Ash Shakur- The Appreciative

“The more thankful you are, the more positive you are.”
Shaykh Taner Ansari

What does that really mean? To be thankful or to appreciate means to truly understand something, someone, a situation, etc. As I contemplate this, I see this as meaning to make an effort to step outside of  my own beliefs and ideas about who so and so is, or what the outcome of a situation may be and this may enable me to understand other view points. In doing so, what happens to my perspective? It broadens. The mind becomes open and with this, so does the heart. Where does negativity go? It dissipates and becomes positive energy.

Alhumdullilah.

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Al Basit-The Reliever/Expander

It is said in the Quran, “With every difficulty comes ease, with every difficulty comes ease.” The fact that it is recited twice always draws me to reflect upon this statement twice as long, inshallah. I ask myself, how can ease arrive? Is it a natural occurrence? Couldn’t the difficulty continue to build with no ease in sight? Perhaps in the case of tension in the body and in the spirit one could say a heart attack, a panic attack or spasm of a back muscle could be viewed as the body’s way of releasing all the tension. But this is an unhealthy, unconscious release. I believe what Allah has revealed with these lines to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is that difficulties arise and with surrender and reflection, comes ease. It is our job, as aspiring human beings, to think about what Allah is trying to reveal to us at all times so that we might become closer to Him, so that we might have a loving relationship with Him. When we blindly move through our days based on how we feel, how we have believed things to be true in the past, and with our nafs leading the way we are behaving like an animal-purely driven by instincts and desires. Where is Allah in this picture?

So how can ease arrive? A concrete way for me to understand and describe how surrender and reflection occur is to use the body as an example. Say part of the difficulty is a tight muscle in the low back. Yoga is a great way to reveal any lingering tension in the body, because as a massage therapist I once knew used to say “The issues are in the tissues”. What issues can be stored in the low back? fear, lack of control, uncertainty. Whether we go to work, or school or take care of our families at home,  situations may arise that cause us to question our ability, our confidence, etc. and so on. In the face of these situation we may begin to hold on for dear life to what we believe we know, or what we believe to be true. Where and how might we hold on? It could be in the form of muscular tension in our gluteal muscles or our back muscles–from the largest erector spinae to the minutest tiny muscles that work between each vertebrae. This tension builds up over time, this tension is not only fatiguing to the muscles but begins to bring our vertebral alignment out of whack. This misalignment alters the signals throughout the nervous system as well as blood flow to the various parts of the body and can even affect the capacity for a full breath which can alter the ability to think clearly among other problems. This doesn’t even account for how tension can bring the energetic bodies to a state of stagnation creating sluggishness. Unconsciously, we are creating difficulty, tension and dis-ease in our bodies and spirits.

How can yoga help help us reflect and surrender to Allah’s will, thereby bringing on ease? It may take time. The first time you lie down on the floor and you bring your knees into your chest as the teacher advises, you may not even be close to holding onto your knees. If you are able to hold onto them, you may be holding on so tight that this simple movement is painful. This is a sure sign that you are creating more tension. It’s the same difficulty that we create when we fight against what Allah wants for us. So, what to do? First of all, we need training wheels, grab a strap that’s long enough to wrap around the back of your thighs. Use the leverage and strength of your arms to draw the knees in and up as much is possible without arching your back or neck.

Similarly, when Allah puts you in a situation that your nafs doesn’t like you can facilitate the ride and put the nafs in the back seat by using tools Allah has provided for you– your Shaykh’s guidance. His/her guidance (the strap) may be to pray Ya Salaam (O Peace) when you are faced with a difficult situation. What begins to happen next is amazing when you consciously pay attention. Whether you are lying on the floor with a strap around your legs or you are reciting Ya Salaam in the face of uncertainty there is a sence of melting. Everything drops, the muscles relax and open, and the grip on the heart releases. You are present-Ease. Over time ease becomes the natural state, inshallah. We always have our strap if we need it. As my Shaykh always says in times of difficulty “Hold onto the rope of Allah and don’t let go”. Huuuuuuuuuuuuuu.

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Al Ghaffar; The Forgiver

Allah says in Quran i Kerim (Baqara 2:222) “Allah loves the repentant. He loves those who purify themselves.” Repenting means choosing to turn to Allah, ridding oneself of bad habits, purifying for the sake of Allah. As sufis, our biggest goal is to have a loving relationship with Allah. In order to have a relationship with Allah one of the actions that we partake in is asking for Allah’s forgiveness over and over again. Allah is complete, we are incomplete. It is said that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) recited Esteferallah (O Allah forgive me) 100 times every day.

How do we know that when we ask for Allah’s forgiveness it has been accepted? Shaykha Muzeyyen says that “you stop doing the same actions that you are sorry for-habits such as anger, belligerence, vanity, bragging, jealousy, revenge, etc.are broken.”  We turn away from being animalistic and turn toward being more loving. In this way, we stop believing we are right and start trusting in Allah.

It is when we stop saying I am right, I am good that we can begin to have a relationship with Allah. Allah Hu Akbar. Allah is Great. My Shaykh says that “when we say we are wonderful, or good, or right we are competing with Allah.” Instead of looking down upon an ant and contemplating how large and powerful we appear to be, look up at a mountain and contemplate it’s vastness and size and how little we are in comparison. All power belongs to Allah.

Bismillah ar Rahman ar Rahim. All praise belongs to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds: the Most Gracious the Most Merciful, Master of the day of Judgement. To you alone do we worship and to you alone do we ask for help. Show us the straight path, the path of those whom you have blessed; not the path of those who earn your anger or those who go astray. Quran (Al Fatiha)

Amin.

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Allah

The quickest path to Allah is through Love. The recognition of Allah is in the heart.  In Ayurveda, (Hindu art of healing) the heart is considered the most precious organ and the seat of human consciousness. The fourth chakra, the heart chakra-Anahata, is the powerful center of balance in love and peace. It is the center point above the three lower, world of matter chakras and  below the three, upper world of spiritual chakras. The heart chakra is the pivotal point between the material and spiritual worlds. Love is an emotion that steps into both the material and spiritual worlds. Love crosses all boundaries.

Working to cleanse the heart of pollution, veils, beliefs, unfound truths is the work involved in sufism, with the help of a True Shaykh, Inshallah. The pure heart is a reflection of the Truth, the pure heart is vast and open, the pure heart is unbiased and creative, the pure heart is not cankered with sores of hurt or resentment, the pure heart is love. From love, to love, with love.  This is the quickest way to Allah.

Inshallah, we may walk into our day filled with balance in love and Allah.

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Ar Rahman Ar Rahim

The Most Merciful, The Most Compassionate. Allah’s Ar Rahman is the masculine mercy and Ar Rahim is Allah’s feminine compassion/mercy. To experience them seperately is a blessing, but to experience them together is utter balance to the heart and body. I can only compare the physical experience of Allah’s masculine and feminine mercy to yogasana. I have been away from Allah’s Rahim in my personal yoga practice for some time now and when I experienced it today it was as if I came home to a place that is soft and familiar. Lately I find myself practicing with the strength of Rahman. Day after day of sun salutations brings firmness to the body yet lacks in reflection of  steadiness and depth of the breath, alignment of the joints, and muscles that may be overworked or too soft. An example of Ar Rahman and Ar Rahim together in yogasana is the opening in the hips in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II).

The quadriceps and the hamstrings hold the legs in a wide stance supporting the spine to lift. The abdominal muscles also support the length in the spine by firmly engaging yet remaining soft enough to ecnourage nice, slow, deep breaths. The hips are now in a position to open and soften, knowing that the rest of the body is supporting their musculature while they let go into the pose. This attention to both the strong and the soft is where surrender in a yogasana is attained. It is pure bliss to measure how, in the physical body, we can be with Allah. Alahu Akbar! (Allah is Great!)

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Ya Latif

Al Latif–The Subtle One.

Looking within life’s subtleties are beautiful ways in which we can consciously live in order to become closer to Allah. The path to Allah is riddled with instances that we can be aware of His (Her/It’s)  presence and sometimes not be so aware. The subtleties of Allah are hidden within our perceptions and our perceptions can be veiled by not being aware of our five sences. The five sences are what we have to experience all of Allah’s beautiful names and attributes. Think about an instance that you are caught in fear, or anger, or any other strong emotion where you are not relaxed and present. Now can you remember the scent of the air, or feel the floor under your feet? If we are not conscious of what we are sensing then how can we be conscious of the subtlety that is Allah all around us.

Ya Wadud, Ya Wadud, Ya Wadud (O Love). If we can be Love, embody Love instead of embodying our naf’s (ego’s) whims then can we be aware of the subtle shiftings in each moment?

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Eid Mubarak!

Al Qawi, Al Matin–The Strong, Enduring One.

Doubt is a form of fear, fear of the Truth.  Doubt comes in many shapes and forms. Doubt is the nagging voice that whispers in your ear trying to counter the Truth as it comes to your heart. Shaytan and the nafs are good at sabotaging the inner certainty that we train to know. This Ramadan I have been shown with the help of my Shaykh and Shaykha how to  act with what we know is from Allah and not with what is from the nafs. For example, if someone angers me because they are speaking ill of another person because that person didn’t do ‘a good enough job’ I can see that this anger comes from Allah as this action is not pleasing to Allah. I would have no problem saying something like “That’s too bad that you had to correct someone else’s mistake, perhaps something distracted them from completing the job.”  But sometimes depending on the situation or the person it is more difficult to be forthright. Instances that I can think of that may bring up the nafs are being in a new situation with new people, being with someone that rubs you the wrong way, etc and so on. It seems to me that it shouldn’t matter how we feel about the person or situation if it means speaking the Truth. But it’s that doubt that sneaks in and says; “It’s not going to hurt anyone to turn the other way this one time”. It’s the nafs way of staying in the comfort zone. Every situation, of course, warrants reflection and discernment as to whether or not to act, speak or pray. In theory this sounds easy. But at different stages along the path we may become more self-conscious than other times, much like a teenager figuring out they’re way in the world, with their friends and with their family. The bottom line is that holding onto the rope of Allah means staying connected through your Shaykh and doing zikr and learning the names of Allah so that we can put out the right energy at the right time and in the right situation. So today as I reflect upon the lessons of this Ramadan I see the names Al Qawi Al Matin; The Strong and Enduring One. Recognizing Allah’s strength and His enduring nature within helps to stay firm in the Truth and encourages the strength to counter the doubt that sneaks into our consciousness. I repeat that now as a reminder to me and all of you for the sake and love of Allah to keep us firm and steadfast on His path.

Eid Mubarak!

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