Next Play

This was a piece I wrote back in 2017 when I lived in Manhattan:

I was walking around my neighborhood in New York City and came across a youth league basketball game. Nothing special, just talented young kids playing a game they love. I recalled the coach of one team repeatedly yelling ”NEXT PLAY” after either his team made a mistake or the other team scored against them. It made me realize how much life was about the “next play” more than anything.

These mistakes wouldn’t be overlooked, but they weren’t something to dwell on while the game was in session. The most important talent any one of those kids had during the game was their ability to forget any mistake they made that either caused the other team to score or their own team to not score. The time to assess mistakes could be during a time out or during a practice session.

Life can come at you pretty fast sometimes. But all you will ever have is the very next play. Logic may propel you to assess your shortcomings as they affect your life. But the key to success with peace of mind is allowing the universe to come to pass and making the most out of any given moment regardless of how the previous plays turned out. The heaviness of perceived failure is often our greatest barrier that hinders us. But failure is an internal illusion – a fragment of reality that is often misconstrued as our reality. But by definition, a fragment is only a portion of something and not all of it. And without that fragment, something seizes to be all of it. Fragments of perceived failures are the portions of our characters that strengthen us the most. They become the foundation by which the happier fragments of our beings can grow. The key to guiding our perceived failures into strength is being able to assess them for what they are and when the time is right. Yes, they hurt and yes they can burn, but you wouldn’t want a foundation made out of anything else. Live every moment as if you’ve never made a mistake. Forget about what went wrong because your complete mental and emotional presence is the most valuable asset your bring to this world. And then, when the time is right and life slows down – assess what went wrong – learn – grow. God Al Mighty put 5 prayers in a day for you to slow life down. They are your time outs. And whether it’s during your prayers, in bed at night, or when you’re out for a walk – those are the times to reflect on the previous plays.

Yesterday is only as valuable as the lessons it provides, not necessarily the reality of which we wished it to be. Tomorrow is only as valuable as the state we are in today. If we want our perceptions of yesterday and tomorrow to change, it starts with the mindset we foster today. Be all in. Be at the next play.

It’s Okay Not To Be Okay

Granted this is a title of a K-Drama that I actually managed to watch and enjoy – I thought that this was an appropriate title for this blog post. I couldn’t tell you when it happened, but somewhere over the past decade or so, struggle became a sentiment that was less normal and more of something to hide. Of course, social media has a lot to do with this. People were suddenly compelled to create a perception of reality devoid of struggle and thus – push people to seek those utopian realities. Not being okay was suddenly something that was unusual and awkward because everyone spent their time scrolling through different highlight reels full of amazing vacations, recipes, friends, and family outings. Today, we feel wrong for struggling. We feel wrong when things don’t go our way because we have been conditioned to think that our lives should be okay.

But what about struggle? It didn’t suddenly just end. People’s lives suddenly didn’t stop containing difficult times. As they say, “The Struggle is Real”. Everyone will contain some level of struggle in their future. In fact it’s impossible to lead a life free of both major and minor struggles.

So if struggle remained where it was, then who moved? We did. Our minds did. Our internal desires did because we suddenly were NOT okay NOT being okay. We were immersed in a ‘me first’ society which pushed individuals towards their independent goals, and society then encouraged people to embellish their successes to the world. The connectability of the world allowed individuals to post their success or very easily jump into a group chat and boast about their success. And their boasting didn’t need to be loud – it could just be a caption-less picture with a filter.

The problem with all this is that struggle is a very normal part of life and when the sentiment of struggle is sullied with the perceived expectation that we shouldn’t struggle, we struggle even more. It’s a dangerous, emotionally isolating cycle which leaves you less connected with the most important person in your world – you. And when you start feeling like you are losing you – all your “islands” (Inside Out reference) begin to dwindle.

Anyone reading this has, is, and will struggle. Struggle didn’t go anywhere – our souls and our expectations did. No one is out here Instragramming their failed recipes or their anxious moments they feel when life is hard. And the resulting emotional isolation of refusing to embrace struggle sinks you deep into anxiety and despair.

It’s okay not to be okay. Life is hard. It’s beautiful. It’s difficult. It’s fun. It’s tragic. It’s crazy and it’s lovely. Life is going to happen the way that God wrote it to happen no matter what, so if things are amazing – they were meant to be amazing and thank God for that. If they suck – they were meant to suck. It’s not just you. The ‘me’ centric society we have now makes struggle seem so personal. “Why is this only happening to me” or “WHY ME”. It’s not just you, it’s everyone. And that’s not to say that your problem isn’t critical or major – it’s to say that you don’t have to feel like you’re the only one struggling.

Life is hard enough and when we think that not being okay is not okay, we add to how hard life can be. When you get stung by a jellyfish, it hurts a lot. But if you decide to keep the jellyfish on and then pour some salt over the fresh wounds as you’re being stung – then the whole experience of the jellyfish string goes from bad to catastrophic. That’s what we do when we decide to ignore the struggle or feel wrong when things are hard. We ignore those sentiments and thus – add salt to our own wounds.

Struggle is meant to shape us into versions of ourselves conditioned to navigate this world. In fact, if you miss out on a struggle – you could set yourself up for more struggle in the future. We aren’t going to win in this life – nor were we meant to. Things are going to fall apart. People are going to disappoint you. A crazy storm is going to ruin your house or your car. You’ll miss an exit and be late for an appointment you couldn’t be late for. It’s okay. Even the most devastating thing was meant to hit you. It’s okay. It’s not your fault.

There’s a really powerful moment of a movie, “Good Will Hunting” where Robin Williams repeatedly say’s “It’s not your fault” to the character Matt Damon was playing. At first, Matt Damon just laughed it off but each time it was said to him, it broke down a wall within him. He begins to cry because the words begin to pierce through all the struggles that he shoulders as his responsibility.

So to anyone reading this, it’s not your fault. It’s not. Thing’s really really suck sometimes and although you can sometimes pinpoint who or what caused it to happen – it would have still happened if the who or what didn’t do it. Everything that happens to you is meant to happen to you. And of course, the good feels good but this post is about the struggle. So I encourage you to embrace it and feel okay not being okay. It too will pass and the only way through is through. So go through.

The picture represents one of the stories from the K-Drama that I referenced, “It’s Okay Not To Be Okay”. I thought it was appropriate.

Febreezing Your Life

I was watching a commercial that talked about odor masking febreeze fragrance and it sparked a unique thought outside the realms of my obsession with cleanliness. Odor masking fragrances mask odors – they don’t remove them. The commercial showed a back seat full of dirty clothes but with the febreeze masking odor fragrance, you couldn’t even smell what was in the back seat. People came in and out of the car as test subjects and none of them had any idea there was any odor emanating from within the car because they smelled the febreeze only.

My thought circled around the tendencies of our hearts. Rather, the realities of our hearts which we sometimes fear and mask. Within the deepest realms of our hearts are the most sensitive matters to us. And not being at peace with a matter in a deep portion of our heart slowly affects us more and more as time goes on. For some, they may struggle with feeling inadequate, for some they may struggle with letting go of something, for some they may struggle with a bad habit  – these are the dirty clothes. And we have trained our routines on a day to day basis to mask the smell of those matters most sensitive to us – not realizing that masking an odor will never eliminate it.

When I was younger, I remember I used to really have a hard time with certain things and thought processes that I have alhamdullilah, for the most part, overcome since then. One of the things I used to do was stay up late into the night so that when I went to bed – all I did was crash into it so that I didn’t have to bear my thoughts just before I slept. You think about matters closest to your heart when you lie in bed before you sleep. I remember going to sleep was the scariest thing in the world to me which seems so backwards because now – I love any opportunity I get to sleep. In fact, I just woke up from a nap when writing this.

While I am postulating the importance of getting rid of the odor rather than masking it, I’m also expressing the difficulty in breaking societal norms and daily routines to reach those deeper realms of your heart and thought processes. Honestly, it’s scary and almost unfamiliar even though they are your own thoughts. But the moments you spend embracing the realities of your heart will eventually give you an element of life that is very sacred – peace of mind.

Peace of mind isn’t just about feeling content with different aspects of your life. To me, peace of mind entails something greater. It entails that you’ve challenged the deepest levels of your heart and won. It entails that you could have a bad day but still lie in bed satisfied with who you are with a healthy motivation to be better. Peace of mind is understanding that you may not have got everything you’ve wanted, but you’re truly happy with what you have.

When you get rid of the dirty clothes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a good fragrance replaces it. It means that when the febreeze inevitably runs out and you’re left with just you and what is in your car – you smell with peace.

Fabreeze smells good. Peace of mind smells better.

Yanny or Laurel

The latest internet craze has been an audio clip where certain people hear the word “Yanny” and others hear “Laurel”. Sound pretty different right? It seems impossible that in a group of people, some may here one or the other but that is the reality.

I first listened to the clip last week and realized I was team “Yanny”. A few days later I listened to the same clip and heard “Laurel”. I was convinced I had listened to two different clips but I hadn’t. My certainty was thwarted by a scientific explanation on different sound frequencies resulting in hearing either Yanny or Laurel. Regardless of the science behind this phenomenon, there was a powerful lesson in what we perceive to know about this world.

And that is that we truly don’t know anything about this world. Even the things we seemingly know for sure, we don’t necessarily always have the full picture. As many dots as we may connect to render any level of explanation and understanding about the events that occur in our life will always fall short of the true reality. And that’s because only Allah has full knowledge of the full reality. Even when we are completely certain about something, there are levels of something’s reality that may not be apparent to us.

Realizing our conclusions and realities fall short of true reality can be a restricting thought. Why expend mental and emotional energy to trust certain realities if those very same realities are subject to change. The idea isn’t to stop ourselves from making the conclusions – the idea is to realize that those conclusions may change no matter how certain we are. And you can either allow the change of those personal realities to define your internal state or you can place the change in realities within the realm of spirituality. In other words, let go and let God.

Things are often not what they seem. Things are too often not what they seem. So don’t let any reality give you a sense of certainty. Have certainty in Allah and realize that this life is really only a medium of changing certainties. Our hearts often attach to our certainty and when we let our certainty revolve around our perception and understanding of the world around us, we subject ourselves to pain. Instead, attach your heart to something Greater and far more Stable.

Think – Connect – Reflect – I’m not saying to not do these things. In fact it’s very important to do these things. But don’t put your entire emotional state into the things you deduce. Allow your conclusions to fail, not because you failed at understanding something but because we weren’t created to understand the full realities behind everything around us.

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 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.

 

 

 

 

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”