The Conversation

“There is so much inspiration in the world and I can’t seem to write a single word.” lamented the man with exasperation piled up inside him for years.

“ You are a mad man,” came a reply as if unveiling a piece of art.

“No…I’m not…,” said the man taken aback at the bluntness.

With confidence dripping like Nutella the second man said, “Yes, indeed you are.”

Clearly vexed at the coldness of the stranger’s tone he exclaimed, “NO! I M NOT.”

“Sigh,” nodding his head the second man reinforced, “I’m afraid you are…”

The exasperated man trying to hide his anticipation said, “Okay, then why don’t you prove it?.”

Second man’s cold reply came, “Well, you are talking to a mirror.”

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Spend Less But Also Spend More

I have been thinking about things that we should spend less on in our lives. Usually the ‘spending less’ implies on how we spend our money. However, there are so many things we do in life, our habits, our daily routines that we need to spend less on. Here’s the list of what I mean by it and you will know.

Spend less on thinking about people, their negatives, their shortcomings. You have many of your own so refrain…
Spend less time picking your nose. It is gross.Period.
Spend less time sleeping. But that doesn’t mean one should stay up late. That is just unhealthy.
Spend less time in the loo/washroom. Yes I mean it, instead of pampering yourself in the washroom, keep deep breath outside.
Spend less energy worrying about just anything in life. Things eventually do fall into place and our worrying doesn’t contribute positively to it.
Spend less time watching TV. That includes Netflix, Youtube etc

Why not then have a list of things we should spend more on.

Spend more time praying
Spend more time feeling gratitude for being alive. Do not be tempted into thinking about why this specific person in your life is alive. They might be thinking the same about you.
Spend more time making memories with loved ones
Spend more time waking
Spend more energy feeling positive
Spend more time doing something creative. It could be anything. Try a new hobby every now and then.
Spend more time reading books
Spend more time reflecting on why you are alive
Spend more time outdoors than indoors, even if it’s just about being in your lawn or terrace

I would like to know what else could I add to these lists above.

Spirit to Live

Nida: Can I have your number?
Me: Sure, why not.
Nida: (as I scribbled down my number) Will you also give me a call or will it be only me calling you?
Me: (a little startled) Of course I will, especially to ask about your Matriculation exam prep and then about your result.

She beamed at me.

With a strong handshake and a big hug we exchanged goodbyes. Before she left, eyes sparkling with joy Nida told me that her mother was going to study for her matriculation as well. The lean girl walked away, her smile full of hope and promise and her confidence unwavering. I stood wondering at her indefatigable optimism despite the fact that her relatives are a constant hurdle in the way of her education.

This sums up my career counselling volunteer experience with The Citizens’ Foundation (TCF) last Saturday. However, this is not where it ends. I came across many more like Nida. In their Julke campus, a place a few miles from Gajjumata station, the foundation had arranged a session for their 9th grade boys and girls to meet us, a group of volunteers from Lahore to motivate them to continue their education, to guide them how to choose future study plan.

Every time students passed by where I was stationed, I could see their big hearts and wide smiles overshadowing their limited resources, the difficulties that lay ahead of them. Students at TCF schools are currently getting education because they and their family have a will and also because TCF gives them the opportunity. However, their story does not end here. It’s not as simple as that. Once the students have passed their matriculation exams (equivalent of O Level) many of them will discontinue study. Why? Unfortunately they are not as lucky and privileged as us, for them education is not a matter of fact aspect in their lives. Some of them fight for their basic right to education with their parents and their relatives.

This is the stage where you and I can help them reach for their dreams, this is the time in the lives of these 9th grade students at TCF when they can see into their prospective future; beyond school and their village. This is the time when as volunteers we can make a difference, when they can be reminded that their matriculation and intermediate exams matter a lot. It gives the students idea how to continue their studies after school. Their confidence and dreams are reaffirmed when they get to meet people from cities, and believe me majority of them have never traveled to Lahore.

Volunteering is good for health. Yes it is as simple as that and I m sure no one has ever described the act of volunteer with its health benefits. In our busy lives, big dreams and ambitious goals, we tend to overlook that segment of the society which is pretty much like us in terms of dreams and goals; only distinguishable for their lack of resources. In order to get a reality check, to see beyond our bubble, we need to volunteer and participate in community service. We need to develop that feeling that we know exists within, but have never really given it much thought. The feeling of compassion, the feeling of understanding for the underprivileged who remain uneducated; their dreams get buried under the pressures of extended family, their limitations to move out of their villages to pursue their educational dreams. We can only bring out the realisation from its passive mode through volunteering, through reaching out to others and helping them. Instead of lazying around on a weekend why not make an effort to interact with the youth who have the potential but not enough avenues.

You or I cannot have an idea until we take the plunge out of our comfort zone to face how life is for others. You cannot imagine that one simple smile, a motivational sentence, a firm handshake or a pat on someone’s shoulder, guiding someone how to pursue their dream of going to college can make a huge difference in the lives of these boys and girls who live not too far from Lahore but far enough to easily let go off their dreams in the face of hurdles they come across.

Many a times, the children, the youth you meet at TCF schools will motivate you, will make you learn a thing or two about life. They are energetic and confident like Nida whom I met, who taught me more about hope and life than perhaps I could have that day to many others that I got a chance to meet. Its an exercise we all need to do.

Over the years many families and parents have warmed up to the idea of sending their children for higher education. Many have let go off their reluctance but there are people in these suburbs of Lahore and connecting villages who still believe secondary level education is enough for their children especially girls. Our role in their lives might add a little drop of change.

Spiritual retreat last part

“We are small and our wishes big, the Lord of things is big and His desires none. We are weak and He is not yet it is us whose egos shoot up to the skies.”

I wrote the above as my Facebook status a few weeks back and it got quite a few likes. However, its not a new thought. I have been thinking on these lines since Ramazan and many before me have also pondered over this. What are we after all? Insignificant and weak with a thousand desires tailing behind us until we get to our graves. Our egos inflate with each passing day until we forget that our creator is omnipotent.

A simple reading of Surah Al Ikhlas should make us realise our worth and that of our Creator’s. It could not have been said any better how Allah is above all the worldly desires that we have.

Accepting that God is our master may not be a difficult concept for many of us but submitting to Him in a role of a slave sure is against our egos. We turn to Him mostly in times of need little realizing that this being who created us never sleeps, never gets tired, never gives up on us no matter now bad we get, never desires anything while we are His opposite on all of the above. We get tired very fast, sleep a lot, give up on our relations and our hopes, and always go after our worldly desires. On top of that we add the element of being egoistical which is a quality most suited to Allah than us. He should be taking pride in the fact that He made the universe, he thought of creating us and built a flawless world around us. We claim to be the innovators and creators of exceptional genius ideas and inventions little realizing that our source of inspiration goes back to what our Creator initially created.

Hence, it becomes rather difficult to put ourselves into the role of a slave. We need to consciously do a mental exercise and see the beauty of how our Creator made us, gave us strengths and weaknesses; and before we could even ask of Him, He blessed us with many of His bounties like a family, a healthy body, senses, intellect – many of the things from Rizk even before we are born. Sometime during our life, He might even take away some of the things which we start to take for granted. This is where the trouble begins. The time we are shocked and question oh why me? How silly of us to even question why God takes something away from us. There are stories of companions of the Prophet (pbuh) who demonstrated exceptional amount of sabr and patience on worldly losses as big as the loss of a son in war time. They understood the crux of the matter, the reason of us being here, the reality of our existence. They understood that we owe nothing to Allah which is why if He gives us something or takes away some of our priced possessions, we are in no position to complain. They understood the relationship between a master and a slave.

Ustad Nauman Ali Khan in one of his podcast reflected on the concept of master and slave while talking about Surah Al Nas. He gave a detailed talk on the word ‘Rab’ and its several implications. Giving references from various sources he said that the name ‘Rab’ constitutes several meanings. ‘Rabb’ means absolute owner, one who has complete authority, one who takes care of, someone who guides, grants gifts. Surah Fatiha, first in the Quran, also a remedy for many of our illnesses starts with ‘Rabb’ in its first verse. When the first revelation came down to Holy Prophet (pbuh) it has the word ‘Rabb’ in it and there is a list of examples in the Quran to signify the kind of relation we are in with our Creator.

Nauman Ali Khan talked in detailed about the progression of attribution ‘Rabb’ from more to less in Surah Al Nas. In this surah, we call on Allah not once but thrice and use different attributes before we ask from whom we want protection. The surah starts with us coming into the protection of ‘Rabb’ of all mankind from shaitan who makes us forget. Then we call upon Allah using attributes ‘maalik’ and ‘illah’. How beautiful a thought that Allah invites us not once in the Quran but many times to come under his protection from all evil since He is the ‘Rabb’, the final authority, the master of all.Hence the name Rabb implies and refers to someone above us in all respects. Once we understand the depth that word has a lot of our problems could be solved but the effort is required on our part.

Before I close my reflective Aitekaf series, I would like to make a few reading recommendations, books I read and been able to reflect in ways never before.

A Prophet for Our Time by karen Armstrong

The First Muslim by Lesley Hazelton

Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings

Prophet Muhammad pbuh’s biography by Ibne Ishaq

P.S : There has been a long break between the series that I really wanted to post once a week. However, duniya ke jamhelay can be easily blamed for the delays in posts. I cannot say I m totally satisfied with how I have been able to put my reflections from Aitekaf into words, but it has given me the opportunity to keep doing it.

Wasting time thinking on an appropriate title for the post

The ink has almost dried and the keys on the board need some tapping on them. There is a film of dust on the screen and a stain here and there on the sleeves. 2013 has also faded away.

Every day of 2014 so far has a been a struggle to pen down something. Something poetic, something realistic, something dreamy. Sleep glides over and fills the senses more than the desire to pour out the jumbled up load of thoughts and reflections out into the world.

Today one glance up towards the majestic winter sky  and I felt like life seeping back into me. Like someone doing CPR on my fragile soul. It was the pearly streaks of clouds in a beautiful rendezvous with the winter sun light. I closed my eyes for a moment and felt the placid, warm sun’s glow. Typical as it would sound, my life seemed to flash back at me rather dramatically. The sounds of the morning chaos of the office and school goers stopped reaching me.

It has to be painful, requires effort, demands exhaustion to push yourself out of the grave that you dig for yourself. There has to come a time to quit being an ostrich and look up, look at the world, to face yourself.

Tomorrow can be mundane, it can be exciting or it can be excruciating. It can also be simply beautiful like today. It doesn’t have to be grand, it doesn’t have to be insignificant either.  The past, the present and tomorrow will keep pushing us towards them. All one has to be do is find the balance.

Dot of a Thought

I have never met anything stranger than life itself. A while back I would shake my head at the meanness, the crudeness and manipulative nature of humankind. I thought among all living beings humans were the strangest with astonishing ways of loving and hating each other. Now i have come to realise that it’s life and its peculiar fragility that makes us mean or kind or hateful or loving or scary or a success or a failure. Everything we come to be is because of what life puts us through. Its life that is strange not us. I may or may not change my mind and heart on what i have come to believe in. After all life is a firework of unpredictability and strangeness wrapped up in temptations

Boom!

It has been a long time, almost like an entire life that I couldn’t pen down anything. Well this is nothing new, it is even sad.  I have been quiet, mostly non existent I would like to say. Sometimes being silent on some matters or on all the matters makes you invisible. You stop existing in your mind’s eye and perhaps for other people too. It is sad and a little scary as well.

There are frequent periods in my life when I turn towards silence and quietness. Not the kind of quietness that is peaceful and relaxing but the dark, lonely, even terrifying kind of ‘quiet’.

These spells of quietness grow on me day after day. With every passing day, with every growing night, I remain stagnant like a water body that is losing its water. I’m like the River Ravi in Punjab.

I have never been to a desert but in my mind, quietness that often engulfs me ever so lovingly is like a lot of sand seeping all around me. A lot of sand gathering near me until I m in the middle of a no man’s land with nothing but the desert. The tiny golden sand particles start filling in between my toes until my feet disappear.

It is terrible I tell you my dear readers. It is awfully sad to let yourself into the strangling arms of quietness. For after a while you tend to relax yourself into the isolation that quietness and silence of that nature offers. You are there out in the world, observing everything around you but unable to talk or say or write or share.

Along with the numbness, the indifference, the quietness that offers fake serenity you do want to release and unleash your inhibitions. But you fail. In other words I fail. I stop. I step back further into the realms of quietness. It is like the evil step mother from the fairy tales that keeps the naive heroine from all the good that the world holds for her. Except that my life is no fairy tale and I’m not naive. I know, I know. And that is what makes it tragic.

I wander, but only in my mind, for that is the territory that the evil quietness never occupies. My thoughts are always free like fluttering butterflies. They are perhaps always too complicated and twisted for quietness to creep in and take control.

I think I like that.

BOOM. When that happens, boom I mean to say, the avalanche will brutally wash away the million dusty specks of quietness.

This I like to think.