Learn. Love. Laugh.

It all boils down to that. My summary of a life fulfilled. Each day has to contain all three of those composite elements to make that day worth living.

So what about the cynics who would argue that it’s impossible to laugh through difficult times? Or those who feel bitter about unrequited love or one that has been lost forever? I would agree that they have a point. There’s no medal to be earned in trying to suppress those feelings of sadness, anger or disappointment. After all, they are emotions gifted by Allah and it’s best to let them have their say. However, my stance is that wallowing in negativity can’t be the final stop in that journey of emotions. Once the darker or sombre emotions have been purged from our systems, we need not be afraid to allow the lighter and uplifting mood to return and help us transcend all that’s weighing us down.

It’s this latter state that I have chosen as my default setting for some years now. To be honest, knowing that life itself is borrowed time, I have learnt to take a step back from stressful situations and pause for thought. I want to remind myself that the focus in this life isn’t simply about the achievements or challenges. It’s more about all the decisions we make that will determine our outcome on the other side of this existence. Some decisions are thrust upon us. Others we make of our own choosing. But whatever the case, they must be governed with our sights set on the journey beyond. Not easy I know, given we can’t even see what lies ahead in the afterlife. However, believing can be done without seeing. As much as I know I have internal organs in my body without ever having seen them, so too am I convinced that there is a Creator who is in control of it all.

As a perennial student of Islam – as a Muslim – I look to the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who found many moments of pure joy despite his litany of challenges and woes. Nobody could have had it more difficult than him. Yet we know he found times to enjoy banter with his companions, to play with his young children and grandchildren, to race for fun with his young wife through the town of Medina and, no doubt, to marvel at the beauty that the natural world presented him with. These are but a few of many examples where he allowed himself ‘time out’ of the more serious matters he had to contend with on a daily basis. So, this is proof enough that the life of a Muslim is not one to be surrendered to constant misery and being morose. No. We have to learn to be characters that rise to difficult challenges and never be overwhlemed by them. I refuse to move forward on a permanently punctured tyre.

Bitterness – a Lead Ball to be Broken Away from

Life is short. But I never understood that aphorism till recently – when I finally realised that the better part of my time on this Earth is definitely done. ‘The better part’ being my youth and carefree state. Like it or not, I can’t deny the ageing process and the fact that my sons, being independent or not, will always be my concern till I die. That’s exactly why I know that to laugh through the tears and to love through all the forlorn memories is even more important now than ever before. Bitterness is a dead weight too heavy to be dragged around all the time. I liberated myself from that load a long time ago, Alhamdulillah. It was more improtant to free up that energy and mental mind space for things which still lay ahead and would be potentially much more rewarding.

Perhaps it’s worth to pause and clarify a thing or two. I want to make the distinction between ‘bitterness’ and ‘hurt’. I see the first of those two things as destructive and soul-destroying. It eats up your insides. The latter is one that I felt I had no control over as I am a mere mortal and have emotions. Yet, hurt can be processed throughtfully and should be allowed to be expressed. But once it has, lessons have to be learned. And this is why I say a day in which nothing new has been learned is a day wasted – a lost opportunity. It could be something as minimal as a new word or as profound as the meaning of a verse of the Glorious Quran. We need to stay healthily inquisitive of the people and world around us so that we don’t become consumed by our own problems.

I obviously don’t know what challenges lie ahead of me. I’m sure more are on their way. However, I pray not a day goes by without having a reason to laugh about something – even for a fleeting, carefree moment. That doesn’t make me flippant or immature. I think it just makes me try to be grateful for the good despite the bad. Whatever circumstance I am in, will, after all, always be temporary. I have seen others contend with far more difficult challenges than myself and I am in awe of their resilience, mashAllah. Compared to them, I’ve had a life of ease, Alhamdulillah. I’m relying on my older age to not let me be given to any extremes of emotions any more anyway. With it too, I’m hoping wisdom and faith will also keep me in a healthy check.

Laughter – No Doctor’s Note Needed

Time Out

There comes a point in one’s life when they need to pause and reflect on everything to date. To be honest, there should be many points when that happens. In those moments, we need to examine where we are heading with regards to our future ambitions. Whether these are to do with career moves, marriage prospects, educational goals and more, stopping to question ourselves about where we’re heading is never a bad idea. In fact, it’s often necessary.

So it is that I find myself at a crossroads with my work situation. Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a career woman aiming to climb the employment ladder, I have recently decided to hit the breaks whilst I figure out what my next venture is going to be. For the most part, the jobs I’ve done till now have been ones I’ve fallen into rather than seeking them out by design. Whilst I’ve enjoyed all the positions of employment I’ve occupied over the years, they’ve also been ones which have had to fit in around my young family. As such, I curtailed my opportunities. My young children always came first.

Formula for Bliss

Now that they are all grown and more or less independent, it seems the right time to address the situation again. Interestingly, I notice a strange dichotomy within. On the one hand, I find great pleasure in writing. Words and eloquent language transport me to another dimension like a mellifluous melody floating through the summer breeze. I often get blissfully lost in a sentence or two that exudes eloquence. So it is that I love to lose myself in my own words, writing at home undisturbed in my own thoughts. Not just here in my personal blog, but also more formally, producing articles for publication and writing for others and being paid for it. That is a side hustle still in its fledgling stage but one which I intend to pursue with increasing vigour especially now that I have more time. On the other hand, the greatest ambition I’ve always had is to travel and work on behalf of an international charity. Alhamdulillah, that dream has shifted into reality already but there is much more to do. (If anyone reading this knows of a particular job that is available and can provide me the best of both worlds, please do tell.)

Initially, I did feel a huge sense of guilt for resigning from my last job. However, it was not a capricious act. It no longer provided me the satisfaction I needed for motivation. I had to make a bold leap and put myself in a place where I’d be forced to search for something new. I also knew that as long as I didn’t make time to reflect and seriously consider my options, I would always be hopelessly stuck on the hamster wheel. Not many people have that privilege, I’m aware but I have also been running the show alone for the last six years and am feeling mentally exhausted. Once I find my new niche, I hope to be back in the driver’s seat and ploughing on, inshaAllah.

I must confess, it’s been wonderful to have time to myself again. After many years of self-sacrifice, I’m making myself a priority once more. The niggling sense of guilt may always threaten to overshadow my thoughts but I will fight it. I tell myself this is normal and comes with the territory of motherhood – we women can never disentangle ourselves completely from familial life and its responsibilities. However, the pursuit of new goals is on.

There’s no going back now.

No more apologies.

The Definition of Success

Not to be found in a dictionary

This isn’t a lesson in how to use a dictionary in the English language. This is a lesson about life, or moreso a lesson to be taken from life.

I had an interesting conversation recently with one of my nieces – a family member who obviously knows me well. Although I don’t remember the fine details about what we were discussing, I do recall that somewhere in that conversation, I mentioned about my past marriage. I was sharing anecdotes from my own experience but, as I often do, I follow up any comments with the acknowledgement that my marriage didn’t stand the test of time – almost like an appendix at the end of a book. Not quite essential reading but an important detail to be included nevertheless.

My niece actually made me pause at that point. She asked me to reflect and consider my understanding of the word ‘success’ and in particular, in the context of marriage. To paraphrase her, success of a marriage shouldn’t be measured by its longevity. A married couple who stay together till death they do part aren’t necessarily the epitome of a success story since we know that some people choose to silently bear the misery of their marriage for the sake of not being alone or for fear of being seen as a failure. Then, there is the opposite scenario (like my marriage). Although it wasn’t for life, most of the years that we were together were happy, fruitful and harmonious. It is within the details of those years that I should seek out the evidence of success. Perhaps the most potent proof of that is that I had healthy children all of whom are still alive and doing well, Alhamdulillah. This is another measure of success. Her words, not mine.

Wise young lady my niece, mashAllah.

The conversation had got me thinking… Firstly, in those few minutes, I had an amazing epiphany: I realised that I have always felt the need to clarify my current position and explain to others that, although I am no longer married, I still want my opinions on this topic to count. I don’t want my views on marriage to have no currency just because I am divorced. But that fate alone should not negate the wealth of experience I did gain whilst I was married. I also know there were many other successes within those 18 years which I achieved but are difficult to measure at all. They are not necessarily tangible things. In fact, those successes are often of a deeper spiritual nature which are impossible to quantify. But sadly, we live in a world where success is too often measured through material wealth and Facebook followers. I guess, for someone looking in from the outside, I have failed miserably on many scores.

Letting Go and Moving On…

The truth is, success sits on a continuum. It is very fluid and can’t be contained within or be represented by a single tangible item. Do we even know what it looks like? Take, for example a job that comes to an end. This is not an example of failure. Perhaps it was meant for us to move on or we simply outgrow a situation and the time becomes ripe to explore new territory. The same applies to a marriage. In some cases (as with mine), one of the partners may feel they need to move on. As much as it’s painful, it’s a reality that has to be accepted. I know, in my own case, I was not a failure in my marriage and have long stopped blaming myself for its demise. I simply became obsolete to a person who decided he wanted to explore something unknown.

For me, in my life success continues even though my marriage ended. I don’t measure it in worldly terms. I look to the esoteric, spiritual dimension of life. I continue to live with my emotional strength and self-respect and self-worth, Alhamdulillah. My status was never attached to a man or husband and never will be. I strongly maintain that this belief is what has helped me pull through divorce much faster than I initially expected. Success is how I am perceived in Allah’s estimation of me. Everyone else can go hang. Strong words I know but I am tired of being judged by others’ criteria which I refuse to subscribe to in the first place.

Manmade constructs of success are fickle and egocentric. I chose to liberate myself from them to the best of my ability when I realised I had to walk this path alone, post-divorce. This is why I confidently say, with hand on heart, that if becoming more conscious of my relationship with Allah is the outcome of my divorce, then I am truly successful, inshaAllah.

Not Afraid to Walk Alone

Would I Have Changed Anything?

Taking the Path Intended for Me

A question many people ask themselves in latter life. Looking back, in retrospect, I’m sure they would produce a litany of regrets which make them hanker for their youth all over again.

I’ve learnt not to go down that dangerous path. Although life hasn’t been a walk in the park, it hasn’t all been jeopardy in a jungle either. In fact, those close to me would know that I often say that given the chance again, I’d have had pretty much the same life with all its imperfections. And there’s a perfectly good reason for that. It’s because all those peaks and troughs in my life so far have made me the person I am. No, I’m not vainglorious and I definitely know I have so much I need to improve on. However, without those exact sets of experiences, good and bad, I would not be who I am today.

So, who is this person I call ‘me’? Well, I know for one that my life, being circumscribed by Islam, gives me purpose and contentment. So when things get difficult or even ugly, I resort to my Creator for guidance and hope. The same goes for when life is smooth sailing.

To ask the question, which forms the title of this blog, also implies ingratitude. There is an innate assumption in it that if a person had made different life choices, it would necessarily have been a better life. To me, that is a wild and arrogant assumption. Who knows how things would have turned out if we had not studied at university, or if we had married someone else, or if we had taken a holiday in Prague instead of Paris? The ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ are too many to contemplate over and so it’s best we don’t. We tend to believe that if different choices were made, our lives would have been infinitely easier or better. Who is to say that would have been the case?

A Constant State of Mind

The fact of the matter is that we are all where we are meant to be -here and now. I am totally convinced that the totality of my life experiences have brought me to the point where I now live independently without a husband but with a total gratitude for arriving at this point. There is no sour grapes attitude and I definitely am not putting on a brave facade, Alhamulillah. It might be late, but I am now finally able to catch up on things I couldn’t do in my youth because of time and/or family constraints. I am having a secret party in my head! And yes, that’s notwithstanding the stresses and strains of daily life.

On the outside, it would appear that I have not achieved much. My marriage succumbed to an abrupt end, I don’t own a house, I don’t drive a fancy car and I definitely have not established a faithful following on any self-adulatory social media sites. But what I have is a freedom which is immeasurable in terms of money and social status. Living this post-divorce life, I have learnt to speak for myself and demand to be heard. I need no representation. Definitely, I refuse to seek male representation. I’ve had my fingers burnt already. No expectations, no disappointment.

In essence, I am truly grateful for all life has shown me because it has shaped the person I am today. And that person is one who is even more eager to nurture the relationship with her Creator. I wouldn’t have changed anything in my life because I understand this is the life Allah had planned for me anyway. Am I going to argue with that?

Enough Said

To Give is To Receive

A message which can never be overstated.

Despite the financial struggles many of us are facing, the principle of giving should always continue….and before anyone secretly, or openly, thinks I must have lost my mind at a time when we are all thinking of protecting the self, I would like to qualify my statement.

You see, there is the myth that ‘giving’ is always in a financial form. Whilst spending money to help others is perhaps the most obvious form of giving, we know too well there are many other ways to benefit others which would not hurt our purse but would weigh heavy in our balance of good deeds. Examples are smiling at someone or clearing the path of debris for the next passerby – great prophetic practices in Islam or sunnah. They cost us very little effort but the potential reward is exponential. And the Islamic belief is that the reward may never be seen in this world; it may be only revealed to us in the Hereafter but who would deny that is a far superior place to be rewarded? So, the results of a good action aren’t always tangible in this world. However, that does not make their pursuit not worth our while. On the contrary, it should make us even more invigorated to do good.

No matter how difficult our personal circumstances may seem, it’s important to be a blessing to someone else’s life in however big or small a way. The purpose of life is not just to take from it what we can for ourselves but to reciprocate -and to do so on an even bigger scale – so that our lives have meaning and especially where our own selfish desires are removed from the centre of all our concerns.

In my own experience, I’ve never failed to discover that helping someone up is a way of keeping myself grounded. It is a check on the reality of life. Just today, I was out helping to feed the homeless in a city outside of my hometown. Looking at every individual’s face, I wondered at how these people had ended up in the situation they were currently in. Some had trauma and sadness etched into their faces deeper than others. Yet all of them share pain and have a story to tell. If circumstances were different, I’d have loved to have listened to some of them narrate their personal stories. A few were well-spoken, all were polite and I know all the echelons of society were represented in that queue of forlorn people waiting patiently in the cold and dark to collect food and clothes.

These such encounters are so necessary to keep oneself focussed and humble. Whilst my own problems will not dissipate just by serving others in whatever way I can, at least my perspective on life will be recalibrated. That’s the most important lesson. Being in control of a situation and not letting it overtake you is a goal worth aiming for. In the bid to keep mental health in a positive state, I would argue that it is worth visiting a place or people who are less fortunate than ourselves. Nobody can come away without being moved in some way and without reassessing their own issues which may thereafter seem insignificant – or at least surmountable – compared to others.

In the last few weeks alone, I have met a vast array of people. Some have been children, some with cancer, some homeless, some disabled, , some depressed and some in financial ruin…but all have been encounters to help remind me of my own insignificance and especially the temporary nature of this life. The largest assignment I have been given in life is to make it to the other side winning the favour of Allah. I hope the trials and tribulations I have faced and continue to face will only serve to help me look forward to that Day with confidence, inshaAllah.

The Runaway Bandwagon

All aboard?

It seems that one of the most prolific results of the Covid pandemic is the unprecedented rise in people suffering from mental health issues. Not surprising given the wildly different and bizarre circumstances many people worldwide found themselves in.

Today, in a world which has been shaken by the pandemic and is still reeling from the aftermath, the recovery process is ongoing. It isn’t just the physical recovery either but the emotional or mental recovery too. There are those individuals whose lives have been forever changed due to Covid having suffered it themselves or been uncomfortably close to someone who has. I can’t even begin to imagine what those people have endured.

However, in the wake of the pandemic, I have also become cynical of those individuals who have cried ‘mental health’ in the anticipation that they too are counted amongst the unfortunate souls who have suffered immeasurable pain when the reality is that they have used the label as a cop-out for not taking on the responsibility for their own situation. (By now, I’m sure I’ve unleashed the anger of some readers).

Whilst I am not one for dismissing the emotional turmoil someone may be suffering, it seems to be all too convenient for a minority of people to jump on the bandwagon and claim ‘mental health’ issues. It provides a useful screen behind which they can hide and avoid facing problems head on. They can dictate when or even if they want to tackle the issue at hand. Meanwhile, these individuals become untouchable – their issues are ones the rest of us cannot possibly understand. And so, any constructive suggestion to help them is met with a rebuttal.

I have been witnessing this phenomenon especially with young people and those close to me and the frustration I feel is real. Not only are any offers of help on my part often declined, the possibility that, despite our age difference, I might even understand a little of what they are feeling, is totally rejected. That’s clearly because I’ve never been young and have always had a life of ease! True, we are all unique individuals and therefore our experiences of life are unique. However, there is always some shared human experiences which we all can relate to between ourselves. As it is though, as an older person, I feel my suggestions are dismissed simply because I could not possibly understand the challenges of this modern world which younger people are having to contend with.

I know the anguish and anxieties young people face today are real – as real as the ones I faced in my youth. However, it does appear that young people today are less equipped with resilience and determination. As was the case when I was young, we did not have the luxury of having someone to talk to about our emotional struggles and simply had to navigate our way through life in a haphazard way. Arguably, that was not an ideal situation and having a label such as ‘mental health issues’ would have been much more beneficial. Yet, not having labels for these types of things also forced us to find solutions for our own problems, rightly or wrongly. Today’s young generation seem to refuse to take matters into their own hands and yet shift the onus onto everyone else where possible. I wonder how they will cope when real tough decisions in life need to be made?

Battle for Survival

So, whilst being able to identify ‘mental health’ as a priority for wellbeing, my conclusion is that it has also done a huge disservice in that young people use it as a means to escape their own reality. Identifying the problem is only halfway towards finding a solution. But we have a generation now of young people that are more like deciduous plants which succumb to the harsh winter rather than the evergreen conifers that stand firm and strong.

I know I run the risk of incurring the wrath of many young people who might be reading this. I’m prepared for that. However, I stand by my views. A life of smooth sailing will never create fighters and go-getters. Challenges in life encourage creative minds, deep thought and a search for solutions. Challenges were never meant to create a generation of weak-minded whiners. It’s normal to be in a state of initial shock followed by inertia. But being stuck there is unacceptable. Help should be sought where available but the initial step must be taken by the individual concerned. I understand life is all very complicated but I also believe being in denial about how much one can positively change their own lives is a huge factor too.

If, when throwing out the lifebuoy ring, a drowning person refuses to grab hold of it, then nobody except that person can be held responsible for the predictable consequences. This is the scene I am seeing being played out time and again. I’ve now learnt to hold onto the lifebuoy ring for myself when my own emotional health is being unfairly encroached upon. Self-preservation is now my goal.

Who to Save?

Home is Where…?

Not Just about Bricks and Mortar

I return here today after a hiatus of two weeks. It’s been an interesting time away; I’ve managed to fulfil one of my life’s ambitions which is to be somewhere else in the world on behalf of a charity and helping those less fortunate than me and in desperate situations.

My recent trip found me in Adana, Turkey where there is a plethora of Syrian refugees who have been displaced by war. In particular, our team was dealing with children who are suffering from cancer as a direct result of chemical warfare. The stories we heard were harrowing, unsurprisingly. Yet all along the way, I met resilience and patience both from the parents and children alike. That, for me, was the greatest lesson of all. Despite the horrors these people have endured, their willingness to face their lot in life and persevere for a better future is admirable. There were personal encounters with children and parents which will forever be etched into my memory.

Crowded but Alone

The trip out there also offered many moments when I would retreat into my own mind and question myself about my own future. Whilst Adana is definitely not a city I could envisage living in long-term, it is simultaneously somewhere I could consider making home if I were to be working on behalf of the charity itself. Even then, a few months would suffice. Not because of the nature of the work but more because the city, like many modern burgeoning cities worldwide, seems to have lost its soul. I need to live in a place that feeds my soul; a place that allows me respite and detachment from the monotony of life and helps me reconnect to my ultimate purpose in life. Adana did not do that for me. Were it not for the refugees who we were there to help, I would have no desire to be in that city.

That being said, I’ve since returned home to England and the proverbial question, “Where is home?” has popped into my thoughts constantly. It is not because of a romantic notion that living abroad in Turkey is the panacea to my unsettled mind. No doubt, travelling and being away from normal life does make me question so much. But even without short trips abroad, I have always maintained that British society has lost its soul. It has long been caught up in the insiduous but silent pandemic where the main ailment is that communities are suffering from a selfish disregard for the other. We are great at holding doorstep conversations for ages with our neighbours but never invite them in. Such a British oddity. At least it’s what I’ve observed amongst others. There is no community cohesion or a sense of selflessness.

So, shouldn’t home be the place where the heart is? Isn’t it where my sons are? That might seem logical but truth be told, I don’t even think my sons feel that permanent connection to the UK. Yes, I believe we’d all agree that having a base here is important. It is, after all, where we were all born and the society we are most familiar with. However, having lived abroad and in such diverse countries, I don’t think any of us feel we quite fit the mould of any one society. A positive thing as much as it is troublesome.

Home will never be a fixed place for me. I’ve lived a life of knowing the ephemeral nature of everything. I will always feel poised to pack up and move on if I have to. Not necessarily a convenient thing but at least it reminds me that life itself is not forever. My conclusion is that home is wherever I feel a sense of purpose. I can have the best bricks and mortar but if my life is empty and devoid of meaning, then staring at perfectly painted walls will be of no use to me. I know my sons also cannot give me meaning to my life. I will not be waiting around simply to see them move on and up. Whilst that is a very important part of my life, it is still more about being the observer of their lives. I need to have something for me which will be there irrespective of who is or is not in my life. Am I making any sense?

In all the melee of my thoughts, I grow more and more aware of the fragility of life itself. As time passes, so does the concept of home. There is no real excitement as there once was when I was young and newly married and on the cusp of great adventures. The lens through which I view life now is much narrower. In that light, home will never be a singular fixed place for me. It will always be a place where I feel I can be part of a community and not live in apathetic isolation. Having my sons nearby would be a huge bonus but the reality of life is that I can’t expect to be near all of them all of the time. They will one day most likely spread their wings and want to explore the world. Perhaps my home will move with one of them but to be lucky enough to be near all of them is most unlikely.

Till then, I have to make the best of what I have now and understand that Allah’s plan for me is the best.

A Leap of Faith

Calm and Afloat

When two of my sons recently returned on their separate but consecutive trips abroad to see their father, the question that family and friends asked me was, “How do you keep calm?

The truth is, I knew a time would come when my sons would voluntarily travel to visit their father. I have been bracing myself for that inevitability for a long time. So, when they each announced their intention, I was not completely surprised. Of course, knowing that day would come was one thing. Being absolutely mentally prepared for it was another. However, even the initial resistance on my part didn’t last for long. After all, I knew I would be wasting precious time and energy and achieving nothing in the end.

There are several reasons for that. The first is quite simply, my faith. In recent years, I have become increasingly aware of the fact that whatever my emotions might tell me, my actions are circumscribed by the will of Allah. Deference to His command is what wins at the end of the day. So, trying to deny the inalienable rights of my children or their father over one another is a battle I am destined to lose right from the start. To be honest, I would not even begin to try. In facilitating a relationship between father and sons, or at least not being an obstacle to it, I stand to earn reward from Allah. In all honesty, their father may have made mistakes but malice was never part of his creed.

There is also the fragile nature of life itself. I have witnessed people that I know depart this world forever. Then I have heard of and seen others who have surrendered their own souls in pursuit of the duniya (temporal world) and yet happiness still eludes them. My own advanced age is a reminder that I definitely have lived the best years of my life in terms of my health. All these combined factors are a potent message that ultimately, my faith in Allah is what has – and will continue to – sustain me in the time that I have left, inshaAllah. So when a drama unfolds, I try these days to take a deep breath and pause before reacting recklessly. A few moments of inner contemplation and a firm faith in Allah’s wisdom are all it takes for a less explosive response. Knowing He is a better judge for what is good for me and putting things into perpective help to immediately placate my thoughts.

Tied with that, is the recent shift in focussing on me as first priority for a change. This isn’t just about ticking off exhilirating adventures on the ‘To Do’ list of life. It’s about clearing the board and leaving just two words on it: ‘Me’ and ‘Allah’. When that decluttering process has begun (and it has, Alhamdulillah), then I can think with a clear head.

I understand that having faith is more than just a bunch of prescribed roles we perform in our daily lives. Though those are fundamentally core to the life of a Muslim, when they become perfunctory, that’s when problems arise. It’s a challenge to always remain spiritually and emotionally connected to the duties we inherit as Muslims but try we must. Alhamdulillah, older age offers a kind of mellowing out and calmness. I have noticed an increased insouciance within when it comes to news and trivia about my past husband and his family. That state comes from the understanding that Allah has chosen a better path for me now than I care to imagine. Although anger sometimes does threaten to bubble inside the pit of my stomach, Alhamdulillah, I am just as able to pacify myself once more. Light always overcomes darkness. Faith always overcomes irrationality.

Not far behind my thoughts about my ultimate purpose on this Earth, but intrinscally connected, are my own personal goals which I have set about trying to achieve. The space that they occupy in my mind is a welcome distraction from things which would otherwise derail my progress. More than ever before, I understand the need to keep busy and keep moving forward. It is no coincidence that those goals have saved me from self-destruction. I refuse to feel sorry for myself and I don’t believe that the world owes me anything as recompense for my loss. Besides, there is always much more pleasure in giving than receiving. And so I want to step out into the world and reciprocate what I have been blessed with. These days, I see the horizon on my future having expanded; divorce has allowed for that. My children are now young adults. Time is now my own again. I am still very much a socially active person and have never felt the need to hide away and practise self-pity. Alhamdulillah, instead I have seen how other opportunities to experience so much have opened up. I understand that:

Life is much bigger than marriage itself.

Life is much bigger than divorce itself.

And certainly, even if it’s a short road ahead of me, I am finally ready for this solo expedition, Alhamdulillah.

Taking it All In

The Cost of Living

Working Our Way Through

Contrary to what I’m sure most people would expect me to be writing about here, I will not be talking about the insanely expensive utility bills that many of us have been floundering in over the last few months or so. My discussion today is more obscure than that.

There is another intangible cost of living which is much more permanent and yet does not make news headlines. It can be lumped under one broad title: Pain. That sounds quite depressing. That to exist in this world, an inevitable by-product of life is emotional and even physical pain. However, it is true. I have yet to meet an adult who has not experienced one or both of those things.

Whilst nobody can claim to have had a life free from worries of some kind, the truth is that life has to go on. It is the price we pay to exist. Burdens of some sort are part and parcel of our journey through time and as much as some people complain about them, the stark reality is that they are only meant to make us stronger and more determined to soldier on. This is the cost of living.

Against All Odds

Arguably, the real focus has to shift from the word, ‘cost‘ to the word ‘living‘. We need to train ourselves to understand that smooth sailing through life will do nothing to enrich our souls. As sure as there are seismic activities constantly occurring under the Earth’s crust, we can be equally sure to meet obstacles to our individual plans which will throw everything into turmoil. But each obstacle needs to be embraced with an almost detached philosophical view – that by confronting and then overcoming it, we will be catapulted onto something better although unforeseen.

No doubt, as emotional beings, it isn’t always easy to be detached from a situation and be able to see the wood for the trees. Wouldn’t life be a breeze if we could do that? The emotional toll which we endure when the balance in life is dramatically upset, is something not to be suppressed either. That would be disastrous – to deny ourselves the right to go through the full range of wild emotions however unhinged we may seem. Having gone through my own challenges, I would be first to testify that I needed to allow myself those irrational and erratic thoughts to run through my mind till I could purge myself of them. There was never going to be any way to fast track that process. It had to happen organically and in its own time.

And there’s another thing too. A more subtle yet insiduous cost of living that many of us should learn to absorb into our lives is the ability to be hardened to the critics who question our decisions when they don’t synchronise with their own way of thinking. That’s a cost we have to endure and accept if we are going to live – and live freely. If there’s one thing I have learnt since divorce, it is to stand up for what I believe in. It may be against people’s better judgement but they need to understand nobody’s life mirrors their own. In many cases, their derision or doubts comes from a place of envy anyway.

In essence, there is always a price to pay when making choices in life. Some things will have to be forsaken but the focus should remain on what we stand to gain. When a farmer reaps his harvest, or a student graduates from university, I’m sure the pure delight in the final outcome enables them to forget how they worked tirelessly to reach their goal. It was all worth it in the end. And so, this is how we need to view every encounter, obstacle and experience in life. The choices we make may cost us in terms of money, time, energy and even friends. But as long as no malice was intended and we have Allah on our side, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Running To Stand Still

On that Road Already…

Today marks the first of those days I have been secretly looking forward to – when I can finally push my ‘back burner’ goals to the forefront of my life. The plan is finally in action, Alhamdulillah. The thing is, all those goals will not be achievable in a short time span. I’m acutely aware of that. But at least, the focus is now more on them than anything – or anyone – else.

I hvae even learnt to detach somewhat from whatever is going on in my sons’ lives. Not because I don’t care. Far from it. Instead, I know I have given them the essential knowledge they need to take care of themselves and own the responsibility of the mundane daily chores. This has freed up time for me. Besides, if they make mistakes, that’s perfectly fine. Those occasions will provide the best lessons in life. My own theory is that the current youth have had too many services delivered to them by their parents anyway. This is the lament of each generation of parents who looks back to their own childhood and compares it to their children’s. I confess to have fallen into that predictable pattern of thoughts. Yet, there is great truth in it. I know my own parents’ childhood struggles compared to my own. And now I see history repeating itself with the subsequent generation. However, I refuse to be the safety net for my sons each time. Sometimes, they need to understand the impact of a fall. Cruel to be kind.

Not quite done

Now that I have done my own running and can be still for a while, I want to relish in this moment of my life. It’s been an extremely busy phase, not just with work but with learning to balance so many volatile emotions over the years – and I’m not talking just my own. Alhamdulillah, life is beginning to settle somewhat. Challenges and stumbling blocks will always be there but the climb over them seems to be less onerous. That’s mainly because I have learnt to approach them with a reinvigorated sense of determination. My glass is half full and I want to fill it even more. I want to squeeze as much as I can from every day that I am blessed to exist on this earth. Maybe I am making up for lost time but that’s OK.

In all of this, I pray that my connection to Allah (the one who has blessed me with so much in this life) deepens. It’s a dangerous place to be if it’s only the worldly goals that occupy our minds. My own belief is that those ambitions have to be rooted in spiritual consciousness and again, they must reconnect back to a heightened God-consciousness. It is a complete circle. Nothing is worth pursuing if that connection is not made. For example, aspiring to more money for the sake of money per se, is always going to be doomed to a miserable life since our appetite for it is insatiable. However, acquiring money to also serve humanity and improve others’ lot in life, is destined not only to bring about the pleasure of Allah but also a sense of higher purpose for our existence. The end goal should never be sought in this temporal world.

So, in some ways, I am going on a retreat except this one is within my mind and hasn’t required me to physically go anywhere. The opportunity to pause, take stock and even realign my moral compass is one which can’t be taken frivolously. InshaAllah, I will suprass my own expectations of myself and reset my mindset to that default mode of deep gratitude to Allah for everything: the good, the ugly and even the seemingly bad.

Keeping the Wheels Turning…
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