Do you remember being a child and waking up happy? You weren’t happy at anything in particular, you just felt a joy in existing, a perpetual hopefullness that today would be a day that something good would happen.
I want to reconnect with that state, of delight, and joy, and hope.
Of noticing the small things. Really slowing down and noticing how the sun is golden, in a pinky blue, early morning sky. The way the birds sound, trilling back and forth in conversation with eachother as I walk along a tree coseted path, their leaves creating a shimmering whistle in the wind.
I want to notice the tread of my feet on the earth, the rise and fall of my chest, the air in my lungs, and the steady beating of my heart, even the thrum of my pulse below my ears about my next.
I want to notice these every day multitudinal blessings and feel the utter bliss of each of these moments.
Tonight is something different. Sometimes there’s tension between what to say, and what I think, what to share, and what to hold back on. As someone who has recognised, over time, the impact words have, I wrestle between caution and courage.
There’s a lot of fear out here in the world. From racism, discrimination, and fear on all “sides” of the issues- stems deep defensiveness, misconceptions, and poor communication; to the latest with the coronavirus, (why aren’t the news reporting on the rates of recovery??? ) Does this speak to the disease vs symptom treatment of many current healthcare models?; to knife crime and violence- so many people ending their time on this planet through this means.
There’s a lot of fear. Do you feel like that fear serves a purpose though? Sometimes it can, sometimes it’s a rallying point, sometimes you see the best of human nature unfolding. I know there’s a possibility that fear could lead you to dig deep and ask what’s going on here? Try to get a grip of what’s happened, where things have gone left, and what the lessons are within the experiences.
It feels like this idea of relying on certainty (for me the most certain place to rest my faith is Allah, the Eternal, the Ansolute), to weather through periods of uncertainty, in a flexible and strong manner, isn’t mainstream.
Sometimes I look at that and think there’s a reason it isn’t the mainstream messaging. It doesn’t necessarily serve capitalism. It serves a higher power and strengthens individual’s internal reasoning and deductive skills, along side emphasising shared humanity, and the interconnected nature of our lives.
It feels at times that societies (at least the one i currently live in) are moving away from that interconnectedness. What do they say? Divided they fall? As you know I’m a counselling student. There’s this movement in psychology to move towards a Power Threat Meaning Framework. It basically advocates looking at and recognising our difficult experiences, and how messaging from wider society can invrease feelings of guilt, shame, and isolation (source: bps).
There’s this strange (to me) sanitisation from life experiences and the human, (natural inclination towards adaptation and doing the best that we can with the resources at hand) response, that’s almost a means of blaming individuals for not coping without considering what the experiences they’ve gone through are, recognising that they are coping, if in a maladjusted way, and beginning to reconcile that and encourage better coping strategies that work within their given experiences. In short understanding a dis-ease means slso understanding the context.
Honestly there’s a lot going on right now. I want people to remember to look after themselves and others in the human family. I want people to have courage, which flows from a knowledge that what happens to you in life is ultimately for your good, (and always a means of drawing you ever closer to your Maker. I want us to really go back to our fitrah, (purest form of our natures) and remember that we are brothers and sisters in humanity. That what affects me affects you as fellow sojourners on this planet. Mostly I want us to rekindle the light of hope in ourselves, in eachother.
a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged. Middle English (in the sense ‘living among, familiarity, intimacy’): via Old French from Latin conversatio(n- ), from the verb conversari (see converse1).
Growing up my mum would often encourage us to supplicate to God together, in my one of the church of england primary schools that I attended we would be encouraged to put our hands together and pray. I remember my Ghanian neighbour/ aunty type figure, on the mornings that she would take me to school with her own children, would always be singing praise worship songs and before we left the house she would have us pray.
As a young person I was quite talkative, but I always felt slightly self conscious praying out loud. One of my favourite times to pray out loud though would be during my mum’s annual tradition of making supplications as the new year rang in. Those times I would enjoy speaking out loud forming eloquent sentences speaking the good I wanted Allah to manifest in my life.
As I grew older, and moved away from home, and went through various different stages in my exploration of faith, in my spiritual practices, supplication and conversations with God were still an area of struggle for me. Taking part in Visionnaire, and Learning about Dream Dua with sh Muhammed Alshareef was incredibly impactful on my understanding of dua, and the importance of knowing Allah.
Imagine being invited to meet a ruler. This ruler has tons and tons of money, and controls large regions of land. The ruler has a lot of power, and upon meeting them, they tell you that you can make a request of them. What would you ask for?
Would it make sense for you to ask for a notebook, or a pen, or a piece of chocolate. It wouldn’t right?
That would be an underutilised opportunity, isn’t that right?
What about not even making a request?
Recognising that in supplicating to Allah, entering into conversation with Him, you are in front of the Rabbi-al-amin The Lord of All TheWorlds, the owner of the entire universe, the One who Provides all sustenance to all of creation, being aware that it is He who fashioned everything and is in complete control of it all. Knowing that He loves us to ask of Him, and that to ask of His abundance is recognition of His majesty, and of our complete reliance on Him, Subhanallah! It’s pretty mind-blowing stuff right?
Even further learning took place on LaYinka Sanni’s Evolve & Emerge in Ramadan course. Here I learnt about the importance of having an outcome when it comes to my relationship with my Lord, where I looked where I was at the start of the course, and where I envisioned myself being at the end of Ramadan, I learnt about embracing flexibility, and how Allah always gives us exactly what we need.
All of these learnings have come together, and this Ramadan, should I be so blessed as to meet it, and even today, as that is the day right in front of me, I want to deepen the intimacy in my conversations with my Lord. My goal this Ramadan is a deeper sense of connection with Him glorified and exalted is He.
I still need to get specific on the How’s, but the What is clear, and the Why? Because this is necessary to me. To be conscious of my full reliance on my Lord, and to be humble enough to ask Him for that Help. To regularly call on Him, and to turn to Him, it’s something that I can only do with more of.
What are your thoughts? Does any of this resonate with you, or do you see things differently? I’d love to get your take on things
It’s been quite a while since my last post. Our youngest is starting to find his feet, and his interest in exploring various corners of our house has kept me on my toes. Anywho, today I was reading an email by Omar Usman who writes about the Fiqh of Social Media on Mosque Inreach vs Outreach, whilst I enjoy reading his emails and find them to be full of thought provoking goodness, (hence me feeling like I need to read them when I have the time and quiet to do so with at least a little bit of concentration), I realised that this morning, at least, I was reading the article with my parental sense on. Certain phrases jumped out at me, and seemed to me to be sound advice for parenting, achieving a goal, things to do with my business…
Here’s one example.
“Whoever is tasked with the spiritual leadership, or shepherding, of the community must develop a vision for what that development (tarbiyyyah) process looks like over time and how to achieve it.”
This could be applied in so many different areas of life.
How many times does the lense/ mindset we currently have affect how we read things and/ or scenarios?
I set off on a voyage a long time ago, and now my ship has reached the seas of Ramadan. The moon has been sighted, Taraweeh prayers have begun, and my heart-sails have been unfurled and now fill with the winds of joy and anticipation at the powerful potential this beautiful month has for lasting change, growth, and evolution.
This year I enrolled in the Evolve during Ramadan workshop by LaYinka Sanni. The four week course was a dock of sorts, where I pulled my ship in, and underwent necessary repairs to ensure my ship was “sea-worthy” in the lead up to this beautiful month.
Repairing the hull, reflecting, and learning
Pulling into port and undergoing ship repair looked like; reflecting on myself, who I am as a person, learning about how past challenges or “failures” are actually opportunities to learn something, opportunities to identify where I am, where I’m going, and where I want to be; Opportunities to re-chart the course of my journey, and realise that I do not simply need to retrace the route of Ramadan voyages past. I can set a new course, explore new facets of myself, and ultimately exit this Ramadan (body of water) having attained taqwah.
I wanted to share a gift with you, something I discovered during my time spent in port.(I’m having too much fun with these nautical metaphors :D)
This will be the fourth Ramadan running where I am not fasting. This year I am at peace with that. Not only am I at peace with it, but I am also incredibly grateful for it. I want to share my journey to this place, in the hopes that those reading this who are setting sail on a similar journey can develop this feeling and be buoyed up by it. Becalmed & Unsettled
The winds still, and the waters silence, dark clouds gather rapidly on the horizon, threatening a storm of catastrophic proportion. And the little ship sits uncertainly in the sea, the water’s current suddenly nowhere to be seen, and any way to avoid the gathering storm a distant dream.
This is exactly how I felt during the last three Ramadans.
The first Ramadan that I wasn’t able to fast, I was mid way through pregnancy and battling Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I could not keep down water at all, and not much food either, I had been in and out of hospital due to dehydration, I’d lost over 10 per cent of my body weight, and now weighed less at 20 weeks pregnant than I had before getting pre-pregnant; Physically very weak, and unable to stand in salah (prayer) I was struggling with the realisation that fasting was not an option for me.
I cried a lot, saddened because, I felt like I was disappointing Allah, and letting myself down. I knew that not fasting Ramadan was a concession for those who were unable, but I wanted to fast.
So much of my Ramadan experience was tied to fasting, going to iftaars breaking the fast collectively. Spending time at the mosque, that first sweet sip of water or bite of a date after 14 hours of fasting, the spiritual heights of spending hours suppressing hunger in an effort to seek my Creator’s pleasure. I wanted that. I didn’t want to be so sick and weak that at times my salah consisted of head movements only.
Thunder and lightning crashes, and abundant rain pours down on the ship. The hope of blue skies and plain sailing are woefully far away.
The second Ramadan that I wasn’t able to fast I was breastfeeding an infant, and still recovering from the physical toll Hyperemesis Gravidarum had wreaked on my body. I felt disheartened and resigned. I’d tried fasting some days sporadically leading up to Ramadan, and it hadn’t worked out well, aside from that I feared losing my milk supply. I looked for articles online, ideas for how to get that Ramadan ‘feeling’ when not fasting. There were plenty of ideas but my heart wasn’t in it. I tried to do what I could, Tried to pray the full amount of taraweeh prayers at home on my own, but eventually, between sleepless nights, exhaustion, anaemia, (one of the left over results of 10 months of near starvation where my body kept breaking itself down to find energy to keep going), and my infant sons’ natural & frequent demands for milk, I ran out of steam.
The little ship had come to dread sailing into Ramadan waters; sad and longing for pleasant, spiritually reviving Ramadans of years past.
The third Ramadan, Alhamdulillah, I was pregnant and once again battling with hyperemsis gravidarum. This year I was hopeful that I would still derive some benefit, and had more practice with not fasting. I looked for little things I could do, to feel connected to Allah, to the benefit of this month. I worked on my relationship with dua (supplication). I tried to find a deeper peace and connection in salah, active toddler noises notwithstanding. Still a large part of me longed to be able to fast.
A Loftier Goal
So here we are. I’ve pulled out of the port, and sailed into Ramadan, the journey is the same, but my outlook is poles apart from year one, and year two, a huge development from year three.
My little ship bobs on the Ramadan sea, and my eyes are on the horizons not on fasting, but on a loftier goal. Taqwah.
This is what I want to share with you. The goal of Ramadan is not to fast. The goal of Ramadan is to attain taqwah. Said another way the aim is to develop an intimate relationship with Allah, that steadies you and keeps you on course for the entire voyage of your life. Fasting is of course a wondrous means to attaining that connection, alhamdulillah, for those that fasting is not an option for, there are still abundant means to working towards taqwah.
You have been gifted with a different path to achieving that same lofty pursuit. Do not despair. Instead make a choice?
Make a conscious and intention filled choice. Receive your gift from your Rabb:
He has bestowed it on you for a reason. Think and reflect on the lessons can be learned, the good that can yet be attained. Work with your strengths and your weaknesses. What strengths have you been blessed with? How can you use these to attain your goal, to draw closer to your Lord?
By not fasting, I am accepting Allah’s generous concession for me. I am gracefully and gratefully accepting it. He knows. He knows my circumstance and conditions, and potential, and longing to please Him. He has given me this opportunity and gift. How pleasing to the giver of the gift when it is happily received, accepted with grace.
With the answers to these questions, set forth on the Ramadan seas with winds of hope, and gratitude, towards greater consciousness of your Lord.
In a conversation with my mother recently she mentioned a Yoruba proverb.
Eni ti eyan ma ku han, eyan okin fi ara pamo fun
Why hide yourself from the ones you’ll be exposed to when dead
Consider this, when we die there are certain people to whom responsibility will fall. Those who ought to wash our (respective) bodies and prepare them for burial, those it falls on to take care of the rites, and organise things. In essence they are those who must take charge of our bodies, the ones to whom the obligations and, in effect our bodies now belong.
What can be inferred from the proverb is that these people have a stake in our lives, and a responsibilty towards us after we are departed. We can not hide ourselves from them in death, so logically it does not make much sense to hide ourselves from them in life.
If we feel the need to hide our problems and or struggles from our nearest and dearest, shouldn’t we also consider that at a certain point these will become their struggles too?
We are planted in the soil of our particular situations for a reason. (I firmly believe that this reason is growth, and developing a firm rooted understanding of our ultimate purpose in existence; to worship the Creator). With our ultimate reliance being placed on the Creator we can develop an understanding that support can come in from varying places and indeed people.
Reflecting, it dawns on me that I’ve made a lot of errors of late, and the one person that understands the most about how I feel concerning those mistakes, is the person I have made those errors against. What I’ve learned from this experience is that those around us can, if allowed, shed light on issues from different perspectives and help us to clarify our understanding of things, and in that way enable us to come up with a game plan for how we wish to move forward.
There is great benefit to be found in seeking assistance, and also from assisting others. As it is said, Islam is Naseeha, that is, the good advice. We can benefit from consulting with people. We still have the right to disagree, of course and that right is ours no one can take it away from us, but the blessing of having those around us who are invested and actually want good for us is that we get to make use of the resources they offer.
At times these people might be friends they may be family, the key is that they are trustworthy and want good for us, not only on a superficial level, and because of that are willing to point out to us, or indeed help us point out to ourselves where we’re going wrong or falling short of the persons we are/aspire to be.
In brief; Life is difficult at times. There is no harm in sharing part of that difficulty with those who will be there for your body after you have left it.
Alhamdulillahi rabbil alamin, All praise and gratitude is due to Allah the Lord of all the worlds. Just over a week ago the new addition to our family was delivered safely into this world. I can not adequately express what a privilege, honour, and humongous blessing it is to become a parent once more. How awed and humbled I am that this honour was written for me again.
It is not possible to thank God sufficiently for all the blessings that He bestows on His creation, but it is possible to try and remember to be grateful always.
I was looking back at some old blog posts on a different host site, and I stumbled across a long forgotten post from Novemeber 2010. In it I wrote
…So that’s what’s been going on with me. Well that and a stint in hospital, which I think had completely broken me.
I’ve not been able to write anything, which in turn has led me to be upset… but I just don’t feel things the way I used to. It’s weird and horrible, and I hope no one has to feel the way I feel.
My sense of humour has totally changed. Things I found funny before are now not nearly as funny. I have officially become an unenthusiastic person. It bites and I don’t know how to change it, or how to feel things anymore.
I’m not asking why. I accept that this is something that has had to happen, because it did actually happen, I just wanna know what to do about it.
Reading this seven years later and being confronted with that former version of myself is hard. My heart swells and remembers the faint echo of its old wounds whilst reading this post.
It was written shortly after I was sectioned under the mental health act and hospitalised. I am someone who is pretty open about this having been part of my life experience, though I feel where I come from, both from a cultural and religious standpoint, there is still at times a stigma attached to mental health problems, and being open about difficulties people face in that regard. I stand by my resolve to be open about my experience though, because it is through sharing, open discussion, and sincere reflection, that I believe we all learn, develop, and reach new levels of compassion and understanding.
What is very weird though, is that I’d forgotten that my writing slump coincided with my being sectioned. Prior to being sectioned, I would spend countless nights losing sleep because I was pouring out a new story idea, or working on a new poem, or just scribbling my feelings out in a journal. After being sectioned I just couldn’t do it. I tried, I tried to force myself to keep writing, I even attempted NaNoWriMo from my room on the triage ward, but it just didn’t pan out.
For perhaps the majority of my life words and writing have been places of refuge for me; from spending summers folding a4 sheets of paper in half, stapling them in the middle and designing books, writing endless stories fuelled by a youthful imagination, to journalling during my time in boarding school, even those angst filled poems that littered my teenage years. However, in the midst of one of my most difficult life experiences, that tool and solace was lost to me.
It was not that I couldn’t access writing, it’s just there was something off about it, even now it’s so hard to express this in a way that makes sense. It was almost as though in the same way that my self confidence had withered away during my time in hospital, the creativity I normally overflowed with when it came time to put my fingers to the keyboard or even pen to paper had shrivelled up too. I can still remember the desperate struggle to write, how huge of a mental block there seemed to be, how it was almost as though I’d lost not only the capacity to express myself, but also the will to do so. I believe this is very much a parallel to how things stood for me at that time mentally too. It took a lot of work to get back on an even keel, Alhamdulillah! I do feel that this experience, as much as it knocked me down, was useful in that it was a way to start rebuilding myself with a stronger foundation.
Eventually, painstakingly slowly my love of writing did return. I started of with a journal, a hot pink faux leather bound lined notebook; no dates or days, just blank lined pages a year after I left hospital. I didn’t write every day, in fact weeks would go by and I wouldn’t pick up my pen at all. When I did write, I would write a sentence here, a paragraph there, and there were a lot of days where I couldn’t find the motivation to get out of bed, talk less of the mental effort it took to pick up a pen and organise my thoughts enough to write what I was feeling.
I kept writing though. A new year started and I was still using that same hot pink diary… occasionally. Gradually I was recovering, and so was my writing. Things were not exactly the same, just as I had been altered by my experiences, I believe my writing was too. At times writing can still be a challenge, but I am so grateful that it wasn’t lost to me forever.
To anyone who’s found that mental health issues have negatively impacted their writing I wanted to just put this out there, don’t lose hope. It can come back, it may not be the same, but the challenging things that we go through in life don’t have to forever be dark ink blots on the pages of our life stories, we have the capacity to grow from and learn from our experiences. To transform the inkblots into fantastic illustrations of growth and starting points for change.
My 23 month old is crying; his face is all crumpled up, and tears are streaming down his face. He’s got quite the pair of lungs on him, so the sobs that wrack his chest are pretty loud. I don’t immediately rush to shush him, or tell him not to cry, or even tell him that there isn’t a need to cry over small things. Instead I reach for the tools and skills I’ve been developing and learning from my peaceful parenting course. The ones that empower me to parent from a peaceful place inside. To not let the tides of my own emotions overwhelm the ship of my parenting. To listen to him crying, to be there with him in that moment.
The huge swell of panic that used to immediately overwhelm me, the need to just make him stop crying, at near any cost, that, alhamdulillah has gone. Sure it has not suddenly become the highlight of my day when my toddler starts crying and screaming, but slowly slowly I’m building confidence, finding pockets of peace and breathing room, to think and make decisions as opposed to just react. I’m learning to listen to his upset, and not have it rock me and my emotions. I’m able to put my trust in my Lord that my child’s behaviour right now does not mean in future he will be whatever it is I fear. Crying over sweets doesn’t mean he will become spoilt. Pinching somebody else doesn’t mean he will become a bully. It just means his behaviour is off track. It just means he is learning.
He needs my love, connection and listening most, when he is off track. It is exhausting work, any type of parenting is.
But, I’m able to recognise his cries now, for what they are. A way of letting me know that he feels disconnected, that he needs to reconnect with me. He as young as he is, is still subject to his emotions just as we all are. He also faces the challenges and tests that come with living life, and the best way I can foster intelligence both emotional and other kinds, and encourage him to learn ways to deal with these challenges, is to offer connection during these times, to stay listening, and to maintain the limits.
Traditionally speaking, I will be, and have been told, that his behaviour is something I should control, that it is disrespectful or rude for him to be upset by things (perhaps a certain household rule, or something I have told him he is not allowed to have), that I ought to punish him so that he learns to respect me. What I’m coming to realise, is that punishing him for expressing his need for connection serves only to push us further away from each other. The truth is, it is impossible to control anyone else. In fact at times even controlling ourselves can be a struggle. Rather it is Allah that is in control of all of the affairs of the heavens and earth.
One of the gems I picked up during the course which really shook me up, and made me contemplate, was this. My child as he is, is not yet accountable to Allah for his actions, at least not until he reaches the age of maturity. I however am. If his spilling a cup of water on the floor sends me into a rage, or initiates a huge over reaction on my part, then where does this show of injustice lie on the scale of parenting as an act of ibadah. Quite far from ihsan (the best) I would say. And very far removed from the person I want to be.
I have been giving a lot of thought to the woman I am, and the woman I want to be. My personal standards and the esteem I hold my soul in leave me unwilling to be reactive in my parenting approach. I want to be better, and do better. It’s a journey, and not an easy one mind you, but I’m ready and willing to put in the work bi’ithni’llah.