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,