Dear self: I see you’re working on that project again. I thought we agreed to obliterate it.
We did… but… it called me back.
Yes, like a hundred times before. When will you learn your lesson?
I can’t help it. It pulls me in. It has me in its grip.
Even though we established long ago that nobody’s interested in this project at all?
I know, but…
So you will waste your time all over again, for the sake of what? Your demise on that awesome day, when your account of deeds will be laid bare?
Well, when you put it like that…
So you will abandon this folly now, once and for all?
I know I should… and I must… but… I’m not sure… I’m… forever in…
Repeatedly, my lower self calls me back to what is of no benefit at all, neither for me nor any other.
Sometimes I resist, closing that door firmly shut, recalling, “We have been here before.” Sometimes I succumb, giving in to those inner arguments: “What harm can it do?”
This is my life, over and over. Yesterday I responded to its call. This morning I petition myself: “Repent, return, reform.” This battle within never ends, it seems. These skirmishes, offensives and counter-offensives. On and on.
It’s hard to close the door on desirous things, which bubble up from the deepest recesses of the soul. They call me back. But I know I must call back too: “Not this time, o nafs! I’m seeking something higher than this.”
Though it pains me, once more I must press reset on a nascent project in the making. Once more I must interrogate my own intentions and, finding them wanting, must not just press pause, but go full obliteration. My lower self calls me back to these schemes over and over, each time convincing me anew that there is good in them. No, but ultimately I must take myself to account and continue to do battle with my wayward self. Daily does this battle rage on.
I have just purged a massive project, deleting every single file and every copy on every backup disk. Gigabytes of data. Months, if not years of work.
Continue reading “Sanity check”
If I have a major flaw, it’s that I can be a very impulsive person. A flaw that I thought I had under control, up until the beginning of March when I restarted medical treatment I had been neglecting for at least two years, and likely more. I knew this would happen, and it did, exactly as feared.
Continue reading “An impulsive fool”
Yesterday afternoon, I tried to have a conversation with our daughter about chasing likes and followings.
Continue reading “Chasing likes”
My ego says to me: “Those people broke you. Go seek revenge!”
Continue reading “Conversations within”
This is the thought that shook me awake in the middle of the night: “Yes, I am such an idiot.” Then another thought: “I am living proof that your ego will always make a fool of you.”
Continue reading “Such an idiot”
Look at yourself, O soul! You claim to have subdued your nafs, ahankar, your ego, but look how you perform: “Here I am, here I am, here I am!”
Continue reading “Resurgent ego”
I don’t know why we travel thousands of miles to Yemen, Syria, Turkey and Pakistan to sit at the feet of a sheikh with problems of his own, thinking he will help us master our nafs, when we have the best tariqa right here, before us: marriage and raising children.
Continue reading “Best tariqa”
Man must forever be vigilant to the diseases of his soul. After years of trying, it seems God enabled me to vanquish one set of sins and bad habits that had plagued and harangued me since my youth. Alhamdulilah. But into their place, unnoticed, settled another set. Rancor, the short temper, that shouting rage. All of life is a test, we forget, as our children perpetually wind us up. I am hardly reformed, it occurs to me: I have simply replaced one set of sins with another. May Allah have mercy on me. Be vigilant for your soul.
The months of November to February are always hard, their short dark days drawing a heavy melancholy down on me.
Continue reading “Dark days”
Envy, I suppose, will kill the hearts of man. I see it in myself, whenever my gaze falls on what others have achieved. Really, it’s a mental illness. We shun the immense blessings we find directly under our nose, to focus on the apparition of what others have… a nice job, a big house, a life of ease. But of course we only see a snapshot of what others have. Who knows what life is like behind closed doors? Who knows the troubles which afflict them? Perhaps envy afflicts them too. And so to my dua today: asking my Lord to purify my heart, to take away my long gaze and obliterate these inner diseases of my soul. That gaze brings nothing but discontent.
I’ve written a mountain about regret the past few years, particularly through the pandemic.
Continue reading “Mistakes make us”
Looking back, I realise that my shyness paralysed me. It prevented me from achieving lofty heights. Instead of encouraging me and edging me out of my shell, teachers back then simply ignored me. Looking back, I wonder how my parents allowed me to make such a mess of my final years of education, but in truth: perhaps we had both given up by then. I remember my intense self-hatred in those awkward days, as I muddled through with zero self-esteem. I never learnt those preeminent skills: to have self-confidence or self-belief. For my own adventures, I know I am a lost cause. But at least this realisation will help me support the next generation. I hope we can encourage our children to achieve starry heights of their own, despite inner reserve. I hope they will develop the self-belief I never did, and live a happy and contented life.
Yes, dear reader, you have just witnessed a full-blown nervous breakdown… a flurry of posts in quick succession, spread over twelve days, which I blame on:
- Withdrawal symptoms from taking a week off work. A sure sign I am a workaholic.
- Rejoining LinkedIn, comparing myself to others and concluding I am an utter failure.
- The dreaded coronavirus visiting our home and giving us bat hallucinations.
I think I am nearly back to normal again, so you can rest easy, certain in the knowledge that I will not start dredging over the distant past again, at least until next time. Hopefully the manic splurge is over. Hallelujah.
My ego protests: “You must be known.”
But my heart responds: “Be content with your lot.”
Yes, be content to be unknown, forgotten.
Vanquish your ego. Worship your Lord alone.
For the majority of my life, I have been driven and dominated by my lower self.
If others knew all that I have done and what I hide inside, they would disown me. I disown myself.
All I have to hold onto now is hope in the mercy of my Lord. “And who despairs of the mercy of God except one who has gone astray…”
Now my only prayer: that He forgives me, guides me and reforms my soul. This my daily prayer. Hope in His mercy, but perpetually in a state of regret, fearful that my remorse can never be enough.
Nightly I recall all I have done. Nightly I call out for His clemency. O Allah, have mercy on this wayward soul who has wronged himself and others.
O Allah, shower me in mercy, rectify for me all of my affairs and set me on a straight way.
Without the One who created me, time, the universe and every atom, all I am left with is regret.
Once more, it is the week before Ramadan, where by tradition the scheming nafs will summon ideas and plans from deep within, intent on knocking us off course. Be vigilant. Do not succumb to those whispers from within, calling us back.
For a few months we have been moderately successful in taming those nafs. Don’t squander all we have gained in submission to our private tradition. Be vigilant. For if we are not, that seed will grow into a vicious weed, corrupting our fast. Do not answer the call from deep within. Leave the nafs’ contrivances. Close the door tight. Be strong against its petitions.
O my soul, I plead you: stand strong against the scheming nafs — and my eyes, tongue, fingers, ears too. All together: vigilance. Let us not squander yet another year. Leave those ideas and plans.
It turns out that I am probably a workaholic. The blues hit me when I was not working. I often fall sick when I take a day off. Or perhaps that is too simplistic.
Perhaps joining a professionals social network heightened my feelings of inadequacy. Comparing yourself to your peers and friends of old is clearly unhealthy for mental wellbeing and a sense of self-worth.
Perhaps it was a momentary blip, caused by the stresses of lockdown, amidst the rivalries of children, the daily warfare, riots, tantrums and raised voices. Perhaps it was just cold weather and grey skies. Perhaps just whispers into my soul on a sleepless night.
Whatever it was, for now the blues have lifted. I have deleted the networking app. I have reminded myself to be grateful. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. I am learning, slowly, to let go of the past. Trying to hold a better opinion of myself.
One day I will overcome these blues.
The lies we must tell to feed our nafs. I shudder now, how my domineering nafs dominated me so completely. Numbed now, perhaps, only by minor melancholy, or an endocrine deficiency deliberately mismanaged in the pursuit of sanity. For years and years I led my own soul astray. Nightly, these recollections keep me awake. I fear my return to the One. I have failed completely. Lies upon lies upon lies. Can reform really obliterate all that went before? Can I repent enough? Can I become sincere? Can I make amends?
“He has succeeded who purifies the soul, and he has failed who corrupts the soul.” Quran 91:9-10
Ya Allah, purify my heart. Without You I am lost.
I have conversations with myself all the time, mostly in self-reproach. It is the natural order. In my writing too, I converse away, opening my inner ramblings to passersby, even as daily I almost delete it all.
Continue reading “Conversing with yourself”
I don’t really know where to go, and who to hang out with anymore. But then, on reflection, I realise I never did. I’m just an older, greyer version of the kid at school who would wander round and round the school grounds, aimlessly, alone, pretending to go somewhere, though fully conscious that I was going nowhere at all, for I had nowhere to go, forever the outsider.
Continue reading “Wanderers”
He rebukes us for not disappearing, as we rightfully must. He cannot stand bloggers who write unceasingly, he writes unceasingly on a public forum, granting himself permission to do the opposite of what he says, for his own sentiments are profound and important and true. If only we would just disappear, when we say we will, instead of continually swinging from pole to pole, like manic depressives shunning benzodiazepines. If you are going to go, he yells, just go. Don’t return to pen another epistle when backs are turned, deciding not to become a hermit after all. Leave the about-turns to wise sages, whose gold embossed volumes decorate the homes of the truly enlightened, with their spiritual quest and authentic faith, that we modernites could never comprehend. Go, he demands, and leave us in peace, and purify your heart, and vanquish your attention-seeking ego, and disappear for good, and don’t come back, and remember your place, and be silent. Yes, cease, he urges unceasingly, returning to the forum he promised to abandon once more, to rebuke the returning writers who cannot keep their promises when they say they will put down their pens. Cease.
Every night when I head to bed, a voice within says, “Be quiet.” Speak good or remain silent. Restrain your tongue and typing fingers. As I lay my head on my pillow, these inner thoughts recur: “Disappear. Withdraw.” And each morning when I arise, I ask myself whether today will be the day when I respond to the inner petition: will I find the courage to vanish; to keep my thoughts to myself; to be like the commoners of old who had no reach or influence beyond their village or family.
But then the day wears on, and another voice says, “Express yourself. Speak good. Say what needs to be said.” And once more I am hammering on the keyboard, convinced for a moment that my words are important. That my words must be freed. And for a while it seems to be so. But by nightfall, that inner voice will return, petitioning me to withdraw. To free myself of these burdens. To become the nobody who walks unknown, influencing only his family and close companions.
Day and night, it has become a heavy weight on me, rending me in two.
Without fail, every time I resolve to reform my soul, I almost immediately become preoccupied with new matters that do not concern me, which become an obsession, undermining my good intentions. In short, I replace one set of sins with another, and find myself entangled in a completely new web of my own making. It is a constant struggle.
A compulsion regularly comes over me which insists: “Write!” But in my heart, after all has been said and done, there is disquiet, regret, remorse: my writing betrays arrogance. After the fact, I wonder to myself: would silence not be better for you? Would it not be better not to release these words? Are you not only portraying your ignorance? Would it not be better to recognise your station and withdraw, to unpublish and retire? Each day, these are the thoughts that follow every essay. Am I merely just poisoning my own soul? And yet before I have had time to respond, there comes yet another compulsive urge to write down all that is on my mind. Once more I spill my soul onto the page, momentarily thinking it urgent, as if my words had any impact on the world. And then once more the regret and remorse: what an arrogant, conceited fool.
It occurs to me with increasing frequency, that all the words that have been flowing from my fingers of late are merely a substitute for all the transgressions that passed before them. It took me an age, but eventually I fell down in repentance, resolving to make everything right and not return to those wicked ways. I closed the door, though it pained me. But all of a sudden this: opinions, essays, thousands of words. Have I merely been hoodwinked into exchanging one set of sins for another?
I have a habit of burning bridges and sinking boats. My impetuous nature causes me to make hasty decisions. To leave a group suddenly. To delete a hundred files. To speak my mind too freely. To be cynical in the midst of a frenzy of adoration. And ultimately, at my turning away, all my companions turn away too, tired of my abrupt reversals. In the end, there is no love lost: better to abandon the impulsive one and his frequent about-turns, as he burns yet another bridge and puts up another wall. Why invest any more time in our ferocious friend, they ask themselves, when he will ultimately just let us down? My friends have my sympathy: I can barely tolerate myself either.
Stuck in the moment of his own despair, he carelessly says to another no longer stuck in their own moment of despair, “You have absolutely no idea what we’re going through”, absolutely oblivious to the fact that they know exactly what they are going through. The one who complains that others judge unfairly judges unfairly and refuses to acknowledge that he is not alone in the world, nor is his situation unique, and that his own words and assumptions hurt just as much as those he complains about. Empathy is a two-way street.