The Second of Two . . . Their Third

27 07 2011

Lately it’s been one sleepless night after another. Surprisingly, I haven’t been as irritated about it as I would typically be. The thing is I find myself involuntarily yet consciously repeating certain phrases at night, which my obsessive mind (aka my clever mind) is known to do often, only it happens in my waking hours and I would know the source of these repeated phrases: I would be aware of having read or heard them here or there. It’s how my mind works: it picks up words and phrases from here and there that just “stick” and repeats them endlessly until they are replaced with newer ones. Only this time I didn’t know where these phrases were coming from.

Two nights ago, in my half-sleep half-awake state, I found myself repeating Thaneya Ethnayn, and Thaleth-homa, which are Arabic phrases meaning “the second of two” and “their third,” respectively.

In my half-half state, I was wondering, “Who are the two? And who’s the second of the two? Who’s the third? Why? What does it mean?”

Yes, I wondered how far away I was from the sanity borderline.

I went about my day (yesterday), ran my errands, met those I was supposed to meet and did everything else I was supposed to do with these phrases at the back of my mind. What did they mean? I was almost sure these were parts of verses of the Quran, but why? What did they mean? Why were they on my mind?

Then came yesterday evening, which was rather emotionally loaded. I met with my friend who finally came back from her holiday. We talked and talked about our current situations and where we were heading. She’s barely out of a relationship gone sour and I was trying to give her a pep talk as she’s expecting her ex to come back from a long trip abroad and force himself on her after he had ignored her badly at her hour of need. I tried to remind her to stay strong and not let herself be manipulated. I tried to make her feel strong, that she can take him on, that she doesn’t have to give in to his abusiveness of her loneliness. I tried to take the focus off her loneliness and need for him and put it on her strength and potential. I tried . . .

She: I am going to be alone for the first time in a long time. My son is going to be with his father for a couple of days. I am not sleeping much either. Why don’t you come spend Ramadan with me? Seriously, this is going to be my first Ramadan alone.

Me: I wish I could.

She: It’s very difficult for me to be alone.

Me: . . . . (Sigh).

After I dropped her off, I thought, “Phew! Relief! I am almost home after a long battle with traffic. I get to go home and be alone and relax.” But those weren’t my actual thoughts; they were more like the old line of thinking. I found myself actually saying, “Now I get to go home and deal with another long cold night sleep-barren night. It’s difficult to be alone.”

Whereas I used to cherish these quiet hours alone, I am now haunted by them. At night, my pills make me drowsy but don’t exactly put me to sleep. So I am left in a state where I am too numb and mindless to be able to read yet too alert to sleep. I am also left in a state where I constantly need to talk, talk, talk (??? I mean I don’t even like talking that much).

Before I got into bed, reluctantly, I decided to try and look up these words and find out where they came from. I mean I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and I wasn’t at all up to doing any heavy research, studying, or even reading. After 5 minutes of research, I was able to locate them: Surat at-Tawbah (9) verse 40:

If you help him (Muhammad PBUH) not (it does not matter), for Allah did indeed help him when the disbelievers drove him out, the second of two, when they (Muhammad PBUH and Abu Bakr) were in the cave, and he (Muhammad) said to his companion (Abu Bakr): “Be not sad (or afraid), surely Allah is with us.” Then Allah sent down His Sakinah (calmness, tranquility, peace, etc.) upon him, and strengthened him with forces (angels) which you saw not, and made the word of those who disbelieved the lowermost, while it was the Word of Allah that became the uppermost, and Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.

Then as I got into bed, I got my Quran interpretation books and decided to read more into this verse. Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr (the Prophet’s closest companion) when they were leaving Mekka and hiding in a cave. The disbelievers were searching for them. Abu Bakr was afraid and he said to the Prophet, “If they just look below their feet, they will definitely see us.” So the Prophet said, “Do not be sad (afraid). Allah is surely with us.” He also said, (and this is the part that completely shook me up), “Abu Bakr, what do you think can happen to two people whose third is Allah?”

“Don’t be sad. Allah is surely with us.”

No words.

No thoughts.

Tears.

Allah, You are with me every second, every breath.

Allah, let me taste the sweetness of Your Companionship.

Allah, send down Your Sakinah on me.

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A New Pair of Glasses

23 07 2011

When I realized that my OCPD had not even left my spirituality untainted, I decided to talk to someone, only this time it would not be a therapist. Ironically, I went to see this nice lady who’s a religious scholar that talks to non-Arabic-speaking individuals who are interested in learning about Islam. I had connected her to a friend before. So whereas a couple of years ago, I was a go-between for someone interested in learning about Islam, I was now that someone.

As I was sitting on her cosy couch in her very warm and welcoming guest room, I was perplexed as to where I would start. How would I arrange my questions? What would be the first thing out of my mouth? What would I focus on and what would I leave out? How much of me should I reveal? The only decision I could make was to try very hard to keep my tears out of the way.

She: Okay. Now I am all ears. You said on the phone you had some things you wanted to talk about. I am all ears.

Me:  . . . . (Notepad and pen in hand, looking at my long list of questions, my eyes well up, against my will and my best efforts. I hide my face in my palm and look down.)

She: What’s the matter? Come on. Let it out.

Me: I don’t understand. I need help. Something is wrong . . . .

I started on my saga of woes and misery and how I was no longer able to take one more step in this mean life. I related how everything was backward and varied as the circumstances and stories may be, the end result was invariable: I was hurt. Then, in the midst of my trembling, it hit me: I was the one meant to meet this woman from the very beginning, not my friend. I was the one meant to learn from this woman, not my friend.

She: You know, Allah said to Prophet Dawud, “If those who stay away from Me knew how much I love them and long for their return, they would be torn by (die of) longing for me. If this is My Desire towards those who turn away from Me, how much do you think My Desire is towards those who turn to Me?”

Me: . . . .

She: I bet you’ve never heard this one before.

Me: Actually, I haven’t.

Then, the next day, I heard the same saying from a completely different source!! A sign?

I really needed to stop and think about this. I mean I was coming from a place of sin. Is this how He is towards me, the sinner, the misguided soul who is not on His Path? He is waiting for me to knock on the door so He can grant forgiveness? Really? He is that Kind? I thought He would be Angry, Divine Anger. I thought I was being punished and expected more punishment to come. (That’s what I speak: right and wrong = reward/safety and punishment/danger).

As I thought about it, I realized how distant I really was, spiritually, emotionally. I mean I do the rituals. But my soul has not been filled with Him. I haven’t seen Him as the Designer, the Causer, the Creator, the King, the Kind, the One.

I confess. I have been doing the rituals and trying to get closer, not knowing where I was falling short, not understanding that my thinking (yes, my clever mind) and calculating had clogged my heart and ability to feel. Most of all, I relied only on myself, my calculations and my ability. When things didn’t work out, I didn’t stop to think about His calculations; maybe He has something else in mind. When things did work out, I didn’t stop to say “Thank you for your support. Thank you for filling in my deficiencies.” I didn’t think of Him before as my supporter, my friend. I never thought of Him in terms of love, friendliness and kindness. I only sought to follow the rules and avoid punishment. I never really stopped to think how many times I had put Him at the bottom of my list of priorities, yet He did not stop His giving and He patiently waited. Most unfortunately, I didn’t really set His satisfaction as my ultimate goal.

I say “Alhamdulillah” but I don’t really live it. I never really stopped and tried to consciously count the blessings I have on a given day, even a bad day – not that I ever would be able to. I read the Quran, His words to me, but I rarely stop to contemplate on what He is saying to me.

I dare not say that I have arrived or that I am doing all this now. Far, far from it.  But at least, I am aware that there are different glasses to see Him through and I am trying find my new pair of glasses and keep them on, forever, insha’Allah, with His support.





The Compassionate, The Merciful

10 07 2011

As a Muslim, I utter the words, “In the name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Merciful,” somewhere between 17 and 30 times a day. In each prayer and with the beginning of every act. I call upon Him using these two attributes: Compassion and Mercy. I am encouraged to take on a bit of Allah’s attributes if I want to taste them in myself. For example, if I want to receive His Mercy, then I should be merciful towards others. If I want Him to be Compassionate towards me, then I should be compassionate towards others, and so on . . .

These were my thoughts as I was blankly staring at the world from behind my steering wheel, wishing I could get out of my skin. These were my thoughts as I was stuck for ten minutes in one intersection amidst the heavy traffic on my miserable street. These were my thoughts as I made no effort to hide my distressed face from the passersby who hurriedly glanced in my direction and hurled themselves at my car, to get on with their hurried, important lives. They didn’t seem to have any thoughts. Frowing faces. Rigid faces. Tired faces. No thoughts. These were my thoughts as I continued to say quietly and with as much calm as I could muster, “In the name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Merciful,” trying to control my terror over my car being crushed in this jungle of hostile micro- and mini-bus drivers, pedestrians and street vendors. These were my thoughts as a young man gestured to me, asking me to let his friend’s microbus pass before me. I declined. He persisted and increased his dose of smile; he was a good-looking young man. He must have been trying to embarrass me, seeing that I am woman, veiled, alone in my car. He must have thought I would be intimidated, shy, embarrassed. I increased my dose of serious face and gestured, “Sorry. No can do.” It’s not that I didn’t want to let him pass. I would have gladly waited, but I would have also been crushed into oblivion. He gave in. I passed through, without a smile as he waved me goodbye. These were my thoughts as I wondered how many hours and how much money I was going to spend today to try make myself feel better, knowing in advance that it would be to no avail, knowing in advance, that in the evening, on my drive back home, those same tears would be there. These were my thoughts, exacerbated, the latter by the former. These were my thoughts as I could feel a deep pang of darkness and pain in me. These were my thoughts as I listened to the soft sad voice, a song about mercy and compassion towards Prophet Mohamed and his suffering.

These were my thoughts and those were my tears, racing.

How is it that I am having such a hard time with Compassion in spite of this? How am I unable to feel it, to live it? How am I unable to be compassionate towards me, which logically means I am unable to be that towards others?

I pull over to pick up my friend who has brought her little boy along. The bright-faced little boy has a small ball and a tiny plastic racket – a prospective professional tennis/ping-pong player. He rackets the ball around in the back seat of the car, hitting the roof and making all kinds of obnoxious noises. He sticks his shoed feet here and there on the new light gray interior of my car. I am enraged. I hold it in. He speaks loudly, interrupting our conversation. I am unable to speak with my friend coherently nor hear her clearly. I am annoyed galore. “Somebody needs to quiet him down. I knew this was a mistake from the start, before I left the house. I am in no mood to see anyone today. This business of dragging myself out of the house when I don’t feel like it is simply stupid. Somebody quiet this dude down before I lose my temper.”

“He’s just a little boy. He’s alone back there, looking for something to busy himself with. You’ve got your friend to talk to and you’re both sharing your minds; he’s got no friend his age here. He’s just a little boy,” says the budding, compassionate me.

And so the rest of the evening was. I spent most of the time observing the boy, condemning his loudness, his rudeness, his lack of manners, his spoiltness and (need I continue?). Then, after every thought, I could feel myself getting worked up and tense. Then, the not-well-practiced and stumbling compassionate me would go back and say, “He’s just a little boy. He’s very decent. You can’t expect him to control himself like you can. He’s got a lot to learn and he will grown up to be a decent man.”

“A decent man. . . . I wonder if he will grow up to show mercy and compassion to others, especially to the women in his life in this male-dominated society. I wonder if he will show mercy and compassion to his single mother who will stop at nothing to make him happy, or will he be another version of his father – authority unquestioned, abuse. He will show compassion, I hope.”

It’s late morning and I have work to attend to. I have smiling naïve little girls to go teach. I worry that I will infect them with my darkness and lethargy. I don’t feel like going. I knew, as I made the call last night confirming the appointment, that I would not feel like going this morning. Yet, I made it anyway, in an effort to “help myself” and not let myself fall prey to harmful behaviors.

I wonder, “Have I forgotten to take my meds, again? Is that why I am off-base today?” I search and delve. I dig deep. Nothing. It’s just me.

This must be the time, then, to be compassionate towards me, to show understanding. To mentally hug myself and say, “You’re okay. It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”

So, I begin another day:

“In the name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Merciful.

Allah, help me find compassion.

Show me how to forgive myself.

Allah, hold my hand today.”





It’s Probably for the Better

9 07 2011

I find that I am posting more frequently these days, or at least I have the urge to. It must be my big blocks of thoughrniture crowding me out of my head and onto the pages of this blog. I am now at making mental lists of ideas I want to blog about!! Not sure if this is good or bad, but nevertheless, I am trying to stay away from that labeling system and if I find that I have to stick to it, I am now consciously trying to label everything as good even though I may not be able to clearly see it that way.

On this note, as I try to remind myself to think positively, to find the good twist in every happening, a certain little story comes to mind repeatedly. The first time I heard this story I was in awe. Then I retold it many times in conversations, but to be honest, I myself forget it too often for too long. I first heard it in this context: believing that everything God sends our way is good. It goes something like this:

It’s Probably for the Better

There was a king who had a very trusted minister. This minister was a very wise man and very close to the king, always accompanying him. The minister constantly said, “It’s probably for the better.” The king, who enjoyed hunting very much, took his minister along on all his hunting trips. On one of the hunting trips, the king had an accident that resulted in him losing one of his fingers. While the king was enraged, humiliated at being a king without a finger and in extreme pain, he heard his minister and closest friend say, “It’s probably for the better.” So, further infuriated, the king said, “What good can there be in me losing my finger? How can I be a king with a missing finger?” The king then ordered him to be imprisoned. As he is known to do, the minister, on being taken away by the king’s guards, said, “It’s probably for the better.” The king was now beyond infuriated. He ordered that the minister be left in prison till he was forgotten about. And so it was.

After the king’s hand healed, he went out on another hunting trip with his guards, this time, without his minister. As the king was quietly following his prey, he was captured by a group of pagans who decided to offer him as a sacrifice to their idol of worship. Then they noticed that he was missing a finger; he had only nine fingers. And their sacrifice must be whole and perfect; it cannot be flawed. After consulting one another, they decided he was no good to them as a sacrifice and let him go.

The king, thankful for having been spared a humiliating death, understood that losing his finger had been for the better: It saved his life. He then remembered his minister and ordered his release.

The king asked the minister, “I understand now that me losing my finger was for the better for me. But I have one question for you. When I ordered your imprisonment, you said, ‘It’s probably for the better.’ How can your imprisonment be for the better?”

The minister replied with a smile, “If you hadn’t imprisoned me, I would have gone with you on that fishing trip and as I have ten fingers, I would have been offered and killed as a sacrifice instead of you.”





Opening Up and Letting In

9 07 2011

This happened a few weeks back, but for some reason, it refuses to leave my memory and my mind. So I figured I might as well get it out.

Here goes.

In my latest “major depressive episode,” with my therapist being largely unavailable, I decided to “open up” to my best friend of 13 years. This person has been with me through thick and thin: engagement, break up, marriage, divorce and of course the never-ending series of job changes. She already knows I have been seeing therapists for the better part of my life. I resorted to her and asked her to help me through this. This time I decided I would hide nothing. I would let her in on my thoughts and fears. I would let her in on my dark dark thought processes. And so I did. I daringly let her in on my religious OCPD, how I ceaselessly obsess about right and wrong and how I am emotionally and socially less than 5 years old. Oh, and she was able to figure out that I don’t really have a definition for “friendship.” I will not go into her reaction to this. Suffice it to say she was shocked and tried very hard to hide it.

So one day a few weeks back, I decided to get out and not leave me prey to myself at home. In my car, it was me driving, this friend in the passenger’s seat and a third in the back seat. Because we were rather late, my good friend had given me directions to an alternate route to get to our destination. So I started on my way. And as the lady in the back seat tried to make conversation, my good friend very nervously went, “Wait, I can’t concentrate with you now. I need to concentrate on the road. I am too tense and scared. I am not sure of the directions I gave her (me) and I know how she thinks. I don’t want to make a mistake . . . Trust me. You don’t know what will happen.”

She was literally unable to engage in any conversation or get her attention off the road until we practically arrived. Throughout the trip, she kept saying, “I think you take a right here, but I am not sure. Left here, but not sure. S***. I think we should have gone the other way. . . .”

Our third friend kept trying to calm her down and she would say, “You don’t know what will happen if she takes the wrong road. Trust me.”

I had managed to make her so tense around me and actually afraid of my reaction. I had transferred a small part of my everyday tension on to her and it was more than she could deal with. Knowing how tense and how rigidly perfectionistic I am, she didn’t want to put herself in the precarious position of having made a mistake, and this is my best friend.

How did I feel having made her feel like this?

Sigh.

 





It’s Okay

8 07 2011

Me: I feel all wrong, weak, broken, shattered, depressed, afraid, tired, hopeless . . .

Therapist: Why can’t you give yourself a little leeway, a break? It’s okay for you to feel like this. What you’re going through is existential stuff. For someone else, it may be minor everyday stuff but for you, it’s existential. So, it’s okay.

—————-

Me: I feel vulnerable, sad, alone, lonely.

Friend: It’s okay that you feel like this. You’re away from home. You’re away from your safe place and your friends and your regular schedule. It’s okay.

—————-

Me to myself: What’s wrong with these people? Why do they keep telling me it’s okay? Do they not have a better answer? Do they not have a better, clearer, more logical, more structured, and above all, more satisfying explanation? I have come out of talking with them with nothing. How can I take this “It’s okay” to the bank? How is that supposed to make me feel better? I have to find someone else to talk to . . . .

And the cycle goes on.

Until.

I tried an exercise where I imagine myself being compassionate (as if, just for the sake of imagination) or I picture my imaginary compassionate friend (a much easier task). As I did this, I pictured my imaginary friend sitting next to me at times, hugging me at times, but at all times, it (?) was patting me on the back and saying, “It’s okay that you’re (insert negative emotion here). It’s understandable.” This person was understanding. Smiling. Warm. Kind. Non-judgmental. Supportive. Helpful. Understanding. Empathic. Did I mention understanding? This friend offered no explanations.

No solutions.

No suggestions.

No plans of action.

No decisions.

No “shoulds” or “musts.”

Just compassion.

Kindness.

And “it’s okay.”

Comforting. Okay. Not bad.

Then I was able to picture the compassionate me, with a hint of a kind, understanding smile. Again, “It’s okay.” But this time I heard it from me. And this time, I understood. I understood what it means. Most of my struggle comes from my reaction to how I feel. I beat myself up over being anything (angry, afraid, unsure, sad, grieving . . .). It’s as if I believe I should feel “right” at all times and never have down times. Where on earth did that come from? (I know where that came from, but maybe in another post.) So, the minute I feel depressed or anxious, I get anxious and angry about feeling depressed or anxious, and I cannot accept “It’s okay,” aspirins or painkillers. I need cures, amputations if need be. I need solutions to make it go away because I am not supposed to feel like that. But when I heard it from me, “It’s okay,” something clicked.

This is normal. There’s nothing about this that needs to be changed. The negative feelings are there, for everyone. What I need to work on is my reaction to them – acting on them or not. But I need not struggle to obliterate these feelings. And the realization that they will come to an end, that sometimes all I need to do is “sit with” them or bear them, just get past them. That it will, eventually, pass. Overwhelming relief. For the first time in my life, I received a touch of kindness from within, not from without. I could feel that ever so longed for patting hand on my back and I couldn’t believe I didn’t need to beg someone for it. Inner support. Kindness. Caring. Thinking of ways to help myself, instead of ways to beat me up and put me down.

Just to be realistic, I am not yet well-practiced in this, but the very faint, very distant little I have tasted is invaluable. Nutrition for the kindness-starved.

So that’s what my therapist and friend (and countless others) have been trying to tell me: “Try to be kind to yourself. Try to be understanding of your suffering instead of condemning it.

It’s okay.





The Discomfort of Kindness

3 07 2011

Yesterday I was reading a book about practicing mindfulness and compassion towards oneself. I was just about to drop the remaining 300 pages of it when I came across this exercise that asks me to remember (and re-experience) an incident when someone was kind to me. Remember their tone of voice, their facial expression, what they said, how I felt . . .

I already know that kindness is a trigger for me. I am aware that I am insatiably starved for kindness, so I thought this exercise would be helpful. However, I could not remember any such incident. This is not to say that no one has ever been kind to me, but I just could NOT remember. I remembered impressions, bits and pieces, incomplete fragments, but not one full experience. The interesting thing is that the impressions I did remember were not full interactions: a sentence over the phone, an email, but not a face-to-face interaction. And I didn’t feel much. I just wanted to get up, to stop the exercise. Of course, I pushed myself and dug further, but only found more discomfort. I don’t really know what to make of this: Am I blocking? Not only that, but I also found that I got EXTREMELY uncomfortable and before I knew it, my eyes were watery.

The second half of the exercise is where I am supposed to remember a time when I was kind towards someone. What did I say? How did I feel? What did I do? Again, I could not remember. Again, I was lost. I used to be a kind person, a well-wishing one, one who could put herself in others’ shoes very easily and feel for them, or at least want to alleviate their pain. After some point in time, which I cannot identify, I lost this ability. Sure, I’ll help, IF I can, but kindness is another story. This must be what “disconnect” is. “You are you, and I am me. You feel what you feel and I feel what I feel and each of us cannot possibly know how the other feels. So you stay in your world and I will stay in mine (be it problems or blessings). That’s just life: tough.”

I closed my doors of empathy and my kindness well suddenly dried out.

To feel kindness towards me — to practice that — when I am not well, when I haven’t done well, I know that that is key for me. But that is something I haven’t the faintest clue how to go about doing.

Eyes watery, memory blurred, emotions stirred, I closed my book and attended to more pressing matters.