Strange Liberating Truth

Dedicated to Nada.

Cheerful

There is a liberty to knowing that people often don’t care about you as much as you think they do.

Many people have opinions about your choices. If you’re a feedback-welcoming person like me, your decisions may be swayed by their opinions. However, here is the unpleasant and yet strangely liberating truth: not everyone cares about your well-being as much as you’d like to believe.

Once you come to this realization, it is much easier to change your life. It is much easier to jump out of your comfort bubble and pursue crazy dreams – because those that try to put down your ideas aren’t doing it for you, really. Those who have not reached their full potential do not wish you to reach yours, either.

Here is the bitter, and yet strangely liberating truth: Know that often you will cross paths with people who only like you when you can do things for them. But the moment your services are given or denied, they’ll never give you a second thought. You were just a stop sign in their way, they paused to check if the surrounding area had anything worthy, and when they found you were only you… continued driving.

But either they don’t really know who you are, or don’t know how to give proper value to worthy beings… or they would not have simply continued on their way.

The people who hurt us the most are often those we think cherish us most. I am not speaking about family – family drama is a given, even if seldom. I am talking about strangers who cross paths with you, make you feel something like you’re flying, and then like a kite with a string, yank you back down to earth. These are the people who assume to know your best interests and give you “advice”, but really they maintain in mind how you will serve their best interests. These are the people who don’t care about you as much as you think, or hope, they do.

Once you come to this realization, it is much easier to change your life. It is much easier to let go of strong invisible emotional bonds you’ve placed on certain people who made you feel essential to their lives – and then dropped off the face of your world. Because they never liked you for your soul, really.

Do not settle for being mediocre because popular opinion wants you to be. Do not settle for less because you have yet to find the more.

As Nayyirah Waheed beautifully says:

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People may be cruel, but you must never be cruel to you. To your self. To your heart energy. To your soul. You are irreplaceably precious, and don’t let anyone or anything make you forget that.

And Allah knows Best.

-A.S.

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Dis-attaching

~

I will peel it from my heart
Like a sticker from paper;
A sticker that has stayed on for far too long
And now runs the risk of ripping the substance it’s on.

Yet still, like an A+ sticker                                                                                                                            Mistakenly placed on a failing essay,                                                                                                           You, too, were never meant to be attached to,                                                                                          Much less in my life stay.

And so, I tell you thank you for all that you are
And inspired me to be
But I need to move on from you
To focus on realer things in my destiny.

So yes, I will peel you from my heart’s beat
Like a stubborn sticker from a delicate paper sheet
And though the ripping may hurt and sting
It will, at long last, give my heart new wings.

Flight

And God knows Best.

-A.S.

 

 

 

“Irrelevant” To Me

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.

Graffiti Art

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  , 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.

disengage Yasmin tweet

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!

disrespect your heart

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.

-A.S.

Life’s Unavoidable Plot Twist

Top Hat

By virtue of a thing being called alive, it is assumed that something with life, at some point, will die. It’s so obvious of a fact that I’m embarrassed to be even writing this intro.

But that’s why I’m writing this: sometimes it is the most glaringingly obvious that is the easiest to ignore – whether deliberate or unconsciously. Death is the one complete certainty in any life – regardless what faith you have, what experiences you’ve had, where you are or where you’re going, I’m sure it’s safe to say that we can all agree on one solid point: we are all going to die, at some unknown point in time.

Yet we still never see it coming.

And when we do, ironically we only think that it can be coming for us – because it’s more comforting to acknowledge the death of yourself, as you know how hard you’re trying to be better ;you pray God finds goodness in you you were never arrogant enough to spoil. Every second of being alive is another second to make things right; within your soul, between your fellow brothers and sisters in humanity, and ultimately (what it all ties into from start to end) your devotion and relationship with God. If we do not keep death in the back of our minds as this bleak but definite expected guest, making amends and making the most of every moment might be stalled more than we’d like.

So here’s a plot twist: we expect our own lives will end any moment, but living in a non-violent and relatively safe place, we rarely consider that a dear loved one’s life, or someone that they care about, might die.

Let me share a story with you: When I was a very young girl, my kind-hearted grandmother died (may Allah have mercy on her soul). I did not know her very well – only met her once, that summer before – so I was still unable to comprehend the enormity of the loss. It was only as I grew older and learned stories of her wisdom, strength, courage and bravery that I felt crushed I never truly got to have her a part of my childhood. Her death was not a very sudden occurrence: she was increasingly ill for days before she went back to her Lord. Despite the clarity of where her condition was heading, it was still as shocking of a fact, like a bucket of ice water thrown in your face, for everyone. I remember seeing the adults cry; and after some raw conversations with a family friend whose father passed away earlier this week, I realized something: humanity runs on hope.

No matter how bad things get, with or without knowing it, humans live, breathe, swim and exist in a protective sphere of hope. You never give up hope in those you care about. You never want to even fathom the idea that someone you love, or someone that your loved one loves, could possibly be living one day and buried the next. Somehow our own alive-ness makes things falsely appear as though everyone else’s alive-ness is equally stable. If I’m alive, so must everyone else be… right?

Right?

Alas, it is not such.

I’m writing this to drill it in myself that death is real, death is more real than my conviction that I will wake up tomorrow. Death is more likely to happen than all my wildest dreams and plans that I’m hoping will occur in the future.

I’m not throwing these words on the page to erase all positivity – on the contrary! One doesn’t curl up in despair at the thought of death, but one shouldn’t give it the cold shoulder in the false notion that it can be shrugged away at our mere whim.

Despite the Blinds

Death is the fuel that reminds you

to never stop telling people that you love them,

to never hold grudges against the stupid but well-meaning,

to never hesitate to make the most of a human interaction,

and above all,

to never stop being the best version of yourself that you can be.

 

An elderly person told me yesterday: “I’ve been in Canada for over 25 years. Ooooh, how time flies! It all feels like a day has flown by.”

Death is so real, so undeniable, but easily the most denied thing. No one wants to talk about it (not exactly the most popular dinner party topic) until it hits. But every story has a plot twist, and our lives – one long complicated story – must have its plot twists as well.

The plot twist of life, is death. To God we belong, and to Him we return.

إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ


May God make us steadfast on His love & His pleasure, and surround us with His mercy. Ameen.

 

& Allah knows Best.

-A.S.

Oh, Those Emotional Roller Coasters

Dedicated to anyone who likes roller coasters and metaphors.

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The function of a roller coaster is to make you forget the world for a few minutes as your body is taken on an exhilarating adventure meters higher in the air than you are accustomed to. Not only do you approach cloud #9 physically, but you do so mentally as well. The thrilling sensation created by the exciting anticipation of being suddenly rotated around a circular track with the physics of centripetal force has your emotions at maximum intensity.


Now I just described one of my favorite amusement rides: the physical roller coaster.

But what do people mean when they say they are on an emotional roller coaster? Well, I cannot speak on their behalf, but I can certainly speak on mine.

In a physical roller coaster, things are simple.

  • There is a starting location, and an end location.
  • There is a set timing for how long each ride will last.
  • Because there is a designated person controlling the ride, you can be assured that you’ll get by in one piece,
  • Get all the way through,

And all you must do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

Emotional roller coasters are a little more complicated.

Whereas a flux of various emotions are experienced on the physical ride – suspense, excitement, fear, joy, and so forth – they are all validated, expected, and hence most warmly welcomed as the norm.

But life often puts you in circumstances that you cannot see what the end result looks like, situations that you do not know how long your nerves must be put to the test, and something seems to go seriously wrong along this metaphorical ride…


You see, in an emotional roller coaster, you are not taken on a complete 360 degree turn; at least not in one swift shot. No no, you are rotated at most 180 degrees from the bottom so that you are now upside down. There is no human controlling this so the “ride” is halted midway for an indefinite period of time. Here you are, just hanging upside down as the blood rushes to your head, and you simply cannot ignore what you can’t stop thinking about.

You realize you’re experiencing a range of complicated emotions, and the more you try to rationalize them, the more sophisticatedly complex they become.


In these awkward circumstances, it can be hard to know how to feel and remain in an internally balanced state. The only way to do this is to remind yourself, for your own sake, that although there isn’t a human controlling this whirlwind of a ride, this is all part of a plan from the Best of all Planners.

Once this fact is internalized, it is easier to accept the fact that you’re going to be left hanging upside down, midway on this circular metaphysical track, until you learn to trust in your Creator and His wisdom.

Brace yourself to be content for whatever is to come next.

Oh, those emotional roller coasters. Might as well learn to enjoy the ride while I’m on it.

Gears

And Allah knows best.

-A.S.

Dear Diary: My Writing Has Died

I have no desire to write anymore.

Actually, that is a little extreme, so allow me to rephrase that: I have lots of desire to write, but I simply seem to have nothing worthy to write about. There are tons of things I’m learning everyday but I am lacking the elegant ways of expressing them. Besides creating fragmented poetry pieces here & there, I think this is the longest writer’s block I have experienced in quite a while.

“there are days

where i feel infertile

like no more poems will come

like all the words there were

to be weaved by me

have been weaved

and i am unable

to create anything.”

(Rupi Kaur)

Isn’t it interesting that the younger & less knowledgeable me had an ocean of things to say, and keen enough to make the time to share it with the whole virtual world? Yet now, when I actually have the time to write, it’s no longer an option; I toss the pen aside, thinking Who am I, anyways, to write on these things, and what do I REALLY have to say that is both of value & which I’m actively applying to myself simultaneously?

You see, my criteria for what I can, would and should share with hearts external to my own has changed over time, becoming more constricted. In person, I might speak spontaneously sometimes, so I try to measure & weigh my words prior as much as possible when I can (such as in writing).The fact is, as human beings, we do more talking than walking… more preaching than acting… more judging than understanding… and I am no different. I am trying to rise above that.

I suppose the older I get and with the “more wisdom” I acquire, the more I realize that life is a strict teacher with the ultimate lesson to not have too many assumptions about the way the world works, and especially on the way people are. When a shareable idea flickers across my mind, I hesitate; I’m probably wrong, I think; the inclination to write decreases; and eventually I decide my words are of very little necessity or use to anyone.

Sketching pad

But I’ve come to realize something lately. There is a void in me. I take on new hobbies & interests and still I feel incomplete. This feeling is only absent when I… wait for it… express myself through writing.

Writing academic essays & educational blog posts for professional development purposes is not the same as sorting through jumbled thoughts & trying to understand myself. They are both useful and beneficial, yes, but in different ways and for different purposes.

When I say my writing has flattened, I am talking about the kind that involves heart-felt sentences I put out there, allowing myself to be vulnerable to the scrutiny of strangers (and most frighteningly, people I know) while experiencing a sheer bliss feeling of realizing how many others are experiencing the same thing through the feedback. Sharing one’s writing is a bold act, an act of community, and I have allowed myself to stumble away from it.

When my writing habit died, so did a little part of myself.

It’s like suddenly losing a bunch of teeth and much of what passes through your lips becomes pronounced wrong – likewise, without the exercise of writing, my thoughts remain constricted in my mind & create tension in my heart, muddling my concentration, because I’m not quite sure what is going on inside of me.

“i write because

i don’t know

how i feel

until i read it.” 

(Rupi Kaur)

Out of the many Ramadan goals I have set for myself this blessed month, one of them is to write again… regularly. I will reflect on certain Quranic passages as sources of inspiration to get started. (InshaAllah… stay tuned!)

For all future posts, I intend to weigh my words beforehand, but nonetheless that does not guarantee that every post will provide unique insights to every reader; and that’s perfectly okay. I will not pretend to believe that I am your golden chest of treasured words.

But they are my words, which tell my story… and they are coming back to life. Fasting is reviving my soul, and writing shall revive my spirit.

revival

And Allah (God) knows best.
-A.S.

Run, Pause, Think – & Zoom Off Again

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The thought of changing your daily lifestyle, or letting go of something major, at the expense of an established comfort zone, can be a little unsettling.

And one day, you wake up and the thought is there.

It is then that it suddenly hits you how you are so busy in your routines and efforts to make the world go round, that you never ponder to think if this is really where you want to be. Is this really what I want to do? Am I investing my energies in the best possible manner? Am I spending enough time with those who are closest to me? Am I doing this thing right?

Your whole energy appears to be connected to developing the community in one way or another (and الحمد لله for that). But… wait… this community is comprised of individuals, including yourself…

Have you ever considered before developing others, if you are also developing yourself?

Sometimes you have to pause.

I am going to talk of someone, whom I will keep anonymous. (She has given me permission to write about her and even proof-read this.)

One fine morning, she pressed the Pause button.

This woman has been involved in so many activities in her community for as long as she can recall, seeming to be everywhere at once. She has recently confessed to me that she is exhausted.

Not exhausted with helping others – but exhausted with her own broken promises to help her own self flourish and grow.

I’ve been wanting to do W, X, Y, Z for the past several years,” she says, “but there never seems to be ‘enough time’. I am like too much peanut butter spread on too little bread.

When prodded, she further explains, “There are interests I wish to pursue at a greater level than the mediocre level that I am at. But never any time for the extra courses. There are knowledges I wish to delve into, languages I want to learn, a little more than the mediocre surface I’ve merely skimmed across. But never any time to empty my mind of worries connected to fulfilling so many little obligations that become a mountain, and absorb a new world. There are skills I have long been aware I am lacking, that I only know the very basics of. But never any time for practicing them.

This thinking puzzled me initially. Is the problem really that there is “never any time”? Plenty of people manage to do a gazillion things at once. In fact, many people are doing as much as she is, times five!

At this, she seems a little embarrassed – but says straight-up, honestly: “Yes, I am aware. In fact, this is why I’ve kept prolonging my goals… because I keep comparing myself to others, and thinking I can manage exactly as they do. And maybe I could, if I was as self-disciplined. But at this stage of my life, I am not so. I hate to say it, and it’s shameful to admit it, but despite how highly people regard me, I personally feel very average simply for lack of attempting to excel, and this makes me weak. There, I said it. I am weak, and cannot focus on a million things at once without the result being that I’m mediocre in a million things and not very good in any one field.

Then again, a weak person just needs training to be strong. But that training takes time.

If I can cut down doing some of the things I am doing, things that anyone else can do instead, as good (or even better!) than I… this will allow me to re-direct my extra time and energy into what will strengthen me, both academically and emotionally. Very soon again, I will resume being as busy and “involved” as I ever was, except perhaps with even more zeal now that I’d feel a little bit more myself…

colors of life

This made me consider it. We’re in a culture that is fast-paced and expects us to keep meaningfulness in what we do, doing it faster… and she’s gotten tired of running this race. She needs a time-out to reconsider where her track is leading.

Yeah. I get it. Don’t we all need our time-outs?

May God keep her, you & all of us steadfast on His path, and may He remind us to continually keep checking our intentions again and again.

The moral of the story is: it’s OK to pause; It’s OK to confront one’s flaws, just as long as one is ready to begin fixing them.

Above all, it’s OK not to run, and simply slow down

(for the sake of soon zooming off much faster in the right direction إنشاء الله).

Finally, never forget that every success and every so-called failure, happens through the will of God.

When you find yourself running… Pause. Think. And zoom off again.

And Allah knows Best.

A.S.

Imagine Time Differently

mauve petals

Time. Imagine we imagined it differently.

We use it to set deadlines for ourselves, to be efficient, to develop punctuality as a trait, to set meeting times. We use time.

We use it to remind us when to put aside our distractions and pray, to help us realize if a goal is realistically attainable or not, for storytelling purposes, and to describe it with calendars and stopwatches. We use time.

We use it to determine if someone has learning disabilities, for communication within relationships, for organizational structures… And all the while that we try to capture the most of time, the clock hand is going tick tock tick tock tick tock…

Time.

We use it for so much more than even this.

How wonderfully simpler life becomes for us if we used time in a way to help us achieve our goals, rather than making it the end goal in and of itself.

Wouldn’t life be ideal if time was a friend for us, and not an enemy?

Imagine we used time as a tool to guide us, rather than as a factor to judge us.

Imagine we didn’t rush to label people as lazy, stupid, or “learning-disabled”, all because they couldn’t memorize a book’s worth of contents as rapidly as some other kids; they simply needed more time to process the information.

Imagine we didn’t pride ourselves on how little time a task was done, all because we fooled ourselves we were ‘saving time’ in the process, while really what we were doing was building weak unstable foundations that would take so much more time in the future to re-build.

Imagine we taught the importance of deep change, and taught that real change occurs in incremental bits over an extended period of time, and it’s OK that just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, our world now won’t heal itself in a day either.

Imagine we stopped making rash decisions based on our desire to speed things up, and learned patience from our wise elders that are viewed by the younger generation as merely foolish and “behind the times”.

Imagine we cared more for effectiveness as a value, rather than solely focusing on efficiency.

Imagine that we understood the significance of time as a companion in helping us build solid relationships out of trust, understanding and empathy, which takes real commitment and silencing of the ego – no easy, rapid feat – rather than expect “love at first sight” split seconds to determine one’s fate.

medieval-clock

Imagine we understood that time is for us, and not against us.

There as a light to help us on our journey, but we spend our lives cursing it and viewing it with a form of hatred – popular quotes such as “time is a slut, she screws everyone over” emphasize this.

Does time, our well-meaning companion, screw us over,

or do we ignore her presence and then by default, screw ourselves?

 

“Many people take no care of their money till they come nearly to the end of it,

and others do just the same with their time.” – Goethe

 

Truly, time is remarkable. Let us marvel that we are even allowed to exist within its frame, and stop considering it lacking simply because we don’t own eternity of it.

And God knows best.

A.S.

A Time of Polar Opposites

~

It is a time of things old,

A time of things new;

It is a time of grey skies,

And a time of skies blue.

~

It is a time of gradual beginnings,

A time of abrupt endings;

It is a time of knowing to be bold

And a time of self-surrendering.

~

It is a time of dreams come true,

A time of hopes and lives destroyed;

It is a time of scientific admiration,

And a time of environment annoyed.

~

It is a time of spontaneous bursts of love,

A time of inexplicable impulsive hate;

It is a time of refusing to submit to reality,

And a time of embracing what brings fate.

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It is a time of promising failures,

A time of unfortunate successes;

It is a time of lack of resources,

And a time of cruel excesses.

~

It is a time of needless luxuries,

A time of great need;

It is a time of loving charity,

And a time of ruthless greed.

~

It is a time of deep fulfillment,

A time of endless longing;

It is a time of painful alienation,

And a time of finally belonging.

~

It is a time of times light,

A time of times dark;

It is a time of deadened hearts,

And a time of souls sparked.

~

It is, alas,

A time of polar opposites;

And we must strive to grow, love and flourish,

Somehow, inside of it.

And God knows Best.

-A.S.

Life’s Plot Twists

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I read an amusing quote this morning that made the writer in me smile:

“When something goes wrong in your life, just yell, “Plot twist!” and move on.”

I really liked it. As I had just completed reading Pride and Prejudice this morning, it all rang more in my mind. Upon editing some photographs I took over the weekend, it occurred to me that the combination above of the two photos can visually summarize the ‘life is full of plot twists’ notion…

Sometimes you think you’re at the top of the world – internal Superman – with your facts, smugness, and attitude; only for some concealed points to be revealed. Suddenly your situation is flipped upside down on its head so abruptly in a dramatic “plot twist”. Somehow you’re still standing, but you’re confused where you now stand and it all seems a bit absurd. Your prejudices are made apparent to you, and maybe even your pride.

Your life story is a plot, and whenever your expectations or assumptions are shunned, a plot twist of some sort occurs. Good or bad, they are worth living. And besides – they were always meant to live. Ali Ibn Abi Talib said,

“Oh God, when I lose my hopes and plans, help me remember that Your love is greater than my disappointments, and Your plans for my life are better than my dreams.”

I await to see what the next chapter of my life holds.

And God knows Best.

🙂

-A.S.