You have recently been diagnosed with a problem. Or maybe it is something you have been carrying around with you for a while, and you are tired of it. You are ready to make steps towards change, to turn over your proverbial leaf. Maybe it’s Mental Illness, a Behavioral Issue, Addiction, or Physical Illness that is debilitating or perhaps even fatal. Maybe you’re broke or divorced, or single. Whatever the problem is, it makes you feel bad. It is debilitating, strangling, paralyzing. You have found yourself in a pit of despair, and right now it feels as if life is piling dirt into your pit. There is no silver lining, no knight in shining armor, no pill to help you, no shoulder to cry on or ear to hear you.
Congratulations! “What?!” (You say in udder shock and disbelief). “What an insensitive, wholly unsupportive and even rude statement! How dare you offer congratulations while I am in this ungodly pit of despair, just searching for a way out!”
Congratulations on making the first big step. You want a way out. You want to see the sun, you want to rise from the pit and walk tall, facing your issues head on. You are asserting your control, your own free will over your life. You are taking your personal issue into your own hands and you are ready to make a change. It may be a physical change, a change in mindset or a decision to give up the crutch you have been leaning so heavy on and change it for something else. Although this Pit may seem unGodly, it is exactly where you are supposed to be at this time right now, and you have reached a crossroads. It is now time for you to choose your path. You can do it. You just have to make up your mind to. Your crutch is now your maker, your higher power, your God. You have to find that shoulder that is never going to let you down, the ear that is never going to stop listening. “You have grasped the most trustworthy hand hold that will never break” (The Holy Quran 2:256).
Step one has been completed, you have decided you want change. Step two takes some practice and self reflection, hard truths and realities. I want to refer to step two as a Box. Your illness, addiction, or disorder is a box. You can either define your life by it, and let it be a means to an end for you, or you can turn it into a tool you put in your box that helps you break free. When we choose to let it to define us we become imprisoned in our box. Things become impossible because we are constantly reminding ourselves we have a problem. There is acceptance of a problem and a coming to terms with a problem, and then there is making the problem the reason for all our other problems. Allowing the problem to define who we are and letting the problem tell us what we can and cannot do. For example say you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or anxiety and depression. Finding out that this issue exists in our lives can be viewed as a huge setback that we may not want to deal with. Instead of repressing and not dealing we can view this issue as a test we are faced with. We can give our fears and sadness over to our creator, spend quality time in our own thoughts and prayers, and vow to take steps toward change. The serenity prayer is one I love that I try to remember often. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
We can also empower ourselves by using our issue as a window into our state of being. Accepting it. Realizing that it may not always be like this. That in two years our lives may be completely different. We can work and pray towards a positive difference, or positive way of seeing this test or hurdle. We can use these issues as a stepping stone towards wellness. A stepping stone towards not letting our past or our problem define who we are. A stepping stone towards positive action. Instead we can empower ourselves, find what we are passionate for. We can use our passion to find our purpose in life and use that passion and purpose in the folds of Islam. Our number one purpose is to pray, praise, and give thanks to our creator. Why not streamline our passion/purpose to meet our number one purpose? To get our thoughts out of the pit. To work hard searching for that silver lining. For the lesson in our test. Indeed sometimes, there is no way of seeing the lesson while we are in the midst of our test. This is where we call on our Faith. “La hawla wa quwata illah billah.” (“There is no might or power without Allah”.) We may not have knowledge of what it is we are learning while Allah is testing us, we may never know, or we may know years later down the line if He wills. The ultimate test within the test is TRUSTING ALLAHS WILL, and being content with our DESTINY. Being content in His Decree for us. Just like a precious stone that has become beautiful through metamorphosis, so is Allah’s decree for us. A quote I have read recently it says it best; “When life has brought you to your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray”. Sometimes Allah tests us only so we will draw nearer to him. When things are comfortable it is very easy to become distracted with all the glitter dunia holds. It is in those darkest moments when we are broken and raw, sobbing in sujood, truly humbled and vulnerable…it is in those moments we realize that all POWER lies in his hands alone. That without Allah we are nothing, but a blubbering mess on a salat rug. It is easy to cry to your friend and feel that hug and hear those reassuring words. It takes even a stronger person to seek that resolve with their lord. To invest in the akirah by patiently persevering and remaining forever grateful, and humbled by the grace and mercy of Allah.
Step two is the Box we no longer define ourselves with, but instead we use it as our stepping stone towards wellness. The realization that THINGS CHANGE. It’s the nature of life. The minute that we get stuck thinking that things will never get better is the moment we decide “THINGS WILL NEVER GET BETTER”. Just like a vaccination that helps us build immunity, our tests and trials will make us stronger. Even if they are fatal. If we live our lives despairing over the day we will die it will eventually be the only eyes we use to see the world. Instead we can say, “What will I do today? How will I please my Lord today? How will I love my life today? In this minute?” Being caught in focusing too much on the past or the future can be debilitating. Also maybe we harbor resentment? “My upbringing made me this way.” “Society/the world is unfair and I am a victim of it.” “I wish I didn’t have this reality…why can’t my life just be different?” “I wish my life was like so-and so’s.” This is the hard realities piece. It’s not. This is the hand we were dealt, and we can either just hate our reality, (which will make us more miserable), or we can practice radical acceptance, ask our maker for patience and perseverance and the tools we need to move on, evolve and grow. Sometimes we may fall into the victim role. This is a dangerous place, a place of self loathing, and blame. Whether we blame ourselves or others, this place of pointing fingers is fruitless. Once the seed of resentment is sown the roots and branches will strangle us. Sometimes we have to forgive others, not for them but so we can stop torturing our own souls. Sometimes we have to forgive ourselves, realizing that we are naturally imperfect, and that our imperfections do not define us. When we find ourselves imperfect it can be a humbling experience. “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And there is not for them besides Him any patron.” (The Holy Quran 13:11). Make the decision to make the change. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi). Ultimately that’s all we can do. If you find yourself paralyzed, practice “opposite behavior”. For example if we are drowning in housework and it is completely overwhelming and all we think we can muster is flopping on the couch in exhaustion then do the exact opposite. Wash those dishes, throw that load of laundry in and then reward yourself with your couch flop. See how satisfying it feels to flop after you have accomplished your one task you were dreading. Small steps, one foot in front of the other, the moment we stand still focusing on everything wrong is the moment we give into paralysis and become imprisoned in our box. Let’s set ourselves free, open our eyes to the light, look up from our pit…realize that sometimes the light may hurt our eyes at first. That’s natural; change can be uncomfortable and challenging. Ultimately we have to reflect on the things we need to let go, the things we can change and have the courage and the wisdom to make that difference a reality. You can do it. I can do it. It can be done.
“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”(Nathaniel Hawthorn)
We need only to want to change our condition and seek the aid of our creator to find our place of inner peace. We need to actually compare our lives to those beneath us, reflect on their reality. Remember that there is always someone in a worse state than us, make duaa (pray) for those, make duaa for ourselves and patiently persevere one step at a time. We need to remain grateful and thankful for those things that we do have and those days, hours and minutes we have left before the end. Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “If the Resurrection were established upon one of you while he has in his hand a sapling, then let him plant it.” Make the most of our time on the earth, because the only one who knows when that time will be up is our creator. Let us make our scales heavy in His remembrance, with good deeds, and gratitude. May he guide us all, have mercy on us, strengthen us and forgive us all. Ameen.
A reminder to myself first and foremost. 🙂