Thankfulness (3): Gratefulness to Positivity

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

I was scanning through my two previous thankfulness posts to see if I’ve gotten any better at freeing myself of want or showing gratitude to my parents, and it seems I’ve still got a long way to go. Since it’s the blessed month of Ramadan, I have been doing a lot of self-reflection and I am a little upset at just how much I’ve allowed myself to be engrossed in corporate culture. I’ve always held the belief that people are a lot like sheep, (especially since the prophets before us were all shepherds in their own right) but it’s a very humbling (and humiliating…) experience to recognize how much of a sheep you really are. The realization came for me when talking with a friend who was describing a terrible Adam Sandler movie where he played a guy and his twin sister, and then I so aptly pointed out that it was called “Jack and Jill.” Just the fact that I knew the name of that movie (thankfully I’ve never seen it) made my heart hurt a little. To think that the knowledge of that movie might stay with me the rest of my life is a bit sickening, but only a small example of the kind of trivial ordeal we are faced with every day, be it from movie companies, team iphone, team android, or a whole slew of liquor companies. So again, I need to reiterate to myself what it means to be free of want, and renew my intentions to try and achieve that goal, insha’Allah. And as for showing gratitude to my parents, that’s always something I can work on.

Okay, now I’m going to stop and take a deep breath (join me if you want) – innnnnnnnnnn and outttttttttttt. Sorry, but I needed a bit of that internet venting time before I could wholeheartedly delve into the third installment of Thankfulness [APPLAUSE NOW]. It’s been a long time coming, but my blogging process has now become sort of a cross between having a good idea and waiting for a divine moment that crystallizes that idea. For this particular post, it was a video I watched recently in combination with a video I watched months ago when I first came up with the thankfulness idea. But before I show you these videos, you have to decide if you want the good video first or the bad video. I’ll let you watch either one first like a choose your own blogging adventure. I highly suggest watching the videos – they are 20 min total, but will make for better reflection experience… and they are great videos.

Good video – It’s a TED talk and I know seeing 12 min is a turnoff, but I promise this one is especially worth it.

Bad video – Only 8 min, is a social experiment, and pop science… what’s not to love?

Hopefully you have just finished watching both videos, but if not I guess try to keep up? I’ll address the bad first so we can end on a good note :). The thing that blew my mind was that in the monopoly game, the natural tendency for us humans is to feel like WE deserve more success and respect when we are more materially successful, even though the position of power was dealt by a flip of the coin. It’s especially poignant in the game because richness vs. poorness is directly linked to chance, but in life sometimes what separates social classes is simply circumstance. Were you born rich or poor, in essence, is a question of chance because we have no control over it. Even for someone who works for their money, they undoubtedly were bestowed good circumstances because I’m sure there are plenty of people who work hard but still haven’t been blessed with opportunity. The more dangerous outcome to that sense of entitlement, however, is that if you feel like YOU are entitled to more because of your material success, it’s very easy to start to think that others don’t deserve as much if they aren’t as successful. But isn’t it amazing that the “poor” person was found to be significantly more generous? SubhanAllah, materialism can be a poison, especially if you are not grateful… and oh what a great transition into the good video!

So we have the bad news, which simply and hyperbolic-ally put is that corporations are evil, money is bad, and that rich people are kinda jerks. But to borrow from the TED talk, dwelling on these will only further the pattern of negativity we’ve trained onto our brains. The better move is to do away with the negativity and to be positive, and as it turns out it is a solution to both the problem of not having enough and the apparent problem of having too much. That simple solution is gratitude. It is the path to positivity and as Shawn Achor laid out, the path to much more including better results in all facets of life, including work. The act of acknowledging the blessings we have is monumental! It’s a protection from despair and greed, and the essence of every world religion as I understand it. There’s a reason it is such a lauded quality, just think about it. Who are the worst of people? For me it’s those that don’t say thank you. If I held the door open for you and you brush it off like I didn’t do anything, that’s kind of grounds for me to hate you (just kidding… but not really.) It’s in our nature to love people who show gratitude to us, so why have we forsaken it from our own lives?

In the Islamic tradition, the word kaafir, which is commonly translated to disbeliever or infidel, also carries a meaning for ungratefulness. It comes, however, from the root meaning to cover and was commonly used to describe how farmers would cover their seeds with soil. It follows, then, that the one who disbelieves is as the one who is ungrateful, in that they both cover their hearts from the blessings and truth of their Lord. I implore you, whether religious or not, to not be one of the people who covers themselves from seeing all the blessings they have. For me personally, I am trying to adhere to the advice in the TED talk and every night before I go to sleep I try to think of at least three things I am grateful for. I encourage everyone to try the same, and at the very least even if I never cease being a sheep, at least I’ll be happy to pasture.

Happy [positive] Reflecting,

Naj

P.S. Shoutout to #3thingz for the knowledge in the last paragraph, you will all come to know what that is one day, God-willing

Thankfulness (2): Parents

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

I just finished watching Silver Lining’s Playbook at the request of a friend, and like him to me, I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it (especially because it’ll make this blog post make more sense.) Thirty minutes into the movie when I realized it wasn’t the movie where Mark Wahlberg becomes an Eagles player (Invincible), I shifted my mental expectations and started noticing how special the movie was. Special not because of the love story, or the battle against mental illness, or even because I love Chris Tucker and haven’t seen him in a movie in while, but special through a different lens. It was because of how it painted the relationship between Bradley Cooper’s character and his parents, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver. The movie is filled with familial strife as they struggle to deal with both the father and son’s mental illness, but no matter what the parents are there for their son every step of the way. They might not know the perfect thing to say or the right thing to do, but they are there nonetheless. And isn’t that such an easy blessing to overlook? Just the social support given to us by the 2 people who brought us into this world.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about my mom and dad ever since I dreamt up this blog last summer, but I could never verbalize what they mean to me. I’ve often reflected about how so many different people can say things like, “I have the best mom in the world,” or can buy “World’s #1 Dad” mugs and really mean it. Surely not everyone can have the best mom or best dad, especially when my parents provide such stiff competition. But then I started thinking.. maybe everyone can say it sincerely and can be right – it’s a testament to just how important our parents are to us. Anyone who has experienced a mother’s love has the right to say she is the best in the world because it’s just that divine. Think of the purest image you can, and if I’ve successfully incepted you thus far then hopefully it’s something like this: mother-and-child-1902Maybe you pictured them in white, but hey it’s Picasso. I can’t begin to comprehend the love a mother has for her child (especially since I’m not a parent), and biologically I don’t think I’m even capable of expressing it. All I can say for sure is that I know it when I see it, and Alhamdullilah I see it whenever I go home.

The thing that amazes me most, though, is that there’s no perfect roadmap for parents. Most of them just make it up as they go along. And as scary of a thought as that is, it seems to work. As a kid it always seemed like my dad knew everything and that my mom knew what to do in any situation, but only as I got older did I realize that they don’t have all the answers. They make mistakes too. Most of what they know about parenting they learned from watching their parents, and just like them most of what I will do as a parent (God willing) will be because of them. Unfortunately, that’s why people who grow up in a broken home are more likely to have a broken home when they start a family. It’s crazy how in order to learn about Math, English, and History we take classes for almost 2 decades (only to forget most of what we learn), but in order to be good parents there are 0 mandatory classes. That’s just another reason to be thankful for our parents, though. No one can fully prepare them for the responsibility we children are, but we’re blessed when they give it their all anyway.

A little while back, I watched an amazing lecture by Imam Khalid Latif where he talked about showing gratitude, and specifically how he struggled to convey that gratitude to his mother (starting at 13:40, but I’d recommend watching the whole thing.) He acknowledged everything she did for him, but for some reason couldn’t tell her face to face how much she meant to him. So he wrote her a letter. After watching, I tried to thank my mom for all that she does for me, and I couldn’t do it either. So I too vowed to write a letter to both my parents thanking them for all that they do for me. Here’s an excerpt from the letter to my father:

I’m thankful for the genes you gave me, Waseem definitely means handsome and Biology has always been a breeze.

I’m thankful for our guy trips to Ocean City together.

I’m thankful for the countless times you’ve made me laugh or you’ve made others around laugh.

I’m thankful for the days when we watch football together and you always know what the penalty is.

I’m thankful for how you taught me what gup shup is.

I’m thankful that no matter when in my life, you’ve always been there for me…

I’ve finished the letter to my dad, but I don’t even know where to start for my mom. I plan on writing one for her still, but until that time I hoped to inspire anyone reading this to express their gratitude towards their parents. Whether it be a letter or simply saying thank you, just knowing their kids appreciate them is a joy for any parent. So go now, don’t delay! In the wise words of Kanye (don’t worry – it’s pre-Kardashian), “People never get the flowers while they can still smell ’em.”

Happy [grateful] 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