Inner Contentment

Ask most people what they want most in life and they will probably reply ‘happiness’: ask them the meaning of ‘happiness’ and they may well refer to material and earthly things like having enough money, a satisfying job, a nice family, good health, being loved etc. But we all know that few of us achieve all this without many challenges, and even if we have it all, many of us are still not content. It seems that the human being is programmed to be a seeker, to be restless, longing for bliss and happiness, but looking for it in the wrong place. There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking halal (legitimate) security and enjoyment – we all need these things while in this world – a modicum of physical and psychological needs have to be fulfilled so that we can turn our minds to the higher goals. However, happiness based only on earthly things is invariably ephemeral; we never know when they might be taken away from us. If we tuned our New Year resolutions to our inner state rather than outer longings, we could achieve a true state of contentment whatever the world throws at us. As Imam Ali(a) said, ‘The answer is within you, if you but knew it’. We need to develop a spiritual philosophy which gives us access to inner peace, and durable inner contentment. This does not mean we never feel pain or endure suffering but we are able to deal with pain and suffering by understanding its meaning. Several Quranic verses pertain to this: “Do men imagine that they will be left alone because they say, ‘We believe and will not be tested?” [29:2] When going through difficult and painful periods in life, we acknowledge that this is a test, but our task is then to reflect on why we are being tested at this particular moment. What is the lesson in this situation? It may be happening because we have made a mistake or have not acted correctly, or to teach us to rely more on God. Also God does not test us without offering us help and solutions. He says he will not burden a soul with what it cannot bear. [2:286 and 53:38-42] We know that the difficulty will pass, that he loves his creation and that if one door closes another will open. (Chapters 93 & 94]. Many spiritual teachers say we should always be thankful, not only when all is well, but also for what we have been denied. We may discover that something we disliked in fact brought us some kind of advantage in the end. Difficulties are necessary for our spiritual growth. Modern culture seems to suggest that if we are not ‘happy’ all the time there is something wrong with us; in fact living in this world means dealing with duality and opposites. We should not pretend we have no negative emotions; they are necessary and have to be witnessed and acknowledged, so that we can learn from them and replace them by positive thoughts and actions where appropriate. When we feel overwhelmed, we can seek help from friends, various therapists, support groups and the company of like-minded companions. ‘Whatever happens in your life, no matter how troubling thinks might seem, do not enter the neighbourhood of despair. Even when all doors remain closed, God will open up a new path only for you.’ (Forty rules of Love by Elif shafak) It is also useful to remember that others are worse off: I have been most impressed by the faith of refugees escaping from war. I heard children as young as twelve, separated from their parents; expressing their faith that God is helping them. I have often found the inspiration and example of great souls in dealing with hardship of immense benefit. Among the Prophets we have Ayyub (Job), Yusuf (Joseph) and Isa (Jesus) and the great ladies Maryam, Fatima and Zainab, (peace be on all of them) all of whom defied evil and difficulties through faith in God. We can also find personal examples in our lives, my own stepmother being one of them. She could have moaned about her crippling arthritis, but she was always cheerful and refused to let it affect her contentment. This was partly because she prided herself on loving and taking care of us, her family. Let us remember the priorities in the life of a seeker: “By Time (Asr). Verily Humans are in Loss Save those who Trust (aamanu) and do righteous deeds (saalihat), and exhort one another to Truth (haqq) and exhort one another to Endurance (sabr)”. [Chapter 103] In this chapter loss is linked to time because it is concerned with our self-memory, our accumulations, acquisitions, obsessions, goals, all of which come to an end. Trust, Righteousness, Truth and Endurance, which should be our priorities, reflect the Divine attributes, so cannot be of time otherwise they are also subject to loss. Although in this world we are subject to time, we have within us a timeless capacity that is not of time; otherwise there is loss. Transformed living is the life of the soul manifesting divine attributes in time and space. To manifest these attributes, as well as correct action, we need to find ways of entering a timeless state, especially when we are agitated, upset, ‘rushed off our feet’. This will give us a feeling of being grounded in peace. Spiritual practices or prayer, remembrance, reflection and meditation can help us. Salaat (prayers) & dhikr (remembrance of God) properly performed are when we step out of the prison of time, for a few minutes. These are times of stillness as if the whole world is put on hold. All spiritual traditions have teachings & practices to help the seeker achieve inner contentment. I have found it beneficial to adapt some of these, for example yoga breathing and mindfulness to promote a healthy mind and a tranquil heart in a healthy body. As the believer journeys to God, by God’s grace, and under his protection, s/he will achieve a state of higher awareness. S/he will expect the best of God and have no expectation of anyone other than him. ‘Those who have believed and whose hearts have rest in the remembrance of God. Verily in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest!’ [13:28] this is the state of the ‘nafs almutma’inna’, or contented self. [89:27-30]’

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