“Stop the world! I want to get off!”
Can you relate?
This can be a very overwhelming feeling. You see, our humanity has this flaw that you will not find in other creation. We want to do all things, all at once! Multi-tasking, they call it. Supposedly a super human trait; but is it really? If so, then why do we need multivitamins and supplements to help us stay awake and alert? Why do we not get our proper 6-8 hours of sleep required to keep our bodies healthy? Why are so many of us suffering from stress and depression?
We do not function optimally because we do not serve our purpose. What is our ultimate purpose in life? Serving Allah and His deen (religion).
“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” [Qur’an: Chapter 51, Verse 56]
Learning About Life from Salmon
Animals know their path and stick to it. Bears hunt and feed in summer, then hibernate in winter. The salmon, WOW! What an amazing creature! A salmon’s life purpose is to be born in the fresh water lakes where its parents die. Then a young salmon journeys to the vast ocean to feed on the nutrients available there until it becomes full grown. Only to make the journey back to the spawning grounds, in the fresh water lakes where they were born. This is no easy feat. The swim upstream is already a challenge in itself; but they cannot make this journey without falling prey to the many perils along the way: predators at every turn, shallow waters, late rains and many more. The salmon cannot move on in their journey if the rainfall does not fill the rivers and create flow. All the while, their bodies are adjusting to the change from salt water to fresh. Many are not strong enough and their bodies will not survive. The low levels in the rivers mean they will easily be spotted by bears and foxes on the hunt. Their numbers steadily decline. Suddenly the season changes, the rains come, the rivers fill up and the salmon’s journey continues. Eventually they will reach the spawning grounds in the great lakes; tired, energy depleted, but their purpose must be fulfilled. They must immediately lay their eggs. This, the waters of their birth, of their predecessors’ death, will deal them the same fate, but it is not in vain. Their protein and nutrient enriched bodies will serve as food for humans and animals alike. The dead salmon will wash to the edges of the water and decompose to provide food for plants and birds too.
And so it is with us:
“And He is the one who gave you life; then He causes you to die and then will [again] give you life. Indeed, mankind is ungrateful.” [Qur’an: Chapter 22, Verse 66]
The journey in between is our life. The ocean is our early life full of salt (knowledge and lessons). Hasan al-Basri said:
“The effect of learning at an early age is like engraving on a stone.”
Swimming upstream is our challenges in life. The danger and the perils of predators that attack are our bad habits like procrastination, worrying, cowardice, depression and the delusion of this life like the verse of the Qur’an says:
“Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your [full] compensation on the Day of Resurrection. So he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained [his desire]. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion.” [Qur’an: Chapter 3, Verse 185]
Our spiritual selves will suffer many deaths if we are not strong and don’t do the right things to keep our souls revived through dhikr, Qur’an and salah. The shallow rivers are our times of adversity and tests:
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient.” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 155]
To survive and find the strength to persevere, we must be patient and remember our Creator, our purpose. The rains are like the blessings and favours from Allah :
“For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease. Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.” [Qur’an: Chapter 94, Verse 5-6]
The lake is our mature life: fresh water being the cleanliness of our souls if we have lived true to our purpose. We leave behind our offspring, who, if taught the deen correctly, will have an easier journey and avoid the pitfalls along the way. Our good works like charity and spreading knowledge are the nutrients left to enrich those we leave behind.
But there is one very important lesson we learn from the salmon: the salmon’s wait in the shallow rivers is similar to the time we face severe adversities and tests, and the way to survive that is be patient (sabr) and remember our Lord and our purpose.
“O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 153]
To be productive, we can use the ‘downtime’, ‘resting’ or ‘solitude’ as a time to recuperate from the ‘active’ or ‘working’ time. This is not ‘holiday’ or ‘weekend’ or ‘fun’ time. This is different. Just as we divide our circle of life into work, study, play and rest, we further divide the ‘rest’ portion to include ‘solitude’. The purpose of solitude is to be alone. We are borne in the womb alone and we will go to our grave alone. Why then do we not set aside time in the midst of our lives, to be alone?
Benefits of a Solitude Routine
Solitude is a time to find joy for your soul: to re-energize the body and mind. To begin with, you must be alone. No disturbances. Retreat to your favorite place – a place where you normally find peace and quiet or a place that makes you happy. Lie down and just be. Listen to all the sounds you usually miss in a busy day. Do you hear the birds chirping? The wind in the trees? The sound of your heart beating? Feel the rhythm of your breathing. Now begin with Allah’s name and match it to your rhythm. You feel everything leave you. Your mind will be free of any thoughts; your body will be free of all tension. This is your solitude zone. You have eliminated the world.
It is in this time that you must do the things that will bring joy to your soul:
- your favourite dhikr will be more meaningful
- your favourite surah will impact you more deeply
- your journal writing will be most honest
- your power nap will be more energizing
- your reflection and contemplation will be more valuable (soul searching/listening to your heart)
- this is the perfect time to introspect and hold yourself accountable for all your words and deeds
- your goal setting will be clearer
Our soul/nafs (self) can be likened to a snake. If we do not control it and tame it, it can be a danger to us. When kept in check, coupled with salah, dhikr and good deeds, it is like the snake that is frozen beneath snow. However, should we not make the time to reign it in and keep it under control, it will be as though the snow has melted and the heat has agitated the snake. It will now become wild and unrestrained and this will lead to temptation and sin. We will let shaytan win his battle without a fight and we will be responsible for our own downfall.
Umar said: “ Criticize and appraise your selves before you are criticized and appraised on the Day of Judgement, and weigh out your deeds before they are weighed out for you.” [Ahmad]
How to Make Time for your Solitude Routine
If we perpetually perform this ritual of solitude and spark the joy in our souls by appraising ourselves and affording our souls the joy of experiencing worship without distraction, we will be successful in our lives, our spirituality and Hereafter.
- Try to incorporate your solitude routine in to your schedule much the same as you would your other regular meetings. This way you commit time for it that cannot be taken away.
- Decide how often you wish to have your solitude time. It is not prescribed for any particular interval, but just as you do a bi-annual dental check-up or annual medical or quarterly vacation, so too you should establish your frequency of this important time too.
- Ensure that your chosen time cannot be compromised. If so, make it flexible so that if it is hijacked in the morning, you can still do it in the evening. It is however better that there is no compromise. Look at it like an appointment that once cancelled, will be charged double rate.
- Plan ahead of time the activities that you will do in this time; this way you don’t waste time wondering what to do. Preparation is key. Also plan activities for everyone else so you have no disturbance; preferably away from you.
Hasan al-Basri said: “Son of Adam, you are nothing but days. Whenever a day passes away, a part of you passes away too.”