Grief is a natural process that we experience when we lose a loved one, and…
Many worries and stresses of work, school, family, friends, and relationships often occupy our lives. It is important to regularly reset our minds and remember to reflect on that which is most important. In the same way that we should care for our bodies with a healthy diet and regular exercise, and our souls with prayers and worship, our minds also need care and maintenance. There are numerous techniques taught to us by Islamic tradition to enhance our emotional well-being using meditation and reflection and, at the same time, potentially draw us closer to God. Through contemplation, we become more aware of our own selves, can re-center our thoughts, and can focus on every moment of our lives, so that we make the most of our activities.
How Does Mindfulness and Meditation Affect our Brain?
At different times in our lives, we may feel so stressed out or emotionally overwhelmed that we feel no way out. During exams, illness, or even arguments between family members, we may experience anxiety and depression, which we need to reconcile in some way. At those moments, meditation and re-centering ourselves play an even more important role. Meditation is personal for everyone, but most kinds of meditation have a few things in common: “a quiet location with as few distractions as possible; a specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions); a focus of attention (a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath); and an open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them).”1 These practices have been scientifically proven to improve brain function including its ability to process information; “slow, stall, or even reverse changes that take place in the brain due to normal aging;”2 lessen anxiety; and improve our focus.3
Is Meditation Islamic?
For thousands of years humans have practiced meditation and deep reflection. Numerous meditative techniques stress the importance of contemplation and reflection. One of the best and most popular types of meditation is engaging in prayer.4 Praying and supplicating to God is one way to help us with our everyday troubles like anxiety and stress. These prayers or supplications can be in our own words or written by others. What better and more beautiful supplications to recite than that of the Holy Household (pbut) which include Dua Kumayl and the supplications in Al-sahifah al-sajjadiyyah.
These notions are also very present within the teachings of the Quran, the Prophet, and his infallible family. Numerous Quranic verses, for instance, speak to the creation of the moon, stars, oceans, and other signs of God that are present in nature. God states, “We shall (continue to) show them Our evidence in the world and within their souls until it becomes clear that the He is the truth. Was it not sufficient for you that your Lord witnesses all things?”5 In this verse, God demonstrates that all of that around and within us are His unique signs, and it is vital for our spiritual and emotional growth to look up at the stars, clouds, rivers, and all of the other beautiful creations of the Almighty. Going for a walk or an early morning jog and meditating upon the beauty of God’s creation puts so much of our life into perspective and alleviates the stress and anxieties of the day.
Bits of Advice
1. Take some time for yourself: It is vital for our mental and spiritual health that we take some time away from the distractions of the world and focus on what is important. When we are praying or supplicating, for instance, we should be in a quiet room away from any distractions as we perform this important ritual. Through consistent effort and small steps, we will start to see growth and connectivity with God.
2. Look up at the sky! Instead of so often looking down at our phones, it is important for us to look up and appreciate the beauty of God’s creations. Going for a daily walk, even if it is only ten minutes, and gazing at the clouds, trees, and other aspects of nature can truly allow us to be more mindful and content.
3. Inspect yourself [muhasaba]: Imam Musa al-Kadhim (p) is reported to have said, “ He is not from us (i.e., not from our true followers) who does not account [for] himself every day, so that if he has performed a good deed he asks God for [success to do] more, and if he has committed a bad deed, he seeks forgiveness from God and repents to Him.”6 When we keep ourselves in check on a daily basis, we can avoid the stressors associated with being negligent of good deeds.
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1. “Meditation: In Depth,” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, accessed October 13, 2020, https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-in-depth.
2. “Meditation: In Depth,” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, accessed October 13, 2020, https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-in-depth.
3. Cooper, Belle Beth, “What Is Meditation & How Does It Affects Our Brains?”, Buffer Resources, June 30, 2020, https://buffer.com/resources/how-meditation-affects-your-brain/.
4. “A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation,” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, April 22, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-deptmeditation/art-20045858.
5. The Holy Quran 41:53, Muhammad Sarwar translation.
6. Al-Kulayni, Al-kafi, vol. 2, p. 453.
5. قال الله تعالى: ((سَنُرِيهِمْ آيَاتِنَا فِي الْآفَاقِ وَفِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَتَّىٰ يَتَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ ۗ أَوَلَمْ يَكْفِ بِرَبِّكَ أَنَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ شَهِيدٌ))
6. روي عن الإمام الكاظم (ع): ” ليس منا من لم يحاسب نفسه في كل يوم فإن عمل حسنا استزاد الله وإن عمل سيئا استغفر الله منه وتاب إليه.”