Gang Aft Agley

 

An adventure, and some quite random reflections. 

This ‘academic year’, I had taken a gap year. A year of not having attended any formal educational establishment. I have very much learnt that life is more than dictated schedules of nine to five, and that some very good things can come from states of utter uncertainty — if one has faith, that is. My own gap year was, in no way, a pause year in terms of life. It had simply been another year of it. Life: waking up every morning; eating, learning, laughing, having existential crises, writing. Up until the other bookend of the day: going to sleep.

Time, and how I had been spending mine.

Did I find that I ‘found myself’, this year? Well, perhaps such a question escapes the point. Maybe it is not about ‘finding oneself’. It is simply about you (you are yourself already) and about how you are living.

All life is but a series of days. And each individual day contains, within it, life. 

 

Religion

I reckon we all need it. And that we know that we have a Creator. Who made us this perfect? And that all around us, there are signs for all of we who are willing to have faith. Things get quite confusing at times, I know. But may we always find our way back home.

I have learnt that nothing is better than ‘Ilm, and the stuff that gives the heart true serenity — nothing at all. And, while all the rest of the world might be always-in-a-hurry, almost perpetually in motion, I hope that our hearts remain steadfast, always beating in recognition of the One who made them, responsive to the facts of their own blessed aliveness.

Welcome to a world that has almost completely forgotten God. Where, ironically, the West operates upon originally Christian ideals (the Protestant Work Ethic, notions of human rights) but in such twisted and hypocritical ways. And belief, one finds, can understandably be extremely hard, at times.

But how blessed I feel, to be Muslim. Subhan Allah. 

When it comes to Islam, the emphasis is very much on Pure Monotheism. In this world, pretty much everyone is enslaved to at least one thing. Devoting oneself to something; directing one’s efforts towards these things, organising one’s time around it. Even the way we think about the education system, sometimes. Seemingly benign. But actually rather (significantly) detrimental: eat well and sleep well so you can perform wellEducation is the primary consideration: a deity, almost. Etc. And obedience to these systems, or sacrificial devotions to… national flags and such, being the very centrepieces of these lives of ours: this is something that I am desperate to disconnect from. Otherwise it simply would not be Pure Monotheism, would it?

 

In the most dark and difficult parts of this year, the doors of the mosque were always open, for me to walk right through. And, those portions of the evening spent in the part of my local mosque that is dimly illuminated by panels of light from the corridor, which would stretch out right across the carpeted floor. A women-only space. Those evenings are quite unforgettable; I have rarely ever known a deeper kind of peace.

 

People, Connections 

This year especially, I find I have learnt much about friendship, and about family. The connections ‘of the womb’, and those of the soul. Allahummabārik, some of my kindred spirits, my soulmates, are cousins of mine, while others of them, I had been fortunate enough to meet at school, or elsewhere. They are the people whom I know want the best for me, and for whom I want nothing but the best, too.

Spending time with them. I feel so at ease; it is something different. Peace and play, and a unique sort of spiritual fulfilment. And they are nothing less than the lights of my life, if I am to be honest; my world.

Considerations of family, and of ‘home’, should not be pushed to the side. And my heart had really missed that sort of true quality time (whereby my attentions had been, for the most part, undivided) that I had been able to spend with particular family members, this year.

I have realised that I do not wish to be liked (or, loved) based on such things as my scholastic activities, nor even the things (books, media) I may consume. Nor for how I might look on paper, or on a phone screen. Not for outside, ephemeral, image-based factors. No, no. I want for my connections to always be so terribly (terrifically) real; the places where existing as I am is truly enough.

I cannot imagine my life without you in it.”

When it comes to matters of the soul, and its messenger of choice: love, my mind seems to generate this imagery of a treehouse. A place of resort, hidden away in the greenery. And I think of cosiness, and the wood and the Earth. About putting the rest of the world away; feeling entirely safe. Spaces for reflection, and in which to spread one’s wings. Kind eyes, shoulders to lean on; all that is good, and true, and beautiful, concentrated into this small home of wood. Excitement, too: buzzes of true connectivity. And nowhere in the world do you feel more significant and genuinely alive than in this little treehouse, tucked away somewhere who-knows-where. Nobody ‘gets’ you like they do. (Nobody needs to ‘get’ you like they do.)

The basis need not be the state of being near identical, to them. No, no. It is less about ‘finding oneself in others’, and more, I think, about finding oneself (a distinctively different entity) with certain others. Interactions: you move, they move. And resulting equilibria. Two beings, together. I am not sure how to fully express it in words, actually.

And only closeness can bring about… closeness. Nothing else. Physical proximity, the eyes, and the hands, and the spirit. Bonds, and how they are watered, nurtured. And real closeness is the most important thing ever.

Forget the labels. Forget about whom you are only ‘meant to’ like, and focus on your real loves, to have, and to hold, and to eat with, and to be an absolute idiot with. Who will stand with you in the warmth; who will sit there with you, in warm silences, for when it is cold.

With them, one’s heart is full. Without them, life is empty. Their smiles light up the entire world; they are whom your heart longs to always know. They are yours, and you are theirs.

And I write about this stuff because I know it is the most important thing in the entire world: the connections of one’s soul.

 

Life. And you.

These days are passing us by; they are almost as long as they are short. And you, dear one:

you will be fine. 

 

Are you ‘enough’? Well, what sort of a question is that? You have always been enough; will, to the right people, always be enough.

And, you, you, you: there is no better person for you to be!

 

‘Who we are’, as well as our subjective experiences of life: these are determined by the things we acquire. Within each of us, there are the seeds of potential(s). Potential(s) for good, and those for evil. And, for what we can be, and for how well we can be them. The potential(s) within me are necessarily going to be different than those within you.

What sort(s) of potential do you find you, as an individual, may hold? And how are you going to acquire the good stuff? And how are you going to focus on you and tending attentively to your own unique set of seeds?

 

So long as the centre is sound, know that all else will be fine, too.

 

 

The Road to Scotland 

Travelling is fun. But whom you go with is everything: the shapers of your experience. And, trite but true: life is a journey. Whom one’s companions are, for the ride: this a most crucial consideration, indeed.

I have always loved Scotland. Even before visiting… though not in a delusional, idealistic way. For everything Scotland is, she is wonderful. Cloudy skies and rain included. Scotland is certainly worth a 10-hour car journey with my sometimes hyperactive little cousins for; even worth enduring the adults who would not stop blasting cheesy Bengali music much of the way through.

Being with certain people, I find, never fails to ignite my spirit. My little cousin Isa, for example: my best frenemy. A grandfatherly figure in the form of a child. Often ‘grumpy’, always sarcastic. Whenever he sees me with a book in my hands, he is known to call me a “boring nerd”. And, whenever I see him with a book in his hands (the little hypocrite!) I call him the very same thing. Nine years of age, and probably already the most responsible adult I know. And I love it when Isa has all these things to tell me about the things he has read. Or when he annoys me and we chase each other around; when my little grandfather-like cousin suddenly cannot stop laughing. When his siblings and I go crazy together, while he just sits and stares at us disapprovingly. Though he is my cousin, I also consider him to be my brother, and nothing but.

Cousin Moosa, also. But I have chosen to rename him ‘Throckmorton’. While in Scotland, we stopped off at an awesome hillside ‘garden nursery’ [where one woman, by herself, tends to a very diverse, vibrant, array of flowering plants. There is also a wooden viewing hut, towards the top, from which one can gaze upon all the flowers, and at the massive glistening lake below!] I was awestruck by the sheer botanical variety: all these petals of yellow, and of red. The Earth really does laugh in flowers! In blues, in purples, and whites. Clusters of blossoms, ribbon-like designs, orchid arches, and more.

Throckmorton’s commentary, upon seeing the very same gorgeous garden that I had very much fallen in love with, had included the following:

“They just dash seeds in, and hope for the best!”

He added, while exploring:

Brexit means Brexit. I love Brexit!”

We took a cable car up to the top of a mountain in the Nevis range. I shared a gondola with Moosa and Maryam. Moosa decided to shake our carriage vigorously, in spite of how high up we had been, promptly before opening one of the little windows, to play at being a McDonald’s drive-thru worker, taking the fast food orders of… the mountains around us.

My cousin Maryam, who is, to me, my little sister. How glad I am that not all of my cousins are boys. Maryam is warmth and loveliness, and madness, and humour, and home, all wrapped up into one gorgeous human being.

And, their dad: my uncle. Adventurer extraordinaire; an amazing travel-planner. He knows how to plan things well, and he also knows how to (very effectively) be spontaneous. Scotland, as everybody who knows him knows of him, is his ‘true home’. So he had been more than happy to drive for those ten hours, since it meant that Scotland was to be our destination.

Then, my own dad: the most generous person I know, Allahummabārik. Whenever we go on these big trips, being the great foodie that he is, my dad tends to take care of what we eat, cooking for us, and finding different (great) food places. So we got to enjoy some of his homemade meat and chicken curry; some Moroccan food; Scottish fish and chips, and more. I really do think that Scottish fish and chips are the best in existence: probably because they seem to only use fresh fish, over there.

A Hadith tells us to live, in this world, as though we are “travellers”, wayfarers. What might this mean? When one travels, one knows to pack only the essentials. To explore, and to keep moving, and to walk upon the Earth with humility. To love places, but to not get too attached to them. And to know that this is certainly not all there is: one day, we will go Home.

 

While in Scotland, I could not help but think: if the landscapes of this one country are this sublime, imagine how wonderful Jannah must be!

 

Wow. 

In Scotland, the mountains touch the sky, and then the clouds roll right off of them. The very air is simply different, there. And something about the place just made me want to… lay down and hug the Earth or something.

For me, the place epitomises, at once, the notion of ‘home’, as well as that of ‘adventure’. At precisely the same time, and with zero contradiction. Age-old, and yet (courtesy of how its waters are always in motion, for example) ever-new. The landscape makes me think of dinosaurs, and of mythical tales, kind souls and warriors, unbridled spirits. And interspersed throughout those magnificent folding glens are a number of castle ruins!

 

Don’t know where we’re going 

but we know where we belong.”

 

— Harry Styles

 

Mountains and forests, needle-like trees: obedient rows and rows of them. And bodies of water, drenched in the most beautiful shades of blue. The silvery loch: half-water, half-mirror. Clusters of thistle bushes, little welcome bursts of purple. A train darting past, weaving through the hills, the very image of grace. What a dream, and, a true one at that!

A perfect mess of beautiful things…

 

“One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world’s end somewhere, and holds fast to the days.”

Willa Cather

 

For this trip, we had stayed at a lovely Edwardian house near River Ness [and I always find I much prefer staying at places that are not hotels. For a more ‘authentic’ experience (that is not really ‘authentic’,) of course.]

I quite love the look of tartan. Some tartan designs that incorporate purple into them: I found out that their dyes are made from Scottish heather! And I also found everything about the clans of Scotland truly fascinating. Age-old traditions, kilts, excellent manners, honour and compassion, communities centred on strong ties of kinship.

 

“And We made you into nations and tribes, so that you may become mutually acquainted.” 

— Holy Qur’an, [49:13]

 

My family members (and, indeed, this does seem to be quite common among Bengali adults) tend to compare most countries to their home one, Bangladesh. Fields, bagpipe music, lakes, clan systems. They find, in ‘most everything, something to compare with Bengali things.

When it comes to comparisons with the clan system, the Indian subcontinent in general has its caste system. Bangladesh has its ‘Baris’. Villages. From small family units, to bigger extended ones. Then, housing estates, and Baris. Then, towns and cities, and provinces, and, finally, the nation as a whole. Ideas pertaining to nations and tribes: I am able to really appreciate them insofar as they are of value; able to be, to a reasonable level, appreciated.

But when there is excessive (delusional) pride in a nation — or in a Bari, or in a clan. When one family or tribe looks down on the entirety of another one, generalising unfairly, saying that they are (all) ‘stingy’ or ‘ill-mannered’, or whatnot. Such attitudes of reification are erroneous and ahistorical. I simply cannot stand such mentalities.

We were created as a very social species; we organise ourselves, naturally, into nations and tribes. We are meant to become mutually acquainted; to appreciate cultures outside of our own. To recognise that ‘culture’ is not ever solid and stagnant. It is dynamic; always in motion, changing, just like how we ourselves are. Culture informs who we are, and we, in turn, very much also (continually) inform what it is.

I do so love things that are rooted in tradition. Such things can grant us strength and solidity. And I also love that we can also change things. Move to different places; marry outside of our own ‘cultures’. Appreciate the stories and customs of clans of old; recognise that they, too, had been ‘new’, once. We could even begin new clans and traditions of our own, too!

In Scotland, I had woken up as early as I could manage. Compared to some people, I suppose I ‘sleep in’ a lot. But, compared to cousin Maryam, I do not sleep much at all! While she and everyone else had still been asleep, I went outside for a little walk. Mainly to look at the flowers. I stopped by a cluster of them, and found a bee, doing its thing. I was quite mesmerised by it. And, suddenly, much to my surprise, I turned around to find Moosa and Maryam standing right there, behind me. We somehow started… serenading the bee, with a bee song. As you do. And the amazing little creature buzzed away precisely when our (glorious, gloriously out-of-tune) song had come to an end.

Maryam and I went to the river together, to explore; we walked for a while through the forest. I decided to try to sketch a map, in case we got lost. Well, despite (somewhat-) meticulously sketching out this map of mine, we did indeed get lost. So that was fun!

In the Scottish forests, I had stumbled upon many a mushroom [I think mushrooms are awesome]. And [can you tell that I love flowers?] flowers galore. 

In Bengali, it is something of a no-no to refer to one’s elders by name. Older brothers and male cousins, for instance, are addressed as ‘Bhai’, out of respect, while sisters are called ‘Afa’ or ‘Didi’. When Maryam had been much younger, she had given me the title ‘Fuldi’, which essentially means ‘flower sister’. Now all my younger cousins address me as this. And I am now able to see just how much of an example of ‘nominative determinism’ this has turned out to be.

The link between flowers and humanity is truly fascinating, is it not? How the little (and sometimes large) petalled things plaster our plates, our clothes, our works of art. We extract from them their unique scents for our perfumes; spices are made from them; we write poems about them. We wear them in our hair; base our Mendhi patterns off of them; decorate our rooms and wedding halls with them. They have a distinctively therapeutic quality about them, too, and thus find themselves in bunches, in vases beside hospital beds, in monasteries, in therapists’ offices. We gift them to others, as tokens of our love, of our sympathies, our thanks, and more.

Researchers have found (and I guess it goes without saying) that women in particular have a particular affinity toward flowers. And if you want to see a woman’s genuine (Duchenne) smile, as opposed to her ‘social’ or polite smile, you best give her some flowers!  [Source: ‘Country Life’ magazine, I cannae lie].

Flowers are, to quote the aforementioned magazine, “ineluctable emissaries of beauty”. Beauty makes us feel something; we have, within us, certain faculties that are primed to recognise it. Beauty tells us something about proportion, and about harmony, and Oneness. It inspires in us a yearning for something. I very much think it is one of the ways through which one can come to recognise, and be reminded of, one’s Creator.

While in the Highlands, I had learnt so much. Like about how, in Scotland, they speak Gaelic (pronounced Gallik) while in Ireland, they speak Gaelic (pronounced Gay-lik). And that ‘Mac’ is a surname prefix meaning ‘son [of]’. That a ‘glen’ is a steep-sided hill, a narrow valley; that, when one shouts something while standing in between several mountains, the ensuing echo is truly a thing to behold! I so love that one can learn, not just from books, but from random quotes etched into fences, from signposts, from people, from random leaflets, and, of course, from Country Life magazines…

 

The name ‘Inverness’ comes from the Gaelic ‘Inbhir Nis’. An ‘Inbhir’ refers to ‘a confluence of waters’. Two distinctive bodies of water; where it is that they meet. What a wonderful word indeed.

For one of our activities, we took a boat down Loch Ness. And, while on this cruise, we got to see something rather remarkable: a full rainbow, extending from one side of the mile-wide lake, right to the other! Subhan Allah!

My uncle never fails to make us feel like we are true adventurers. We climbed onto Carr Bridge, whose parapets are no longer there. It was terrifying, but quite an exhilarating experience, also.

We also went to see a waterfall, hidden in the deep heart of yet another forest. Upon entry into this forest, we found a giant tree, on an elevated platform of mud. Half of its roots were exposed, and a makeshift swing had been affixed to one of its lofty branches. To sit on the swing, one had to climb onto the platform. And then, jump, and swing. Of course, my uncle had been the first to give it a go. And then I, and then cousin Isa. And it was awesome!

 

Mind, and Experience 

All of what we do, and see, and are… our minds are, for us, our filters and processors of reality. Whether one is a prince, or a pauper. Living in a palace, or in a small box room. I do not intend to dismiss the difficulties of socioeconomic struggles, for instance, here. And I also know that mental health conditions can make the mind a rather terrible and terrifying place through which to exist, but…

Often to a great degree, and sometimes only to a certain one, the mind is the most important thing. There is nothing better than a fertile, grateful mind.

Irrespective of how one can dress up one’s experiences — on social media, for instance — ultimately, it is one’s own subjective and personal experience that really counts.

 

The smallest things do have this remarkable tendency to turn out to be the most significant ones. Stupid moments; unbridled joy and laughter. Madness. A good warm meal — a shared one — after hours and hours spent outdoors, and so on.

I so want for my mindset to be a grateful one. In Arabic, the word for this is ‘Shakoor’. Etymologically, this word has its roots in the phenomenon of cattle grazing on small amounts of grass, and, from this, producing much milk. A lot from a little; wholesomeness, too. In the Qur’an, some very apt and interesting imagery is used to express the delineation between those who are ‘Ash-Shakoor’, and those who are not: like fields. Some fields, when the rain comes, they return much vegetation. And some remain bare, for the most part.

And I find I am certainly guilty. Sometimes, on my ‘homebody’ days, for example: when I am indoors, learning about things, watching a movie perhaps, making myself something nice to eat… I find myself secretly lamenting that I am not outside, with my friends or cousins, having ‘social fun’, and experiencing things firsthand. Yet, sometimes when I am with good company, ‘truly experiencing’ life, I quietly want to slip away and go home. But life is both ‘doxis’ and ‘praxis’, and the ‘praxis’ parts — really living for oneself and one’s own mind — ought to be the supreme consideration, methinks. And I simply need to learn to be far more grateful. Shakoor, no matter what.

If one does not cultivate a mindset of Shakoor,  it simply does not matter how much rain one’s field receives. It is about what one does with one’s blessings and such; how we savour individual things [and, foolishly, we humans often convince ourselves that, when we are unable to sufficiently savour any particular individual thing, the solution must be to simply get more and more of the thing, so as to cultivate gratitude!]

It is about how grateful one can be; what one is able to create from things, and, in turn, return. 

 

In general, the value of things comes to be known, via contrasts. In Ramadan, fasting all day, and then quenching one’s thirst, satisfying one’s hunger. Food and drink taste the best when one comes to know what it feels like to be without them.

Patience is important. And nostalgia is, more often than not, a queen of melodrama. These are things that I know. And I must remember to know them (know to remember them), too.

I must embrace such facts, with all of my heart: that I must learn to love exactly where I am now. My entire universe, materially contained within whichever room or garden or whatever I find myself within. And it should not be about working on outer shells so much; it should not at all be about the neglect of the ‘inner’. No, for ultimately, it is all about that ultimate filter of ours: the understander, the decider. Our minds.

 

The Big and Small 

I really think that some of the most awesome things in life are the most ‘paradoxical’ ones.

Contradictions in terms, yet perfectly sound, in truth.

Like when one can say precisely what one wishes to say to another, through the medium of Silence.

When one feels stunningly significant in ‘smallness’. Two lovers on a park bench, or a family at their home. A small part of the world, they find they inhabit, and, yet, the entirety of it, at the very same time.

When small moments feel timeless.

When one finds himself in such a state of cowardice, that it (paradoxically) makes him brave. 

When you feel you have known a new friend forever. Somehow.

When beauty is so true that it feels… untrue, surreal.

And so on.

We are fundamentally spiritual beings, enmeshed within these material envelopes of ours. We are known to seek out what might be most meaningful — and it is the soul that seeks, while the body is its physical enabler, a vehicle.

I have been thinking some more about materialism, and about consumerism. And about how commercial advertising works: which parts of our psychologies it all appeals to. What it is, in us, that the reliance on things, and the need for more, might (claim to) empower.

We are all seeking something spiritual. Answers to our questions; for things to make sense. Are we really ‘more’ with more? 

In truth, when we seek out a thing, what we yearn for is its essence, methinks. Even with things like supercars: people are mainly seeking out the experience of driving them.

With friends, one may (claim to) have hundreds and hundreds of them. But it is only the essence of friendships that really counts. Better to have one true, deep friendship, than a hundred shallow ones. In fact, often, having less allows one to channel more focus and nurture into the things we do have. Thus, the ‘spiritual essences’ of what we are fortunate enough to have, are made more powerful.

The spiritual essences of things are not quantifiable in the way that we find material things are. And they are everything: their material accompaniments matter to a degree, but it is all about what these things truly carry. 

In a similar vein, what is knowledge without wisdom? Or, religion (its ‘practice’) without spirituality? And so on. 

I believe in ‘staple’ things, with regard to most things. A couple of ‘staple’ things, and the knowledge that having more will not actually do ‘more’ for me, for my soul.

The feelings of excitement that often come from encountering novelty are hardly an excuse.

You may be well-acquainted with the phenomenon too: seeing a beautiful coat or something, enticingly displayed in a department store. It is your style, exactly. Even though you have a coat at home. Is that one as nice as this one?

[Yes. It is. If the coat you had at home had been brand new and on this mannequin, and if this one on display had already been in your possession, you would probably consider buying it, too. Favouring it above the one you already have, in that instance. Simply because it is new. 

Maybe you want to feel somewhat more ‘new’, too. New look, new me. But listen here, woman! It is the essence and the function of things that matter!

Aesthetics are cool, too. You recognise beauty in things. But owning another beautiful thing is unlikely to somehow make your life more beautiful…]

When I think of… what I suppose I am trying to say, here… about how a single grain of sand could absolutely be better than an entire beach in terms of spiritual truth [especially if it exists in a state of recognition of Oneness, in consciousness of its Creator] I think of…

An apple tree on a hill, on a field in the middle of nowhere. And the way the goldenness of sun might trickle right onto it, and around it.

 

I do not want to live an empty life. Empty of that unquantifiable spiritual goodness, I mean. And nothing but the thing itself can fill its place:

the stuff of the periphery cannot ever be substitutes for the soundness of the centre.

 

I want to enjoy where I am now. Not put numbers or anything to it. My experiences are my own, and yours are yours. It matters not what others might see of it — your own encounters and adventures and such. The spirit of the stuff matters, though. And what it all is, really, for you. 

My life is mine, and your life is yours. And, why should we let so many other people hold us so ‘socially accountable’? Why ought we allow their opinions to forge, for us, mental prisons? One must learn to only really care about the opinions of those whose opinions should matter to us. For good reasons. Not just to have as many abstract stamps of approval from as many random people as we can get them from. From the wrong people, these do not really mean anything at all.

 

Some may think of you this unfavourable thing, or that. And this, while some others are able to see entire galaxies in each of your eyes…

 

“I believe that the most beautiful things are worth waiting for, and that the sweetest fruits require patience”

a quote that is engraved into the front of my current journal (which is actually a notebook designed for Bible studies. And she is thick.)

 

Secrets of Life (i.e. the things that I think I ought to remember, throughout it) : 

  1. People change people. And, no person is sent to you by accident.
  2. Life is ever-unfolding, with every single second. Everything we seek is carefully hidden… so that we might find it. 
  3. Nature. Peace, tranquility, healing spaces. Alhamdulillah.
  4. Allah (our Creator) is always there, for you to turn towards. Never, ever underestimate the power of sincere Du’a. 
  5. There is a lot to learn, even from mountains, and from their springs. When you sit with your back against a mighty mountain, you push onto the Earth. And the Earth pushes onto you, gently, right back. Reminding you that you are of the Earth, and you are a part of it.

And, springs: do you see how they flow over and through dirt-ridden rock, yet remain un-muddied by them? In fact, quite remarkably, they are only purified, enriched, by them!

Springs know how best to flow. How to gush, even.

 

Humanity

is farming. And trade. Friendships, and family. Home, and adventure. Food and coming together. Journeys and learning. Schools. Religion. The universe, explored via the human intellect, through the sciences, and the arts. Our words, our questions, and the answers we arrive at.

Love and triumph.

Emotional connection and comfort. Tenderness and gentleness. New birth.

Conflict and disagreement. Discomfort: and how it can manifest as either humour, or disgust, or fear. Or any two of them, together. Social expectations, judgement, pressure. Lies and hypocrisy.

Hope and novelty. Nostalgia.

Illness, and uncertainty. Aloneness. Violence and war. Loss and grief. Death, in the end.

 

The most important thing, for us, is the soul. And all its related considerations.

 

And The Mountains Echoed 

In Scotland, while breathing in that splendidly crisp air, being doused in its hopeful rains, while hopping into little pools of water…. and, while being surrounded by the gorgeous sturdy shoulders of the Highlands: I got this distinctive and true feeling that everything was going to turn out just fine. Somehow.

 

An undeniable, perhaps apprehension-inducing, but quite-reassuring-actually truth: 

 

You

Do

Not

Know

What is coming for you.

Until you necessarily meet it.

 

I find I am especially fond of those things that can set my soul on fire, in those quiet, magnificent, blaze-less ways. Where one can feel the thrum of majestic Earth; pockets of concentrations of the state of being alive. When you are on the back of a motorcycle [in Bangladesh, for example, where, in some parts, there are no road signs or anything whatsoever!] or when you are laughing with your friends so much that your insides hurt. And, when things are done more slowly, and with intention.

The mountains of Scotland, with their luscious greens, rolling waters, dots of orange, clusters of pink. What they say about stillness and strength. I whispered a little prayer at their feet. And the mountains, in return:

they roared. 

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

“Depression”

Around this time last year, I had been struggling with a major episode of depression (and anxiety).

[Sometimes I feel concerned that I may be sharing excessive facets of myself and my life on this blog of mine. But I sincerely believe that these things must be talked about, therefore I suppose this is a risk I am willing to take.]

Overpowering suicidal urges, piercing and burning pains throughout one’s head, issues with focus and memory, an unmatchable feeling of exhaustion. For roughly two months straight, my entire existence felt like one giant walking panic attack. Nervous lump in throat, heart always pounding, not able to truly be ‘here’ at all.

Some people chose to think that I had been making it all up, or that I myself had chosen to be in such a difficult state. I can assure you, nobody at all would ever choose to go through such things. In truth, I think I am a rather optimistic person. I am especially fond of the idea of persevering; of… mountain-climbing. And I know that neither anxiety nor depression, nor bipolar, nor all these other mental health conditions, are indicative of any sort of personal failure. Some people can make it all the more difficult, though: by being ignorant, or even angry towards you, when all you are trying to do is get better.

All in all, I do not feel as though the terms we commonly ascribe to these conditions are that useful or… accurate. Because we use the term “depressed” to describe both the impossibly challenging neurological condition (which, often, like a 20-foot-tall dark monster, appears out of nowhere, and brings to your being the most pain you have ever known) and the reactive emotional states of misery/sorrow, alike. Same with ‘anxiety’. If anything, the phrase ‘atrophy of the mind’ might be most fitting when it comes to Depression (that severe inexplicable type that would appear to plague certain families, I mean: there is undoubtedly a genetic element to it). And, since the mind and body are so deeply integrated with one another, mental atrophy is something that every millimetre of you comes to feel.

Mental atrophy is: disorientation, and it is extreme fatigue. It is wanting, desperately, to know why, yet discovering that none of it can be rationalised, reallyIt is the seeming decay of one’s mind, before one’s very own… mind. Suicidal thoughts, pounding voices; a feeling of poison being injected into both sides of one’s brain. Headaches, body aches, wanting to eat too much, or wanting to starve oneself (without actually…wanting to). All I can say is that it is the worst thing I have ever known.

And, Alhamdulillah, for me, in this moment, it is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. [It is barely even here!] But I sort of want to really hold onto my knowledge of the severity of the formerly quite intense experience. I want to remember how important it is, to truly be there for anybody who tells me they are suffering from one of these diseases of the mind. I want to remember how important it is, that we work together to find true solutions. To mental atrophy; to other mind-generated ‘implosions of the self’, including anorexia, complex-PTSD (etc.)…

And, perhaps a better term for ‘anxiety’ (i.e., the disorder) would be… ‘life-destroying fear’. [What am I afraid of, though? There is no explanation. Such things, one finds, cannot be intellectualised]. And it all comes out of nowhere, and it will not let you sleep at night, or rest during the day. Everything in your head flips, upside-down, and your whole universe is sinking. Total suffocation, and… nobody else can hear it.

“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.”

Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

Right now, it would appear as though most of the ‘treatments’ humanity has found, for these neurological/mental health conditions are… woefully experimental. Trial and error. Unsure of themselves. A mind-numbing pill here, some talking therapy there. And, on the whole, there is this emphasis on ‘managing’ the conditions, not necessarily on trying to resolve them, once and for all.

There is so much to learn about mental diseases; so much stigma to work on eradicating. And there is a cure, out there somewhere; not merely one that dulls all feelings, causing patients to walk around like apathetic robots [this, along with intense sickness and insomnia, had been one of the terrifying side effects of a particular medicine I had been prescribed]. There is much to be learnt about; much to be found.

Indubitably, there is a significant ‘biological’/neurological component to consider. Mental health disorders are evidently quite hereditary by nature. I wonder if the theories pertaining to ‘inherited trauma’ are true. Or, perhaps, it is something about the nervous systems of particular individuals that renders us more susceptible to… being so badly affected by stress? 

If stress (and stress-based conditions like Generalised Anxiety Disorder and PTSD) are analogous to a bushfire, then what we term Depression is the aftermath of the destructive blaze: a mental forest that has been burnt to the ground. Bare and seemingly utterly destroyed. So, some key questions that arise might be: 1) What, exactly, makes certain forests more flammable than others? Overactive minds? Larger amygdalas? 2) Just how does stress manage to affect so many mental faculties at once? 3) How best can we make the ground fertile and good again; how can we rebuild those forests that had been lost to the flames?

And, how can we prevent fires that occur in the ‘more flammable’ forests from becoming massive and destructive ones, in the first place? I think emotional intelligence undoubtedly needs to come into play, here. Especially if a child, for example, might have a high genetic predisposition to Depression, his or her emotional needs should really be looked after, at home. A little bit of emotional nurture can go a long way. Sadly, in some families in which the levels of predisposition to mental illness are high, adults can be extremely dismissive of, and even abusive towards, children. Thus, ‘the forest’ is quick to catch on fire, and quick to burn right to the ground.

Does stress always precede mental atrophy? [When it comes to ‘endogenous’ Depression, those who suffer from it more often than not also suffer from one or more anxiety disorders, OCD, etc.] Is the condition, then, in concise terms, a holistic and ongoing sense of exhaustion? 

[Stress (as a result of life events) is typically the factor that ‘realises’ mental health conditions in people, though some have a particularly strong genetic predisposition to them. This is explained by the ‘Diathesis-Stress Model’]

“I have Depression.”

“…Oh. Why don’t you try thinking more positively?”

“No I mean, I suffer from the neurological condition that is commonly referred to as ‘Depression'”

“Oh. You should exercise more! No matter what you do, though, do not take medication. You can sort this out by going jogging, and by eating more fruit and veg, and drinking water. Also, have you tried meditation?

“Well, —”

“You should go and spend time with your family members more. And cheer up! Smile more! Stop being miserable. There is so much to smile about! I feel sad too sometimes, you know! I normally just get some ice-cream, watch a movie or something, and it goes away.  It’s all about emotional resilience! Everyone goes through what you’re going through, you know…”

“It’s not like that. I don’t —

Never mind…”

There are ‘biological’ things to be considered, when it comes to Anxiety and Depression, and related disorders, certainly. But, what is unique about mental health is that there are also spiritual, social, and emotional things to consider. The way in which our societies are organised, and how they function. Stresses, and stress relief. And, just how accurate might, for example, Freudian views on such things, be?

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/19/depression-awareness-mental-illness-feel-like

An “implosion of the self”, a flood of leaden waters. And you cannot stop them.

So if/when somebody tells you that they suffer from, say Depression: please try not to dismiss them. When it comes to family members and friends; when it comes to your ‘boys’ who may even laugh off their own experiences of it. I hope you do not attempt to speak over them, or to look past them.

I hope you try to look into their eyes, and try to be there for them; try to really listen.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Ask: :)))

Screenshot 2020-08-22 at 02.00.27

Screenshot 2020-08-22 at 02.00.46

Dear :), 

Thank you so much for your kind compliments. You just made my day! I’m glad you enjoy reading my blog articles. Please make Du’a for me! 

My tips for getting started with writing are as follows…

Don’t think; just write. Especially if you intend to publish your works, it may feel tempting to think before writing: to generate criteria to which you plan to adhere, and to intricately plan out what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it. But something I find that really helps me to get into the ‘flow’ is this: writing as I think (and, thus, thinking as I write). I never know what my pen’s ink will end up forging. I like to just sit with my open notebook and pen (sometimes under a tree or something; sometimes simply in my room). It does truly help to have around you some material sources of inspiration — at least, in my case, anyway. Vases of sunflowers [shoutout one of my beloved friends for randomly sending me some!] and/or candles, and the like. Ambience. Though, when it truly comes down to it, the things that matter are: your mind, the paper, and your pen [or your laptop or whatever].

And then, I like to just write. I try not to think too much about whether or not my words are sounding particularly beautiful there and then. I sometimes don’t even ask myself if they are making sense. In my opinion, writing is best — and, certainly, most enjoyable — when it is authentic to you. Even if you find they are a bunch of random words that you have messily woven together. Most of what I write is for my eyes only; I like to be as free with my pen as I can be, even if I am not always writing particularly ‘well’.

I find the process itself to be extremely enjoyable and engaging for my mind. As with most activities, if you can reach that wonderful state of ‘flow’ while writing, you will likely find the most possible benefit and enjoyment (and, also, the best end product) as a result of doing it. Flow, flow, flow. Sometimes I simply sit down, tell myself, I am going to fill three whole pages of this notebook. And then, I just write. Even if I don’t particularly feel I have much to write about: my mind finds things. Things to say about the sky, or about… bread. In a similar vein, sometimes I set a timer for five or ten minutes. And I let the ink flow, and I try not to stop before the timer is done.

When it comes to works that I do end up publishing or submitting for competitions, however, I tend to read my work aloud to myself afterwards. Sometimes, several times. I go back and edit; swap some words around, etc. And I occasionally send things over to a particular friend of mine whom I consider to be very trustworthy. If something I have written is a little substandard, or if some of it is difficult to understand, or if it contains some misleading information or something, I truly trust this friend and her honesty. She also tells me which of my articles she has liked the most, and why. I really value her opinion (as well as those of a select few others) and, whenever I am in strong doubt about my writing, I do find I look to them for validation.

If you are looking for some sort of second opinion for your writings, I wouldn’t mind at all if you were to send some of them to me… and I promise to give you my true opinions about them! Feel free to email me at: sadia.6@outlook.com

Also, trust me, my thoughts often feel quite all-over-the-place, too. And this is precisely one of the reasons as to why writing is so wonderful. As an art form, as a therapeutic means. It is logic and beauty, wrapped up together: individual letters and the seemingly infinite ways in which they can be arranged. The beauty and the power of words. Through writing, order can be born out of chaos, while the mundane, the confusing, can be rendered gorgeous and strong and undeniable!

Writing prompts can tend to be quite useful, too. Focusing on a particular word. Like… ‘luminescent’. Or a question — like, “What makes you melancholy?” or, “What do you suppose dying feels like?” And then just writing whatever comes to mind as a result of beginning with such a word or question; thereby creating your own flow, and going with it.

Finally, a belated congratulations on your A* in GCSE English! But, even if you had not managed to acquire such a high grade in the subject, it would not necessarily mean that your writing is ‘bad’: examiners seek out certain tick-box criteria in pupils’ exam scripts. Honestly, I think the best writing is often the type that is… unscripted. Spontaneous and real: fresh out of the oven that is your mind, and true to (and, from) you. 

I hope this has been of some help to you.

Salaam!

 

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


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

 

To Feel Seen, and Smiled At

I fear what other people may be thinking of me. I am almost certain that so too, do you. It is in our nature, in our design, to want to seek acceptance and approval from people: from authority figures, from people we would like to befriend. And we want to feel, on some deep psychological level, safe and sound, truly at home, and not in any way rejected or attacked; we want to feel like we belong. 

Deeper than this, we do not merely seek to be ‘tolerated’, nor even merely ‘accepted’. But appreciated, celebrated. We seek true validation. And nobody at all really wants to feel cast out; alienated.

We tend to look for validation specifically from people whom we perceive to have power. Professional, or social. Maybe they have certain traits that we may, ourselves, desire. For one reason or another, we find ourselves trusting them, as well as their judgements.

 

From the very first days of our existences outside of the womb, what we know to first seek is a validating type of eye contact: to feel seen, really seen, and to feel loved for being. A look, and a smile. A “welcome to the world. You are welcome here, truly.

 

“I see you, and I love you.”

 

And the ways in which we are mirrored back: these little messages continually tell us who we are. This is especially critical in the first seven years of our lives, for this is when the cruxes of our personalities are formed, [what ought to be] a delicate to-and-fro of “this is me,” and, “yes, this is you”. And it is the job of a child’s caregivers to continually make the child feel seen, and known, held, praised, and encouraged.

Such instinctual psychological desires do not just up and leave us, after these particular definitive years of ours, though; they are here with us, throughout our lives. At school, within our peer groups, at work — we find ourselves forever in pursuit of the eye-and-smile thing.

“You are truly seen,” it tells us. “And truly appreciated.” 

Relax. Without any sort of need to impress or overcompensate. Nor to always come across as being especially funny, or smart, or anything else. Just as you are: you are worthy of love.

But what if, whether in infancy or at some crucial point thereafter, we did not feel seen (i.e. seen in truth, and not merely via the masks we may have learnt to wear, in order to attempt to simulate that essential validating experience we so sought) and what if we did not feel smiled-at, appreciated, cherished?

One of my little cousins, for example, is really rather awesome. She likes to write her own songs, uses gifted makeup sets so as to paint on paper, plays football competitively. She is a gorgeous little creature (Masha Allah) and, as aforesaid, I think she is awesome. But she has all these strong doubts about herself. Thinks herself to be, among other things, ‘inadequate’ as a girl.

“I don’t want to be ‘unique’. Unique means weird.

“Well, I think it means singular and extraordinary!”

Cole Mackenzie and Anne, Anne with an E

Sometimes she finds she is excluded from certain little friendship groups. On account of being who and how she is, apparently. When I try to remind her of the beauty of this ‘who and how she is’, she is able to remember the good of herself momentarily, but then forgets, in the faces of those strong oppositional forces.

How difficult it is to build a building: brick-by-brick. How comparatively easy it is to knock the entire thing down. 

When one feels seen, yet not at all smiled at: this can prove to be a rather terrifying ordeal indeed. Put under a spotlight, feeling mortified and exposed, prodded and gawked at. Like you are a lab rat, some strange creature. Undeserving. Not belonging; social death.

Or, of course, on the flip-side, one may find oneself feeling smiled at, and yet, not truly seen. When one hides the truths of oneself, defensively, for acceptance, maybe; for fear of not being approved of. The smiles themselves: we may find that they do not fulfil. They can feel rather inauthentic… because it is not truly you that is being smiled at, is it?

Finally, rather tragically, one may come to find oneself in a state of feeling neither seen, nor smiled at. Whereby one’s truths are hidden, out of fear of not being accepted by others. Whereby masks are not worn, either. It is like such people have come to accept utter defeat; are now shrouded in a state of feeling completely societally rejected, and subsequently quite hopeless, fearing always floating, never belonging. But I think they are still there, somewhere. Our true/potential selves do not simply die while we ourselves remain alive: they can get unfavourably covered up for a while, sure. Or neglected, or hindered. But they are never lost. And, in due time, and with the love and support of the right people for us, oh how we find we can grow! 

Children (and indeed we, us over-aged children) need to be reminded, time and time again, of who we are, from the perspective of those who truly love us [us. Not whom they want us to be!] and whom we, in return, also love. That ‘to-and-fro’ thing, again. And, over and over again. Because, (when it concerns qualities that are not distinctively morally wrong) there are always at least two ways of looking at things.

“Too quiet”, for instance, can be exchanged for “contemplative”: a brilliant quality to have, actually. “Weird” can be swapped for “spirited”. “Shy” can be rephrased as “endearing”.

And, on matters concerning physical appearance, no baby is born feeling that he or she is “ugly”. But often, all it takes for a child to suddenly feel bad about one or more of their qualities is… a single comment.

“Different isn’t bad. It’s just not the same.

— Anne with an E

From back when I had been the same age as the aforementioned cousin of mine, I remember how much the tiniest comments would affect me. For example, an aunt of mine had taught me to think that having ‘baby hairs’ was a bad thing. So, at home, I tried exceedingly hard to scrub it all off. But now I know that many people consider these baby hairs to be a positive and desirable thing to have. A similar occurrence, concerning my slightly-upturned nose. A relative of mine teased me about it, calling it a “pig nose”. So I would exert myself to push my nose downwards, in the hope that it would become permanently like this, someday. But, now I know that many consider upturned noses to be “cute”, actually.

A final example, concerning the colour of my skin. As a very young child, my skin had been very fair. And, as a result of some deeply colourist South Asian standards, I had been complimented for this, quite a lot. An aunt of mine even made jokes about wanting to swap her own daughter for me, since I had been fairer than my cousin.

[You know, it is not uncommon for people to comment, as soon as a child is born, on the colour of his or her skin: on how (apparently, consequently) ‘pretty’ or ‘ugly’ the baby is, or will turn out to be. And these attitudes are quite disgusting.]

Anyway, I did not care much for the fact that my skin colour had been granted so much value in the eyes of certain relatives of mine. I liked to play outside in the sun; let my skin turn browner. A particular relative of mine started to insult me, calling me “dirt-coloured”, and treating me differently. But, I did not care. I told her that she, by contrast, was fair, just like bacteria, and just like the bottom of my feet.

A bit savage, I know. But I figured I did not need nor want the approval and acceptance of a person who wanted to determine the value of a child by how fair or dark their skin was. This was not a value that I had aspired towards: so why should the disapproval of someone with such a value have mattered, to me? I guess I chose to give this particular person less power in my eyes. Who was she, to determine any ‘truths’ about me, anyway?

No, I did not feel like I ‘belonged’, with a person like her. But, nor did I want to: the apparent criteria that would have been necessary for this were simply not worth it!

Personality-based features (again, when they are not rooted in immorality), and appearance-based ones: one may find that there are always different perspectives that one can choose to have, on any given thing. Positive, or neutral, or bad. Being tall: desirable to some; a neutral thing to be, for others. And an awful thing to be, in the perspectives of some. Being bookish: desirable, neutral, or terrible.

See, on the level of people, there are as many distinctive ‘truths’ as there are pairs of eyes! And, different eyes [can choose to] see different ‘truths’, about the very same thing: whether this be concerning the entirety of a person, or about certain isolated features of theirs. Brown skin. Or ginger hair. Freckles, chubby cheeks, mono-lid eyes. They can be seen, and are seen, by different groups of people, as being good, or neutral, or ‘bad‘. Now which group, of the three, would it be best for you to agree with, when it comes to you and your attributes?

You might find you are “too religious,” for some. Perfectly so, for others. “Too boisterous,” for some. Brilliantly so, for others. “Too into […] stamp-collecting [?],” for some. And splendidly so, for others. And there will always, always, always be some people on this Earth who will deeply approve of you, as well as some people who will really not. 

The ones who will really see you, and therefore love you… I hope they are the friends that you will have, through life. I hope they know to honour you, and you, them. And your respective colours. And how the jigsaw pieces might fit together. I hope the soil nurtures your growth and theirs, really and truly.

Anyway, what certain people say, and the ‘standards’ that are decided as a result of these opinions: these are not the ‘gatekeepers’ of Truth. Even when it comes to things like beauty standards: do you not see how these fashions ebb and flow, and change, and what they are, altogether, in light of? Quite frivolous, for the most part. Sometimes fleeting, often unsubstantial.

If you ever find yourself having been insulted for a trait or feature that you may have, I challenge you to try to immediately remind yourself that “there is another way of looking at this“. Whatever they may be saying, there is another thing that can be said, regarding the very same thing: a more positive outlook. Now, just what could this be?

Who had taught you to think the bad things you might think of yourself, currently? And, why should they have the authority to be able to make such a decision, concerning you? Why should you have to believe them?

I promise you: where there is a choice to see beauty, and when you then choose to see it, beauty grows. In you, and in others.

You are a brilliant pear tree; why should I complain about your ‘failure’ to produce apples? You are a gorgeous wintry sun; who am I to expect, from you, heat? Or, you are a sunflower. Why ought I to be disappointed to find that your petals are not red and pleated?

Be whom you are, my friend. And bloom from whom you are. You will have your ‘right’ ones who notice and appreciate; you will have your ‘not-so-right’ ones who find they cannot do so. And this is okay, for you are you, and they are they. There is no need to meet everybody’s seeming ‘expectations’ of you: no, for you may just completely lose yourself in the process.

We all, from the places of our very cores, seek to be smiled at, after being seen. And, there is no substitute for real (love-based) connections, which are rooted in the very aforesaid phenomenon. Some people might seek seen-ness and smiles from others, through avenues such as fame. But no, no. Mere popularity is no substitute for the real stuff: it is no substitute at all.

 

Just whose validation is it that you seek, and why? And whose disapproval do you fear so much, and why? 

 

Now, if you are able to do so, dear friend, I encourage you to look into a mirror: any mirror. And right into your own eyes. It might feel quite strange and intense at first, but… be sure to soften your gaze a little. There. I hope you feel seen now. And now, smile. A most sincere and welcoming smile. Feel seen, and in a most accepting, appreciative, supportive way. Even if some of the people around you are unable to do the same: herein might just lie the first step. Being on one’s own side, while standing on the other side of the mirror. And then, simply choosing to focus on what is good and true. 

“It’s not what the world holds for you.

It’s what you bring to it.”

— Anne with an E

Somehow, one must try to root oneself in soil that will help one to grow; to see others, too, and to smile upon their existences, also. To be with people who love you; to love them right back. To feel connected; to want to always be able to look into their eyes; to miss their smiles when they are not there. To discover more about them and their lives; more things to smile for, and to support.

To really feel seen, and to also sincerely feel smiled at. Is this not the basis of all human love? 

And one must give out this willingness to try to understand, and to appreciate, others, with the sincere hope that you, too are deserving of such treatment. Whether this is granted to you from the hearts of many, or solely from the hearts of a few. 

The greatest thing one can aspire to in life is to love, and to then be loved, too. 

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Olive Tree

Motion, motion, with little time and space for reflection. Trains zooming into view; people hurry on, hurry off. Many of them, there seems to be a little something that their eyes are missing, if I am honest. Dragon eyes, as some might refer to them. Head bent towards phone, top buttons done up, and I wonder if I could ever consider living like this forever. The thrum of the city. Industry, hyper-everything. Something about the energy in the air; something about the way the people walk and do things and speak to one another, around here.

I don’t think I could do it. I’d say there are levels to this: there are the ones who go to work at these tall glass buildings, caught between walls, ever so professional. And then, there are those who live in more… rural areas. Where the natural world is allowed to be more of a priority, maybe: where human life is seen as being a little less dispensable, a little more… sacred.

And, yes, I am generalising hugely here, but have you seen their eyes, by contrast? Something a little purer about them, maybe. Something slower, more reflective, about the way they do things. Walk their dogs as the sun rises, feel the warmth of jumpers and cups of coffee in their hands. Know their neighbours, and know them well. Honour the trees just as they should be honoured, and the geese, and the robins, and pieces of paper on hardy wooden desks, and the sky.

We humans do not fare so well, when we are made to live in zoos, treated in ways that run contrary to how we need to be treated. Enclosed, and smoggy, doing work for the sake of work for the sake of… I know, I know: I am being rather dramatic, here. But these are just my views.

The next level, perhaps, after the ‘rural’ one, is the one that I have been thinking about the most, these days. And I cannot seem to recall who said this to me, or if I had read this somewhere, perhaps — about how some of the most content people in the world that one could possibly meet are the people who make bread near Al-Aqsa Masjid, in Jerusalem. Contentment: make their bread; walk atop those gorgeous cobbled streets under olive tree sun; beckon to the call for prayer five times daily; laugh and eat with their friends and neighbours. It is not “more” that they are ever-in-pursuit-of: it is “enough”. Smile, and smile, footsteps gentle, hearts at ease.

Noble people, I imagine, the ones who live in such a way. Noble, but, to ignorant eyes, maybe not ‘civilised’ enough. Their gentle smiles, their cleanness of clothes and manners, their generosity. Tell me, how is this not ‘civilised’ enough, for you?

These lives: lives in which spirituality might form the lifeblood. For better, and for worse. In which it is firmly acknowledged that if “enough” is not “enough” now, then there will simply never be an “enough”; one might just carry one’s own greed and soul-centred disquietudes to one’s grave.

People first, and worshippers of God — and labourers or whatever else, only second. The Earth is shared, and neither industry nor arrogance, nor any of these substitute names we seem to have generated for them, can replace what it is we seek.

I have never been to Jerusalem myself, though it has always been a dream of mine to go there. But I have come across some very spiritual people (spiritual-in-a-worldly-way people, I mean — not necessarily monks who live alone in the mountains) in places like Istanbul. Cities seemingly designed with holistic humanity in mind, and not centred on speed and mere ‘productivity’.

A lady sitting outside a shop — her workplace — painting. Arabic calligraphy, and with such flow and skill. I asked her where she had learnt to paint like that. Art school, she told me. She told me she was going to be an architect (or, something along these lines) but opted for this job instead. She figured it would bring more “Baraket” (blessing) to her life. She looked rather content, and had a distinctive glimmer in her eyes. And the sun, and the sun, as well as what we, here in the city, might refer to as being this gorgeous sense of…  ‘simplicity’. But, no: it is not they who are ‘simple’. It is simply we who have learned to be too much, so utterly far away from ourselves.

Contentment of the heart, and spiritual connection — and all its different branches. And living life, and really feeling like you are here, on this Earth, doing so.

Being. And not being overtaken by things like greed or pride, or petty wraths or envies. Instead: bread, and friendship. Prayer, and comfort, and meaningful work, and adventure. And not too much, and not too little. Gentle, and known, and held, without feeling a need to be loud, and to then be louder.

Enough. And whatever the stuff of ‘every day’ looks like for us, this will likely make up every one of these days of ours. Wherever one is, it is one’s mind that all is filtered through: it is only the soul that experiences. And there is no dress rehearsal for this life: these are the days that we have been given,

and these are exactly how we are spending them.

 

“Rather, true wealth is the richness of the soul.”

— Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Connection

Without the feeling of having sufficient, soul-enriching connections, one can be made to feel quite alone in the world. Lost, and confused, and rather like an untethered astronaut, simply floating.

Life is only bearable – and good – when one feels connected. To Allah, and to nature, and to one’s own life, and to the companion travellers that have been gifted to us for this journey (family) and the ones we choose along the way (friends. Just another component of ‘family’, really).

True connection necessitates presence, and authenticity. Presence requires the elimination of distraction, and to feel fully there with the person or thing you seek connection with. And, one must be present in truth. Rather than seeking to impress, by engineering façades and such, one must accept and even celebrate one’s own humanity, as well as that of the other, when it comes to fellow people.

True connection is born out of true presence, and trueness. Everything else is a mere attempt at it. And the general ways of today, they are…ever so distracting. At a time when social media platforms, for example, operate on a promise of ‘connecting’ you to hundreds of people you ‘know’, or have once known, or do not know… why is it that people are feeling more alienated than ever, these days?

Nothing can replace true connectivity. The stuff that we were made for; the stuff we find strength, comfort, goodness, and ourselves, in. And maybe, in the pursuit of the real stuff, one may have to endure an awkward silence or moment of ennui or two. But this is okay: the fruits one can pick at the end are far more beautiful than whatever is loud and distractingly immediate.

I seek a life of such great connection. I will be unsatisfied with anything that is not it. I need to be far more present with whomever or whatever I am with; allow myself to be authentic, too. Because, in being holistically ‘oneself’ when sitting with fellow human beings, I think others feel a bit more empowered in relaxing, and being more ‘themselves’, too.

And then, the beauty of a person’s being is allowed to unfold, like a rose coming into bloom. Why seek to impress, to create barriers, when one can breathe and be true?

Both I and thee: we cannot other than human be. And, necessarily, there are familiar things that one will recognise in every single fellow human being we encounter. Because, irrespective of too-focused-on labels: flags, occupational titles, affectations of ‘class’ and such… you are human just like I am, and it would be a delusional way of thinking, to imagine otherwise. We are both come from the same Source; with eyes as windows to our souls. We both eat, and sleep, and laugh, and sweat, and feel fear, and think, and…

Seek fulfilment. We each – every single one of us – come into the world in the same loud way. We leave in a way that is, by contrast, rather quiet. And, in the meantime, we find, there is all this Time. And, just what to do with it?

Foster good connections, beneficial ones, sunflower ones. We find we are in space, and

there is really nothing else.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Concise Compositions: Community

Community. Villages and the like come into mind. How things are done in the rural parts of Bangladesh, for example. My grandad’s village in Sylhet: surrounded by rice fields and lakes. There are several housing estates. He shares his one with the families of his two brothers. My grandfather’s house is in the middle; his brothers’ are on either side of his. There is a passage connecting the three of them, for the rainier days, when members of each of the households want to spend time with one another.

The community mentality – which, I would argue, all of us need and seek – is strong, over there. In the joint celebrations; when it is fishing season; when it is monsoon season. The men go out to work on the farm together, and some strong bonds are nurtured through this. Sometimes, they go to village cricket matches together; ride their motorbikes along dangerous cliff-sides. The women sing together, sometimes. Swim in the lake, do Mendhi on each other’s hands, go to ‘town’ for shopping, filter the rice grains together. The children of the families walk to school together.

That is the key word, in matters of ‘community’: ‘together’. It is about daily doings, while feeling like you are part of something. There are bedrooms for private time; things can be done alone, if desired. But, for the most part, it is nice to know that there is a reliable community around you. This is what we all need.

We don’t really want to be atomised; to feel alone. The effects of the feeling of being alienated are devastating for the human spirit. Feeling like you are on this spinning planet alone, and that there is no good community structure to run back to; to lighten some of the load for you, to enjoy your days with.

Sometimes, I think, we do things too selfishly, considering only ourselves and our ‘own’ lives. We forget just how dependent we have been designed to be, on others. There is an element of individualism in each of us that should be honoured, yes, but this in the greater context of community!

Sisterhood and brotherhood. Friendship, marriage. Being colleagues. United in something. Truly feeling like we belong to communities, I think, necessitates time (and space) spent together, things to bond over, challenges faced together, and more. A community unit, a number of individuals with their own personalities and roles, held together by something.

Community: I think this is where humanity comes most alive; we were made for it. We cannot do without it. In the absence of true community, we may seek it in ‘para-social’ relationships. Often, in this ‘modern’ world of ours, it is hard to be part of a consistent and love-connected human community.

  • The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself ten minutes – timed – to write about whatever comes to mind, based on the topic. You cannot go over the time; you cannot stop typing beforehand, either. And you cannot go back to edit [save for grammatical errors, etc.]. I challenge all fellow bloggers to give this a try [or, if you do not have a blog, try it on paper – maybe in a journal]! Include ‘ConciseCompositions’ as a tag for your pieces, and include this block of writing at the end of them. Good luck! 

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Concise Compositions: Family

Family. The people you recognise as being your own. The blood connections (known, in the Islamic tradition, as being the ‘connections of the womb’), and, indeed, the non-‘blood’ ones. The people with whom you find you are quite… familiar. You may share your space with them. And much of your time, much of your efforts, and your energy. Emotional bonds; family gatherings, inside jokes. Things you do not really share with anybody else.

I have one sibling: my baby brother (no longer a baby, but that classic comment about how he will forever be a baby, in my eyes). Before his birth, I had my cousins as siblings. We share so many memories together; we continue to make new ones as the days go on. Our relationships are funny and lovely. But they have not been without their frictions, their times of difficulty.

I wonder how these current inter-familial relationships will turn out to be, in the future. We will likely grow up and fly away from the (general) nest. We might move to different countries; be able to see each other far less. I hope we never reach a point where seeing one another becomes a mere ‘formality’ thing: the polite hugs, the small talk, the lack of offensive humour.

This gorgeous sense of the ‘familiar’ (notice how similar the word is to ‘family’), it does not rely on one being particularly similar to another. It just depends on the bonds between you, and how these are nurtured. I find that I am unbelievably different to some of the family members I am closest to. Though sometimes, it is wonderful to notice facial similarities, and personality-based ones, between me and my brother, or my little cousins. Recognising them as being my own, albeit different to me.

I love the American sitcom ‘Modern Family’. I think it shows quite well how nuclear families can successfully be meshed together, into functioning extended ones. Different houses, but they see one another quite often. They rely on one another, for comfort, for entertainment, and more. I think we all need this: families that are larger than small nucleic ones.

And, the thing is, over the courses of our lives, we will likely gain new family members. Through marriages, through births, and, indeed, through the forging of excellent friendships. Some friends become family: they are the people you distinctively come to recognise as your own; they become like siblings. You feel awfully ‘yourself’ with them, in the best ways possible.

Some family members are like friends, to us; some friends are like family members. It was never a dichotomy, to begin with. There are simply those connections that begin with blood, and those that do not necessarily. But what is important is the actual social bond, which tends to take some effort to maintain.

  • The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself ten minutes – timed – to write about whatever comes to mind, based on the topic. You cannot go over the time; you cannot stop typing beforehand, either. And you cannot go back to edit [save for grammatical errors, etc.]. I challenge all fellow bloggers to give this a try [or, if you do not have a blog, try it on paper – maybe in a journal]! Include ‘ConciseCompositions’ as a tag for your pieces, and include this block of writing at the end of them. Good luck! 

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Sandcastles

“Bigger” than you, and “badder” than you (and… is this all there is? What am I, really?) Carving entire castles out of sand (and yet the waves are coming; doubt it not). Building these stacks and stacks out of money; while it can buy me a house, it cannot buy me a home (and the wind is surely coming; doubt it not). Turn to alcohol to escape it. Why do we find that we are so afraid of silence; of being alone? Try to lose ourselves in the noise, in the very opposite of space; in all that is quite scattered. There is certainly something to fill, here. A vessel, and we find it is quite… immaterial. Beyond reflections of light; light itself. Try to find it in the same place in which first we lost it. I think I have a dream, but… where has it come from? The friends I have, and the things I hear, and look at, and what I am made to make of it all. You are not your bank account; the titles that find themselves attached to your name; a pose for Instagram; your ‘body count’; your… All we are is human, and we are not what is actually outside of us. And what does this really mean? And all we have are these lives of ours; a series of days. And what does this really mean? Imagery and hallucinations. And consequent narrativisations: all these attempts to tidy up what is (maybe terrifyingly) quite messy. In this world, though, we are but travellers. Everything moves; nothing at all can stay still. Not here. But, in some things you get glimpses of what you seek. Home. In Sujood. Not in makeup nor money nor media influences. You are not “better” than me, and I am not better than you. I make certain mistakes; you make your own ones, too. Running away from our own humanity in more ways than one, and, yes, it scares me so. Stage names, “momma I made it,” and then — the truth. Money, and then, what it sort of cannot really do for you. I sort of seek truth in how time moves; in Fajr and in birdsong, and in eyes that are true. Subhan Allah: maybe that’s what it is. I don’t want to seek extravagance; there is actually little to be found, there, in denial. I seek a life in which the intricacies are appreciated. For the acknowledgement that all there is, is the stuff of every day; these things are (more than) enough. Without these, we live within mere walking delusions. In times of activity, in times of silence. No matter what things might look like on the outside, all I experience of it all is from my own perspective. And, yes, I have faith. In times of hardship and in times of ease, I don’t mind: I only really want the truth.