Tag Archives: Life

The Spirituality of Tidying; My thoughts as a Muslim on Marie Kondo

I was fortunate enough to watch ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’ on Netflix without having been exposed to too much of the criticism currently being posted about her on social media. I think I probably came across one meme of her with a speech bubble saying something about books. I’d seen the show come up on Netflix recommendations but never really paid attention to it till I saw her name popping up on Twitter a couple of times. I’m not big on home décor or lifestyle programmes and so it wasn’t something I considered my territory – that is, until I watched the first episode.

Marie Kondo met her first clients – a married couple with children – and asked them if she could greet their home. I thought her request would be met with amusement/cynicism/something negative (as I’ve later seen to be the case on social media), but I was pleasantly surprised when the couple said; ‘I love that!’, and she proceeded in her ritual. They even joined in with her and sat in silence, taking in the atmosphere of the house. And what’s more – they felt emotional doing it, feeling the significance of the silence. It was clear that they were visibly moved when Marie had finished.

This glimpse into Marie Kondo’s spirituality had my attention. (For more on the culture behind her spirituality/philosophy see this great Huffington Post article tackling the negativity being posted about her on social media: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/marie-kondo-white-western-audineces_us_5c47859be4b025aa26bde77c)

As I continued watching, she went on to present other aspects of her beliefs (aspects which form the basis of her philosophy of cleaning): that we should keep a hold of items that make us feel joyful, that we should hold onto what we would like to go into our future with, that we should remember the significance of the objects we possess so as much as to thank them when we do let go of them. I can well see how all these things promote a healthy outlook to living – helping one to move away from an unhealthy possessiveness, hoarding or the indifference which allows clutter to build up within our living spaces, and help one be happy with what they possess. What’s more, Marie’s spirituality is one that is accessible to people of no religion just the same way that Rumi’s translated poetry is – in that there is no mention of ‘God’ to frighten away the atheist, there is no gratitude towards a divine deity. The gratitude is posed upon the object, the house, the memory, the experience, really – upon ourselves. And I think spirituality – even in this form – benefits the person practicing it, giving them a basis upon which to feel something greater than themselves without having to give that something a name if they feel uncomfortable doing so.

This is the reason why Marie’s show really got my interest. As I watched her process of tidying, I thought about my own spiritual beliefs: to want less, to possess only the things that matter, to have a healthy relationship with everything around me (including my memories). When she tells her clients to thank their clothing, I think about how I could thank Allah for the objects I hold, how I could thank Allah for giving me the means to have them even when I am choosing to let something go.

I have heard teachers of Islam say that we should live like travellers in this life, that we should develop good habits, live with meaning and purpose, and work to clean our souls. I have heard stories of great people who have lived with very little – the objects they did possess being those of great worth to them. I have also looked at the millennial trend of minimalism and seen how this can apply to a follower of Islam who wants to rid themselves of the many material possessions which, in reality, they have no need for. And yet I never made the connection between tidying and my own spirituality as clear as I did when I watched this show. It was like the knowledge was there, but the practical means were not. And now…I’m thinking of the many things I want to donate to charity, the many things I own that I want to pick up and say alhamdulillah for before placing them respectfully into their rightful places around the house. These are not small acts, I see this also as part of dhikr.

And so, I’m grateful to Marie Kondo for fearlessly being herself and presenting her philosophy to a Western audience – even at the risk of it being ridiculed or completely misunderstood. It was a breath of fresh air which helped me to consider something seemingly mundane as tidying as having the potential to be spiritually cleansing. I would like carry a greater purpose with everything I choose to include in my life, and if I can handle objects as gently and gratefully as I see Marie teaching her clients to do, I’ll know that I have achieved a greater appreciation for what God has given me.

Dear Diary: Confessions of Inertia

Ya Lateefu, Ya Lateefu,

My husband told me that tayammum, the dry ablution, the washing of the skin and soul with dust, would not have been permissible with the earth if the beloved Prophet’s (pbuh) feet did not walk upon it. The beauty of this haunts me, drowns my lungs as something outside of my surroundings. Different – just as consciousness is different to matter. The epiphany is beautiful. I need it as fruit to devour, to survive, to transcend above survival in the grip of the darkness I feel inside, falling as I am into that same earth the Prophet (pbuh) walked upon with such purpose, humility and grace. I do not know how to rise to its surface, but keep digging at the dirt to try and find a way. He (pbuh) made the earth move with his steps, but I can only suffocate in it – cannot even become it.

I have watched as an elderly woman cried beside me about the son she lost to illness at an age too soon, and I did not hug her. This haunts me. I have held her a million times in the confines of my thought, sharing her grief as my own, but unable to make my rock-like bones move in reality where it may make a difference. I think about the times I have hesitated due to overthink, running something over in my head so much that my body became stiff. The times I have not spoken when I should have. The times I have not cried when I should have. I despise the way my voice comes out from my throat, barely audible when greeting strangers. The times I have not acted when I should have. The times I have not followed a decision because all I could do was stare into my thoughts trying to find a way to get up from the floor. The peace does not come. I did not call my mother the night I missed her so terribly that I lost myself to a living sleep, but the morning after numbed my brain into the routine of the day. I switch off. I put things off for years. I can put people to the side for a long time, and in that time they live inside my thoughts. I speak to them, apologising, praying for them, hoping that one day perhaps they can benefit from something I have intended although I have not done for them as I should have when required. To just be there for someone is a beautiful thing. I have never underestimated the strength of those who show their faces where they must, as propriety demands. As is a Muslim’s right over another.

For all of these regrets the dear diaries have been trapped inside my head. It is hard to release a great many experiences locked within their time which could not be written in the moment. It is difficult to write when most in need, just as it is difficult to talk to someone and get a grip over the subtleties of tears and madness. My husband holds me and does not give up. It is not good to submerge into water to deal with oneself. It is selfish.

I write now with a stronger hold over my mind than in such times. But the thick of battle offers no mercy. That battle is between one’s life and one’s limbs. I write after it has taken place – in retrospect, missing how the breaths of those moments wheezed out from my throat, how mind-numbing the onslaught of anxiety was. Internal darkness is a reality, not part of a diagnosed state of being, but a hardship with its own reasons that are above and beyond my understanding. But the depth of the heart’s abyss reveals itself in times of sorrow, showing how the human being has a great deal more inside than what the surface of happiness can expose. This darkness is not simply to be sad or in grief or in anxiousness or fear. It is the inability to move. It is inertia that takes over. A great weight bears down on me, as if a huge shadow is holding my body, engulfing my mental and physical form, and hugging tightly my heart. All I want is to have the strength to swing it off me, and by the same movement be able to get up and do something; to do what I should do, to follow propriety, duty, act justly, act mercifully, give myself to something other than this lull,

“don’t fall into a lull,” he says,

this silence, this extended pause, this spiralling thought. Something other than it.

This is not simply a wish, this is a desire, this is a prayer, this is dhikr.

Ya Lateefu, Ya Lateefu,

my love holds the hand of my inertia, rocking it back and forth until I get up with him and pray.

Dear Diary: Friends, Frenemies or Companions in Life

In a time before we were overly self-conscious, my oldest friend and I used to sit on the cement and brick arms either side of concrete steps in front of the entrance of our primary school. Sometimes these arms were our sandy horses without saddles which made me feel like a warrior princess as I looked out across the playground. Sometimes we were each mounted on our own horse, sitting across from each other whilst discussing new ideas for games, imagined worlds and novels we’d started reading.

She always talked more, her manner daring and confident whereas I was always shy and reserved. Our conversations turned to how we saw our lives ten or twenty years from then and I loved to hear her predictions. Mostly they were of us being young and independent, living cosmopolitan lives which included having sleepovers at each other’s ‘apartments’ in between our jobs and going out for shopping sprees (ideas I’m sure were down to her love for the sitcom Friends). But sometimes we were traditional daughter-in-laws sacrificing a great deal of…we didn’t really know what…but having children and doing right by our families. Talk turned to laughter when we described what our husbands would be like, but these latter conversations were also tinged with fear or anxiety when she warned me that we’d have to get used to boy lurkies because marriage meant sharing a bedroom with your husband. Either way our weddings were going to be joint – a beautiful fantasy. We’d get married on the same day and sit together with our husbands by our sides – wouldn’t that be amazing?

Fifteen years into the future and my feet are firmly on the ground, a lot more stable in my heels than half an hour ago. My blue nikah dress touches the floor, dragging when I walk. Everything is blurring into something surreal as I fight away nostalgia in order to stay present in the moment. I’m stood as a witness between large banqueting tables in a hotel wedding suite filled with her family and guests, surrounded by lights and cameras, silk frills and friends we only met or really got to know in the past three years. The old farewell of ‘Babul ki dua’ain leti ja’ begins to play like a cruel but moving joke, and the emotional charge of the hall which has been building up like a ball of fire reaches its pinnacle point to burst. This is the point everything was long prepared for, including every napkin and left over morsel of food. We were so entangled in our bright clothing and light banter that we’d almost forgotten what happens next.

I’m stood in the crowd thinking about how formal occasions turn people into strangers, not just because we have to act out a role, but because the situation doesn’t allow for much intimacy…except stolen hugs to say goodbye. I wait for her to pass close enough for me to do that, but that moment doesn’t come, it passes me as I watch one by one the guests, family and friends crying and coming forward to meet her as she walks away. I’m frozen like the emotionally-stiff woman I predicted myself to be, but the closer she gets to the lobby entrance and the car waiting outside, the more flashbacks I see of times gone by. My mum is crying beside me, most likely thinking of how she had to let me go. I try to comfort her, but she likes to deal with grief alone. I hear my friend’s younger sister crying too and feel myself breaking at the sight of her because her shaking sobs are what I know to be the sound of the heart tearing apart.

As I begin to follow the crowd, I remember things I didn’t know my mind had kept away inside me, and more than anything I try to fight away my own tears. I feel our friendship, our past enmities, our competition, our sisterhood, our love, our hate, everything we shared together all hit me at once as if that ball of fire has been aimed straight at my heart. I recall years of us being the most influential people in each other’s lives although we wouldn’t admit it at that time. And then I remember the time before then when we used to be each other’s best friends before it became uncool to say. All that time of being important to someone – positively or negatively – feels as if it’s turned to dust as I stand in the crowd as an onlooker. And for so long I’ve acted like it was ok to drop such a relationship.

For once in my life I let an aspect of my ego go that I’ve never before. I cry because it hurts to be forgotten and also to forget. I cry because of the way we’ve treated each other in the past. Although we forgave each other in the build-up to our weddings, only in that moment do I realise there’s no such thing as regrets between two people who have deeply hurt each other as well as been each other’s support. I cry because I want to say goodbye as if we were still in primary school, but we’re no longer the girls who are afraid of boy lurkies or who want a joint wedding.

In that moment I ask Allah to console me through this grief, but He knows there’s no need for consolation; He listens to my inner plea. I see her mother look straight at me in the crowd with a slight smile and – despite her tears – she gestures for me to go to her because I haven’t had my chance to meet her daughter before she goes. I rush forward and hug my oldest friend and feel finally the reality of us both rush to the surface – no pretences, no holding back. A cry releases from both of our throats as if from our own wounds. It feels like a release. I didn’t cry at my own wedding because of the daze I was in due to the shock of everything that was taking place, but all of a sudden I feel like I’ve been given a second chance of sorts. We have shared something real and Allah has put us together to experience a new reality at the same time in our lives for a reason. All I really want to say is; ‘Look, I didn’t cry at my wedding, but here I am crying at yours.’

I want to laugh as I tell her that, but all I can do is nod helplessly as she finds her voice to tell me that we’ll meet at her walima.

Dear Diary: I am grounded

It’s a night so cold you’d think snowflakes are about to fall from the darkness any second onto the metal rails of the Millennium Bridge, swung open and unblinking like an eye – as it was designed – the outer rim of its top lid blazing in changing colours that brighten up the night, set aside from the surrounding white lights of cafés, hotels, the Sage, the Baltic, and those trees dressed in Christmas wires woven around their branches, the small bulbs of which cause them to sparkle between the tables and chairs outside the Pitcher & Piano that you can still see from the bridge if you look back over your shoulder.

We’re stood above a black river whose bed knows a bicycle that a drunk let slip out of his grip during the New Years’ fireworks display a couple of years ago when I was still at uni, and we’d all thought someone had jumped into the Tyne. But it may as well be an abyss in this moment with its waves unseen as if now part of a gaping hole and so I choose instead to look with complete focus at the blazing outer rim which has changed into a luminous red and will stay like that in our minds as my cousin tells me what I’ve missed of her life.

She tells me about her experiences with the mercy of a tone that makes it all seem as though we do this often. We pretend as if this is just one catch-up alongside many others been and gone, as if this is our regular meet-up place, in a time when the spotlights are on everything, and yet the night is so dead that the combination makes it seem as though everyone can see everyone and hear everything being said. And yet it is night – a time in which the blaring light doesn’t cast pressure upon anyone to behave in any certain way; you behave in any which way, the light is simply something beautiful to stare into – to talk to, no matter who’s listening.

I’ve been here before with friends, on my own, in the car, walking. I live in this city; I’ve seen its metropolitan landscapes as a student, mostly as an individual. But right now I’m experiencing all of this for the first time with the person who, in terms of blood and childhood memories, is the closest to me as a sister anyone can come, and I had forgotten the truth of this for the past few years. I’d forgotten how grounded that can make you feel. There are a lot of issues within our extended family. I won’t go into any details of what has been amiss, whose mistakes, what has been neglected etc. There have been many divisions, patched up by no one. All of this was mostly before we were born and no one has had much interest in reconnecting relations within our family.

‘I’m sure you could probably tell I was suffering anorexia,’ she mentions it so casually that I’m reminded of the way people in our family seem to walk calmly through their tornadoes.

‘I was almost not gonna make it. I couldn’t even get out of bed at one point. My dad was crying in the hospital.’

I think of her father, my uncle who I hardly know, and wonder about the extended family I’ve always seen as cold and am shocked that someone cares for someone else, am shocked by the beauty of a scene of my uncle crying for his daughter.

‘They were going to send me to some place in Glasgow for treatment.’

‘It was that serious? How did you sort it out?’

She grins, ‘Your wedding. I said to my dad that I have to go to Roszeen’s wedding no matter what and that was the motivation for me.’

I have to blink and look elsewhere quickly to avoid her losing me to tears.  And what shocks me more than anything else is that I’d wanted to speak to her a lot these past years, and more so than ever in the few months before my wedding. The feeling had been unparalleled; I’d felt an instinctual need to talk to her as if it was of the utmost importance beyond a feeling of guilt of having cut off from someone who was like a sister. I’d had no way of knowing what she was going through, but finding out that it was her will to be a part of the biggest day of my life which led to her beginning to recover made me understand more about the strength of bonds. Though younger than me my cousin understands the word family much more than I do when I’ve always seen extended family as a system of blood relations which have no emotional importance other than what is placed within them through societal norms; norms we’ve not been given in our family to care an ounce for each other – or so I thought, because her actions have changed my mind about that, and I guess that I’d just completely forgotten our youth.

My cousin’s recovery is miraculous, not that she lets that be a lingering thought between us, and we exchange memories this time from the things we’ve lived together.

Grounded. That’s exactly how you feel when someone talks about something you’ve experienced together so that for once it doesn’t feel like you’ve entered into an outside conversation. Grounded. That’s how you feel when someone can complete your memories, how you feel when someone has the same opinions about someone else’s deeds without you having to explain why you’ve come to such conclusions. Grounded is how you feel when someone speaks the same language as you, how you feel when someone is going through experiences you know how to guide them through because somewhere in the past you were taught the same things, or you taught them the things you were taught.

I could have helped her a great deal through her struggles. We could have been there for each other. We’ve seen the veins of our loved ones broken off in the body of our family and the blood of relationships and meaning and love spilling into a drain because no one seems to appreciate these things. We’re learning from the mistakes of the previous generations. We’re trying to make things better, and we’re starting from sincerity and religion.

Through this one conversation I’ve also been able to think about the other relationships in my life. I’m happy and grateful for the new family Allah has blessed me with that have come as a gift through my marriage. Alhamdulillah. I could not take them for granted even if I tried. In fact, I’ve been so overwhelmed with the warmth of the love from my family – both through blood and marriage – that I sometimes fear doing something wrong which would lessen these bonds, and sometimes the weight feels heavy and I am overwhelmed thinking of how to strengthen my relationships without constantly falling into the introverted separation my mind believes it needs in order to recharge so that it can get through life. My views of family and my distance in general is something I’m slowly being taught to reassess and correct. Practicalities of life stop me from spending as much time as I would like with my family which has now grown so much bigger alhamdulillah, and I need to do more to change this and myself.

But what I would say to the people that are warming my blood, in’sha Allah, is that I’m learning that the sweetest and warmest moments are from the heart and so I’m learning to keep my heart present when we meet, as well as throwing a rope for any bridges burnt.

Dear Diary: ‘Life is taking the Life out of Me’

The subject of reality has been constantly on my mind as I’ve experienced some huge changes in my life recently. In my previous post I was questioning – and somewhat rebelling – against the frequent claim by others that marriage would kick me swiftly into the ‘real world’, but I seem to have come face-to-face with their descriptions via other means; specifically within the workplace.

The reality I see everywhere is thoroughly depressing on many days at work. I’ve often wondered what kind of mind-set you have to have in order to dedicate your life to any field of work. I find that nearly everyone in the workplace is engrossed in their job, whether or not they enjoy it, engrossed in the way they don’t drift off into other thoughts, other realities, other realms, in thoughts of other passions. Or if they do it doesn’t affect their work. And it’s depressing how engulfed they are in these small worlds. I’ve noticed while learning how to drive how hard I have to try to keep constantly alert to everything, to not…drift away. And all around me I see people so thoroughly alert in their workplace that they remember every small detail of every conversation in case they need to defend themselves against any future accusations from a colleague.

What’s it like to be so on guard all the time, to be in such depressing circumstances, to create such depressing circumstances?

I’ve come across individuals whose joy comes in the form of paydays, late night shopping and going out for a drink. They accept their condition, they accept their conditioning. Life revolves around the workplace well and thoroughly, because the opposite to this sober life is a life they actually can’t remember because it’s spent being drunk or unconscious (I’m sorry if I’m sounding simplistic o stereotypical here, but honestly don’t know how else to describe it). This is not a viable route of escape. The choice to drown your sorrows away, to go crazy in the odd hours, to let loose, is just not good enough. It makes me think of a quote from Anais Nin’s diary in which she witnessed the state of modern Americans;

‘Some Americans have lost the faculty for illusion, they are so pragmatically sober, that may be why they have to drink so much. They have not the power of levitation or escape of the poet or the artist who can make another world within this world.’

Anais is speaking from the perspective of a French writer witnessing the practical and depressing reality of American culture. It’s not so different here in the UK. In fact, I think many places share this kind of culture. And what shocks me the most is that everyone fits into it. While people may complain about their jobs and exclaim how much they can’t wait to get home or for the weekend to come, they still never question their means to feeling pleasure, their idea of living, the reality of their thoughts and behaviour in relation to other human-beings, or the mechanical pattern their day-to-day existence has come to. What does it feel like to be your job? To only think your job? To only live your job? What do these women do outside of their job?

I’m sorry if I offend anyone, but it’s the women in these places that shock me the most. Perhaps it’s my understanding of a woman (see “Do women have a soul?”: Religious Revival & the Feminine) that puts me at unease with this environment. For example, I’ve seen women create so much politics that they’ve made the workplace a hell for each other. I’ve seen women who do not possess the characteristics of mercy I would associate with the women I’ve seen in my life because the women in my life are mothers, aunties, sisters, daughters; women with human relations, not professional relations where caring for someone’s problems fits within a specific time-frame in which they’re getting paid and outside of it they want nothing to do with anyone or anything.

I don’t know. I don’t have any really thought-provoking comments to make here. I guess I’m quite shocked that people live like this. I think it’s shocking in itself that your work should take up more hours than the time you spend doing anything else, but perhaps I sound very naïve in that. If anything it’s a testament to the fact that I’ve never been able to dedicate myself to anything in this way and never will. There’s too much at stake to lose to the dull and mechanical on-goings of such a culture in which life revolves around pay-checks, opening and closing times, or what he said she said. We do what we need to do to get by, but that doesn’t mean that our means of sustenance should be able to take our life away. Like Anais I hope to always find escapes in places rich with meaning and at the same time I pray that I learn how to live out that meaning in everything I do.