Dedicated to Rwan, who is one of the most amazing listeners in the world; who, in being so, allows me to speak my unspoken, complicated thoughts out loud into coherent words. The powerful tranquility of being still, and not at war with yourself… she helps me arrive there.
As someone who has been involved in several things for quite some time, it is inevitable that as you live through more experiences, life builds you an ever higher mountain of responsibilities and self-expectations to climb. To climb it well and avoid stumbling every other step, you often have to lighten the load of your heavy backpack that is carrying too many attachments. It is some of these attachments that are weighing you down from reaching the top and seeing the full picture of where you are best meant to be.
This was something I’ve struggled with in the past year – this backpack of too many commitments to others, and not enough to myself. I have (or had – new person is I!) a hard time saying “no” to volunteering my energy and efforts to causes I care about – even at the expense of caring for my well-being. I have a difficult time declining opportunities to be a part of developing the “community” – even at the expense of developing stronger bonds, and increasing love of the Prophet ﷺ , within my own household. As a result, my priorities appear to be skewed.
I thought saying “no” to helping out was a bad, selfish, terrible thing to do. But now I know better.
Hold on, I am not advocating being totally useless in society and volunteering in nothing; I am advocating volunteering where you are needed most, but not to do so at the expense of higher priorities – like your own emotional and spiritual needs. There is a difference between backing out because you have no values except YOLO-ness & self-indulgence, and of having so many principles you fear you aren’t doing justice to. As the hourglass of time reveals, circumstances change, so what was the right initiative to be pouring your heart and soul into a year or even a month ago, may simply no longer be the right one now.
To say it as drastic as it feels, it might now be “irrelevant” to you.
I didn’t have words to describe what I was going through, so naturally I assumed my changes in mood and decreased comfort levels regarding how I was investing my energy in was because I was confused about what I care about in the first place. But now I realize something profound:
You can still care about something even though it’s become “irrelevant” to you. Simply, it can flourish but no longer depend on you to do so; and you are in a state where you must flourish in new ways, without depending on it to help you do so.
Now that doesn’t mean that you should doubt it was ever a worthwhile cause to have ever gotten involved in. On the contrary; it was critical you got involved at the time you did, or you would not be who you are today. The you that first got involved was in need of doing so, it was a necessary part of your journey… but the person you are now, with luck, is not the person you were then. The now you realizes that remaining in the same place that is not taking you further than where it has taken you, becomes irrelevant if it is preventing you from traveling to other places more crucial to your inner and outer growth.
“We must not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” (T.S. Elliot)
Not everyone will understand you when you walk away; but you do not do it for them, or even for your selfish desires; you do it for your relationship with God. You want to make sure you are using every precious second you have to not miss out on opportunities He is granting you, simply because you’re too timid to say “no” to people. To me, staying where you are not needed is not selfless – it is a selfishness of wanting to keep clinging to a title (“activist” / “role model” / “leader”) you do not even crave. It is weakness (and ain’t nobody got time to be weak at the cost of their ultimate happiness.)
“You can’t be successful with other people
if you haven’t paid the price
of success with yourself” (Stephen Covey).
To strengthen your community, you have to start with the individual: you. Once you are stable and rooted enough to extend the branches, begin with your family, the smallest unit of any community. In time, your selective (but well thought-out) unattaching will serve everyone.
A perfect former example to illustrate what I really mean by “irrelevant to me”: MSA (Muslim Students Association) of McGill. I love it; I loved being an active member on it for consecutive years, and, no exaggeration, I would not have half enjoyed five years of university completing a double bachelor degree had it not been for the warmth and magic of the MSA. Had the MSA not been there for me, and I for it, I cannot imagine who I would be now.
But despite these lovely and meaningful memories, I’ve moved on. I graduated. It doesn’t mean I think the whole purpose of MSAs are lame and useless – not at all! I still believe MSA McGill is as important now as it was half a decade ago, and I still think the MSA is an invaluable student club that serves the broader community as well in enriching ways. So yes, I still care about it. Yet, at this stage of my life, it is also “irrelevant”. If that makes sense… (it does in my head).
At the end of the day, you have a heart that will feel uneasy when it finds the rest of the body clinging to old routines that are stunting your potential in creating unique other change only the spiritually evolving you can make. The key is to evolve when your gut feelings are telling you to be still and honest with yourself. Your heart is talking to you – do the honorable thing, and listen to it!
By all means, go ahead and commit to a million causes, but only after committing to the seed that will make all the difference: you. Otherwise your heavy involvement in society might just be a cover of not being involved enough with yourself.
Never forget, change begins from within.
And Allah knows best.