In sufism we are constantly trying to temper our nafs in order to hear Allah in our hearts. This play is much like training the physical body in yogasana. To maintain a yoga pose one must be both strong and relaxed. If there is too much one way or the other it overpowers and the pose is either rigid or floppy. Practicing yoga therefore becomes a discipline of strength and surrender. Take uttanasana (standing forward bend) for example. Bowing at the hips and folding over the legs requires the front of the body to endure with strong quadriceps and firm abdominal muscles to uphold the pose. Yet it also depends upon the back of the body– the hamstrings of the legs, the glutes, and the erector spinae of the back and all the smaller muscles along the spine and ribs to soften and relax to be able to deepen into the pose. When this fine balance of surrender and strength occur the pose welcomes well being to the body and mind. Some of the benefits of uttanasana include calming the nervous system, toning the kidneys and digestive system, it also encourages humility. Can this be achieved when we are fighting against the pose, forcing ourselves to get to what we think is a full stretch? Or being so passive that the torso hangs off of the legs like moss on a tree? We need that attention and awareness of the yin/yan of the pose to reap the benefits of it.
So how is dealing with our nafs any different? Our nafs are the part of us that want to push ourselves beyond our limits. Our nafs are the part of us that feel lazy and want to just do nothing. Our nafs are the opposite of Allah. But without them we wouldn’t have choices. Allah says in Quran i Kerim “There is no compulsion in religion”. Allah is saying we are not forced to do anything. We can choose. We can choose to be lazy, we can choose to be led by the donkey or we can choose to see beyond our nafs and look for Allah everywhere we turn. Sometimes Allah may be guiding us to relax and take a nap. But we have to know the difference between when its from Allah and when its from our nafs. As sufis we want to move away from ignorance and move towards Ya Haqq-Truth. Ignorance is not recoginizing the trap of the nafs and Ya Haqq is seeing other points of view and surrendering.
So the question of the hour is “How do you tell the difference between what’s coming from your nafs and what’s coming from your heart?”
1)Guidance; it’s difficult to see for ourselves our own short comings, where we are being ignorant. There’s a story about a man who walks into a dark room and sees shadows in the corner. He screams snake, snake and runs out of the room. That same man now enters the room with a lantern and looks to the corner and sees not a snake, but a pile of rope. That light is the guide, the Shaykh, the Guru.
2) Practice; understanding that the true Shaykh knows your heart better than you. Heed his/her guidance and follow their example and do your assignments.
3)Be the observer-watch how you think, what you think and ask “Is this pleasing to Allah or not”? Choose accordingly.
4) Give yourself time to digest and absorb. Life is fast and busy. Beginning the day with prayer, yoga, breathing exercises help keep it all in perspective. Keep Allah in mind throughout the day; stop in the midst of the day to look up to the sky and see how vast Allah can be, take a few deep breaths and feel the life Allah has given to you or take a walk in nature to bring it all back to Ya Haqq.
Alhumdullilah. Thank you Allah for this opportunity to remember You and praise You. Forgive me for my incompleteness.