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Letter #18: Fragments

The Faith Letters

Dear Part of Me That Needs to Hear This,

What a journey it’s been. What a time you live in. What courage it takes to be awake in a world with an abundance of injustice.

When something is alive, it moves. That’s the journey of your faith. 

Your faith’s been on quite the journey these past few years. And just when you thought it was time to lay down your luggage and rest in community, your naive optimism encountered the mirage. 

You can shed your anger at the blind fear masquerading as enlightenment. The shallow spirituality of those who use God as medicine, applied carelessly, selfishly, proudly. They can congratulate themselves for having the courage to call on God at all. 

God. God, it sucks how they’ve corrupted His name. It’s still hard to use “God” or affiliate with religion because of the centuries of holiness weaponized by conquerors and power-hungry men. And the modern ignorance being safeguarded by false religion. 

God is the Truth. The Real. The One with many names. 

Every time I am tempted to trust another human as my guide, I am reminded of the Guide. 

God is greater. 

When you find yourself tired, remember your purpose. You are here to meet the Truth. To love. To leave behind something beautiful. 

And remember that you’re not the only one who has been hurt by deceit and ignorance. That is the story of humanity, after all. That’s the fall from paradise. 

And remember that you, too, have the capacity to hurt if you’re not careful. And perhaps even when you’re careful. Self-confrontation and humility will keep your integrity intact. 

The work you do every day to find Truth in the complexity of this modern world is no small feat. Some days it will exhaust you. Some days you will be overwhelmed. Yet this is your calling. And what an honor it is to have the hunger and patience to be an archaeologist of the truths we’ve been told.

Yours,

Aaliah 

Love To the Point of Tears

On nights like this, my tears feel so near. Like they’re wanting to come out for a breath of fresh air but not waiting for my permission. It’s not sadness. Or despair. These tears just want a chance to see the world. To leave my body and mix with infinity of atoms that surround me.

The first time, tears left at the sound of Anne Lamott’s voice on my car stereo, speaking directly to my soul.

The second time, it was finding a bag of cheese curls in my room when I returned home after being gone for just two days.

The third time was when my dad showed me an old family photo of his mom, dad, and three older siblings –the thought of my dad losing the three most beloved family members he had brought many tears out.

The fourth time was hearing that a family friend lost her mother in Egypt –she was visiting there just a couple of months ago, and her mother died having met her two grandsons.

And the fifth, was watching my mother stir a pot of milk on the stove, a sight that overwhelmed me in its preciousness.

“Live to the point of tears,” Albert Camus said. Words I cherish, and that I’m often reminded of when I visit my friend Anna’s Instagram. Live to the point of tears, yes. And also love to the point of tears, because those tears desperately want to escape you.

Midnight Musings: On Healing

I told myself I’d take a break from my daily nightly posts on Instagram so I could focus on business development, but my thoughts keep coming back to healing.

It’s half an hour past midnight, and I feel wide awake. It’s a bit chilly in my room because I don’t think the heater is on, but I’m wearing the most comfortable fleece pajama pants and a giant sweatshirt. It feels like the type of bliss after you’ve taken a warm shower on a slightly cold day because that’s exactly what just happened. And I feel like my whole being is happy right now.

These past few days have really been something. There’s a renewed energy that fills my spirit throughout the day. I feel alive and awake, and this energy feels a little unreal because I don’t know where it’s coming from. But I’ve learned a long time ago to welcome the guests of my mental house instead of asking them too many questions.

My posts about healing have been feeling a bit routine lately, which is also why this break feels needed. The purpose of my photo project is not to think about healing every night. The point is to experience healing by cultivating an awareness of it and creating a space where it can be invited. I guess the project is working because it’s all I’ve thought about while in the shower.

Here’s the musing part: Healing is, in its essence, based on the idea that what was injured will return to its original state –like healing from the flu or a cut on your skin. If the cut is deep, it may leave a scar, but usually, full healing means back to normal. So, what does that mean when it comes to healing of the spirit?

I sometimes I want to curse my naivete for letting me get hurt in the first place. And I grieve the way my pain changes me –the way my armor grows thicker and how unfair the necessity of it all seems. But, I’m realizing that maybe this why my healing journey feels difficult. My beliefs about the necessity of changing in response to pain are, in essence, getting in the way of healing. What if instead of worrying about how I could’ve been naive or manipulated by someone, and feeling angry and resentful in response, what if I focused on forgiveness?

The world doesn’t have to be turned upside down just because an event in our lives doesn’t make any sense. People will disappoint us and betray us and take advantage of us, but if we let that be a reason we stop believing in the goodness of people then we’ve caused ourselves more suffering than anyone else ever could have.

I’m ready to let go of the need to be right. This manifests for me as expecting to have known better than to make a mistake or misjudge a situation and believing that my view of the world must have been faulty for the disappointment to have even occurred. But I’m ready to let go of that.

Difficult as it otherwise may be, perhaps the greatest joy of this healing journey is getting to see myself with more clarity. I’m ready for more of that. And for more intentional living that makes space for peace and living life with eyes wide open.

P.S. It’s closer to sunrise now that I’m hitting publish. My sister came into my room and we’ve been talking for the past two hours. I’m actually sleepy now, but I wouldn’t trade those moments in conversation with her for anything that may come my way tomorrow. I’m sending you all my love and blessings. Good night :).

Reflections on Spirituality: How I learned To Follow My Peace

I ‘m writing to you in the middle of the night –the way you’ve grown accustomed to if you’ve seen the time stamps on the #100DaysOnSpirituality posts and the poems I share on my Insta Story. I’m writing to you now and it’s Ramadan and a little over a month has passed since I finished the 100-day spirituality reflections.

The #100DaysOnSpirituality project was something I started to capture the soul of my retreat to southern Spain in the fall of 2017. I took that trip at what felt like a period of crossroads in my life. After opening my heart to the adventures of love and committing myself to the life coaching journey, I found myself faced with many choices to make. There were many “moments of truth” as they say –experiences meant to clarify to me what values I held closest.  As I stumbled a bit at first, I watched my peace escape me. My prayers would pain me, and I had this growing fear that this would be the beginning of my heart’s hardening if I didn’t listen to it. Knowing that faith, like trust, is something that takes years to build but could be destroyed in a moment, I fought hard to find my clarity. I made new choices that were soul-fulfilling and honest, and I left the rest to the Divine. Then, I escaped everything for a week and went to Spain.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Spain forever changed me. I met so many beautiful people on that trip. Strangers who quickly became close friends and whom I consider family today. I saw the surreal blend of the ancient with the modern, the religious and the secular, and it felt like I was being transported back in history. Transcendental experiences have the power to transform us, and the joy and wonder I felt in Spain that fall were nothing short of transformational.

On trips, I find that it helps to forget my phone. I don’t tell many people that I’m traveling so that my expectations and experiences aren’t shaped by their own. And, despite the 100 photos I managed to post, I didn’t carry my camera with me for a good portion of the time. I love taking photos on my camera, so this wasn’t an easy practice, but it’s something I learned from my Hawaii trip. When I was back from Hawaii, I felt like I had spent a lot of time looking for good photos and that really took away from my ability to fully be present there. So this time, on our second day in Spain, in Cordoba, I took one of my companions’ suggestion to try to capture what I was feeling instead of seeing.
I carried my journal with me as we entered the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba and I had my sight turned inward. Amongst the remnants of the Andalusian empire, I found myself surrounded by the city that looked a lot like me. To be a Middle Eastern Muslim in America is to be exotified, often, celebrated, sometimes, and unwelcome by many people for the remainder of the time. Maybe one day I’ll write a poetry collection dedicated to that experience of feeling mirrored by the land and serenaded by the architecture of southern Spain –but I digress.

The months after Spain, the remainder of 2017, were a series of adjustments to all the insights I had on the trip. I made little and big choices to try to protect this renewed peace that I’d found. I followed that peace and listened to it closely, and I pivoted sometimes and stumbled other times. In my new spiritual uplift, I found myself faced with novel challenges. But because they looked nothing like the challenges I had experienced before, I wasn’t prepared for them. Within a couple of months, I found myself struggling spiritually and emotionally and physically.

The winter was especially difficult. My time and energy were pulled in many different directions. For almost 60 hours a week, I was working as a project manager in a high-stress environment –juggling multiple demanding clients and doing work that didn’t align with my own mission. After work, I was coaching and getting coached, completing workbooks and reading books and dreaming up the possibilities for the future. I was also coordinating and marketing and recruiting for the first Muslim cohort of the Art for Social Impact program by The Sanctuaries. I think I wouldn’t have survived those days if I weren’t building for the wellness of communities that matter to me alongside some amazing people, be it through my work with Muslim artists at The Sanctuaries or as a life coach. Ever so often, I’d be reminded that even on the coldest days the sun would find its way back to my skin and I’d go to bed each night in warm socks and worn out worries –ready to start it all over again in the morning.
It became clear to me by the end of the year that my life needed to be in better alignment with my values and purpose. At the beginning of the new year, after lots of journaling and conversations, I shared with my supervisors at work my plan to resign at the end of the month. I started the Whole 30 cleanse and, through many other choices, felt like it was the beginning of a beautiful year –one that would only continue to be so if I lived with purpose. The #100DaysOnSpirituality project was one of those choices I made in the early days of January to be more intentional about cultivating my spirituality.

For 100 days, I ended almost every night writing the spiritual musings that had circled through my mind throughout the day. Some days, I felt serenity in my prayers and I found God every corner I turned. Other days, I felt my prayers more empty and my thoughts more self-concerned. Those days, I learned to surrender to the fluctuations of this thing we call the heart. I asked questions those days and when I didn’t find answers I asked again. I listened closely to the peace of my heart, and it was always there that I found the answers.
It’s in the middle of the night and it’s Ramadan and it’s 100 days on spirituality later, but I still struggle spiritually. Some nights I don’t have the energy to do any of the extra prayers so I only pray the five prayers. Some days I feel exhausted by having to keep looking inward at a time when so many around me seems to have their eyes looking miles ahead. I wonder, sometimes, of how we live at a time when religion has become an endangered species, and any spirituality tied to religion is often looked down upon. Will I find the strength if the ones I love slowly drift away from faith and I’m left feeling without companions on my journey?
These days have their own challenges, but I’m learning to find solace in unusual places and still finding that the only way to God is to continue to follow the peace of my heart.

Fluctuation is the trademark of the heart, after all, and there’s beauty in surrendering to that.

With love and light,

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