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.

My Social Media Post

I have a reoccurring frustration with social media that I’m going to directly discuss. Yes, there is an irony in that this post is being shared via social media but there is an important lesson to address.

Expectations have been around forever. Society has always implemented certain expectations that we subconsciously cater our desires towards. We attempt to control those expectations and realize that we should be blessed with all that we have.

That was reality for much of my childhood and for times before. Social media now documents those very same expectations. It colors in a concept that previously had blurry lines. For those who sift through their various feeds, there is a constant bombardment of an expectation you slowly cater your desires towards.

It’s as if we slowly lose more of ourselves in exchange for desiring this beautiful picture that everyone has a hand in painting.

I don’t stand against social media, I simply stand with controlling your intake. Your empty time shouldn’t be social media’s to own otherwise you’ll constantly and subtly be exposed to clear pictures of what you don’t have. Not only that, you’ll find an inability to truly sit with yourself.

Social media is a virtual drug. And this post is a reminder to me more than anyone else. There is a beautiful broken life around you that we have taken ourselves away from by digesting a perfect virtual expectation. Beautiful places, amazing food, weddings – suddenly you find yourself wanting much more than you ever have – and consequently not wanting the beautiful broken life that you do have.

Technology is a powerful way to navigate through the complexities of modern day society. However, the hammer that builds happens to be the same hammer that destroys. The truth is, everyone is broken. And we push down on our bruises the more we compare our broken parts with others fixed ones.

Social media can be great in doses that allow you to connect with the world around you. Moderation, like everything else in life, is key. Like I said, I don’t stand against social media since I’m as much a part of it as anyone. I simply think we owe it to ourselves to not overly distract ourselves from the lives that we do have.

“To truly desire the life that you have is the greatest gift you can ever give yourself”

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.

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.