Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, post no evil; My forty days of solitude

It all started when I realized how much my brain was fried. It was over-excited. I was stressed out. ALL. THE. TIME.
A steady barrage of news and information to respond to, retain, analyze, sort out and decipher. My days were a lifeless routine and my prayers were a series of emotionless movements and words.
I was becoming desensitized to violence, my empathy towards others has lessened.
I was slipping into an abyss.
It also seemed to me that my previously clear dividing line between right and wrong was getting a little too murky for comfort.
A stand with the self was necessary.
Even though I have always portrayed myself as an extrovert, I fit in more comfortably with an introvert’s description and way of life. I needed a turtle shell to retreat into.
So I decided to take a break from it all. I took me by the shoulder, shook me and looked me in the eyes and told me that wish as I may, I have no control of all things beyond me. I cannot feed all the hungry. I cannot heal the lepers nor make the blind see. I cannot be the good mother, wife, daughter or friend that I wanted to be if I’m not in tune with me.
With a family and a job, one cannot just up and disappear into the desert (as tempting as that might sound). So with physical solitude out of the question, I opted for a psychological one. I decided to practice “3uzla” or spiritual solitude eliminating all unnecessary communication and reconnecting with the Divine. The desert adds and allows for melancholy and contemplation in a strange haunting way. And lots of desert I have here.
My aim was not merely to shield myself from negativity, but also to examine myself well.
Research has shown that decreasing noise in all its forms, even for a few minutes daily, boosts the immune system and lowers aggression.
But quiet should not be just the absence of sound. It should be a state of calm. A state of reflection and inner peace.
Interestingly all spiritual disciplines employ solitude as the pathway to the divine through silent meditation, prayer etc. Buddhism’s “Noble Eightfold Path” is the Buddha’s practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from suffering, attachments and delusions. They were embodied in:
Right Understanding
Right Thoughts
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration.
Ancient Zoroastrians used the term “Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta,” which stood for: “good thoughts, good words, good deeds.”
In Islam, solitude is encouraged too. The prophet, peace be upon him was asked “How can salvation be achieved?” He replied, “Control your tongue, keep to your house, and weep over your sins.”
The Qur’an tells us how alsayida Maryam (Mary mother of Jesus), peace be upon her, withdrew into a private place to worship her Lord in a time in which moral decadence was prevalent.
 “Whomsoever wishes his religion to be healthy and at peace, and his heart and body at comfort tell him embark upon solitude since these are horrific times and the wise are aloof”.

So dive in I did!

As I embarked on this journey, I strived for elevation from the humiliation of sins to the greatness of submission, acceptance and worship. I wanted to be able to see my own faults, be able to forgive my past and direct my heart towards my Maker at all times.
I also prayed for forgiveness from leading any other soul astray.

At the time I started thinking about all of this, I began reading a beautiful book a dear friend gifted me (Thank you friend) called The Forty Rules of Love, a novel about the Sufi mystic, Rumi. I am not a Sufi follower by any means but I have to say I enjoyed the book tremendously and highly recommend it.
Rules 17 and 23 respectively state:
“The whole universe is contained within a single human being-YOU. Everything that you see around, including the things that you might not be fond of and even the people you despise or abhor, is present within you in varying degrees. Therefore, do not look for Sheitan (Evil) outside yourself either. The devil is not an extraordinary force that attacks from without. It is an ordinary voice within. If you set to know yourself fully, face it with honesty and hardness.”
“The human being has a unique place among God’s creation. “I breathed into him of My Spirit,” God says. Each and every one of us without exception is designed to be God’s delegate on earth. Ask yourself, just how often do you behave like a delegate, if you ever do so? Remember, it fells upon each of us to discover the divine spirit inside and live by it.”

This all sounded easy-peasy when I planned it! But anyone who knows me even barely will know how hard it is for me to be quiet and not talk much. It took a lot of determination in the first few days but after that, I was actually very comfortable in my own company and noticed overall calm. I would like to think that I also found “ons” or companionship with Allah via zikr. A tête-à-tête with Him if I may say so.
I turned off all social media venues and only responded to work emails and spoke to my parents and children. And yes, my spouse too J
So an added bonus was that I proved to myself and to the naysayers that I was capable of zipping my mouth shut. Amen!
(I have to say though that I have spoken out loud to myself more times than I care to admit. And found that I called myself Shawqiya. Don’t ask)

So…To a mind that is disciplined. To shunning of all that is detrimental to one’s soul and to fellow human beings. To all that is human and good.

N.B. More of this and I just might reach enlightenment. Stay tuned J

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hear 'bout mi hair here!

Before I start, I need to state that I am an African. Along the lines of my lineage, other bloods seem to have spilled in and have shown up in some features but they could not over-write the African hair heritage.
That being said, I have curly hair that refuses to conform, has a mind of its own and for the most part defies gravity. Unfortunately, the forces that be have decreed that this hair be termed "bad" while hair on the opposite end of the spectrum be labelled "good". And we have gone along with that and bent over backwards to "better" our hair and make it behave. We cooked it (literally), fried it, fixed it (formalin does a great job if you ignore the health hazards), Sodium Hydroxy'd it and did everything known to man to break those disulphide and hydrogen bonds.
When I was 8 i so wanted to cut my hair hoping for a look that was popular then (a Carre' or Bobcut). My mom dumped me on my aunt who in turn dumped me on an Egyptian hairdresser who in all fairness tried to explain to me that it won't work but i insisted. I ended up with a very short cut afro. The ups of that was it made getting ready for school a breeze as I waited in line after my brother for our dad to pass the "khulal" (a special comb used by African men that has its teeth vertically aligned vs the regular comb). The hair cut brought out my face and we found out that i had a twin in my male cousin, Nazar. The downs of it was I looked like my male cousin :)
I rocked my afro for a while, then under the caring hands of our Ethiopian maid transitioned into braids which worked very well till high school.
Alas, society has a way of making sure you fit into its round holes even if you are a square peg. So fry, cook, fix, relax I did.
It was no fun! And it did not work. I hated it. If God wanted me to have "good" hair, he was perfectly capable of doing so, eh?
So I stopped! And I accepted! And I rejoiced! And I loved my hair as is. And with that came self love and self appreciation and confidence. I can occasionally cook it but only if I want to and when I want to. Most days I like it raw.
To me, acceptance of one's hair is like accepting one's skin color. It is an acceptance of race and self. A trust in God's creation. He knows best doesn't he?
I am a black woman. My hair is me. I refuse to conform, have a mind of my own and for the most part I dare to defy.
I have recently chopped my hair once again. But this time around I was fine with it and loving it and will make my own square pegs to snuggle into.
The challenge now is to find a hairdresser who understands where I'm coming from. In the past two months, I have travelled between looking like Halle Berry, Ex Phillipines President Aquino, Egyptian actress Firdous Abdelhameed and Ethiopian singer Tigist.
But all is good and the journey goes on.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

What's in a name?

Shakespeare famously said through Juliet "That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
But is that really so?

A name is a title. It is an adornment and a symbol. It's a powerful piece of us. It is what we respond to. It might not be who we all are yet we become different if it changes.

My story goes that my parents met an Indian girl named Siema (pronounced Seema and worldwide spelled as such but my parents had to give me a run). They liked the name so much so that when I was born, my dad asked his friend, an Arabic language expert, if the name could have a meaning in Arabic.  He was told it could be a derivative of the quranic aya
"سيماهم في وجوههم من أثر السجود"
Which literally translates to a skin marking that imprints on one's forehead from prolonged prostration to God (the Muslim prayer is made up of specific physical movements that include bringing one's forehead to the ground multiple times in each prayer). The meaning to be conveyed is that your face reflects the inner you. The ancient Arabs would say
ما أسر أحد سريرة إلا أبداها الله على صفحات وجهه وفلتات لسانه
Whatever you hold within you of good or evil, God will draw/bring out on the pages of your face and bouts of your tongue
(An old wise man recently told me "it's a burden your parents bestowed upon you. You unconsciously feel the desire to live up to your name." Maybe. Maybe not. I once knew a Hope who was an absolute pessimist).
Anyway that is how I came to be named.
As far as I know I am the first Sudanese Siema(sp). I know at least 4 Seemas named after me. I think this deserves to go down in history *insert hair flip and Cleopatra'ish pose*
I cannot recount the number of times I had to explain my name. Or the number of times stubborn Sudanese just flat out refused it. It didn't exist so it cannot be was the reasoning. I was instead given more common names like Sumaya and Shaymaa by several teachers in school and college.

To make matters more interesting and to add to the story, our neighbors to the North,  the Egyptians, call the movie theaters (seema).  And they also happened to have a famous candy brand by that same name. To my horrific delight, that company went on to produce jam and honey too and TV commercials arrived in Sudan in the mid 80s. My school friends made sure I heard about it.
I was also serenaded in my college years with
 "سيما يا عسل يا احلي عسل إنتاج مصانع. ..مصانع صبار"... the honey commercial

As I write this I have to admit it's corny cute. If I were to go back,  I would be less embarrassed by it and
enjoy it more.

The reason I have come to like my name is that I have discovered it to be an international one. It makes me a child of the world. It fits in fine almost everywhere.  It's shared by Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Persians.
I've come across it a lot in the Indian community where it means face or boundary in Hindi.
Seema in Hebrew means precious thing or treasure (Met an Israeli whose sister was a Seema. That served to break the ice in my first real life Israeli meeting :)
And in Persian it means face.
Was told in Latin it means sprout and in Scottish translates into listener (but as far as I know it is not used as a name).

In Islam, it is narrated that a father owes his child 3 things; to choose a good, wise woman to mother him and bring him up well, to give him a good name and to teach him the holy book.
 (يحسن اختيار أمه، وأن يحسن اسمه، وأن يعلّمه الكتاب)
I attest that my dad did all three things and for that I am blessed and pray he finds peace in this life and the eternal abode.

So what's in a name? A lot. A name has a mysterious power. It somehow captures a piece of our soul. It reflects our essence and has a hand in molding us.
I'm known for asking friends to name their daughters Seema. It might seem outwardly narcissistic but that is not the case. I have lived this name and enjoyed it fully and am aware of the doors it opens. It is a gift I want to give to you my friends. A piece of me if you may.