Verily mankind is ungrateful

There is something wrong with me at the moment. I don’t know what it is, but my emotions are heightened, I am on edge, easily upset and completely inconsistent. I have been like this for two months now, swinging between the strangest misery and confused folly. The misery reveals itself in the tears that well up for no apparent reason from the tiniest seed. The folly in the quick humour which rises rapidly and then dies.

I seem to be dissatisfied with myself. My heart aches, feeling heavy in my chest. On my return from Turkey I quizzed myself about my unhappiness and decided that I could change it by returning to the Smythian keyboard and reignite my “Copious Footnotes”. This lasted barely two weeks. It was followed by a yearning to start a cottage-industry publishing house called “The Othello Press”. I don’t know if this will lead anywhere. Then there was the “Blogistan” project, to which I contributed five articles before hurriedly retracting four of them again, turning my back on the site because of the melancholy which overcomes me. It is all ups and downs, backwards and forwards, proposals and withdrawals.

At work I want to be a writer, then a graphic designer, next an IT trainer, then a communications officer; and now, just as I’m offered an interview for the latter, I’m resigned once more to my role. Perhaps tomorrow will bring a better day; maybe it will be good for me down the line. Perhaps it is not so bad.

Verily mankind is ungrateful. My first job after university was very comfortable. I earned a better salary then that I ever have since. It was located on a country estate outside Maidenhead, in converted stables between a lovely walled garden and a grand mansion with manicured grounds. The Chairman liked his fast cars but he was generous to us, keeping the fridge stocked up every week to provide his staff with free lunch. For some reason, though, I was dissatisfied. Dissatisfied despite a great wage for the simplest of graphic design work.

When the company downsized after the slump in the market following the attacks on the United States in September 2001 and I was out of a job, I started up my own business offering publishing services. This was a situation where I was in the position to do what I most love: creating beautiful books. Alas I was dissatisfied once more, even though I was given the opportunity to typeset challenging works such as “The History of the Qur’anic Text”. There had to be something better, I told myself, and so I moved onto new ground. I ended up as Office Manager in a busy training department. I was responsible for a team of administrators, got to produce newsletters and a directory of courses, develop the intranet and do many interesting things. Yet again I became dissatisfied and so the cycle started again.

What is it that drives me over the edge again and again? Why is it that I am never satisfied with what I have? Is my situation not better than the poor soul who sets up his table on a bridge over the Bosporus every evening in Istanbul to sell ice cold, bright yellow lemonade to hot and tired commuters? Indeed, is my situation not better than those dry, scorching days I spent administering an internet café in the summer of 2003, with the fumes of traffic numbing my brain? Or the days spent serving prickly Thai and unsophisticated Lebanese cuisine to three hundred customers over lunchtime off Berkley Square?

Perhaps it is pride. “I have an Masters Degree, you know?” Pride, which makes me think that the job I am doing is never good enough. “I don’t need a Degree to do this job, do I?” Pride which gets in the way of an honest day’s work, making it seem worthless and you worthless as a result. I think it is. I think I am stumbling away from a path I once knew when I was younger and more devoted to treating a lump of flesh beneath my ribs.

One of the first books I was given to read when I became Muslim in 1998 was “The Purification of the Soul”. I think it is time that I returned to this work and others like it, recognising what it is that is creating this unease. My soul has been neglected as the smog and noise of a violent and political world obscure the reality of faith.

Oh my Lord, put comfort back into my heart and do not let me die other than one who has earned Your pleasure. Take away this heaviness and ache in my chest and replace it with lightness and appreciation of the sweetness of all of Your blessings. Oh my Lord, let me return to You with a good heart. Amin.

One thought on “Verily mankind is ungrateful”

  1. >>One of the first books I was given to read when I became Muslim in 1998 was “The Purification of the Soul”. I think it is time that I returned to this work and others like it, recognising what it is that is creating this unease. My soul has been neglected as the smog and noise of a violent and
    political world obscure the reality of faith.

    You’ve hit the nail squarely on the head Mr Bowes. I too suffer from this ailment and have done so for a long time. I am in a constant state of internal agitation. We both have full stomachs, roofs over our heads,
    regular income and companionship. So what is wrong? We both have to find the cause and the remedy before it manifests itself as full blown destructive depression.

    But the good news is that this condition is not unknown. Imam Abu Hamid Al Ghazali had prestige, property, family and a top job, but it could not cure him of his spiritual ailment.

    Being “at peace” is a goal of many religions and they all have their
    methods. Despite the critical ramblings of the ahl-i hadith/neo-wahhabi modernists of this sad era, I feel we both need to take the bold first step of finding a spiritual guide, just as Imam Ghazali did before us.

    I bid you farewell Mr Bowes and I leave you with the good company and advice of Imam Ghazali. I have selected a few snippets from his “Deliverance from Error”. Let him talk to us about his experiences as a friend, brother and teacher so we can learn from them.

    Describing his unsettled heart:

    >>Still a prey to uncertainty, one day I decided to leave Baghdad and to give up everything; the next day I gave up my resolution. I advanced one step and immediately relapsed. In the morning I was sincerely resolved only to occupy myself with the future life; in the evening a crowd of carnal
    thoughts assailed and dispersed my resolutions. On the one side the world kept me bound to my post in the chains of covetousness, on the other side the voice of religion cried to me, “Up! Up! Thy life is nearing its end, and thou hast a long journey to make. All thy pretended knowledge is naught but
    falsehood and fantasy. If thou dost not think now of thy salvation, when wilt thou think of it? If thou dost not break thy chains today, when wilt thou break them?” Then my resolve was strengthened, I wished to give up all and fee; but the Tempter, returning to the attack, said, “You are suffering from a transitory feeling; don’t give way to it, for it will soon pass. If
    you obey it, if you give up this fine position, this honorable post exempt from trouble and rivalry, this seat of authority safe from attack, you will regret it later on without being able to recover it.”

    His spiritual ailment manifests itself physically:

    >>Thus I remained, torn asunder by the opposite forces of earthly passions and religious aspirations, for about six months from the month Rajab of the year A.D. 1096. At the close of them my will yielded and I gave myself up to destiny. God caused an impediment to chain my tongue and prevented me from lecturing. Vainly I desired, in the interest of my pupils, to go on with my
    teaching, but my mouth became dumb. The silence to which I was condemned cast me into a violent despair; my stomach became weak; I lost all appetite; I could neither swallow a morsel of bread nor drink a drop of water.

    >>The enfeeblement of my physical powers was such that the doctors,
    despairing of saving me, said, “The mischief is in the heart, and has communicated itself to the whole organism; there is no hope unless the cause of his grievous sadness be arrested.”

    Making the break from the rat-race and putting the plan into action:

    >> At last I left Baghdad, giving up all my fortune. …then betook myself to Syria, where I remained for two years, which I devoted to retirement, meditation, and devout exercises. I only thought of self-improvement and discipline and of purification of the heart by prayer in going through the
    forms of devotion which the Sufis had taught me. I used to live a solitary life in the Mosque of Damascus, and was in the habit of spending my days on the minaret after closing the door behind me. From thence I proceeded to Jerusalem, and every day secluded myself in the Sanctuary of the Rock.

    Reflections on his experiences and drawing conclusions:

    >>Ten years passed in this manner. During my successive periods of
    meditation there were revealed to me things impossible to recount. All that I shall say for the edification of the reader is this: I learned from a sure source that the Sufis are the true pioneers on the path of God; that there is nothing more beautiful than their life, nor more praiseworthy than their rule of conduct, nor purer than their morality. …With the Sufis, repose and movement, exterior or interior, are illumined with the light which
    proceeds from the Central Radiance of Inspiration. And what other light could shine on the face of the earth? In a word, what can one criticize in them? To purge the heart of all that does not belong to God is the first step in their cathartic method.

    >>This state, then, can be revealed to the initiated in ecstasy, and to him who is incapable of ecstasy, by obedience and attention, on condition that he frequents the society of Sufis till he arrives, so to speak, at an
    imitative initiation. Such is the faith which one can obtain by remaining among them, and intercourse with them is never painful.

    Sources:
    Link page to “Sufism and Ethics” on the Ghazali site
    http://www.ghazali.org/site/oeuvre-s.htm

    Link to full essay from which the snippets were taken:
    al-Munqidh min al-dalal (Rescuer from Misguidance). considered to be autobiography an apologia pro vita [M:56; A:56] http://www.ghazali.org/books/md/gz101.htm

    >>Oh my Lord, put comfort back into my heart and do not let me die other than one who has earned Your pleasure.

    >> Take away this heaviness and ache in my chest and replace it with lightness and appreciation of the sweetness of all of Your blessings.

    >> Oh my Lord, let me return to You with a good heart. Amin.

    Amin Amin Amin

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