Balance (1): Impressionability

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

It’s been a long time, I know. I actually wrote the majority of this next post over a year ago, but never posted it because it didn’t feel right. Looking back now, I realize that what it was missing was context.

As I have done with the thankfulness trilogy in the past, I will aim to do again God-willing with my next topic: balance. I want to try and thematicize my life via these posts to both create a public sense of accountability and to better organize my thoughts to facilitate lasting changes. I can’t say that I have perfected thankfulness, but I have at least become a little more cognizant of it. And after all, can we ever really be thankful enough? Anyway, it’s time to add balance to the pie-chart of my life’s themes, please feel free to join me if you feel so inclined.

When initially thinking of the topic, it wasn’t just the last season of Avatar: The Legend of Korra, from which I drew my inspiration. I felt and continue to feel like I am out of balance. Specifically, I struggle with desiring/working towards what I want vs. what others want me to want. I touched on this topic previously in my first thankfulness post, but I didn’t know what to call it then. I now know that what I really struggle with is how impressionable I am, especially in the face of things I wouldn’t otherwise have wanted.

When I think of the word impressionable, my first thought is of kids. It’s a word I almost exclusively associated with children, but now as I think more about it I realize how impressionable I am and continue to be. For kids, it’s more obvious to see that when they hear something they repeat it outright, but I don’t think we ever lose that as adults. We just learn to process the impression and then repeat. It’s apparent to me in movies, especially watching in the dark huddled next to a laptop with headphones on. The movie changes your thinking, puts you in a different realm, and if it’s really good leaves a lasting impression. As adults, though, what we take in and leave with is guided by our pasts, but in children without a wealth of experiences they more directly imitate what they see.

For example, last year I watched Frozen (phenomenal movie) with my 9 and 10 year old cousins. While all of us watched the same thing, the impression it left seemed different to each of us. All of us were left singing “Let It Go” and “Do you Want to Build a Snowman,” but for me the movie brought about a whole host of different emotions because it was like sharing that same Disney experience (i.e. the first time you watched Lion King) with a new generation. It’s like its effects were compounded on all the movies of old, but for my cousins it was the beginning of a snowball that has yet to gain steam.

Also, completely unrelated, but I have to take this opportunity to showcase our ambitious attempt to recreate Olaf in my back yard:

snowmen

I agree – it does look exactly like him. Okay, back to the real stuff now…

So what really scares me, then, is not knowing how much I have unconsciously processed since I was their age. To what do I really owe my thoughts now? My family sure, my religion of course, but I’m also a child of 90s sitcoms. How much of who I am now was built off of the Cosby Show or Friends? Or the movies I’ve watched or music I’ve listened to? I understand that this is human nature and not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m still trying to grasp at the magnitude of this realization. I feel like I’m on a tightrope trying desperately to stick to my own path, not realizing that these things are the ones pulling me astray. Sometimes (including very recently) it gets so bad that I can’t seem to find the road anymore, but that’s exactly why I have this – reflection.

Some people use deep breathing and pretzel-leg poses to bring them balance, but I’m not that skilled. My meditation is a blank page and a brain that should’ve went to bed hours ago. I swear I didn’t start this post trying to arrive at this point, but somehow I’m always lead back to the same notion of stepping back and reflecting. For me, it just took a year and a half of not posting to see that my lack of balance was amplified by a lack of viewing my life through my own lens. Maybe I’ll never stop being impressionable, but at least now I know I can have moments like this post to straighten me out.

Happy [balanced] Reflecting,

Naj

Being Epic

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

I’ve been on kind of a movie bender for the last week. I’ve watched 7 movies the past 8 nights, and I just now notched the new Hunger Games movie on. I’m not sure what it is about Jennifer Lawrence movies, but I guess they put me in a reflective mood (see Silver Linings Playbook reflected upon below…) It’s not just the Hunger Games, though, but I suppose the lot of movies I’ve watched throughout my life. The movie watching experience forces you to center your attention on the progression of the protagonist, and it’s amazing that by the end you can’t really imagine how the protagonist started out. So much happens in that span of a couple hours that after it’s over you can never see the star the same. Even if you watch the movie again, you always see the protagonist differently based on the ending.

I can’t remember who said it, but I once heard someone say that they try to imagine themselves as the star at the beginning of a movie. While life might seem mundane now, you never know what will happen or what effect you will have on the world. Think about how many movies start with just a normal person who goes on to do extraordinary things. The Matrix, for example, starts out with Keanu Reeves just being Keanu Reeves and it’s only at the end that his character, Neo, becomes “the one.” The key is how we respond to life (minus maybe the fact that Neo gets offered a choice of pills from Laurence Fishburne…) Nonetheless, how we respond to those series of events gets us to the point at the end of our own movie where we look back and can’t imagine the way we were at the start. And maybe our movies cover the span of our whole lives, maybe they only cover months, weeks, days, 127 Hours. No matter whether we live one movie or multiple, it all has the same message. Every second that passes leads us somewhere, and though we don’t know where we’ll end up, we do control how we get there.

Have you ever imagined the actions you undertake being measured on life’s biggest scales? Sometimes I like to picture that when I do a simple deed of kindness, like throw away a piece of trash on the ground, I’ve become a soldier in the battle of good vs. evil. I let my imagination run wild for a second thinking of myself fighting off evil, littering demons- okay maybe I don’t go that far, but still I hope you get the point. Life becomes a lot more epic when you imagine the universal impact of the things you do. Sure, someone might have come along and thrown away that trash, but the trash being there isn’t as important as the response to what life presented. And before I take this analogy too far, that epic action could be anything – giving food to a homeless person, helping someone with their bags, stopping an act of violence, anything! How we respond dictates who we are and where we go, but in order for us all to live like a protagonist we have to recognize the importance of ALL of our actions. The sad thing, too, is that when you act like nothing you do matters, you stop caring at all.

How easy is it to feel like that dollar you gave to someone who needed it didn’t make a difference in their life? How easy is it to feel like the job you spend hours at means nothing? Or the subject you’re studying, or the project you’re working on. It happens every day. We feel like what we are doing doesn’t matter. But I’m here to say it does, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but how often does a movie end after a day? These actions, however small, shape who we are and how we respond in the future. And if you don’t believe me, just think about it. Do you think Malcolm X thought he would move the civil rights movement forward when he was out selling drugs? Every figure in history started with no one knowing their names. We all have the potential to change the world around us, but it starts with recognizing what we do and who we are as important.

And I’d like to end on something I heard from a beloved Imam in America, Zaid Shakir. He said (not an exact quote):

Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t change the world. That is something only YOU can surrender, but that no one can take from you.

Happy [epic] Reflecting,

Naj

Thankfulness (1): Free of Want

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

Humans are creatures of habit. As you may have noticed my blog posts usually start with some reason as to why I haven’t had a chance to write something recently. Usually it’s med school related, and this time isn’t much different… except that Halo 4 is also a culprit. What’s worse, though, is that I started off being apologetic for not blogging in a week, then a couple weeks, and now a couple months. I suppose that’s just how life goes, but sadly the lack of posts is indicative of a general lack of reflecting time. Now that holiday season is in full effect and school is off, it’s time to change all that!

This post comes as the first in a 3 part series on thankfulness. It’s something I’m sure we’ve all been thinking about since Thanksgiving, leading into Christmas, and most importantly after we survived the “apocalypse.” It’s crucial we always count and recount our blessings, but sometimes we get so caught up in what we don’t have that it’s hard to appreciate what we do have. It’s especially hard when the things we don’t have or can’t have are sensationalized when presented to us. I only became conscious of my desire for more because of recently seeing this:

shanghai

I’d be really impressed if you were able to tell that this is the Shanghai skyline, but even more impressed if you knew where I saw it. Give up? It was in Skyfall, in a scene that most people probably don’t remember, but one that really defined James Bond in my head. It’s when he gets to Shanghai and is doing laps in a rooftop pool of a skyscraper that basically overlooks this view. In addition to appealing to my love of rooftop pools and bright lights, the scene encompasses so much of why I would love to live a life like 007 – beautiful women, international travel, endless spending. Nevermind that he’s constantly unhappy and always in danger, my mind focuses on what he has that I want. After seeing that scene, my heart was consumed with being able to swim in that pool, having enough money to not worry about 5 star trips, and all the glamorous territory that comes with being an international superstar. It took a couple of days of daydreaming, but eventually after the Skyfall spell wore off I began to ask myself, how much is too much?

I’m all for people struggling to move up in the world and live a better, more comfortable life, but sometimes our desires for luxuries becomes too enslaving. It stretches from always wanting the latest gadget when the one you have works just fine to wasting food to toiling away just to get a bigger or badder car or house or whatever. We often hear how we shouldn’t complain, how there are starving kids in Africa, but that’s usually just a transient feeling of guilt. I think it should be a mentality. It shouldn’t just take a late night commercial showing children so thin you can nearly see through them to render our compassion. There were homeless people on my walk back from watching Skyfall, but I was more concerned with chasing dollars than sparing one for someone truly in need.

Admittedly, it’s hard to always be conscious of what others don’t have and to always be satisfied with what you do have, but at least personally, something has got to change. I think the commercialism in our society is partially to blame, but it’s also in our natures. The best of creation, Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him) said, “If the son of Adam were given a valley full of gold, he would love to have a second one; and if he were given the second one, he would love to have a third, for nothing fills the belly of Adam’s son except dust. And Allah forgives he who repents to Him.”

One of my life dreams is to God-willing have a beach house in the South of Spain (and with their crisis now would be a perfect time to buy!) and while I’m not quite ready to give that one up, I think I am ready to start making small changes to free myself of want. It starts with realizing, like in the quote above, that these worldly possessions will never fulfill you. I know that’s easy to say and hard to live by, but I’ll repeat it so that maybe it’ll stick – worldly possessions will never fulfill you. It’s why the rich can feel hollow and the poor (like those kids in Africa) can be content.

The change always has to start within first and with baby steps, so if you, like me, want to free yourself of want, then I urge you to stop and think about what you want and why you want it. Then think about if it will truly satisfy you. Whether it be a rooftop pool in Shanghai or a new Christmas gift, it never hurts to take a second and reflect.

Happy [free of want] Reflecting,

Naj

Never Alone

Bismillah (in the name of Allah…)

In the last post I said I’d fix up the post in which I struggled to be genuine, but my heart is still not in it so I’m going to keep it a draft until I am inspired to finish it. Instead, I will write about something which has kick-started my 2 AM train of thought:

Could it be? That’s right, folks, this yellow man has not yet gone down to the city of Atlantis and I’ve decided to honor his memory here. I expect many of you are reminiscing about the good ol’ days of AIM (some 5-10 years ago,) but I need you to snap out of it because I’m not here just to talk about AIM or G-chat, but rather what they stand for. Quick fun fact though – earlier this year AOL flirted with shutting AIM down, but instead decided on just firing some people.

Anyway, how did this come up? The other night I was alone at my apartment in DC, which is currently without internet and with very shoddy 4G coverage. I was wide awake, just hitting my 2 AM second wind when I started feeling like Macauley Culkin in Home Alone when he wakes up really sad the second day because his family still isn’t home. As I struggled to get my now 3G operating phone onto google talk to make sure other insomniacs were still stirring, I thought about how with the internet/a smartphone/Facebook updates, you’re never really alone.

Yeah, globalization is making everything and everyone more connected, but it isn’t until now that I’ve thought about how I unconsciously use social networking to stave off loneliness. Even if I’m not talking to anyone, just having the green symbol that lets me know other people are awake is comforting enough. I’ve never been on Facebook when no one else has been on (the fewest I’ve seen is maybe 4,) but I think being the only person online would be rock bottom. I guess Myspace users know what that’s like (zing!) It really makes me wonder what people used to do back in the old days. Alhamdulillah (all thanks and praise are due to God) I have always lived with people and I don’t know what it’s like solo for an extended period, but I imagine I’d be even more tightly glued to any form of social media.

Looking back now, I have always had some form of chat window that served as my connection to other sentient life still stirring after the sun went down. In middle/high school it was AIM (much like a first relationship – I learned the game from it and though I’ve moved on, it will still always have a special place in my heart) and before that I slept early and didn’t prefer digital conversations to hanging with my family. For the spiritual crowd, we can also say that we are never really alone as some of the names/attributes of God in Islam are: Al-Wasi’ (The Vast, Omnipresent,) As-Sami’ (The All-Hearing,) Al-Baseer (The All-Seeing,) you get the point… But even still, sometimes you need the human element and now I know that thanks to Al Gore (sike, there’s no way he “invented” the internet) a bunch of pixels and a keyboard suffices.

Happy [digital] Reflecting,

Naj

Digital Diary

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

I’ve often wanted to start a diary, but somewhere between addressing letters to my dear diary and scribbling meaningful moments to myself, I gleaned that it just wasn’t for me. I wanted more than that. So I decided to start this blog, a kind of digital diary, where I reflect out loud and hopefully it stirs some reflection in you. And worst case scenario, if no one reads it at least I have a nice, organized set of thoughts, rather than them just floating in my brain without them ever meeting a paper.

There is a longer explanation of this blog in the about section, so here I will start giving some food for thought. As you probably already know, I am Muslim and if you didn’t know then I’m sure how I started this post was a clue. Religion plays a big role in my life, but I’m not here to preach (maybe some other time…;)) I will, however, frequently draw from what I’ve learned from Islam and I sincerely believe that it can benefit everyone, Muslim or not. If not from the teaching itself, then maybe just from a different perspective.

Anywho, if you scroll down to the bottom of the page on the right you will see this verse from the Qu’ran also, but what better place to introduce it than my very own, first ever blog post:

“Say: Are the blind and the seeing one alike? Do you not then reflect? [6:50]”

The metaphor talks about the difference between the blind and the seeing, but then immediately asks if we reflect. We, the seeing, have not only been given vision Alhamdullilah (all thanks and praise are due to Allah), but we have been given our intellects. That intellectual capacity separates us from the blind, but what use is it if we don’t reflect on the things around us?

Rather than drone on anymore (I’m doing this for you guys, I love the sound of my own voice… er writing) I’ll throw in a quote from a classic. A wise man named Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Happy reflecting,

Naj