Tag Archives: muslim

Time takes from the Essence

Recently, I’ve become aware that I am often rushing, running late, under pressure, behind. The questions I have to ask myself are: Behind what? Rushing where? All that exists is the present moment. Everything else is past or future. Whenever I don’t give myself enough time, I am refusing to accept the beauty of the present moment.

I curse as I get stuck behind a tractor. I can’t walk fast enough as I barrel down the street. However, when I feel I have time, I can enjoy the journey. I sing along to music. I appreciate the countryside; the shades and colours and patterns of the sky and fields and mountains. The shock of daffodils on the side of the road that announce the arrival of spring by simply being.

From the moment we are born, a big clock starts ticking. As difficult as it is for a lot of us to accept, we are all going to face death. However, most religions teach us that we are everlasting. Hindus believe in reincarnation. Christians and Muslims believe in an eternal afterlife in Heaven or Hell. Therefore, for want of a better phrase, we have all the time in the world. This doesn’t mean we can afford to waste our time on earth. We are here for a special reason and so, we should make the most of every precious moment. And if you believe that when we die, we die, that’s it, nothing more, then you’d want to make the most of what time you have left. For religious folk and atheists alike, all that exists is the present moment anyway. Right here. Right now. Now… Now… Now… And now.

Of course, if we wish to participate in mainstream society – if we want to work, take classes, keep appointments – we are choosing to follow the structure of time that we have constructed. However, when we believe that time is all there is, this is when problems arise. We are stressed because we don’t think we have enough time to get everything done. We get depressed because something we perceive as negative is taking too much time to go away. We feel guilty because we haven’t exercised as many times this week as we should have. We become frustrated because it’s been so long since we’ve gone on a date or a holiday or had time to ourselves. We judge our situation and our feelings with regard to time. If there was no such thing as time, we would be more at peace, more relaxed.

Alan Watts writes:

“Fictions are useful so long as they are taken as fictions. They are then simply ways of “figuring” the world which we agree to follow so that we can act in cooperation, as we agree about inches and hours, numbers and words, mathematical systems and languages… But the troubles begin when the fictions are taken as facts. Thus in 1752 the British government instituted a calendar reform which required that September 2 of that year be dated September 14, with the result that many people imagined that eleven days had been taken off their lives, and rushed to Westminster screaming, ‘Give us back our eleven days!'”

How can we get away from time when we have to be in work or at a class, when we have to pay our bills and study for upcoming exams? We can give ourselves time off. We can take ourselves on a break away from the constraints of time, where we can enjoy lengthy breakfasts on the balcony, sunbathe on the beach, and read until our eyes become heavy. We can give ourselves more time. This sounds paradoxical but it can be done by managing our time and figuring out what’s really important and what we want, as opposed to what we think we should be doing or falling into the trap of wasting time doing very little. Instead of losing too much time on Facebook or watching the soaps or on the phone listening to someone complaining about this and that, we can give ourselves time to stand under the shower and feel the warm water cascading along our bodies. We can go for long walks in nature. We can sit beneath a large tree and inhale the fresh air and scents of flowers and freshly cut grass and recent rainfall. We can turn off the TV and open a book. We can log off Facebook Chat and meet up with loved ones. We can meditate.

Meditation is one of the best ways to simply be. There should be no time. No stress. No ego. The word “meditation” comes from the Latin “meditare”, which means “to heal”. You can meditate in silence or by repeating a mantra. You can meditate with prayer or by sitting in nature or by watching the flickering flame of a candle. Initially, it can be difficult to switch off the incessant thoughts, the constant checking of the watch, the negative thinking, and the internal planner who sits there deciding what to have for dinner and how to complete that project. You don’t have to banish these thoughts. Simply observe them and let them go. And after a bit of practise, you’ll notice your mind becoming clearer. Focus on your breathing. Feel the connection with everything around you. Simply be. With the present moment. Now. And now. And now.

favim.com/image/30114/

 

Advertisements

Faith in More

I’ve been learning a lot about religion lately. I’ve been pondering questions and ideas and philosophies about what to believe and how to live my life. I was raised a Catholic and my father is Greek Orthodox. I married a Muslim. I spent a week in a Buddhist centre in the Scottish Highlands. I’m currently preparing to give a lecture on Hinduism in my meditation class. And this week, I’ll be learning about Judaism from a couple of other students.

Faith is something that gives people hope and direction. It enables them to look to the bigger picture when crawling through dark and difficult times. It offers them comfort when they face illness and death, be it of a loved one or of themselves.

Nowadays, many people have moved away from religion and towards what they call spirituality. Spirituality is a belief in the spirit or the soul. New Agers talk about energy and chakras, synchronicity and meditation. Without a specific religion to practise, it is important for spiritual people to have a discipline and a network of people with a similar mindset to their own. But what a spiritual person does is not so dissimilar from what a religious person does. Prayer is a form of meditation, after all. A way to connect with God or nature or the oneness of the Universe.

I’m constantly searching and questioning and wondering. Some people might accuse me of being lost or easily led or of turning my back on the religion I was baptised into. I disagree. I find other cultures and their beliefs fascinating. I love to learn new things, to consider different ideas, and to understand where everybody is coming from. I think there is value and beauty in all faiths. We are, every one of us, a human being, whether we wear a burqa or drink the blood of Christ or circumcise our children.

In my early twenties, I read the Quran, completed Ramadan twice, and spent a month in Morocco, where I spoke to many Muslim men and women, attended a Mosque, witnessed the slaughtering of lambs for the festival of Eid al-Adha, and even wore a headscarf. It appealed to me that the focus of Muslim life points far away from that of body image, which many Westerners obsess about. However, that reason alone is not reason enough to dive into a religion.

papilot.pl

Hinduism teaches about karma and reincarnation. This religion is about overcoming maya, the delusion of separateness; and accepting that this world, which we believe to be reality, is in fact an illusion. Every time we suffer or feel depressed or alone, every time we have a problem with money or with a co-worker, we must realise that this is all a dream, a test. Nothing is as important as it seems. What a relief.

Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism. Buddhists don’t believe in a God and they don’t worship a particular prophet. They believe that God is everywhere. God is within all of us. They don’t believe in souls either. They believe in energy and, when we die, our vibration simply joins the vibration of the Universe. The end goal of a Buddhist is to achieve enlightenment, which like Hinduism, is to lift the veil of maya, and become one with the world. I also welcome this concept of feeling at one with everyone and everything. When I have a negative thought about someone, I should just remind myself that I am them and they are me. Not so easy to get the head around that one.

Last weekend, I paid a visit to Glenstal Abbey, a beautiful Benedictine monastery in Limerick. I participated in a Chant Day, attended mass and Vespers in the evening. I even had an interesting chat with a lovely priest. I put my questions to him about different religions and spirituality and the idea that God is a part of us all. He answered in a non-judgemental fashion and presented me with quotes from The Bible.

He told me the story of the thief who was nailed to a cross beside Jesus Christ. He turned to Jesus and said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The priest elaborated: “This man had sinned all his life but, at the last minute, he asked to be pardoned. Don’t forget to ask.” This reflects the New Agers’ thinking on the power of intention and of “putting it out there to the Universe”. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.

The priest also told me about the importance of gratitude. And of helping others. And of positivity. And when I spoke about us all being part of the same family, he answered: “You are not just one piece of the whole, you are irreplaceable. God loves you very much.” Always nice to hear.

The following morning, as I waited for the gift shop to open, I decided to attend 10 am mass. The ceremony was beautiful. I felt like I was at the theatre. The monks gave readings and chanted and sang to the tunes pounded out on the organ. They bowed and swung smoking incense in every direction and held the priest’s robes as they moved across the altar. I felt happy to be able to participate in this celebration of faith and togetherness.

I don’t have any more answers now than when I started writing this blog post. In fact, I probably have more questions. But I’m curious and open-minded and full of faith. Faith in God. In love. And in the bigger picture. Faith is “belief that is not based on proof” (dictionary.reference.com). I don’t have proof. But I know that I believe in something higher, something more important, something more real than this body, this pain, this life. I also believe that we can learn so much from all traditions. My eyes and ears are open. And, more importantly, so is my heart.

How different my life is…

I was watching an episode of Downton Abbey recently when I was struck by how different life was in the early 1900s. Any expression of emotion was frowned upon; the working class was forbidden from befriending the upper class and vice versa; and unwed mothers were cast into disrepute.

As the drama onscreen drew to a close, I began to give gratitude for all the freedoms I possess but usually take for granted. For example, how different my life is from that of a woman 200 years ago. I can vote in the elections during the day and read about how to bag a lover in a glossy magazine by night. I can attend university and choose how to make a living from any number of possible occupations.

How different my life is… from that of a strict Muslim. I can style my hair whichever way I please (and show it off as I strut down the street in a short skirt and stilettos). I can order a steak and sip on a Mojito, while holding hands with my latest fancy-man across the table.

How different my life is… from that of a prison inmate. I can leave my room whenever I choose. I can breathe in all the fresh air I need and stare up at the open sky for as long as I like… I can jump in the car and drive to whatever destination attracts me. I can live with love and determination and hope instead of fear and frustration and longing…

"Man is free at the moment he wishes to be." Voltaire

How different my life is… from that of a single parent. I can go away for a weekend at a moment’s notice. I can stay in bed all day when I’m under the weather… I can decide not to cook when I’m feeling lazy. I can read romance novels or watch soppy movies for hours on end… I can sleep through the night, without being woken up by a screaming infant or a mischievous teen.

How different my life is… from that of a person who’s confined to a wheelchair. I can walk and run and skip and cart-wheel. I can go on bike rides to the beach and roller blade in the park. I can dance with my future husband and play Tip the Can with my prospective children.

How different my life is… from that of an impoverished child in a forgotten third world country. I can afford to complain about eating too much and putting on weight. I can make myself a double-decker sandwich at 3am, after a night on the beer. I can stuff myself with smoked salmon and roast turkey and airport-sized Toblerones every Christmas. I can kiss my family good night without worrying that they’ll have starved to death before dawn.

How different my life is from that of an unemployed father… A victim of domestic abuse… An addict… A criminal… A widow… Somebody suffering from mental illness… A blind person… Somebody who’s just been told they have a terminal disease…

Most of the time, we’re too busy to give thanks for all that we’re fortunate enough to have. To a certain extent, we’re all afflicted with problems and difficulties. But do we ever stop to think about how lucky we really are? Why not pause for a moment to consider the other tree-lined avenues or dark alleyways our life journeys could have taken us down… Some of them appear to be fuller and richer and more exciting. But others are sad and horrid and painful.

Wherever you are right now, that is where you’re meant to be. Give thanks for that. And make the most of it. I know I will.

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." John F. Kennedy

Images: http://www.fotolog.com.br/meninadetpm_s2/99789618; http://mrbiswinning.tumblr.com/; www.flickr.com; http://weheartit.com/entry/18528887;  http://youaretherhythm.tumblr.com/page/11

Dreaded Drug of Approval

I was out for dinner the other night when I spotted the waitress approaching a family at the next table. She asked one of the children, “Have you made your Santa list yet?” The little girl responded in a giggling baby voice, “I want a supwise.” Her mother patted her on the head approvingly. I had heard the child speak earlier and she hadn’t sounded like that. Already, at such a young age, this girl was changing herself and the way she behaved in order to gain approval.

This simple scenario reminded me of a number of similar moments throughout my life…

At five years of age, talking to the insects in the back garden, then hearing my parents say: “Wow, look at her! She’s so into nature!” I stayed out there for much longer than I wanted to because I was sure my parents would like me more if I did… Pretending to be into a certain genre of music as a teenager just so I’d fit in… Pushing myself in school and college so I could be the perfect student and daughter… Hanging around a guy I liked and hiding parts of myself because I thought it would make me more desirable… Losing weight because that’s how “beautiful” was sold to me… Pretending to know the politician/author/website my co-workers were talking about so they wouldn’t think I was stupid… Feeling I didn’t belong in an expensive boutique because surely the sales assistants would stare at me for not being skinny/fashionable/rich enough… Marrying a Muslim, changing pretty much everything about myself, and still feeling crushed every time he criticised me… Only enjoying the hobbies I was good at because I couldn’t stand being anything less than perfect…

Most of us are unfortunate enough to care about what others think. Add that on top of a cruel addiction to the drug of approval and you’re guaranteed a hellish existence. How many of you have turned vegetarian just because your boyfriend turned up his nose every time you scoffed a burger? Would you be brave enough to leave your iPod playing in shuffle mode when other people are around even though you have a seriously embarrassing secret penchant for The Backstreet Boys? Do you squeeze yourself into skinny jeans because that’s what all your style crushes/college friends are wearing? Do you observe yourself behaving differently around different sets of people? You don’t curse and you use words like “potentially” and “ostentatious” when you’re around Group A. You laugh uproariously at dirty jokes and innuendo (“In YOUR endo!”) when you’re with Group B. You discuss politics and current affairs/spirituality and health/psychology and literature/celebrity gossip and makeup tips with Group C, D, E and F, while sipping on a skinny latte/shot of wheatgrass/large glass of merlot/Flaming Sambuca.

"Lean too much on the approval of people, and it becomes a bed of thorns." Teysi Hsieh

These days, I kind of hope I’m not good at stuff because maintaining perfection is a lot of pressure. It’s exhausting trying to keep up the facade. I just want to do things because they’re fun and I enjoy them. From now on, I’m going to leave excellence to the experts. I’m delighted that I’m not going to live like that any more. It’s a relief to finally let go and just be. Yes, sometimes my reactions are automatic (it’s hard to break the habits of a lifetime) but when I stop and ask myself, Do you really care what they think?, the answer is a resounding NO!

It’s about time you found out who the real you really is. Get to know yourself and discover what it is that you want and like and need. It is a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding process. However, I’ll bet that most people are too afraid to even ask themselves the question Am I being true to myself? because they’re terrified of the answer. Change is scary and a hell of a lot of hard work.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to waste my life pretending to be somebody else, putting myself under constant pressure, striving for perfection, caring what others think, and giving my power away to everybody else. This drug of approval has lost its appeal. Yes, it will try to claw its way back in. And I will be sorely tempted to give in, just to avoid the crippling withdrawal symptoms. But I am determined to finally kick the habit.

Featured Image: http://www.graphicshunt.com/search/6/butterflies.htm

Images: http://www.imageblogs.org/fabulous-child-photography-to-remember-childhood/fabulous-child-photography-to-remember-childhood-9; http://trendland.net/julia-fullerton-batten-photography/#; http://www.flickr.com/photos/19722425@N02/3890967883/; http://novacaine-kills.xanga.com/?uni33319937-direction=n

New Year’s: new year, new you, new hangover

New Year’s is supposed to be a time of celebration, new beginnings, and good intentions. It’s when we all sit down and ponder the past 365 days; the highs, the lows, and what we’ve achieved (or not). Many of us write a list of new year’s resolutions, certain that this year will be our year. We will do that triathlon, lose two and a half stone, learn Chinese, persevere with those didgeridoo lessons, cook more, eat healthily, start belly dancing classes, study more, stop skipping classes, yadda yadda yadda.

If, however, you don’t have that special someone to smooch when the clock strikes midnight, you know in your heart and soul that you’ll never stop visiting Abrakebabra once you’ve had more than five pints, you’ve spent the last couple of weeks indulging in rich food, alcohol and cigarettes, and you’re peeling yourself out of bed at 2pm on the first day of the new year, with booze leaking from every pore, you may argue that there’s little to feel enthusiastic about.

First of all, let’s deal with New Year’s Eve. This glittering, expensive event masquerades itself as “The Night of Most Promise”. To avoid disappointment, it should be renamed “The Biggest Let Down of the Year”. If you accept this, anything remotely fun that happens will be a welcome shock. People plan for this event ages in advance, they squeeze themselves into their best attire, and pay a fortune to ring in the new year surrounded by other desperate revellers.

Here are some tips on how to survive this bittersweet evening…

1. Do something different

Go somewhere you’ve never been. I don’t know about you but spending New Year’s in the same club you’ve been throwing money at since you were 17 is hardly going to make you feel positive about how far you’ve come in life. Ring in the new year in a coastal country pub, singing along to “Raglan Road” and cheersing the intoxicated locals. Or venture further afield. Visit a cool European city. Go for a week’s skiing in Austria. There’s nothing like falling on your ass in the snow, then boozing it up in your thermals for the aprèsski with your fit instructors to give you a good laugh as the new year makes it entrance. Alternatively, spend it in a developing country where Christmas and New Year’s aren’t heavily marketed and this time is more about family, hard work and survival. Or go to a Muslim land where New Year’s doesn’t even fall on the same day. You needn’t worry about suffering an anti-climax there.

2. Don’t beat yourself up

Yes, you promised yourself that you’d welcome the new year in a sober and non-hungover state. But if there’s ever a night to let the hair down, it’s this one. It’d be rude not to cheers the new year with that double vodka and Red Bull and then toast it again with a Flaming Lamborghini  just to be sure. Tell yourself that the new year only commences when you’re back in work so you’re allowed to spend the first of January dragging yourself from the bed to the newsagent’s deli to the couch.

3. Stay in

Okay, this sounds terribly depressing but if this dreaded night has been a major let down for at least three years in a row, then cut your losses and sit in. At least you’re saving money and you won’t smell like the inside of a beer barrel for the premiere of the new year. I spent two New Year’s Eves on my own. Yes, when the clock chimed midnight, I did feel like I was missing out, and I did feel more alone than ever, but that lasted all of a minute and then I was back to the salt and vinegar Pringles and whatever movie had taken my fancy.

4. Work

If you have no major plans, you could welcome the new year with some extra cash in the bank. Many employers offer extra pay and brownie points for knuckling down on this much-celebrated evening. Plus, your co-workers will thank you for allowing them to spend it with their loved ones. They can suck it up and work for you when you actually get a life.

5. House party

Have or attend a house party. It’ll be less expensive and you won’t have to battle crowds to get to the bar/loo/dance floor. Just make sure the other guests are a bit of craic. You don’t want to spend the night with a bunch of negative whingers. Check out this clip for what not to do. 

6. Don’t get too drunk

I spent one New Year’s Eve at a concert in The Point. I had clearly drank too much as I spent the latter part of the evening with my head over a toilet bowl. Being confronted by a reflection of yourself in the shimmering loo water with mascara running down your face, as you hear your friends gleefully count down to midnight, is enough to make you swear off liquor for life.

And once you’ve gotten over the night of drunken fights and tears, emotional embraces and tonsil tennis, you can get around to making that shining list of New Year’s Resolutions. Writing down one’s intentions is a lovely way to feel positive about your life in the new year. Some believe that we can create our own reality by the power of positive thinking so why not put it out to the Universe?! If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Think of it as a Santa list you send up the chimney. For adults. Here’s how to go about it:

1. Don’t do it

If you’re the type who constantly bitches and moans at oneself for not doing stuff, then simply don’t make a list. It’ll be just another reason to beat yourself up for not jogging three miles a day or learning how to bone a duck.

2. Be realistic

Don’t promise to save more than you can afford. Because either you’ll get evicted from your rented accommodation or you’ll feel bad for not fulfilling your resolution. I’m the very one who’ll decide to exercise, study, write, cook, read, and meditate every single day of the week, and then realise there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all this, unless I skip work, stay up all night, and avoid friends and family, so I end up doing none of the above and feeling rotten about myself.

3. Make it positive

Don’t make it a list of hard rules, “don’ts” and “shoulds”. This list can be inspiring and fun. If it’s all about denying and pushing yourself, you’ll be exhausted before you even tackle resolution number one. Add nice resolutions like “I will have fun and enjoy myself this year” or “I will not take life so seriously”. Decide to try something new and exciting like a class in carpentry or dance, or plan a trip to some far-flung, exotic destination.

4. Give yourself a get-out clause

If you’re finding something too tough or time-consuming, allow yourself to be the editor of your own list. You have the authority to chop and change it. Feel free to add new things throughout the year. The first of January isn’t the absolute only day you can begin a new regime. You might be too tired after all the Christmas celebrations to come up with a great list. Once the days start expanding and the sunshine favours our little island again, our energy increases, and this might be a more ideal time to create that list of good intentions.

5. Revision

Don’t just write the list, enjoy a week-long burst of good work, and then lose the piece of paper and your will to continue. Re-read the list every so often and monitor your progress. Don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back for what you’ve achieved so far. Revise it and don’t get angry with yourself for not being the star pupil of new year’s resolutions. Be aware that it’s pretty impossible to follow up on every single pointer on the list. You probably had a fair idea you wouldn’t be able to master the imperfect tense in modern Arabic, let alone read the Qur’an in its original form.

My advice is to just have fun. Many of us take everything way too seriously. Life is about enjoying yourself as much as possible and being the best you can be. So, enjoy your New Year’s Eve, even if you do snog the village idiot just so you can have someone at midnight. And be thankful that a new year is commencing and the road ahead is full of possibility. This year can be the best one yet. You’re the one who can make it happen. So do.