Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
This evening it occurs to me to explore some themes relating to the Surah Alam Nasrah, which Imam Kamardine recited. In this Surah, Allah subhana wa taala reassures us that in difficulty there’s ease. We often think of this as subsequently to difficulty there’s ease. But there’s at least one way of reading this that suggests that the difficulty itself is the ease.
The biggest catastrophe what could befall a wayfarer on this journey is a sense of self-satisfaction, that you are self-sufficient, that you are in charge of your life, and you’re in control. This means that you are not beholden to anyone and that you are the master of your destiny. Allah! And we all seek to pursue that illusion. We accumulate wealth, significance and power, all under the assumption that the more we have the more self-sufficient we are. This sense of self-satisfaction that comes from owning and controlling is deeply poisonous to us because it creates the condition where we forget who the Rabb really is.
This sense of self-satisfaction that comes from owning and controlling is deeply poisonous to us.
This also suggests that, contrary to how it might appear, that which causes us discomfort is actually the blessing of our life. It is where we are inadequate, where we are not self-sufficient, where there is lack. Where there is incapacity. It is in these places where the greatest openings lie for us. How do you propose to work on yourself if you are so deadened to yourself and your essential vulnerability that it doesn’t even bother you?
It is at times when we feel out of sorts, when we feel like strangers in our own skin. When we feel like strangers in our own lives, and we look at the people around us and think “How on earth did you come to be here? And how on earth did I come to be here?” When you look at your home and you say, “Is this really it? Is this my life?” When you look at your career and you have this sinking suspicion that it has not delivered on it’s promise of fulfillment. It is at these times in your life when you are not self-sufficient that there are huge openings. These are massive opportunities.
The tragedy is that we close the opening by working very hard at changing the world so that it once again suits us. So you look at your companion and you say, “Actually, no. You’re not good enough. I’m going to find somebody else,” thinking that I can deaden this disquiet, by just fiddling in the world. Or you look at your career, your job and you say, “Ah! This thing, this isn’t me. So I must do something else”.
The fact of the matter is that nothing is you.
The fact of the matter is that nothing is you. Nothing can be you because you are so big that everything is you. And how can that which is everything, sit comfortably with one thing? How can the one who is at home in the entire kingdom not feel that there’s something slightly wrong with being confined to the outhouse?
The expansiveness that we seek is only to be found by dropping into the discomfort, and not acting to evade the discomfort. Acting to evade the discomfort is to do things like changing the companion or changing the job.
What we do on this path is that we go into the discomfort. We sit with it. You sit after subh, quietly, and you feel. You feel your heart, you feel the distress and you feel the tightness. You do so because that thing, that discomfort, creates the conditions where you don’t make that which is not significant, significant. You don’t commit shirk.
One significance of La illaha ilAllah means that there is no absolute other than The Absolute. There is nothing worthy of being made absolute other than The Absolute. There is nothing worthy of your worship other than Him, of being granted real significance by you other than Allah. If you are out of sorts because your life is problematic then what you’re truly saying is that there’s something in this life that is important enough to create disquiet in you. If that’s the case, then clearly you’ve granted something other than your Rabb significance.
Inna ma’al usri yusraa seems to suggest that our apparent worst times are our best times and, conversely, our best times are our worst times. It is when we have a sense of, “Ah, I have achieved it you see. Look at me, I’ve got the trophy wife, the trophy career, the trophy car, trophy children.” These are the worst times of our lives, when we’re congratulating ourselves, and we’ve made the world suit us. “I’m comfortable with the world because I’ve fixed it”.
You aren’t here to fix the world.
You aren’t here to fix the world. The world is far too big for you to fix. You aren’t the big one that makes the world bend to your will. You’re the one who’s here to be bent. You’re not the one who does the bending. You’re the one who is here to submit. You don’t do the dominating. You don’t do the pushing around. When you start pushing the world around you really start suffering. All of the attributes of pushing the world around to suit you will fail because you are not here to mould the world to suit you, you are here to be moulded by the world to be a beautiful offering for Him.
In an absolute sense the other doesn’t change to suit self. The self changes in service of other. The world is not there for you, you’re there for the world. And when that is the project, when learning how to roll with the punches of life is the project, the more punches life gives you, the more profoundly you learn the skill. From this point of view it’s nuts to think that when the world is throwing a punch at you, you have a problem.
The biggest punch that life can throw at you is death itself. How do you propose to write the big examination of the grave, when you can’t pass the small ones? How do you propose to lose the entire universe, and your children, and your home and your career when you get completely freaked out because your car got scratched?
The more you make the project your inner subtleness, the more there is a baseline of delight which sits behind the discomfort which is always there. There is a pleasurable sense of ecstasy that you can always have access to, irrespective of circumstances. You have access to this no matter how angry you are and how out of sorts you feel. The more you learn to roll with the punch, the more there’s a baseline of security and fulfillment that is at the root of your life. The more your life is ecstatic.
What that is saying to you, what you are saying to yourself is that “I don’t have to change the world to suit me, because my Rabb is the master of the world that faces me, and He has my very best auspices at heart, more so than I have. I can’t do better for me than my Rabb can.”
“I can’t do better for me than my Rabb can.”
So there are two projects in the world. When you are outwardly successful and you are pursuing the world out there, then you are a stranger to the inner project. We call this being outwardly gathered. The degree to which you’re trying to twist the world to serve you and suit you, is the degree to which you are outwardly gathered and fail at the inner project.
When you are inwardly gathered, you’re outwardly separate. This means that it requires a degree of disinvestment in the outer project to succeed at the inner project. And that disinvestment in the outer project is really assisted by disaster and calamity. In this sense the earthquakes of life are not our enemies but they are our biggest friends. They provide the gymnasium for us to do the real work, which is to develop our contentment with the decree. And it is precisely that contentment with the decree that creates that baseline of contentment, and of security, which is the presence of the Rabb.
May Allah grant us nearness to him.
May Allah grant us annihilation in him.
May Allah grant us death before we die.
This discourse was given by Shaykh Ebrahim after a dhikr session on the 9th of February, 2013.