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Depression as descent: part I

1 Mar

Our world can seem so cold at times. We feel that life is one big chore, and that there is no one to relief us from our burden. We cry during the dark hours of the night, desperately wishing there was someone to comfort us, but everyone is asleep and minding their own business. And this isn’t only the case during the night. No matter how many close friends or relatives we have, we are often left to our own devices, since they have their own life and problems too.
Although affection and love from others is an integral part of recovering from feeling down or depressed, we can’t expect others to do the healing process for us. Sometimes there is no one else there either, unfortunately.
Depression is a call from your soul, to look within instead of around you. You are the one who must travel the road down into the underworld of your being, and unfortunately you can’t bring any earthly companions.

The descent

Depression is without a doubt a call downwards. We might feel it gentle tugs when we are still cheery and going strong, but if we don’t pay attention to our inner life, what we are really thinking and going through, the tugs will cease to be gentle, and we will find ourselves on our knees before we know it.

Camille Maurine writes in her book “Meditation secrets for women”:

There are times in a woman’s life when the call downward is a transformative journey, a summon to the depths of the soul.
People tend to think of spirituality as rising upwards into the sky. In the traditional (male) teachings, enlightenment is often described as a flight from the lower centers of the body, the instinctive and sexual places, to the upper centers in the head and then out. By contrast, a woman’s spiritual quest at some points leads to a soulful sinking down into herself. Everyone fears this descent, this sinking down. Yet sinking down connects us with the earth, with our personal ground, with our foundation. There is a secret in “endarkenment”.
The realm of the soul is not light and airy, but more like mud: messy, wet and fertile. Soul processes go on down there with the moss and worms, down there with the decaying leaves, down there where death turns into life. Deepening into soul requires the courage to go underground, to stretch our roots into the dark, to writhe and curl and meander through rich, moist soil. In this darkness we find wisdom, not through the glaring beam of will, but by following a wild, blind yet unfailing instinct that senses the essence in things, that finds nourishment to suck back into growth.(1)

It’s not about getting out of this mess as soon as possible. It’s about having the courage to truly stand what you see down there, and to transform it into something new. We mustn’t use religion and spirituality as a mean to completely ignore ourselves and only concentrate on the heavens above, hoping to be saved. Instead, I think it’s wiser if we use it as a close companion to which we can constantly turn when we are going through this painful descent. There is no need to pretend to be fine when you are praying or meditating. There is no need to be anyone else but yourself.

Hidden treasures

It’s important that when our soul calls for us, we listen, and that we don’t desperately try to cling to our life as we know it. The period in our lives in which we feel our inner pain so acutely, is a very special one. Daily life loses its meaning, and reaching out to others is not enough to cheer us up. We feel that only spending time with ourselves, being gentle and caring towards ourselves, and retreating from the outer world, will help us heal.
Of course we are afraid, because we fear the unknown. We don’t know yet what we will see when we dive, and it might be more severe than we first thought. We don’t know how it will affect our lives, and we also fear change.
But we have no choice, we are already in the water, and there is no turning back. Let’s be strong, and find the hidden treasures of this difficult period, in which we feel so cut off from others and the world around us.

Camille Maurine continues: The down-ward moving emotions, such as regret, grief, and loneliness, lead you into your depths. Everyone experiences these at times during meditation, and they are not to be resisted. If you have undergone the loss of a loved one, a way of life, a self-image, or a dream, there may be grief in your heart. Enter the grief and let it release its healing gift.
When we are in solitude or in sorrow, we are sitting by the sacred well of life. Although we may be crying, we will emerge renewed.  Though we fear we could cry forever, the more we yield to this process, the more quickly it can resolve itself. Many meditators say there are times when they die and are reborn in a heartbeat because they have learned to surrender.
In opening to our own suffering, we share in the poignancy of the human condition. We become aware of others who suffer, tuning in to the morphogenetic field of humanity. Linking to the rest of humanity through our shared suffering can be a conscious prayer and transformation. In meditation we can open our hearts to breathe in the suffering of the world and to breathe out with compassion and healing for the self and others.
Grief and love are intertwined. If you love, you risk inevitable loss-and choose to love regardless. We lose each other one way or another, through separation or death. To bear this grief is to live with an open heart. (2)

(1) C.MAURINE, Meditation secrets for women, HarperOne, p.210
(2)C.MAURINE, Meditation secrets for women, HarperOne,p.212


Solitude & Silence: forgotten values?

27 Feb

Modern life seems so focused on work and social activities that we often forget the value of taking time for ourselves. It’s considered weird or even sad if you go out on your own, or rather stay home with a book than go to that fabulous party everyone is talking about. The paradox here, however, is that we are more lonely than ever. Superficial contacts are becoming the norm, and there is hardly time for in-depth conversations. Life is so hasty that we even become strangers to ourselves. We rush through the day, working, cooking, cleaning, doing the groceries, taking care of others, … and then when all the tiresome chores are over, we collapse in front of the TV.
We might have gained material comfort, but we are losing our inner lives, and that is a big loss indeed!

The importance of balancing

Humans are social creatures, and there is nothing wrong with that. Most of us feel great when we have our friends around us, with who we can share our life’s tribulations, but also our joy and happiness.
It’s important that we see ourselves as a friend too though, and we need to nourish that friendship. We need to find a balance between spending time with others, and spending time with ourselves. If we don’t nourish our inner lives, we won’t be able to nourish the life of others.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes in her book “Women who run with the Wolves” very beautifully about this issue:
A wise woman keeps her psychic environ uncluttered. She accomplishes such by keeping a clear head, keeping a clear place for her work, working at completing her ideas and projects.
For many women, this task requires that they clear a time each day for contemplation, for a space to live in that is clearly their own with paper, pens, paints, tools, conversations, time, freedoms that are for this work only. For many, psychoanalysis, contemplation, mediation, the taking of solitude, and other experiences of descent and transformation provide this special time and place for the work. Each woman has her own preferences, her own way.(…)
To sweep the premises means not only to begin to value the nonsuperficial life but to care for its orderliness. Sometimes women become confused about soulful work, and neglect its architecture till it is taken back by the forest. Gradually the structures of the psyche are overgrown until they finally are but a hidden archeologic ruin in the psyche’s unconscious. A cyclical and critical sweeping will prevent this from occurring. When women have cleared space, the wild nature will better thrive.(1)
An excuse I often use myself too is that I don’t have time for all this. This is simply not true. A better and more honest way to put it would be that we are not in the mood to make time for it, because it’s not very high on our list of priorities. However, the importance of meditation, prayer, journaling, giving attention to our inner life, can hardly be overlooked. If we don’t make time for it, our inner life will be overgrown like a garden that isn’t kept, and we will forget about who we really are. Our inner life is just as important as the steps we take in the outer world, maybe even more important. Our actions start from how we feel inside, and we can only take the right kind of actions if we are in touch with what we really need in life.

The benefits of silence

Silence and solitude go together. When we are alone, we don’t speak. Our mind is rather directed towards deeper issues we need to deal with.
Nowadays we talk a lot, without really saying something. People who are talkative are by far preferred over people who are silent. Of course talking is a great way to strengthen the bonds with others, but it can also be used as a dangerous weapon, to hurt people and to gossip behind their backs.

“If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything” seems a very positive rule to me, although a lot of people have forgotten the value of not talking bad about others. All too often, they see it as a mean of conversation, to have something to talk about, and don’t realise the damage they are doing. If you make friends by talking bad about others, what kind of friends are they in the first place?
My advice is: always speak about someone as if he/she were there too.

Silence was considered a virtue by all the great men and women from the past. Gandhi said: In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.
In Islam, silence is considered even more than gold. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) said: Salat (prayer) is the main pillar of Islam, however remaining silent is better.
Sadaqa (charity) will extinguish the anger of Allah, however remaining silent is better.
Sawm (fasting) is a shield against the fire of hell, however remaining silent is better.
Jihad (fighting against temptation&defending Islam) occupies a high position in the deen of Allah, however remaining silent is better.
Excessive talking can be harmful towards someone’s soul, especially if one uses his tongue to lie, hurt others, and gossip. Only constructive talk is allowed in Islam, where one advises the other to do good, where one talks kindly to the other, where one remembers God with his tongue.

To end, I want to stress that silence can also be harmful, when it’s used in the face of injustice. We must not remain silent when we see something bad happening, but speak up for ourselves and others. Everything can be used in a good and bad way, so let’s make sure we use silence only in a positive way!

(1) C.P.ESTES, Women Who Run With The Wolves, 2008, Rider, p.92-93

If You Wish For Light…

22 Feb

If you wish for light, be ready to receive light.
Nourish your ego and be deprived of light.
If you wish to find a way out of this prison,
do not turn away;
bow down in worship and draw near.

– Rumi

If you want light, be ready for it. That’s what the great poet Rumi is trying to tell us. If we only think about ourselves, our life, our career, our needs and greed, we will not receive light, because as the Buddhists say, our cup is full!
We can’t see anything beside ourselves, and our thoughts are firmly grounded in daily life. We are all guilty of it, myself included. Life can be so hectic, and sometimes difficult, that I don’t have much energy left to think about “higher” things. I mean, hello, I have a paper to finish!

Still, Rumi warns us, do not turn away, bent down in worship and draw near.
How easy it is to forget our blessings, and to focus on what’s going wrong in our lives! If I only had more money, I would be able to buy this and this, and then I would be happy! If I only had a partner who’s here to take care of me, and to love me, my life would be great! If I only had more friends, I would feel so much better about myself! And the list goes on…

The truth is that peace, fulfillment and happiness, are not somewhere out there in the world, waiting to be triumphantly snatched by us. They are attitudes, a way of living. They come from within. If we are focused on always wanting more, we will never be satisfied, no matter what. If we are grateful with what we have, we will always find things to be happy about.  I’m sure you heard this many times before, but we forget so easily… Our culture is based on buying happiness, just look at all the ads on TV or in the magazines.
Me too, I’d buy a new cellphone, computer or eyeliner, thinking it would add something fundamental to my life. But the more we “nourish our ego”, the further we are from our goal, i.e. to find peace and fulfillment.

That’s were (for me) religion kicks in. No matter how busy I am during the day, I’m a Muslim, and it’s expected of me to bend in worship 5 times a day. This obligation is a mercy from God, to be sure. It helps to keep my focus on the important things in life, on what really matters. It helps me to grow a feeling of gratitude, as I thank God for my blessings. Gratitude leads to a feeling of contentment, and therefore peace. If we just take a moment to think about all the things we have in life: our family, our friends, a roof above our heads, education, food when we are hungry,… we realise we are very blessed indeed! If we forget to show gratitude, we can get caught up in a spiral of moodiness, feeling inadequate, and even depression, because the days can seem so dark! But all it takes is a shift in perception. There is always something to feel grateful about, even if we feel we are lacking so much. When we bow down in prayer, our perception changes, and we are finally ready to receive the light. And then, there is nothing that can’t be done.

Writing Blues!

12 Feb

I’m currently (trying) to write a short story for a writing competition. It’s been a while since I last wrote a story, and I feel like inspiration is lacking. This leaves me wondering: where does creativity and inspiration come from? Why do some writers have the story clear in their head, right from the start, while others have to scratch their heads and invent as they go along? I seem to definitely belong to the second type, and it frustrates me. Of course, no good work is easy, and I need to write more. I know that. But it’s just so sad that in my childhood I could come up with a whole storyline in five minutes, and really enjoy writing, while now it’s bringing me more stress and worries than anything else!
I think I just need to relax, and practice. As the saying goes: “Rome wasn’t build in one day”!  But am not bloody trying to build Rome, I just want to come up with a good short story!

I heard that Hilary Duff published a book called “Elixir”, together with a co-writer who’s not even mentioned on the cover, Elise Allen. Now me thinks that Elise Allen did most of the work, and Hilary is just running off with all the credits and praise. I mean, if Hilary has been “playing around with the idea for a while”, what does she need a co-writer for?
Also, she was a guest on a Flemish TV-show called “De Laatste Show”, and the TV host told her happily : “In the book you mentioned exactly one Belgian, do you know which one?”
Hilary, a bit confused “Did I mention that?”
The host :”yeah, you mentioned him. On page 124.”
Hilary: ” euhm”
Host: “It’s a painter.”
Hilary: “He’s a painter?”
Host: Peter Paul Rubens!” (Famous painter, hello!)
I rest my case.
For the ones interested, here is the interview I’m on about:

I browsed through some pages of the book over the internet, and I didn’t like it. It seemed like a very shallow story, along the lines of Twilight, and just full of clichés. I’m romantic, but writing about immortal soul mates is just a bit (a lot) over the top for me. Yikes, It rather gives me stomach ache!
Anyway, some readers seem to like it, so who am I to judge?
I just have a feeling that the quality of published literature is really going dooooown.
Ok, second try at an objective ending: Here is the summary, hope you enjoy!

Clea Raymond has felt the glare of the spotlight her entire life. The daughter of a renowned surgeon and a prominent Washington DC politician, she has grown to be a talented photojournalist who takes refuge in a career that allows her to travel to the most exotic parts of the world. But after Clea’s father disappears while on a humanitarian mission, Clea’s photos begin to feature eerie, shadowy images of a strange and beautiful man—a man she has never seen before.
When fate brings Clea and this man together, she is stunned by the immediate and powerful connection she feels with him. As they grow closer, they are drawn deep into the mystery behind her father’s disappearance, and they discover the centuries old truth behind their intense bond. Torn by a dangerous love triangle and haunted by a powerful secret that holds their fates, together they race against time to unravel their pasts in order to save their lives—and their futures.

Why I am a vegetarian

13 Jan

“I am a very strict vegetarian…I just really really love animals, and I act on my values. I am really against cruelty to animals.”

-Natalie Portman

“If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat.”

-Sir Paul McCartney

I’ve always felt a tremendous fondness for animals,whether it’s a cat, a cow or a horse. They are so innocent. They are not affected by human’s greed and evil. They don’t judge you based on how pretty you are (which happens a lot in human society), but based on the kindness and warmth you carry on the inside. A lot of times, they are a better judge of character than we are! I believe they have a lot of wisdom and things to teach us, if we would only look past our belief of being superior to them.

Some people still consider animals as soulless and without feelings. I cannot imagine a statement more wrong and ignorant than that.

There have been times in my life when I loved animals more than humans. Humans disappointed me with their cruelty and selfishness, and I found comfort in the sensitivity, gentleness and kindness animals were capable of.
I respect the earth and the creatures living on it. I even find it hard to kill a fly, and I try to avoid killing anything as much as possible.

I’m against the way a lot of animals are only treated as  meat. They are born in a small cage, force-fed, and then slaughtered without perhaps even ever having seen daylight.  How anyone can do this to a living being is beyond my imagination. Do people realise what they eat? Do people realise that the animal they are eating might have been treated in a cruel way?
You might say that animals in the wild are eaten too, by other animals. That’s true, of course, but at least they were born in the wild, and not in cages, and they had a chance to escape. A lion will only kill when he’s hungry, while mankind kills for profit. Not only for food, but also for clothes, bags, luxuries,… Just from the indifference people show towards animals and how they mistreat them, you can tell that there is something very wrong with the world.

When I was in Turkey last summer, we were on a guided trip, and apparently it’s a policy of the Turkish government that tourists on guided trips have to visit two Turkish companies. One of the companies we visited was a leather and fur company. The man who did the introduction was proudly telling us how the fur they produced was only from real animals like cats, foxes, rabbits etc.  Oh, how I hated that guy and wanted to reduce him to dust with my gaze. They even did a bloody fashion show after that! Really, tell me, am I the only one who is enraged by the fact that animals are killed (and sometimes skinned alive) for a stupid coat?

Some of my muslim friends told me that I can’t be a vegetarian and a Muslim at the same time, and even tried to hush me when I criticised the slaughter of animals.  I strongly disagree with them. Since when is eating meat obliged in Islam? It’s not. And although Islam allows humans to eat meat, the killing of animals should be done with the utmost consideration to their well-being.  Islam teaches us to be kind and merciful towards all creatures on earth. Islam does not tell us to mistreat and abuse animals, on the contrary! Don’t believe me? Let’s just look at the following hadiths and Quran verses:

“The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was asked by his companions if kindness to animals was rewarded in the life hereafter. He replied: “Yes, there is a meritorious reward for kindness to every living creature.” (Bukhari)

“There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings-but they are communities like you.” (The Quran, 6:38)

“The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) admonished: ‘Avoid the seven abominations (sins), and for one of the sins he recited the following verse of the Quran: “And kill not a living creature, which Allah has made sacrosant, except for a justifiable reason’.” (Al-Tirmidhi and Al-Nasai);(The Quran, 6:151 and 17:33)

The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘One who kills even a sparrow or anything smaller, without a justifiable reason, will be answerable to Allah.’ When asked what would be a justifiable reason, he replied: ‘to slaughter it for food-not to kill and discard it’.” (Ahmad an al-Nasai)

The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) told of a prostitute who, on a hot summer day, saw a thirsty dog hovering around a well, lolling his tongue. She lowered her socks down the well and watered the dog. Allah forgave all her sins (for this one act of kindness).” (Muslim)

The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) narrated a vision in which he saw a woman being chastised after death because she had confined a cat during her life on earth without feeding and watering it, or even letting it free so it could feet itself.” (Muslim)

The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) forbade the beating, or the branding of animals. Once he saw a donkey branded on its face and said: ‘may Allah condemn the one who branded it’.” (Muslim)

The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “it is a great sin for man to imprison those animals which are in his power’.”(Muslim)

Ibn ‘Umar reported the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) as having condemned those who mutilate any part of an animal’s body while it is alive. (Ahmad and other authorities)

On religious sacrifice of animals: “Their flesh will never reach Allah, nor their blood-but your devotion and piety will reach Him.” (The Quran, 22:37)

And here are two sites that deal with being vegetarian ànd Muslim:

And here is the link to the Peta vegetarian recipe database! 🙂

Being a Muslim in the West

7 Jan

I was born into a Christian family, although only by name, since my parents aren’t really religious. After years of reading and research, I converted to Islam last summer (alhamdulillah). I’ve been familiar with the Islamic lifestyle for a while longer though, because I purposely started to spend time with other muslim girls. And in the end, I was so familiar with it that it seemed to become my own lifestyle. I still didn’t convert at that moment though, because I was thinking about my parents, family,…just everyone except myself really. I believed in God, and I felt at home with the Islamic lifestyle, but I was afraid of the consequences of my decision. I was waiting until I suddenly had the courage to tell my parents I wanted to do this. Courage that never came, and that still hasn’t come.
In the end, I came to the realisation that it was my life, and that I should live it for me (not very original, I know).

I converted in August, and something strange happened for a short while. All the things I hadn’t been doing voluntarily for a while, because of my interest in Islam, suddenly became compulsory for me not to do (not drinking, not wearing T-shirts, but long clothes, not going to parties, etc.). I don’t know about humans and their inclination to fight against any obligations, but I was starting to feel afraid I made the wrong decision, because of all this obligations that “suddenly” fell on me (while I had been living by this obligations for a year or more). Luckily, it was just a feeling, and it passed, when I started to look again at all the beauty that Islam is. I realised it was not an easy choice, but it was MY choice, and I felt proud of myself.

But I live in an European country, and the majority here has a very different lifestyle. I’m not complaining. It’s not because I’m muslim, that I think everyone should suddenly follow me. I also think the West has achieved a lot of great things, like freedom of speech, critical thinking, and democracy. But it does mean that it was my job to set boundaries for myself, in my dealing with others. I’m a student, and I’m staying in a student-house, where I’m the only muslim. There were going to be a lot of times I would have to say “no, thanks” to other people. Luckily I have friends who respect the way I want to live my life, and not press me to drink alcohol for example.
I developed this kind of compass inside of me, that pointed me in the right direction. It’s my guide in knowing what’s acceptable to me as a muslim, and what isn’t. And at times, when I ignore this compass, I feel it very strongly, because I end up feeling bad, and not wanting to repeat the experience again. It’s still challenging, and sometimes I find myself longing to live in an Islamic country, to not always feel like the odd one out. Maybe I will someday, God only knows.

More and more people start to know about my conversion, but I still haven’t found the courage to tell my parents yet. I’m scared of how they would react. They haven’t done the same research that I have about Islam. They only came in touch with it through the media, and I think I can safely say that that’s not a good thing. I’m also not very good at explaining things, like expressing the knowledge that I have inside of me, and I fear their questions and my inadequate answers.
I also want to wear headscarf, but I know this is impossible, until I’ve told my parents. They might never accept, but at least they would know.
It’s still a long way to go, but I don’t regret my decision, because I think this lifestyle really suits my nature. Religion is also very important to me, and I consider myself a religious person. Not as in conservative and strict, but a person who needs God in her life.
I just hope that one day I can live my life fully, as I want to live it, and not feel afraid of other people’s judgement anymore.


The Color of Tea

1 Nov

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams”

– Ashley Smith

Yesterday I was at a family brunch, and bored. My cousins and brother were playing poker, and I hate that game. I was feeling pretty low when I decided to get myself a cup of Moroccan tea. And all of a sudden, I found myself mesmerized by the beauty of its color. It was really a strange feeling, like my attention was drawn from the world around me, and focused on one small cup, with a swirling color. It was as if the color was feeding me, making me feel peaceful and relaxed. And then I realised, like so many, that life is all about the small things. We worry too much about school, work, family, politics, relations, etc without seeing the beauty around us, the beauty that nature and God provide us, if we would only look and truly see. Then we would notice that there is nothing more pleasing than the way the sunlight reflects in a raindrop, or the smell of flowers combined with a light spring breeze filling the room, or the color of Moroccan Mint tea against a white cup.

Just a thought I wanted to share 😉