As parents we want to afford our children the best education and provide excellent tarbiyyah (upbringing and manners). As spouses we want to be fun and attractive - dressed well and interesting. As home-makers we want our food to taste amazing and our home to look spotless and stylish. As individuals we dream about finding ways to make enough money to achieve all of our dreams – to travel, to write that novel, to start that amazing business.
There is nothing wrong with these things, after all life is to be lived and Allah (SWT) says “And when the prayer has been concluded, disperse within the land and seek from the bounty of Allah , and remember Allah often that you may succeed.” (Quran 62:10) and after all working hard for many of these things is part of our faith.
Like everyone else I have my hopes and dreams. I think day and night about how I can educate my children in the best way and improve their manners, the perfect recipe that would please everyone, the next blog post or article to write, the next craft to attempt, how I can organise my home better, how I can develop myself further to achieve some of the projects I have daydreamed about. They often overwhelm my mind, all demanding my attention and vying for focus. I have been trying my best to work on all of these and also praying to Allah (SWT) for help in doing a good job of them.
Yet something I read recently stopped me in my tracks:
“Extensive hopes (about this worldly life) give rise to lethargy when it comes to acts of obedience, procrastinating with repentance, desire for worldly things, forgetfulness of the hereafter and hardness of the heart; because the softness of the heart and its purity only comes about by remembering death, the grave, reward and punishment, and the horrors of the hereafter…for if one remembers death, he strives to do acts of obedience, his worries decrease and he is satisfied with less.” (Sheikh Tawfique Choudhry)
We work so hard, we run around and yet often we achieve so little. The quote above indicates that the reason for this is that great hopes for this life lead to laziness when it comes to our relationship with Allah (SWT) and obeying his commandments. This is not to say that our work and effort in this world is not necessary, but it reminded me that this should not be our only focus. It made me think of how often our dua’s are filled with requests for help in worldly things and how the thoughts of the next life are pushed out.
It also made me mindful of how overwhelming all of the demands of modern life can be and how often we are trying to do so many things at once or are already thinking about the next task or role even as we are in the middle of the current one. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by all of these thoughts, a particular quote often comes to mind “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.” (Oprah Winfrey).
This way of thinking makes me take a step back and think about what is the best thing I could be doing right in this moment? There are many times when I have asked this questions and it has benefited me: when I want to spend the afternoon watching movies, but decided the best thing I could do in the moment is practise my Arabic or make dhikr or read to the kids or cook something wholesome for my family. This question helps me to step back from the multitude of demands the to-do list in my mind is making and pick one and concentrate on it fully.
Stepping away from all of the noise helps me to be present in the moment and focus on what I am doing, to find benefit and pleasure in it and to do a better job because I am concentrating rather than rushing. Doing things mindfully and a bit more slowly and thoroughly also helps to make time to do the action in a way that is more beneficial - whether doing it in the sunnah way, engaging in dhikr whilst I do it, or correcting my intention as to why I am doing it.
As we begin the new year and I am inundated with ideas and products for achieving new dreams and goals, both in the shops and in my mailbox, thinking of the next life and being mindful of what I am doing in this minute are both having a calming effect on me and helping to undertake the right actions one at a time, rather than feeling stressed about all of them at once.