early solely in order to watch Disney Channel shows; being given glasses of milk by their mother before going to bed; being, for the most part, stress- and responsibility-free. Another thing that was evident, from a number of these responses, was that a significant factor that contributed to this childhood state of happiness was the fact that back then, we did not care what others thought about us. We were so blissfully unaware of things like our own physicality, while we were playing; so heedless of negative social judgement.

One respondent made a particularly interesting point: she said she thinks that “happiness can exist only when you know sadness”; that it is all a game of relativity. Thus, according to this view, because we may be sad now, or have come to know deep sadnesses since childhood, we have come to see our childhoods as having been the ‘happiest’ times in our lives.

4. What do you think most people dislike about themselves [and that acts as a barrier to their acquisition of the Good Life]? 

The most popular theme that respondents touched upon, in response to this final question, was this one: people’s looks. Most people are insecure about certain aspects of their (or about their entire) appearances. This can have several secondary unfavourable effects: insecurities with one’s looks can affect one’s self-identity, as well as one’s behaviour around other people, and in the classroom or the workplace, and it can all take up a great deal of time and mental energy: how we feel about our appearances has the power to mould our entire realities. And sadly, we are living in an extremely visual and consumerist world, and the combination of these aspects tends to be particularly noxious for those of us who look like, you know, human beings. Stretch marks, chubbiness, skinniness, large birthmarks, uneven facial complexions. We want to air-brush these things away; look like the people we see in magazines, and on Instagram. It would appear as though we have collectively fallen in love with illusory cyborg appearances. We delude ourselves, by our own volition, with all this – once again: we know that ‘natural makeup’ is not natural at all; that, after a certain point, enlarged biceps stop serving a functional purpose in the real world [um…how many crates of apples do you intend to carry with those arms?] and yet we blindly consume from the funnels of all these outlets – these outlets whose job it is to create an evident separation between the ordinary (and real) and what is extremely elusive and difficult to attain: the stuff of Übermenschen. 

The second most popular topic that was touched upon, in response to this fourth question, was about individual talents: discontentment with one’s abilities – academic, creative, professional – and a consequent ongoing feeling of being inadequate in comparison to others – leads to many being unable to taste the sweetness of their own lives, unfortunately. But it really does come down to that thing that we tell young children when they come to us and tell us why Maths could never be their favourite subject: “I’m no good at it”. But what is the point of being good at something, if you do not enjoy doing the thing in the first place? Personal enjoyment is far more joy-inducing and desirable, surely, than the knowledge that you have outshined others at what you are doing? Self-comparison truly is a notorious thief of joy, and it turns otherwise nice things – like the process of learning, or the arts of writing or painting – into mere competitions and boasting festivals…

The question of the Good Life has perplexed, fascinated, and inspired philosophers, poets, writers, artists, and humanity in general, alike, for centuries. What might a good human life look like? What are the barriers that prevent us from getting there? And how can we satisfactorily deal with said barriers?

We are, each of us, living on borrowed time; we are mere walking compilations of breaths – finite, and yet powerful. So small, and yet so inherently magical. And it is strange, really, how we all seem to know what decent and happy personal lives may comprise, but we still find ourselves rather stuck in our ways, stubbornly pursuing what brings us restlessness – in the absence of peace. These things, these ideas, may grant us some momentary kicks, perhaps, but they appear to leave behind them a lasting sense of discontentment.

It is truly peculiar, as aforementioned, how almost all of us know what the Good Life looks like, deep down. And yet we continue to romanticise and idealise the lives of YouTubers; music artists; athletes; models; extremely wealthy individuals… We hear all their emotional testimonies that perceptively bring them back down to the ordinary human plane: how sad they are, and dissatisfied, and confused. But yet, we continue to see their lives as the great ideal.

Celebrities buy flocks of super-cars (often) to compensate for erstwhile feelings of low self-worth. Cheap sex, cigarettes, drowning out unpleasant thoughts in alcohol and wild partying. The ‘Rich Kids of Instagram’ run out of even minutely meaningful things to do with their money; they come to realise that money actually exists as a means to an end, and not as an end in itself. It is just paper. Models obsessively pander to seasonal beauty trends; undergo various surgeries and learn numerous makeup practices. Many of them, in spite of the millions of positive comments and such they receive on their pictures, still feel like they are ugly. The goal that we are injected with, constantly, is to always aspire to be richer, prettier, smarter, faster: to amass as many roses as possible, without giving ourselves adequate time and space to actually smell the ones in our possession.

A good life, as we can all fairly unanimously agree, involves the following:

  • Spirituality. This can generally be defined as the possession and maintenance of a positive connection with one’s soul, in conjunction with a sense of connectivity with the universe around us – and which we are a part of – as well as everything else it inhabits, including our fellow human beings, and animals. From all this, we benefit from an enduringly enriching sense of peace and purpose.

Although, in recent times, many have attempted to wholly secularise the concept of spirituality, presenting it and the notion of religion (i.e. the worship of our Creator) as  being two centrally separable things, I think – and psychologists know – that the instinct to worship, in humans, is an innate one. Atheists have actively unlearnt – subverted and re-channelled this instinct (mainly into following liberal ideologies, in tandem with these newly engineered notions of ‘secular spirituality’); meanwhile, theists are acting upon an in-built human desire.

I think that religion itself is a sort of ‘organised spirituality’. But, of course, within organised religion, spirituality can often be (counterproductively, and antithetically to the aim of religion, which seeks to connect humans with our Creator, and with the rest of His creation) taken out of the equation. Religion sans spirituality is like a body without a soul: lacking animation. Or like knowledge without wisdom: lacking purpose.

 

  • Tending, with great care, to our mental landscapes. To a great extent, life is what we each make of it: every experience we will ever have will be filtered through our mental landscapes. We must train ourselves to be more grateful; more able to see the good in things; more resistant to being susceptible to image-based and ideological deceit and delusion.

 

  • Also nurturing our physical wellbeing; acknowledging that our bodies, minds and souls are inextricably linked. This means eating what is Tayyib (pure, good) and Halāl. Doing what humans need to do: drinking water. Exercising. Sleeping. [Playing!] In this temporal world, we are, like everything else that is physical, a system of parts. Overall physical health relies on the health of individual systems – cardiovascular, ocular, respiratory… all of it.

 

  • Being content with who we are, at our cores. And [thus] embracing authenticity. Truly realising that comparing ourselves to our perceptions of others and their lives; trying to be other than what we are is unbelievably futile, and a waste of our (finite, precious) time on this planet. Everybody is made up of darkness (flaws, faults, past mistakes, and more) as well as light (talents, skills, merits, etc.). Perhaps true self-contentment  would rely on our acceptance of the darknesses; our ventures towards self-improvement (and not perfection); our consciously choosing to focus on the good, thus forcing it to grow.

The achievement of a true, deep sense of self-contentment naturally results in the enrichment of our social connections – which we can healthily, meaningfully, take from and give to.

 

  • Living a life of Mediums. The Qur’an and various Hadiths tell us that we Muslims are to be a nation of middles; that we should not commit excess in anything. No excess in food, nor in worship, nor sleep, exercise, consumption of news and information, studying… All this – this being given to excesses – disrupts the crucial balances that are needed for goodness. The Good Life is one that is not too quiet, nor too loud. Not too busy, nor too still. Not too routine-centric, nor too unpredictable. You get the picture.

 

  • Personal pursuits. Creative outlets; personal projects; businesses; our career-related pursuits. It is an innate human need to have to feel at once connected and communal, and like individuals, at precisely the same time. In conjunction with spirituality, our personal pursuits imbue our lives with a sense of purpose.

 

  • Reflection. Silence. Slowness. At least some time and space in our weeks – our days – for these necessary things. The world around us, in modern times, is just too frenetic, and too loud. Silence is one of the most beautiful melodies; it allows us to hear ourselves.

 

So many of us have been living in perpetual states of dissatisfaction, denial, delusion, and distraction, for so long. I think it is time for an awakening – a quiet but profound one,  and one that thrusts us back into the sorts of lifestyles we should have been living all along: the Tayyib life – the ‘good’, human one. We are due for a good, deep spring clean – of our minds, bodies, (living spaces,) and souls. We can all find our ways to the truly Good life, but first, we may require a slight reminder of what it actually means to be (and live in accordance with our being) human… 

Less: Materialism [“Things are just things; they don’t make you who you are,” – Macklemore. It is not about what we have, but about their functionality, and about what good we are able to (make ourselves) gain from them]. Jealousy. Restlessness. Exhaustion. Monotony. Over-thinking. Stress. Doing things for external approval or validation, rather than for the contentment of our own souls. Anger. Self-criticism; gratuitous criticism of others. Blind consumption of things that do not bring us peace [and this might include ‘muting’ certain people online; resisting the urge to check the news before bed; cutting down drastically on junk food].

More: Purpose. Helping others [“The best among you is the one who benefits others most.” – Prophet Muhammad (SAW)]. Intelligence: spiritual, emotional, worldly, historical, linguistic… Connection with nature [which we habitually forget that we are a part of. Caught between the terrestrial and the celestial, we human beings are…]. Positive experiences [after all, people don’t really want Lamborghinis: they want the experience of owning and driving one]. Learning. Love. Gratitude. Romanticisation of our lives [that cup of coffee in your hand is the best. Your train commutes in Spring are gorgeous, serene, like a cut-out scene from a Studio Ghibli movie. Romanticisation is not an identical concept to delusion. It is simply about taking heed of the fact that all human reality is experienced subjectively; through the vessels of our individual minds. Therefore, if you say to yourself that who you are, where you are – this very moment in time, and this point in space – and what you have are wonderful, and that it does not get better than this, this will become your personal truth – your reality]. A sense of connectedness. Self-comfort and -confidence. Making feelings of contentment far less conditional – whether on future periods of our lives, other people, or other places. Reflection. Becoming excellent – masters – of our personal pursuits. Hope. Īman. Excitement. Laughter. The goodness of life is to be found in all the intangible things.

It is, at once, entirely understandable, and yet quite surprising, just how many reverts to Islam – ex-avid partygoers, celebrities, people who had previously truly indulged in the adornments of this world (drugs, alcohol, sex…) without limit – have commented on how much peace the decision to accept Islam brought to their hearts and lives. The ‘sweetness of Īman’, they say, is worth more than all the pleasures of the world, put together.

“Alhamdulillah (thanking God) means everything. Drinking a glass of water – Alhamdulillah. Having an opportunity to speak to you – Alhamdulillah. Seeing my wife and kids – Alhamdulillah. I always have my creator in the front of my mind.

Look, I chased girls. I drank alcohol, spent lavishly and thought I was someone that I wasn’t. I lived that life and, in my experience, what did it give me? Hollowness and emptiness in my heart.”

– Sonny Bill Williams, New Zealand Professional Rugby Player 

This is who we are: these are what our faces and bodies look like [Alhamdulillah]; these are our interests and hobbies; these are our financial situations; these are our histories; our ethnic cultures; our homes; these are our merits and talents. These are what our lives look like. The question is not about how much we can fantasise about being other people, about living different lives. The real question – the one whose answers can be conducive to us actually living Good Lives – is this one: how are we going to make the most of it all? 

“Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. But in the Hereafter (there is) a severe torment (for the disbelievers, evil-doers), and (there is) Forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the believers, good-doers), whereas the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment”

– Holy Qur’an (57:20)

Please share with others, if you found this post beneficial / think others might!

Sadia Ahmed, 2020 

Yellows, Blues

Smells exactly like dystopia.

 

Like singular beams of sunshine, washing emptied train carriages through and through.

 

And it looks rather like euphoria,

Like sunflowers left in the sink, bathing in undisturbed beauty, as yellow petals tend to do.

 

Feels like a string of subtle reminders that we are only human,

Like an accidental bite into a chilli pepper, a sneeze, a magnificent little blush too.

 

Then it smells like dystopia all over again,

Like our bloodstreams bleeding out their mistakes, ink falling in water –

Slow contamination through and through.

 

Tastes like the first glance one may get of oneself in an emptying humid room,

Like doing away with all hot air, and leaving behind solely what is true.

 

Sounds, yet again, like people being alone, self-isolated, in enchanted castle-top rooms,

Like crisis, and panic-buying; like headstrong and selfish humans who haven’t got even the slightest of clues.

 

And in all this wit and madness, it certainly feels like real happy poetic inspirations are few;

Like we’re all constantly falling, gliding, sort of doing what only humans can properly, meaningfully, do.

 

But you will read this poem, in ten years’ time, perhaps; we will have survived it, through every single starry night, through the yellows; through the blues.

And yes, sunflower person: out of order and within chaos, this poem was written specifically for you.

Ask Sadia: Feeling Rotten

 

Screenshot 2020-03-15 at 20.12.21Screenshot 2020-03-15 at 20.12.32

Dear M.,

Thank you for your submission.

Truth be told, I’m not really in a position to dish out diagnoses right now [currently, I have literally no psychological qualifications – not even a GCSE in the subject!] however I would definitely advise you to consider seeking out an official diagnosis for what you may have and perhaps some therapy: you might be suffering from mild depression – or dysthymia, as it is sometimes otherwise known.

We need to remember that the thing about other people is that they will always have differing, and subjective, opinions on pretty much everything, including on you. One person may love a certain type of chocolate; his brother may absolutely detest it. Opinions also change cross-temporally. What a person loves with all their heart one day, they may come to despise the very next day.

But is it healthy to allow our views of ourselves to be attached to other people’s opinions/perceptions of us, when we know how unstable – and, how oftentimes inaccurate – such opinions can be? You are who you say you are. It took me a while to fully understand this [firstly, I come from a big Desi extended family, which can be rather gratuitously judgemental at times; secondly, I went to a secondary school at which ‘differences’ within individuals were often deeply frowned upon] but it is undoubtedly true. You will not be palatable to everybody; this is an unavoidable fact. You will be loved by some; loathed by others. But you have the power to choose which group of people you invest your time and efforts into. And, ultimately, the only two beings you actually need validation from are, a) God, and b) yourself – your core self, and not any diluted version of you that others concoct in their own faulty imaginations. Seek advice from your loved ones, definitely, but only seek real validation from God and from yourself.

And are you really an intrinsically bad – a ‘rotten’ – person? Is it not true that all of us are deeply flawed as human beings? We all have our ‘cons’ and we all have our merits. But what we focus on tends to be what grows. So if you internally punish yourself by ruminating on all your deficiencies and flaws, you will come to see these perceptively negative traits as your most defining ones.

I would say that these worries of yours are very real concerns, but I also want to reassure you that they are all surmountable. Even the ongoing feelings of sadness and rottenness are completely superable, Insha-Allah.

I think you should know that this has very much been one of my personal struggles, too: that of fully being comfortable within myself; self-validating, self-regulating, self-loving. This is what I think you might need to intentionally work on: if your core is secure and fulfilled, you will be able to internalise compliments from your loved ones and such in a healthy manner. And [I know with this whole Corona crisis, the practice is strongly being encouraged but] social isolation is not a particularly productive practice. In doing so – in ‘distancing’ yourself, because of your personal insecurities – you are not heroically ‘protecting’ yourself and others. Human beings need other human beings. Your friends are made up of flaws, merits, mistakes, and accomplishments, just like you are. Good friends support each other: they can confide in one another, and they build one another up. So overcoming these struggles with feeling ‘like a bad person’ and such will likely necessitate firstly building a good relationship with yourself, and, secondarily, also actively nurturing your relationships with others. It is so okay if you slip up from time to time: this means that you are human, and that you are trying.

You are not a burden. And you are highly probably not permanently ‘broken’. All people are a little bit ‘broken’, and a little bit ‘ugly’ in terms of the things we feel and do. But there is beauty in all of us, too. We need to focus on this inherent beauty; we must allow this to flourish! There is a Hadith that tells us that for every son of Adam, and for every daughter of Eve, there are some who will love him/her, and some who will dislike him/her. The things that some may love in you, others will find a way to flip into something perceptively ugly. Haters will be haters, but only we get to decide if…they get to decide who we are [if that made any sense at all…].

And it is absolutely never the wrong time to ‘begin again’ if you feel like doing so. Pray to Allah (SWT), and ask Him to help you on this journey. With a little bit of effort on our parts, we can wash away all considerations of yesterday; of our heightened self-critical faculties. Let’s be reasonable and rational here: we are flawed beings, each trying our best. And the fact that you care about being a good – a better – person shows that you are probably not ‘rotten’ at all. Within the Islamic tradition, is it not true that Allah (SWT) forgives all sins if we turn to Him? If our Rabb is so very forgiving toward us, why is it that we tend to be so very unforgiving towards ourselves? 

I wish you the best of luck on this journey of healing of yours, dear M. And Insha-Allah, in due time, and in parallel with your trying to be kind to, and gentle with, yourself, all these negative feelings will subside, and all that is (inherently) good within you will come to bloom. Bismillah.

Sincerely,

 

Sadia.

Ask me a question (or tell me what’s on your mind) here


Sadia Ahmed, 2020

Islam and Sex[uality]

[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]

Human sexuality. How human beings express themselves sexually; how we experience sex. The phenomena this idea encompasses are at once centrally biological, physical, psychological, social, emotional, and spiritual. And is it weird to place these two words – Islam and sex – next to one another? Many Muslims nowadays treat the entire thing as if it is something wholly shameful; something that should not be talked about. But Islam offers a complete way of life to its proponents. And sex is an intrinsic part of the human experience. So what is the Islamic take on it?

Muslims are human beings too. We believe in fulfilling our biological and emotional needs: eating, sleeping, exercising, getting married and having sex. But many of us display a knee-jerk negative reaction of sorts when it comes to discussing sexual matters. It is an implicit expectation, in many Islamic sub-communities, that we all display utmost levels of Hayaa’ (modesty, shyness) when it comes to the topic of our more carnal desires, until the time for marriage comes along… and then we are supposed to somehow just know everything.

Within Islamic circles, it has not always been this way: in fact, from the advent of Islam onwards, there has been a notable amount of positive literature (in particular, written in the Arabic language) published on the topics of sex and erotology. This is entirely Halāl – permissible – granted that the discussions take place with regard to activity within a marital framework. So why is there a stark lack of Islamic sexual literature written in the lingua franca of the modern world – English – today?

The truth is, the common widespread tendency to circumvent all talk of sex and sexual relationships and such, within Muslim families and communities, is as a direct result of the introduction of Victorian ethics into Muslim cultures – whether directly, through the forces of colonialism, or a little more indirectly, through gradual ‘soft’ colonialism. Yes, I refer to the same British Victorians who were known to have covered table legs so as to prevent ‘unnecessary arousal’ in men.

It is true that Hayaa’ is a key part of the Islamic faith. We are meant to display Hayaa’ in how we speak; walk; dress; eat. Feelings of shame are important when it comes to preventing immoral behaviour. But talking about sex is not improper or immoral at all. In fact, such discussions are an indigenous part of the Islamic tradition, and sex is a fundamental part of the human experience. 

“Hayaa’ does not bring anything but good.”

– Prophet Muhammad (SAW) (Hadith, [Bukhari])

 In fact, not talking about sex – refusing to talk about it – results in a number of counterproductive adverse effects. Sexual repression is a very real thing, and this practice does not simply ‘turn off’ sexual desires in hormonal teenagers until they get married… The sexual essence of the adolescent human will remain. If you choose to speak to them and educate them on the matter, they will have some clarity, and someone to talk to, and to be advised and guided by. However, if you allow it to remain an untouched and taboo issue (like other stigmatised issues) it will not simply cease to exist: the subject will merely be pushed underground. And it will grow, resulting in such things as porn addictions, unhealthy views pertaining to sex and body image and human sexuality, and, even, perhaps, to future hyper-sexuality and related perversions.

Sex is undoubtedly a gift from God. Unlike some of our fellow People of the Book (of the Holy scriptures) we do not believe that the sole purpose of sexual activities is procreation. We strongly believe in the merits of the whole pleasure element. It is a sacred, pleasurable, spiritual act. In fact, Muhammad (SAW) likened having sex with one’s spouse to “tasting the sweetness of [each other’s] honey“.

According to the Islamic tradition, marriage is a very sacred institution – “half of faith” itself, according to one Hadith. And healthy marriages are made up of love, trust, and respect. Sexual activity is to be partaken in both as an expression of conjugal love – a communicative device – and as a general augmenter of it.

Neither the Prophet (SAW) nor the early Muslims were shy to talk about the human reality of intrinsic sexuality. But they did not recklessly indulge in every worldly desire they may have had. Muslims believe that, in this world, we must live lives of conscious moderation; of curbing our base desires for the sake of being noble human beings, and good Muslims.

Sex is not disallowed in Islam. Extramarital sex is impermissible, sure. But Islam is wholly against things like monasticism and lifelong celibacy. We are also not meant to give into our desires of uncurbed sexual activity in this life – with as many sexual partners as we please. “Do not commit excess,” the Holy Qur’an commands of us. We are to eat, and to drink, and to socialise with one another, and to have sex with our spouses, and to enjoy our lives as much as possible, but we are to do all this within the given constructs of Halal and Harām, and we are not to be given to over-indulgence and excess.

Between a married man and woman, mutual pleasure is seen as an obligatory facet of the blessed relationship. In fact, and this may come as a shock to anti-Islamic Western feminists, Islam places a great amount of emphasis on the sexual (and emotional) gratification of the wife in a conjugal setting: she even has the right to initiate a divorce with him if he fails to satisfy her sexually! 

Human beings have all sorts of intrinsic needs, desires, wants, and motivations. According to the Islamic tradition, some of these should be actively nurtured, while others should be actively restrained. And the nature of the human male is such that he finds himself extremely attracted to femininity and the beauty of the female form. Our Creator knows this – and instructs men to “lower [their] gaze”; to avoid “unrestrained glances”. This is an example of ‘inner Jihad’ – of self-overcoming, for the sake of God.

Likewise, human females – we like to beautify ourselves. We like to experiment with makeup, and with clothes that show off our figures. Many women are given to undergoing cosmetic surgeries and such to further indulge in these desires. And we, too, are attracted to masculinity. Thus, our test, the point of our self-overcoming, here, is to be modest in our attire outside, and also to “lower [our] gaze”.

The Islamic view is that spouses have a right to each other – to each other’s comfort, and to each other’s time, and to each other’s sexual richnesses. An unmarried Muslim man is not allowed to have premarital sexual partners now because his future wife has a right to him. This is the same for married individuals: adultery – and even ‘soft adultery’, like kissing a person of the opposite gender on the cheek, or indulging in watching pornographic content – is not allowed, irrespective of how much modern Western society normalises this sort of thing.

There is beauty in balance. And there is value in fewness. Thus, one of the purposes of restraint until – and, with regard to other people, during – marriage is to beautify and enrich the marital experience. If you actively lower your gaze, trying not to look at the beautiful physical forms of men/women you are not married to (and restraining yourself from even being emotionally vulnerable with them) you are more likely to see your future (or current) husband or wife as the most physically attractive person, and the best confidant you have ever had; your eventual sexual and romantic experiences will hopefully be more meaningful, and more rich, as a direct result.

Sadly, in the modern world – this world that appears to thrive on hyper-sexuality [almost everything is sexualised, here!] sex is something that is seen as easy and cheap. This is because sex sells. In line with the norms of consumerist culture (which also promotes other spiritual malpractices and ills, including arrogance, gluttony, and deceit), the sacred practice is commodified. Individuals’ sexualities are presented as products that can be purchased. People consume sexual content without restraint. But, and as we as Muslims know, although such things may bring an immediate sense of pleasure – a momentary explosion of pleasure-giving neuro-chemicals – there tend to arise, from these activities, a number of personal and societal ills, in the long run. And we are not meant to be slaves to our base instincts and desires: the guidelines presented to us in the forms of Qur’an and Hadith are for the physical and spiritual good of ourselves, and for the good of the people around us – for those we have moral responsibilities towards.

I would highly recommend the following podcast episode (both Part One, and Part Two) for a better grasp on the issues of the highly sexual, ‘porn-ified’, culture around us: Deenspiration [on Spotify] -> Episode 11

And, for a better understanding on Islamic takes on sexuality and erotology, check out the following podcast episode: Coffee with Karim [on Spotify] -> Episode 16

These are conversations that we need to start normalising, within Muslim circles. We need to be able to communicate, in a healthy manner, about marital rights and responsibilities; porn and the prevalent detrimental culture of unrestrained glances and sexuality; sexual dysfunction; sexual health; sexual abuse. If we brush all these pressing issues under a rug, they will not simply and effortlessly disappear. Rather, they will remain there, and they will grow in severity, until we are forced to address them.

Sexual repression is not a healthy practice. Neither is the general phenomenon of hyper-sexuality, which often manifests as a result of extreme stress. Balance, balance, balance. Islam encourages such things as early marriage; voluntary fasting for those who struggle with hyper-sexual tendencies; the beautification of the marital experience. But nowhere in the native Islamic tradition does it tell us to refuse to talk about sex altogether. We are simply told that sex is a beautiful and sacred and highly pleasurable gift, designed to be participated in within the blessed companionship that Nikkah – marriage – ought to offer to the individual.

 

*Please share with others, if you found this post beneficial / think others might!*


Sadia Ahmed, 2020 

You’re Weird.

According to the OED, the term ‘weird’ refers to something “very strange; bizarre”. This is its informal definition. The definition of ‘strange’ is as follows: “unusual or surprising; difficult to understand or explain.” Now, with regard to a more formal definition of the adjective ‘weird’, it actually means “suggesting something supernatural or unearthly”. Thus, if you are weird, the chances are that you are, a) different from the norm – and that you are therefore rare; b) as a result of your numerical rarity, you are also difficult to understand, by the general populace. Finally, c) there is a high chance that you also have about you a ‘supernatural’ quality; some sort of ‘unearthly’ mystique. 

In general, human beings tend to seek out a stable sense of belonging, via validation from those around us. Firstly, we need to feel like we belong within our nuclear family units, and then, in our extended family units; our workplaces, our schools. And, of course, we yearn for a sense of belonging within the wider construct of society. Without these feelings of authentic belonging, we become susceptible to some of the most unpleasant and unfavourable sentiments – those of feeling like societal rejects; like abnormalities; like weirdos. 

And we try, so desperately hard, to run away from this label. “You’re weird“. “Freak!” is what we hear. “Societal mistake”; “cultural anomaly”; “reject”. We crave not to be outcast in such a way; we need to feel like we belong. And we often find ourselves under the impression that to belong is to be exactly like those around us. 

This is a valid idea: many of the values, ways of doing things (etc.) that we acquire over the courses of our lives do come from the people around us – in particular, from those in senior authority positions, relative to ourselves. Parents, teachers, bosses at work, the ‘role models’ we place upon perceptive idealistic planes…

But who decides what is normal, and what is not? Is it merely a game of numbers? The majority of the population does this, and is like this, therefore this is the norm, i.e. what is normal. Does that mean that everyone and everything that strays from what is numerically most popular is to be deemed weird? 

What if the majority of the world’s inhabitants were to suddenly find themselves plagued by some sort of neurodegenerative disease that rendered them all prone to seeing hallucinations? What if they all were to start walking around barefoot, and hugging every tree they saw, and poking each other’s noses by way of greeting one another? According to our earlier definitions of normal and weird, this would all, by default, become the new normal. And anything and anyone who were to stray from this – what has become the most popular way of doing things – would be labelled as weird. 

The fact of the matter is, most of us fear being weird. We think the concept of being different naturally means that we are like science experiments gone wrong; like physical abnormalities in abstract cages, self-criticising, while the rest of the world gawks at and laughs at us.

But, and in reality, people laugh at what is different; at what causes them some discomfort. And what causes discomfort tends to be what is unfamiliar. This is why people often laugh at politically incorrect jokes; these jokes cause some degree of discomfort in people, which can be released via the outlet of laughter. Furthermore, with regard to criticism, people always display inclinations towards commenting on what is different; unfamiliar; discomfort-inducing.

If you were to walk along beside a line of pine trees, and if you then came across a single cherry blossom tree, the cherry blossom tree is likely to immediately catch your attention. And, whether or not you choose to acknowledge it, the cherry blossom tree remains objectively beautiful. Her beauty is only accentuated by the fact that there are few like her, in her vicinity. Few pine trees could ever possibly understand her. But she is there, and she is weird. And ‘weird’ is not an inherently bad thing; this is surely all a matter of perspective.

And, besides, what are we, all of us, but grown-up children? Do we not all trip up sometimes on pavements; spill food; go to use the potty? We still have tantrums – whether we choose to show these to the world or not. We feel unmitigated rage; we feel jealous; we show off. Pretty much all of the things that children – these beings that hold mirrors up to our true core selves – do, adults do, too. Adulthood is but a game of seasoned childhood, with some additional moral frameworks in the mix…

All the things you do; all the things you perhaps dislike about yourself are probably pretty normal. It’s just that some things, as we have all implicitly decided within greater society, can be shown. Other things must be kept hidden.

Interestingly, and in light of the fact that we are all merely overgrown children, human babies are born having only two ‘built-in’ fears: that of falling, and that of loud noises. Every other fear and insecurity that we may have is gained along the way, via ‘nurture’ – via experience.

We have learnt (from the adults who were in charge of our care back then) what is to be seen as normal, and what is to be regarded – dismissed – as being weird. See, if you were to give a young child the chance to dress him- or herself, chances are, they will appear before you, minutes later, clad in wellington boots in the middle of the summer; animal-print tops that do not match their tracksuit trousers; raincoats on days where rain does not look like a probable occurrence at all…

Children are the weirdest of creatures. And this is what makes them so intrinsically wonderful. Their intrinsic human creative faculties have not yet been curbed; rather, these are nurtured every single day by a general fearlessness of being labelled as strange.

Children see almost every fellow child in the entire world as a potential fellow playmate. They point at random squirrels, name them ‘Alison’ or ‘Percy’, and call them their “pets”. They get tubs of face cream and smear it all over their hair. They invent weird languages, and handshakes, and make pointless devices out of cardboard. Weird is precisely how they learn. 

And if you were to force a young child into modern accepted brackets of normality (e.g. forcing them to sit on a swivel chair in a sparsely-decorated office, filling out piles of paperwork, with a twenty-minute coffee break in between all their hours) they would, to put it succinctly, freak out. Such things – such notions that we gradually imbue children with as they grow up – that this is how you are meant to end up – are wholly unnatural to the unaffected child. These things run antithetical to the weird essence of the young human.

Do we truly outgrow our own selves, after childhood? Is that truly the case? Or is it more so a case of plastering atop our essential selves affectations of ‘adulthood’, and of ‘propriety’, and of blunted weirdness, and curbed creativity?

Weird is necessary for progress. If you try the same things over and over again, you will end up with the very same results, over and over again. This is true both on an individual, and on a wider societal, scale. The iPhone was invented because a certain man decided to be a bit weird. Frida Kahlo’s legendary works of art are intrinsically weird. “Only one mountain can know the core of another mountain,” she once said. Only one weird person can know the wonderful core of another weird person. 

How else did Barack Obama become the first black president of the USA? Was it a normal decision that he made – to run in the election? No – it was weird – it was unheard of to have an African-American person in such a noble and important position, back then. But weird is necessary for change, until the virtuous elements of weird become the new normal. Marie Curie; Prophet Muhammad (SAW); Virginia Woolf; the Buddha. Though widely celebrated individuals now, back then, they were utter weirdos. And this was precisely their collective superpower: they could be weird, and they could thus see things differently. This allowed them to do things differently – weirdly, albeit, in the direction of much good.

If you are weird, congratulations! Though you may be acutely self-conscious, self-critical, and numerically few, you are of extremely high value. And almost every single thing you frown upon yourself for doing or being can be either flipped or neutralised; it is all a matter of mindset and interpretation.

“I’m awkward.” No – you’re adorable, and your actions are so very endearing. 

“I’m too much of an introvert.” Your mind must be beautiful; you actively nurture it by being outwardly silent. Your words have more weight – more value – whenever you do speak. 

“I do x and y. I’m such a freak.” Millions of other human beings probably do – and have, throughout history done – exactly whatever you do. You’re not a freak at all. Every human action is borne from a universal human motivation… whether this be the motivation to play and to enjoy the world; to learn and explore; to experience platonic and romantic love… 

“I embarrass myself, over and over again.” Good. That means you are alive and human. And it means you are tryingKeep trying, please! 

Some of my most favourite fictional characters are ‘weird’, and, for the most part, this is exactly why I love them. Rudy from ‘the Book Thief’. How adorable and endearing is he? It is safe to say, I had the biggest crush on him when I was younger. Sadly, he does not exist.

Jessica Day from ‘New Girl’. Polka dots, wide-frame glasses, saying weird things, and at all the wrong times. Sweet, funny, super unique, interesting, unpredictable. Who wouldn’t want her as a friend?!

Riley from ‘Girl Meets World’. What a weirdo. She has stars in her eyes; gets excited at the smallest of things. She is a tad naive, but, and like Jessica Day, who wouldn’t want her as a friend?!

Farkle from ‘GMW’, too. Initially, he sported a bowl-cut hairstyle. He would wear turtlenecks, and he had a whole host of strange idiosyncratic behaviours. He was funny, and very strange, and such a sensitive and loyal friend. Fictional crush the second, who unfortunately does not exist.

Then, there’s Topanga from ‘Boy Meets World’, and, later, ‘Girl Meets World’. One of my (fictional) role models. Topanga starts out as the definition of ‘weird’. She is… a hippie. ‘Child of the universe’, glassy eyes that just gaze into distances. She spontaneously performs rain dances and applies lipstick, as warpaint, to her face. When she is younger, she is one of the most sensitive, intelligent, loyal, and beautifully different souls out there. And she grows up to be a lawyer and a cafe-owner, with a wonderful (rather weird) family. Adulthood catches up with the great Topanga in the end, sure, but the beauty of her weirdness remains.

Hermione from Harry Potter. “Mental, that one,” Ron (ironically, her future husband) remarks, upon watching her sit beneath the Sorting Hat. Hermione is proudly weird; Luna Lovegood, too. Sometimes they are both mocked by those around them. But people throw rocks at things that shine. And, oh, how Hermione and Luna shine. 

And, finally, one of the best (fictional, unfortunately) couples in existence: the legendary Jake and Amy from ‘Brooklyn-99’What utter weirdos! Jake, the joker: jumps on grown men, is forever making childish jokes, always embarrasses himself. And, Amy, whom Rosa and Gina initially deem “a loser”. Stationery advocate; crossword aficionado; she has one friend outside of the precinct. But – nay, and – she is so very loved, and she is one of the greatest sergeants of her time.

Of course, fiction does not wholly represent human reality. But, often, it can give an acceptably good indication of it. Both in fictional worlds and in the real world, weird is what gives rise to adventure, and to greatness, and to fun. So here’s to your weirdnesses, dear reader – to all of them, even to the ones you cannot bring yourself to love, just yet.

See, weird is the very thing that makes small children fall in love with the world, in the first place. And weird might just be what it may take for us to stay there, in that childishly blissful state we have all, at some point, had the pleasure of experiencing.