Why Only 1% Improvements?

We are supposed to do so much more, are we not?

As Greg Wells PhD., a Toronto-based professor and exercise medicine researcher said,

A 1% change [in your deen] might not seem like much, but small improvements in the way you live every day will amplify your life. [Because] being just 1% better is like compound interest for your body and mind.” — The Ripple Effect

If we can be true to every piece of advice, every good thing inside of us and lean in to them, we would be much better people overall. We would be healthier, happier, kinder and more optimistic, because it’s not about listening to these things.

First of all, listening is too strong of a word. ‘Listening’ is dense and sounds like you might press a button and automatically yield results! Cars took decades to design, you did not just turn the ignition and start the car without someone making an effort beyond you commuting to a dealership and writing a cheque. That is not how life works.

Really, it is about leaning into the truth of our hopes and our good nature, our core principles and the little things in life that could be done just a bit better. It is about braving through minor changes without focusing so closely on the outcome. It’s okay! If you try to start saving up and miss the mark, you’re not going to default on your student loans and go bankrupt overnight!

Look, we humans make life changes very hard for ourselves. It is easy to simply say we can’t change because “the older you get, the more solid your habits are.” Children are willing to experiment, to right their wrongs, but we are afraid to be judged, like we don’t know what we are doing, or as if we lack discipline. But is this not the epitome of the way such issues are created? We want to hold on to our agency we have to make decisions, good or bad, with less visible consequence from others who are polite. We are stubborn in holding on to this version of ‘freedom to choose,’ which ironically disables us from making a change.

It’s not about admitting we are wrong. It is about seeing beyond where we are. Change begins with kindness, and believing discipline is a choice – as opposed to something you just have or are born into.

Take my morning tea, for instance. I know too much of it makes me diuretic and dehydrated. I know taking 2.5 teaspoons of sugar so consistently endangers my health. Maybe I should not drink condensed milk. So I don’t force myself to stop. I simply entertain the idea of something different, a little less unhealthy, for a few days. Maybe even a few weeks, depending on how resistant I am to the idea. So next time, I add a teaspoon of whole milk, and wonder, while sipping my delightful drink, about what it would be like to taste it with whole milk alone. If I hate it, I go back and continue decreasing in increments, repeating the process. I constantly remind myself of why I’m doing what I’m doing, as silly as it seems. You might think, “Well, why not just stop and be done with it?” Consider your guiltiest pleasure, and see what you might find easier. That’s how I understand this, however small, example.

I don’t know what your reasons for change are. But whatever the motivation, you don’t need to try to believe it’s a reason that will help you come back to the right track, if it is.

Most reasons that drive us to be better people are ones that were already there in the first place. May Allah grant us all success that will give us prosperity and peace in this world and the next – Ameen!

In Setting Things Right, Rightly

This is an out-of-the-ordinary rant based on an unfortunate experience I had no power over recently. Forgive me for the brief change in tone.

When an incident is corrected as a mistake, it is done so with mercy. When it is corrected as a personal flaw, it is done so with harshness. The mistake is treated as an action and therefore becomes an opportunity for growth and success in multiple areas over time with a nudge in the right direction now and again. A mistake corrected as a flaw is an attack on the person themselves. To correct a mistake by being precise about what went wrong is one thing. But to be vague and throw around judgmental generalizations or labels such as “incompetent,” or “struggling students are burdens to their schools,” does not improve anything. 

All it does is cause further stagnation and nervous decline in development. Teachers and administrators, choose carefully from your tactics of discipline and correction.

Going to Jannah: I’ll meet you there!

“I had a dream last night.” I remarked distantly, then bringing my gaze to Noora when she looked up.

“Good or bad?” she inquired, cautious.

“Good.” I beamed, shaking my head in awe. “So good.”

“And?”

“Well, it went something like this.” And I began my account.

“I was crossing a tiny bridge, like one of those flimsy, narrow, wooden constructs that built over huge valleys between mountains here on Earth. I saw them underfoot – the ones who didn’t make it, and almost tasted the heat but Allah shielded me enough that it wasn’t painful. Slowly but surely, the pain of even knowing what the fire looked like faded behind me, dissipating into the Fujjar’s new home. A cool breeze picked itself up from somewhere closeby, and my bridge felt sturdier as I inched closer to the lush green place ahead. A scent captured my attention and I paused for a moment that felt like a gorgeous eternity. I ventured over the threshold, and a tall door, opened itself up for me, as it bowed it’s head in humility, allowing the lower green pasture to grow on and around it. The plant’s little blossoms sparkled like pearls – and these were nothing like what you might see on Earth.

“And there they were.”

“Who?” Noora inquired, leaning into the anecdote.

“You. My mother, my family, everyone! You walked over to me and I’ll never forget the conversation we had.” My eyes danced with joyful light. “And then, you know, you walked up to me with this big smile on your face–”

Noora and I laughed. I was nearly overcome with emotion.

“And then – and then, you put your arm around my shoulders and tucked me into a big hug, and whispered in my right ear: ‘you made it, Nevergreen.’ So, I smiled, saying quietly to you: ‘Well, I took your advice. But you knew that already.’

“You laughed again, and this time, my eyes were playfully amused by now, you said..”

Noora was intrigued, a crinkle showing up between her eyebrows briefly. “What did I say?”

“Oh, sweetheart,” I drawled with replicated, graceful delight.

“Me?”

“No, Noora. It’s what you always say.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Noora chuckled.

I nodded. “Then you put your hand out as if you were reaching for a fruit off of one of the trees, and a bouquet of flowers materialized in your hands. You gave it to me, laughing gently, and said, ‘Congratulations, Nevergreen. You’ve joined me in Jannah. Shall we go find the others?’

“And then I made a Dua and a silver box full of bouquets showed up. It was made of  silver but it was the lightest box I’d ever carried. And then I asked Allah to attach Ferrerro Rocher to each bouquet since I remembered people on earth loved it. I tried one and it didn’t taste anything like Earth’s ferrerro. Ohhh my God it was sooooo good! Over there, even by the gates, you could hear the children laughing, the birds cooing. See far ahead into unending vistas just waiting to be explored by the people Allah loves. I couldn’t explain it to you even if I tried.”

Noora grinned and pulled me in for a big hug, this time, in the present.

I grinned as we pulled away. “May Allah grant us entry into Jannah in real life.”

“Ameen, Nevergreen. Ameen.”

“Yeah and we gotta stop daydreaming about meeting up!”

“Oh, sweetheart,” said Noora.

“See? There it is, my friend.”

Journal of a Tree

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We are all like trees in some capacity.

We glow and grow old, increasing in beauty with every year that passes. What kind of tree are you? Perhaps you bear fruit, lowering your branches in humility. Perhaps you are tall, grown and alive, but your heart only quietly beats as it struggles to survive, every day aching, hoping for nourishment from within. Or maybe you are an evergreen, stronger and larger in heart and spirit than the rest of us, driven by visions of touching stars and growing firmer from experiences that left scars.

I was a sapling once. I grew, but I grew in all sorts of different directions. I felt broken at times. I used to think I was stable and unwavering but one day a child tried to climb onto a branch of mine, and due to my weakness that branch collapsed. Children used to love climbing up my trunk, tiny feet gripping branches as they ascended, but soon, enough of them broke that I looked and felt empty, and parents took their children away to keep them safe. Soon children, loyally, tried to come back but they soon resigned themselves to deserting me too. What happened to optimism? I wonder if that was the same moment I gave up.

I felt a sudden pain, and it was in my trunk. It was worse, oh so much worse, than my injured branches. I could not see who or what was there, as it hacked away at my strongest point. I began to deteriorate, and I soon forgot what well-being meant or felt like. No sooner had I found it in myself to turn to God for help, there His help already was, a presence loving, merciful and unwavering.

The acceptance I sought came, slowly but surely as I talked it out with Him, and suddenly, I found the answers were all within me; I had been looking outside for comfort, I just hadn’t realized I had them all along, under the surface. But this alone didnt stop me me from falling.  Finally, though I was able to mask the pain from myself with distraction, it came to a climax.

What did I do wrong? I asked.

How do I get back? Are my sins too grave for Him to accept me? Time passed as I lay there begging Allah to save me, to bring me back to life, better than when I had begun. What I hadn’t realized, was the dripping drizzle, rain that was dripping mercifully. A drop touched my rooted, injured heart for a moment, and you must have heard me sigh with relief, my leftover leaves rustling in the wet wind. Over time the patter grew faster, but also increasing in softness and clarity. I approached further purity, feeling clean and pristine quite quickly. Soon, my branches were taken — the rain continued comforting, and I felt the peace and safety of a child being cared by a loving parent. My trunk came apart. My stump was all that remained of the despondent version of my self.

Someone saved pieces of me, you see, and built a home. It was painful; after all they were taking me apart, piecing me into another form, but soon their young family came to reside within and I watched, able to take part in their joys, as they tracked the children’s growing height on my wall, and in the morning the little ones ran across the hall to wake their mum and dad, their tiny feet padding against my floorboards. The recitation of the Quran reverberated through my walls, that they painted with light and hope for a better day with gentle, kind strokes. My prayer – to end up better, and farther along in the journey which I had begun, before the pain – was answered.

Today, I call myself Nevergreen.

I will break but I will always come back together. I will never stay the same, and I am not the best of all the trees. But that’s fine. I’m satisfied with just being the best of me.

To Be Truthful to God

Sometimes, human beings can be pretty egotistical. When something ‘good’ happens, we want to take credit and assume status. On the other hand, when something difficult happens, we are nowhere to be found, and assume no responsibility. It’s understandable that no one wants to be associated with something negative, and with people it makes sense to want to create a light, almost façade in order to avoid attacks on your morality and past mistakes. Let’s face it, not everyone is innocent and we all want a piece of the pie.

But when it comes to Allah, there’s really no need to be so careful. He’s more than family, so it’s not like He doesn’t know everything already anyway. Yup! It’s too late, you were caught before you were even in the thought of the act. And yet, Allah is so Merciful, he lets us take our time. We disobey him, we face the consequences, we complain and all along He is teaching us a lesson we are resisting. In reality, He allows, and so must we.

What it means to allow is that you allow yourself to feel what you feel. You allow yourself to own up to your own mistakes in your heart, mind and soul, to yourself and to Allah. It relieves such a great burden of making that effort to save face externally, simultaneously retaining up the walls we have within. And the sad part, is that the one we are holding these walls up against is Allah Himself. In between, separating ourselves from our most loved one, the one who loves us most. These are walls of anger, regret, guilt, resentment, sadness and anguish. Most of all, they are walls that represent our mistrust, our lack of thinking of Him or being conscious of Him. With these walls, we tell Allah, unfortunately, that something smaller He Himself created, is better than Him and better for us than Him, even though He is the one who gave us those people. They are insincere and they can be very dark, and we do little about it. So, you feel that this is something to consider, what can you do?

Just be truthful to Him. It’s so simple and so easy once you come to understand something deeply powerful:

Allah’s theme is perfection. You were created perfect, even if you didn’t stay that way. Your life is exactly perfect for what you need to learn. Don’t take this the wrong way, please! — but even your mistakes are perfect because you need them to learn, but they also shape your life and lead you to better things. Just don’t slam into them. Use your judgement; be wise, and even that is an achievement in and of itself.

Your family is perfect for the kind of support you do (or don’t) need. Sometimes, although it’s painful to accept for anyone going through loneliness and/or abuse, if you don’t have many family members to speak of, that are alive, or you do but they are abusive, it may mean you needed to find out that you were better off in solitude, in growth with different people, and that the journey of finding those people was essential to the survival of your soul, as well as learning how to protect yourself from difficult and sometimes destructive relationships and people in general. Something in your future will require some of the resilience or emotional or strategic, creative problem-solving you deal with now, so don’t despair. There’s something good coming your way, and it’s fun, regardless of whether it’s just Paradise right away, or having the blessing of using your tough stuff and unique experiences for good with others and yourself.

This life and its sequence of events isn’t just a test, it is necessity and need for the human soul, body, mind and heart.