How to make the most out of this Ramadan

Ramadan Mubarak!

Ramadan has a strange way of appearing suddenly even though you’ve known about it for months. When it starts, you feel pleasantly surprised but all of a sudden unprepared for the goals you lightly thought of in the weeks prior. Everyone around you gets into the spirit and you find yourself spirited as well.

Whether you set lofty goals beforehand or you haven’t set any goals at all, try to make to most out of this Ramadan by doing the following,

  1. Realize that this month is for you, at your own speed, and for your own betterment. Treat Ramadan daily as opposed to monthly. In other words, Ramadan is a combination of days of fasting and worship rather than partaking in a month of fasting and worship. There is a difference. I say this because by the time this post comes out, you will be on your 3rd (or 2nd) day of fasting and possibly already feeling behind on the lofty goals you have set for the month of Ramadan. Forget the monthly goals, seek the daily ones.
  2. Reflect on the negative sentiments you have. Sadness, anger, despair, etc. Reflect on these because Shaiytaan isn’t inspiring these negative thoughts into you anymore. These thoughts are the fruits from the seeds Shaiytaan has planted and this month is your opportunity to rip them out. Don’t feel disheartened or unworthy for simply thinking or feeling these thoughts – be patient with yourself and conquer them.
  3. Read more Quran. If you didn’t read, read an ayah per day. If you read an ayah per day, read 10. If you’re at 10, read a page. Just do more than what you did before even if it’s slight. Quran washes your heart. Even if you don’t understand the meaning, it cleanses your soul. If you chose to read with meaning, then it enters the realm of your mind and further deeper into your heart. Just read more.

There are tons of things you could be doing for Ramadan and these are just a few. This month is yours for the taking. Go all the way!

Rooh Afza’s bottoms up!

My Own-goal

I was playing soccer one day with some friends on a crisp autumn morning. At one point, my team was defending a corner kick which basically meant the opposing team gets a free kick from the corner of the field to try and set someone up on their team to score a goal. My task was defensive – to make sure the ball didn’t end up in the goal. As the corner kick soared through the air, I found it coming straight for me. My sole purpose and focus was to make sure the ball DID NOT go into the goal. I jumped, swung my head to head the ball out, and ended up hitting the ball with the back of my head and straight into the goal.

Yikes.

Focus is typically linear – but the result can sometimes manifest the exact opposite. I focused so much on hitting the ball away that I ended up hitting the ball backwards. Just like you can study extensively for an exam and receive an A or you can study extensively for an exam and still fail. It’s frustrating because that fact makes you second guess your motivation. Why even study? Why jump to head the ball if I could potentially mess this up?

Baseball is a great example. You can swing at a ball with the best swing in the world (and yes, there are very detailed mechanics into how you swing a bat), and completely miss the ball. You were focused. You knew what to do. You did it right. But the ball and your bat didn’t connect. On the flip side, you can do everything right with your swing and knock a ball out of the park.

But you can’t even hit the ball if you don’t swing.

You’re going to fail at times at the thing you wanted and focused on the most. You’re going to fail in the worst possible scenario and it will feel devastating. Not only that, your failure (which you focused on so deeply to avoid) will define your life for some time. The own-goal I committed in my soccer game defined the game because we were losing until our team scored again.

But you will fail always if you decide to give up. You’ll feel worthless, alone, isolated, and confused because you thought the worst feeling was failure but it’s not. It’s the feeling you feel when you know it won’t get better because you don’t have the heart to try anymore.

Failure is part of life. Own goals, strike-outs, mistakes – they are the shadows that make life prominent. They provide perspective the same way the darkness of a shadow does to a picture. But it’s important to continue to strive after failure even when you feel like your biggest enemy.

The best batting advice anyone ever gave me was to forget all the mechanics and just go out there and have fun. And that goes for life like it goes for batting. Mechanics are important but so is relaxation.

Life sucks and it’s all your fault sometimes. Who cares? Don’t let any level of failure permeate into changing the person you perceive yourself to be. You are all the great qualities you have ever attained and failure doesn’t take anything away from those.

If you get back on the horse you could fall again, but if you never get back on you’ll never go anywhere.

The Painting

Imagine your life as a painting. A creation that is completely your own that encompasses the many complexities of your thoughts, emotions, fears, anxieties, goals, dreams, aspirations, etc. Every stroke, every paint color, every brush unique to the presence of your life and soul on this earth. Growing up, I didn’t understand why life became unbearably difficult at times. I didn’t understand why God would withhold something that would make you happy. Why would God not let me paint what I wanted to paint? When difficult times came, it seemed like my painting just stood there with nothing new to show even though I really wanted to add what I believed was necessary and best for my life. It was confusing and difficult.

There were days I would wake up and the only good thing to happen to me that day was so insignificant compared to the many things going wrong around me. It felt unbearable at times. It felt dark. Then I thought about how painters create such intricate masterpieces and it dawned on me why God took away my paint brush at times.

My wife and I attended a painting class one day. I was a bit nervous given my mediocre artistic abilities, but confident in enjoying a pleasant evening with my wife. We sat in the front near our instructor who proceeded to go step by step through the painting we were to paint. The drawing was a silouhette of a tree in the evening with pink and red leaves. Our first instruction was to literally paint a large white circle – which was a task even I could handle. Immediately after we painted a light blue circle around our first white circle – and then a darker blue circle around the light blue circle until our entire canvas was filled with paint. At that point, we waited for the paint to dry and went to go grab snacks. After about 10 minutes, we were instructed to draw our tree with our branches before having to wait again before drawing the leaves and the stars in the sky.

I think that’s life. I think we sometimes want to draw various leaves in our lives before we even have a background. Or sometimes we want to draw leaves when the paint from the background is still wet. God withholds the brush from us because we aren’t meant to paint there at that given time. And this is manifested in the dark times we encounter when things go wrong in our lives. It can be frustrating but also a blessing in disguise. What we think would be best wouldn’t be best for our overall painting.Perhaps it isn’t the right time. Perhaps it isn’t the right color.

At the end of our painting class, we were to add small silver dots to represent the stars. In the grand scheme of things, the amount of paint we had to use to create the stars was very small, but the overall picture was that much more enhanced because of it. So when only one seemingly insignificant good thing is happening in your life in a sea of heartache, know that it’s still an important part of a bigger picture that will enhance your life that much more. And if it seems that nothing is going right in your life, then know that God is just allowing your paint to dry for you to paint only the very best for your life.

Your life’s painting is enormous. If paint is wet somewhere in your life preventing you from painting what you want, look around at other phases of your life that may be dry and see how you can paint into that. Your life will never be all wet paint at once. You just have the have the courage and trust in God to look away from painting where you want at any given time. In actuality, God may take away your paintbrush not to prevent you from painting – but to teach you the patience it takes to create beauty in your life.

“So endure patiently, with a beautiful patience” [70:5]

Indeed, Allah is the best of Painters.

The Difficult “Normal” Life

I was overwhelmed with all the texts and calls I received on my last post, “Soulmates of Time.” My posts are the medium by which I understand my own thoughts so it was refreshing to see so many resonate with the way I see things. I reflected on my “soulmates of time” further and realized something interesting. As amazing as those times were, I also remember a lot of pain and confusion associated with those very same times. How could that be?

In my opinion, one of the most difficult emotions to process is normalcy. The word “normal” and “typical” have created standards by which we mold our lives around. Deviation from “normal” and “typical” is only noble when we exceed the standard. For example, if it’s normal to own a house at age 30, then it is great if we purchase a house at 28.

But what happens when we deviate from normal in the opposite way? What if we purchase that house at 32 or 34? What if we can’t fit the puzzle pieces of our life within the frame of the standard we perceive life through?

We crush ourselves. Subliminally yet ruthlessly. We yearn and we feel justified in yearning because we convince ourselves that we don’t want anything above and beyond, just the standard. Just a “normal” life. We wait for the stars to align the way we believe they would “typically” for everybody else. “If I had this” or “if this had happened” or “when I feel this,” etc.

Let me tell you something that you already know but don’t believe – there is no such thing as normal. You’ll never have the life you want. I had to reflect very hard about the “soulmates of time” in my past. There were times and years of my life that I look back upon with such happiness – my “soulmates”. One of the times was a period where I was extremely fit. Another time was living with one of my best friends during my senior year of college. I have countless soulmates of time.

But if I reflect deeply, I was troubled in other aspects of my life at those times. Things went wrong. Life wasn’t perfect and I had a hard time dealing with certain things in my life. Yet when I look back at those particular times, they make me feel so jubilated that it brought me to write about it last week.

If you’re waiting so that you can live a life you think is normal, you’re trying to play with cards you don’t have in your hand. You will win some days, and get crushed in others.

Even in your worst memories you’ll see flowers.

Nothing is “normal” or “typical” and everything is how you decide to play the cards you have. You will look back at this current moment in time one day and possibly find a soulmate you don’t even realize right now. Embrace the life that you have, thorns and petals together. Don’t wait to look back at the soulmates passing through your life right now. They are there – all of them – just not in the form you may have expected.

Forget normal, and embrace your own path. It’s not a “normal” path but it’s your own perfect path. There is nothing wrong, delayed, or bad about it. Walk, run, and don’t wait for “normal” anymore.

Because a unique and beautiful life is waiting for you.

 

 

 

 

Soulmates of Time

I believe in Soulmates. But not the way that you think.

I believe God All-Mighty has written every provision for every soul on this earth which includes our spouses. Thus, our “soulmate” has already been written.

But when you read “soulmate”, society has tied a much heavier meaning to it. It entails someone that “completes” you and is a “perfect match” to some degree. We understand “soulmates” as a manifestation of love and happiness. We understand “soulmates” as the paramount realization of our lives because we believe we spend our entire lives sifting through different events only to come face to face with the one we have been waiting for. “Soulmates,” the way we understand it, is therefore a major milestone in one’s life. They are the other half of us. They represent the gaps in our hearts and minds that we have yearned for. They are the ones who share our interests but also have different interests that should be a perfect match with interests we have yet to love. Therefore, they magically love our unique interests and we love theirs.

While I believe in soulmates, I don’t necessarily believe in the above description.

Tying someone to everything I just described is too much to ask of anyone. I believe we have many soulmates. I believe we have a soulmate that we enjoy having a cup of coffee with. I believe we have a soulmate who represents a great classmate or coworker. I believe we have a soulmate that represents a specific interest that we both can enjoy and share together. I believe those people can be different given any time and place. To expect ALL of these qualities in one person seems a bit unfair.

I also believe a time and a place represents a soulmate. Perhaps it was a message someone sent you, a moment in time you were physically very fit, or it could be a particular place you lived in that represented your soulmate. To me, a soulmate is someone or something that gives you a very special sensation in your heart and mind. They fill gaps within you that you didn’t even realize were empty. More often than not, these soulmates aren’t discerned at that time but when one looks back, it’s very clear.

Perhaps soulmate isn’t the best word to describe all of this, but how people typically describe soulmates and the pressure that is put upon that single word made me reflect on the concept. My wife and I share many beautiful moments together and she represents many of the soulmates I seek. But it would be unfair for me to expect her to fulfill all the different roles I find a special happiness in. For example, we both love food so we both love to share experiences with each other involving food i.e. trying new restaurants, taking trips to specific places because of their cuisine, or routinely cooking up our favorite comfort foods. She is my food soulmate. I also love sports but it would be unfair for me to ask her to sit through every game I wish to watch since she doesn’t have an interest in sports. She’s not obligated to be my sports soulmate because she is my food soulmate.

In my opinion, the word soulmate has been improperly abused. Everything, every one, and every place has their specific place and use in our lives. Learn to harness the beauty in what everything, every one, and every place has to offer, and you’ll find soulmates all around you.

Filling your Empty Cup

“You can’t pour from an empty cup”

Some of us have filled cups, empty cups, and even broken cups. If I’m writing about this, it’s probably because I’ve fluctuated between all three like any one of you. I’ve realized recently how important it is to focus on yourself unselfishly.

Focusing on yourself and being selfish are two entirely different things. Focusing on yourself means you’re taking care of yourself in the deepest and most fulfilling ways. If you aren’t, then you’re inevitably seeking someone or something else to fill that deep void for you. And no matter what, as long as you seek anyone or anything other than yourself to fill that deep void, you will repeatedly fall short of feeling fulfillment. In turn, you’ll turn selfish by feeling entitled to receive something to fill that void rather than seek to fill it yourself. You’ll blame external factors rather than realizing your cup is empty. And when this happens, you’ve not only skewed who or what is to blame, you’ve lost sight of any ability to refill your cup. Not only that, you risk losing a certain level of patience with yourself and breaking your cup.

The most important quality you have to offer to this world is the core of your being. Embrace it. Feed it. Society will often convince you to embrace a being that isn’t yourself. Whether it’s peer pressure or the latest fad, we often feel compelled to partake in something that we deep down don’t feel like doing or be someone who isn’t a true reflection of ourselves. And that’s a battle you must win because you have much more to offer the world than conformance.

Focusing on yourself fills you. It charges you. It allows you to give to the world – to your career, your aspirations, your dreams, your relationships – everywhere. Find out what fills you. Find out that which holds a special place in your heart and no matter how unusual or unorthodox it is, do whatever you can to make it part of your life. When this happens, your cup will fill and when your cup fills, you’re able to give to everything that holds a special place in your heart.

Sometimes though, the cup breaks. And that’s just a hard reality about life. The thing about taking care of yourself and understanding the initial quote is realizing that not only can you not pour from an empty cup — you can’t receive in a broken cup either. Meaning, if you haven’t taken care of yourself on your deepest and most basic level, then anything you try to do to fill your cup will simply leak out. Consequently, anyone who tries to fill your cup with what they are capable of pouring will leak out of your cup.

For the broken cupped, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone and that with time, your cup will heal. I’ve been there – cup shattered – but Alhamdullilah, my cup is now intact (and likely filled with Peach Iced Tea). Seek help from Allah and seek help from whatever means necessary because fulfillment starts with an intact cup.

Allah decided that from the multitude of His creations, your presence was merited to exist in this world. Be the best you. And however your cup stands today, know that the more you strive to take care of yourself, the more you’ll fix and fill your cup.

 

How to Dance in Your Rain

Life somehow feels harder at times than it did before. Does anyone else feel it? The good still feels good, but the hard feels harder. I wondered why that was. Social media highlighting much of what we don’t have? Tragedies around the world subconsciously disturbing us? A shallowness internally based on an “instant-click” society? Perhaps some combination of all three?

I’ve noticed that I’ve repeatedly sat through various storms in my life recently and just waited for them to pass. After one storm left, another followed with only brief moments of sunshine – if any at all. It’s felt like a pretty miserable way to live life. All the while I lay curled up waiting for a particular storm to pass, I’m watching people around me bask in their sun. It’s made the raindrops heavier.

Here’s some advice:

Firstly, realize that a picture of someone’s sunshine is just that – a picture. A snap of their reality at a moment in time their storm briefly left. I think part of the reason the hard feels harder now is because we are wrapped up in everyone else’s sunshine (via social media) in the midst of our storms.

Secondly, interact with more people. Connect with them. Have conversations with them.  Some only interact with the world around them via social media, some just quick cliché conversations, and some just enjoy being in the company of people but not actually interacting. Before the dawn of texting and social media, people would create deep and meaningful relationships with people around them which was an important step in creating a deep and meaningful relationship with ones self.

Thirdly, realize that everything happens for a reason. The rain falls and the sun shines and both are equally important in your growth. Don’t lose site of that.

Whatever way you decide to do, make a decision to not sit curled up through any more of your storms. Just be you and find transcendence in the being that you are. Find depth in your life. Don’t just stand through your storms, walk tall through them. Do things that make you, you. Strengthen yourself from the inside out so that your life doesn’t become an amalgamation of various shallow connections. Don’t imbue into your life someone else’s sunshine – create something beautiful out of your storm.

My contention is this: before the dawn of texting, social media, and the internet – we harnessed a strength that allowed us endure our life. We thought more, felt more, interacted more, and saw things with a deeper sense of intuition. We can’t fight societies norms, so don’t. Instead, discipline your intake. Intake less of that which draws attention to what doesn’t fill you, and intake more of what fills you.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain”