Concise Compositions: Gratitude

What does it mean to be grateful?

Gratitude is good for the human being; for the soul. And I really do believe that choosing to have (and focus on) fewer things necessarily makes way for higher feelings of gratitude. This does not mean that one needs to make one’s lifestyle all bare and boring. Rather, one perhaps ought to minimise, and retain the things that are of value.

Minimalism makes way for more gratitude primarily because, well, we can only truly appreciate a particular amount or number of stuff at a time. For example, even when we look at the most extravagant of tapestries, our eyes and our minds only allow us to focus on and thereby appreciate – be grateful for – certain parts, at any given time. The same sort of concept is true for most things, actually. Why do some people want, for example, more than one supercar, or more than one bed, or whatever? You can only use one of them at a time. What is ultimately important is the experience, and a grateful mind always has a better experience: higher emotional and spiritual gains from the daily happenings of life.

Chasing lives of extravagance surely leads to lower feelings of gratitude. There is so much evidence for this.

And we can only really be grateful for things once we know what it feels like for the thing to not be there. We are more grateful for a thing’s presence, when we have come to know its absence. Things like joy, like good friends, maybe, and like food. Doesn’t food always taste that much better after a day of fasting?

There is so much wisdom behind Islamic principles of fasting, minimalism, and expressing gratitude.

One’s actions are important, too. When you are grateful for a thing, you must show this in your behaviour. You must care for it. You must tend to the rights it may have over you.

In the Qur’an, Allah tells us that He increases in favour the one who is grateful. We only really need what is enough to get by. Survival, and then some additional comfort, peace and joy. We do not have to deprive ourselves of goodness. But there are certainly some things – and these are usually the things that are characterised by lavishness and ‘plenty’ – that we might, in the moment, think will bring us much good. Might solve some of our problems for us, and so forth.

But when you have fewer things – like friendships, like projects you are working on, for example – I do think you are able to focus on them more. Cultivate them like flowers, and then se cosecha lo que se siembra: you reap what you sow.

Gratitude is good for you. Zooming in on all the ‘small’ things, for example the things you cannot live without. A glass of water. The gorgeousness of sunrises. The comfort of your duvet. There is much use, and much Khayr, in certain things.

And for these things, may we always find ourselves grateful.

  • 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 

Little Sister

The little girl who tries so hard to smile through all her tears.

But then she thinks, for a moment, a little bit too much,

Hides her face and wipes it with the back of her hand.

You can witness the sadness slowly enveloping her. See, somebody, at some point in time, somewhere, had taught this little girl to carry, on her back

The bulk of somebody else’s shame.

 

I so wish I could exchange those tears of yours for laughter, if even for only a minute;

Tell you that flowers ought to bloom from whichever grounds atop which you walk,

and that every part of you is in complete harmony with all that is good in here.

 

Everything that could ever possibly be beautiful about humanity

Is contained in the eye of a child. And slowly, their skins stretch.

Their minds, once almost wholly impressionable, become rather powerful. 

Meaty ‘frog legs’ grow into ones that can astutely kick footballs around.

 

Truth, beauty, goodness: our primary colours, perhaps.

 

You know, I can remember, as clear as day, the first time I held you in my arms; bated breaths,

Those sunshine-infused moments before you opened your eyes and took a good look at our world for the first time.

I prayed those lights wouldn’t hurt you; wished time would grind to a halt when you wrapped the entirety of your tiny hand around my finger,

Wished time would also just get over itself and show me what you might look like, aged ten.

Your eyes were jet black, as promised by nature, I suppose. Your expression was at once receptive and puzzled.

And the first time you cried, there were four people around you to listen, to watch your face struggle to let out your first sound,

Red cheeks, dampened mittens. And then, an uproarious introduction:

you made your voice known to all of us, a job very well done.

 

From this time onwards, I simply knew that I could not let you ever cry by yourself. I am always scared, afraid that you are still too small to handle such sadnesses.

And you know, seven months before your birth, I was allowed to catch a glimpse of you before most other people got to:

Ultrasound pictures tucked away in a little envelope. I saw your nose; you, the image of serenity, tucked away like that, not quite ready yet, to say hello to us.

Hello. I hope you know how loved you are, how loved you have been from the exact moment that divinely-commanded spirit blew Life into you.

When life gets heavy, know that I am here. I cannot physically carry you any more, no,

But you must know this:

red-faced newborn you is a picture that is forever emblazoned into my memory.

And I know it very well – the face you make when there is something in you that needs to be said; when, in absolute silence, you find yourself kicking the air, trying to shriek from the top of your lungs,

trying to let something, whatever it is, be known.


Sadia Ahmed, 2020

Questions and Answers

Bismillah.

There are questions and there are answers. And of both, there are far too many to count. There are known knowns and unknown unknowns, and there is everything in between. There are facts of existence that we must learn to love and live with – like the fact that existence itself is a fundamentally lonely experience. We enter the world alone, and leave in much the same manner.

Nobody will ever know what it means to be ‘you’; what your eighth birthday was like – what the room smelt like, who came and who did not, your secretly thinking about when they might all leave so you can be left alone with your parcelled pleasures, which were all done up for you in ribbons; what you dreamt about last night – the verisimilitude of it all, the illusory and youthful face of that old friend you have never been able to stop missing, the jolt upon awakening and the consequent and immediate fading of a wonderful alternative plane of reality; finally, nobody will ever be able to know what your personal experience of biting into a strawberry might be like.

But, still, there are questions. And questions often find their way to answers, and it is through these answers that we build bridges between ourselves (and, indeed, within ourselves, for many of our inner parts are strangers to one other). It is a uniquely human, uniquely absurd thing, to attempt to cross the bridges we create between ourselves and others, while knowing full well that they are not fully cross-able. Each word we utter forms a step, an attempt to neatly package subjective reality into a series of grunts and hisses, a heavily calculated attempt to convey meaning. But where words fall short, there is little left in the human arsenal to compensate for them; there are only questions and answers. There are answered questions and answers that can be questioned, and there is everything in between.

And one day you will leave, or they will leave – whether by necessity or by choice, dizzied by freedom, or constrained by it – and the bridge that once existed between the two of you might become a pier: a stretch of a hundred or so planks of wood that yearns for a mirror of itself to stop at it so as to form another bridge, rather like a question, open and extended, waiting for a satisfactory answer.

Sadia Ahmed, 2019

Prayer mats.

Water beads fall, ice-cold, from your washed limbs, as you bend, stand, and then prostrate, shrink yourself in submission to that which you cannot see, like a butterfly returning to the safety of its cocoon,

newly baptised.

There is an inexplicable ring of certainty to this: the feeling of your nose, pressed against the purple velvet – of knowing exactly which words to utter next, even if their meaning is preserved, lost, to you, in Arabic,

and of your fingertips brushing through the fibres, as the heaviness of being momentarily flows out of you. There is an unmistakeable solidity in these rituals; there is even an unmistakeable solidity in faith: a presence, you will find, but it is not quite touchable.

Prayer mats come in various shapes and sizes: some have glittered edges, embroidered minarets, colours – the entire spectrum. Others are more austere – black and white and a space on which to place your head, and block-coloured borders adorned with little spirals.

Spirals. Conversations do not always require two audible participants. You whisper prayers, let the vibrations exit your throat, let those vibrations pass themselves on, spiralling, losing their intensity over little compressions of time.

You can sit, rocking rhythmically, spiralling, passing prayer beads through numb, cold hands, hopeless and yet suspended above imagined flickers, clinging onto every last bead of hope.

These conversations are the ones that take insomnia and turn it into trances of worship, like water into wine. Spiritual beggary into quiet wealth – mastery – into rugged harmony between ink and blankness. Where pen nib meets paper, where forehead meets floor, this is where the lost find themselves when they wish, rather desperately, to be found.

Pieces of paper, you will find, are prayers, and all prayers are inherently pieces of paper, written on, all over. With our gratitude, and with our woes. With all that we are certain of; with all that we do not, at present, know.

We close our eyes and allow words – sometimes our own, often anything but– to spill from us, spiral, catch pain and hope beneath their wings, rise and fall, bow and prostrate, and then when we are done, in satisfaction amid restlessness, we seal our letters,

breathing life into endless sighs of amen.


Sadia Ahmed, 2019

The Colours of Love

(This was my entry for a school essay competition)

What is love? This question has managed to perplex and fascinate philosophers, psychologists, artists, writers, and even mathematicians alike, for centuries. In English, the word love can refer to love for one’s spouse, or for one’s mother, or even for a particular type of sandwich. In Greek, however, there are six different words to distinguish between the different forms of the notion: agape (selfless, altruistic love), ludus (passionate, playful love, usually devoid of any desire to commit), storge (a friendship-based sort of attachment), eros (intense romantic, passionate love), mania (obsession), and finally, pragma (a practical, mutually beneficial form) (Dewey, 2007).

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 14.59.10

John A. Lee, a Canadian psychologist, explores these six forms of love in his book Colours of Love: An Exploration of the Ways of Loving, and my favourite diagram is an image that is featured in, and dissected throughout said book: the Colour Wheel of Love, which presents love and its spectral forms in a way that seems to provide some structure and aesthetic charm to an otherwise chaotic and confusing affair.

While I am able to fully appreciate other prominent diagrams, such as the Vitruvian man, and drawings depicting the golden ratio, when I read the book The Colours of Love, I was deeply fascinated by this particular one.

This diagram presents love- arguably the most complex, but universal, marvel known to man- in a traditional colour wheel format, with three primary types (eros, ludus and storge) which combine to create three secondary types (mania, pragma, and agape). As an avid reader and literary fiction enthusiast, I read about love and its many forms on a regular basis. I become invested in the lives of fictional characters, and, since sticking a picture of the colour wheel into my journal, I find myself constantly attempting to label and examine various fictional relationships, assigning them different colours. But in my view, the main form of love, which is omitted from, yet fully encompasses, this diagram, is philautia, or love for oneself.

The concept of self-love is not a concept that most of us in the West are unfamiliar with. Countless celebrities and corporations heartily encourage philautia, self-respect and confidence, and although the media plays a significant role in shaping such ideas, we are also naturally inclined to the practice of self-love; it is wired into our nature as human beings. Biologists argue that, as animals, our central purposes in life are to survive and reproduce, and our innate survival instincts are closely intertwined with our natural tendency to love ourselves: if we love ourselves, we are more likely to be willing to do whatever it takes in order to survive. The importance of philautia is evident when we analyse it in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: whilst self-love extends over all five levels of human motivation (from physiological needs to those pertaining to self-actualisation) the love we possess for others is limited to only two strata: the stratum of love/belonging (as we are social beings who necessitate companionship) and that of esteem (as we desire approval and acceptance from others).

As amoral as it may sound, self-love is even at the heart of altruistic behaviours, because by helping others, we ultimately help ourselves. We make ourselves feel better by engaging in charitable endeavours, and there is typically some pleasure to be derived from seemingly selfless acts, such as volunteering or giving charity. Doing good for others stimulates the pleasure centre in the human brain, and results in the release of ‘feel-good’ chemicals, namely dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin (Breuning). Moreover, although the Confucian, Biblical, and Quranic principle of treating others how you would want to be treated may, upon first glance, appear like a didactic statement of an inherently selfless nature (which may fall under the categories of storge, pragma, or agape), upon closer analysis, it becomes clear that, once again, this form of love is deeply rooted in self-interest. Indeed, self-interest appears to be the central motivation of human behaviour, and, for this reason, the invisible (yet ubiquitous) colour that extends over the spectrum is philautia. Pragma brings us practical benefits, ludus brings us laughter and enjoyment, eros satisfies sexual desires, and storge gives us companionship- an escape from the abysmal void of loneliness.

Ostensibly, mania and agape stray from the trend that the other sections of the wheel follow, in that, in general, people have little to gain from obsessing over another person. On the contrary, it may prove detrimental to their health to do so. In the diagram, mania is represented through the colour purple; it is hence a mixture between red and blue, between ludus and eros. This relates directly to Maslow’s idea of esteem being a human psychological need: manic lovers look to love as a means of rescue, or a reinforcement of value. They come to believe that they need to be with their lovers, as a medium of self-validation, which, in turn, boosts their self-respect. For manic lovers, the intensification of philautia can lead to narcissism, and subsequently, intensified mania: they may increase the amount of power and control they exercise over their partners.

Agape has often been attributed to ‘purer’ manifestations of romantic love- as a type of storgic eros: friendship combined with romance, the fulfillment of both physical and spiritual desires. According to Lee’s diagram, when agape is subjected to an increase in ludus (or, playfulness) there is a risk of shifting to mania. Likewise, when agape experiences an increase in storge, it runs the risk of becoming closer to pragma. In the mass media, storge is often presented as the most desirable type, although according to content analysis carried out by Ward and Friedman, in films of the romantic genre, men are typically presented as ‘sex-hungry’, while women tend to be presented as sex objects (Holmes).

Gender differences are an interesting thing to consider when looking at the colour wheel: researchers Hendrick, Hendrick, Slapion-Foote, and Foote (1985) found that men were more likely to indulge in the ludic type of love, while women were more likely to be storgic or pragmatic (Hendrick, 1986). This theory links rather well with the idea of the ‘Seven Year Itch’, which (although it might sound like a kind of dermatological irritation) refers to a psychological theory put forth by Professor Helen Fisher, which suggests that (due to biological predispositions) the romantic passion within a long-term heterosexual relationship almost certainly declines before a couple’s seventh anniversary (Maestripieri). According to anthropologist Bernard Chapais (who observed similar behaviours and mating patterns among primates) this is because, after their offspring become more independent, men have an intrinsic desire to leave their families (though not all men act upon this desire!) and distribute their DNA to other women- thus succumbing to their ludic desires.

Research into the neurochemistry of love proves that there are three main stages to ‘falling in love’, which are initiated by the first stage: venereal desire. This directly corresponds with our evolutionary instincts- self-preservation and fulfillment, and, of course, reproduction. The other two stages of ‘falling in love’ are emotional attraction, followed by emotional attachment (BBC Science). This theory suggests that the cycle of love moves from eros or ludus, to storge, and pragma or agape (the two ideals, especially the latter) can be found along the way.

The Colour Wheel diagram, as simplistic as it may appear prima facie, has led me to ponder over, research, explore, and question, many different psychological and philosophical ideas. I find it particularly interesting that the dimensions of love can be explored in such a way, by comparing them to colours. Different mixtures with different amounts result in each friendship or relationship being centered on unique metaphorical colours. The English language seems to be colour-blind when it comes to such things- with only one word for ‘love’, and similarly only two words for ‘fishing net’, for which the Hawaiians have 65 different words…

Ultimately, the core ingredient in all forms of love is philautia, as love for oneself provides the bedrock of loving others. As a hopeless romantic (yet, somehow, a cynical ‘realist’ at the same time) I maintain the view that ‘true’ romantic love is possible. It is centred on self-love, and comprises a careful and healthy mixture of each of the six types of love displayed in my favourite diagram, in a beautiful mix of colours- a complex, messy, swirl of brown. In order to achieve this masterful exploitation of Lee’s colour wheel, as the legendary philosopher Justin Bieber habitually says:

“You should go and love yourself”

Works Cited

BBC Science. (n.d.). The Science of Love. Retrieved from Science: Human Body and Mind: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/hottopics/love/

Breuning, D. L. (n.d.). Altruism is Selfish. Retrieved from The Positive Psychology People: http://www.thepositivepsychologypeople.com/altruism-is-selfish/

Dewey, D. R. (2007). Six Types of Love. Retrieved from Intropsych: http://www.intropsych.com/ch16_sfl/six_types_of_love.html

Hendrick, C. (1986). A Theory and Method of Love. American Psychological Association .

Holmes, J. (n.d.). Content Analysis of Romantic Comedies. Retrieved from Cinematherapy: http://www.cinematherapy.com/pressclippings/Johnson-Holmes.pdf

Maestripieri, D. (n.d.). The Seven Year Itch: Theories of Marriage, Divorce, and Love. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/games-primates-play/201202/the-seven-year-itch-theories-marriage-divorce-and-love


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Glass

The glass walls are broken,

Yet still I cannot leave.

Blood gushes from my chest,

And spills on to the floor,

Drizzling like fine honey.

 

I am the artist whose hands

Came together to make this.

I call it a train-wreck transparency;

Can you see it?

It is a masterpiece and a disaster.

 

Touching it will cut your fingers and

Scar your arms. You see, some of us

Are made of glass

And the hearts we hide are hungry

For someone else’s blood.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Royalty

Assalamu ‘alaikum. I wrote this article when I was sixteen years old. Since then, my views of things, especially in regards to Islam, have changed and developed. [I’m not really even sure what this poem… means]

I wrote this poem in 5 minutes, without editing, during a ‘guided free-writing’ workshop. Please forgive me if it is substandard, or a bit unstructured. 

Purple silk rolls out from a palace cast in gold,

Kissing the feet of men walking, heads down, towards the cemetery.

I stand outside, on the balcony, lace curtains

Caressing my hair as

Their blood is absorbed, and the soil I once tread on becomes

Purple silk.

The blue sky overhead is moving closer- it wants to eat me alive.

My crimson dress trails behind me, the colour of blood and

Roses. The sky glistens, drapes over my shoulders like a comfortable shawl.

I take myself to the stars, pick them like cherries and place them on my head.

What a queen.

What a cruel, cruel queen

who steps on graves to make herself feel more alive. 

My power lies where nobody can steal it,

They are too busy being distracted by the glimmer of the stars,

They do not see the universe behind my eyes.

There is nothing more worthless than gold,

Nothing more fragile

than the human ego.

My crown rested on my smoothened palms, I look outside.

It is dark and there is nobody there,

Only purple silk

moving with the sound of nobody’s voice.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Carved

We carved our names into the back of a seat on the bus

as it stopped momentarily outside a library.

 

side by side, white letters etched

hastily into a block of bright purple.

 

we guided our fingers along the lines.

the strokes were formed swiftly with little hesitation

and the little plus sign in the middle created an equation

with no apparent solution.

 

How effortlessly a penny had put together a mess of imperfect dashes,

forging them into something so mysteriously coherent.

 

Perhaps we should have resorted to clichés:

fixing locks along Parisian bridges and

engraving our names into tree trunks instead,

killing them to let ourselves live on.

 

but I don’t think there is a metaphor more apt for whatever we have,

a little secret tucked away in a corner at the back,

evoking wonder and curiosity and indifference

from strangers we will never meet.

 

Maybe one day the seat will be replaced

by a newer one, more purple and less vandalised.

 

but until then,

I hope somebody sees our little masterpiece on the bus journey home,

and I hope she writes a poem about it.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

A Lifelong Journey

I am happy. I do not know why. To this date, I find myself still uncertain as to who I am, and who I wish to be, but not all those who wander are lost. I believe that each and every human being on the face of this earth is unique, beautiful and too complex to be limited and defined. So no- I cannot tell you precisely who I am, but perhaps there is some sort of unfathomable beauty in that, for I intend to spend the rest of my life discovering who I am.