Never Alone

Life throws us into different directions all the time as we’re on its journey. Re-navigating ourselves to get back on the right track is part of the journey. There are times we might have to continue the journey on our own and this can lead to feeling lonely. Having traveled alone through various countries I know how lonely the road can make one feel.

However, being alone is essential for one to grow and move forward. It gives us the freedom to mold ourselves the way we believe to be true to who we are.  During this time, we are able to see what we’re made of as our faith is tested.

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When we are willing to go out on the road on our own, we are opening up to new possibilities. Once you open yourself up to the world is when you realize that we are never alone. Not for a moment. When we go out to the world we are making a statement. A statement that works as a prayer that would be answered.

Sincerity in our journey will bring the people that we need in life at exactly the right time. This was true when I was on the road and it remains true in life. I’ve had various incidents where I thought I had to walk alone but people would somehow always show up when they are needed.

One example was during 2013’s Raya/Eid whilst I was traveling in Rome on my own. I’m used to songs, food, family gathering, children running around during this time of the year. I was about to spend it alone that year. It was a conscious decision on my part.

After I was done with my studies in the UK, an opportunity to travel around Europe would not come by easily. I was there by choice but, I can’t help but notice the people spending time with their loved ones. Loneliness creeps up on me.

The next thing I knew was that I got connected with Danial. Someone I was acquainted with back in Oxford.

I ended up walking around Rome with him and Dina(his partner) on that day. It turned out to be one of the best parts of my Euro adventure. The two of them was kind of enough to have me with them and we all shared stories with each other. One story that stayed with me until today was one of going to Oxford University.

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I’ve always been under the impression that all these Oxford University students have always had their lives figured out. Danial shared an interesting bit about his life. He was not the best student in high school.

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In fact, his grades were not all that impressive even for the average performer. It was during his university days where he really performed and outdone himself in both the classroom and outside of it. He had help from others of course. But, it was that combined with his determination that secured him a place in a Postgraduate program at Oxford University.

One of the reasons why I love that story is that it’s a reminder to me that it’s not about how we start and it doesn’t matter what state we are in at the moment. What matters is if we’re willing to do something about it and change our situation. Once we take that first step internally, the right people will come to aid us in our journey.

We are never alone in our journey. We get to where we are because of the help that we receive. Yes, we all need to put in the work ourselves but we get ahead with others. They come hand in hand. Never in isolation. I recently spoke to a Muay Thai Silver Medalist and she told me how this rings true in a fight.

Fighting in the ring seems like a scary feat. Especially since it’s just you and your opponent. It looks as though you are fighting for yourself. But, she told me that in the ring you are fighting for the people cheering for you in your corner. You’re doing it for them and you don’t care about getting hurt because they supported you to get to where you are.

Keeping this in mind I like to remind myself that on days where it feels like I’m facing the world alone that I have people in my corner, cheering me on. The same way I would be in their corner and cheer them in their own bout with life.

Life sends us who we need when we need them. Not as we want them. Know that the only thing we need to focus on is being sincere in our journey and we will never be alone.

 

Reflections from The Alchemist

A personal legend is a concept I was recently introduced to when I read the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. A novel about a young shepherd’s journey in search of his personal legend as he travels to the great Pyramids.

A personal legend is something that you have always wanted to accomplish in your life. All of us know our personal legend when we were younger.

It is our purpose for being sent to earth in the first place. We all have our own heroic poem to write in this world. Each of us with a unique rhythm, prose, plot, and twist.

Here are 4 reflections of mine from the Alchemist.

1) Signs of life

In finding our purpose in life we have to first pay attention to the signs that are sent to us. All of us are constantly receiving signs, we just have to pay attention to them. On most days, the signs are subtle. But, there are days it will be as though you were hit in the head by a brick with a note.

The signs of our life are constantly directing us to get on a path. If we ignore the path we’re supposed to walk on is there any wonder why we feel so lost on some days?

I’m a firm believer that what makes us the best version of who we are is because of our life’s calling. So, pay attention to the signs.

 

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“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”

 

2) The Test
In the Alchemist, when the shepherd went out to chase his personal legend, he ended up losing all of his worldly possessions. This was his test. It was to see whether he truly believed and wanted to find his life’s purpose.

All of us have experienced beginner’s luck when it comes to some venture we pursue. When our beginner’s luck strikes out it will feel like a never-ending, uphill battle.

Getting on the path of finding our personal legend will not be an easy one. But, it would be worth it.

3) Love
Love, probably the one thing we all seek in life with a passion. My big takeaway when it comes to love from the novel is not to worry.

The young shepherd fell in love with a desert woman in the middle of his journey. He wanted to forget his personal legend to be with her. But, she told him to continue his journey. Stating that they should trust the desert will bring him back.

If it’s true love then it would come back to us. If it doesn’t come back it’s not true love. So, do not worry.

4) Seek within
The boy traveled the world in search of hidden treasures in the Pyramids. But, by the end of it, the treasure he found was really in himself. Nothing would replace the lesson he received from traveling around the world. Meeting the people he met and seeing things through a new lens.

Whatever our personal legends are we have to seek within. The answers are within us. But, we will only find them when we go out looking.

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” -Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist-

May The Fourth Be With You: Prison

 

May the fourth be with you all.

“There is more than one prison. I think you carry yours wherever you go.” -Chirrut Imwe-

This quote by one of the Guardians of Whills is one where I am learning to practice. When he said this to Cassian, he was referring to Cassian’s guilt for the horror he committed as a rebel.

Our minds can lock us in all sorts of imaginary problems. That is the worst kind of prison to be in.

By allowing ourselves to go, only then can we see things for what they are.

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The cure to freeing our minds? Reading.

While in prison Malcolm X spent many hours reading. On some days up to 12 hours a day. Serving seven years in prison and using that time to consume books daily the way he did is an act of liberation.

In my university days, I’m not sure if I even read 12 hours in a month. There was always something to distract me from actually getting the time down to read.

Now, I am doing my best to cultivate the habit of reading in my daily routine. I always have a clearer head once I go through the clutter of understanding someone else’s mind.

Without knowledge, there really is no way for us to be free of the prison the mind can build.

 

Gratitude: Mother Of All Virtues

Gratitude, I have been told that it is not only one of the great virtues but the mother of all virtues. The concept of being grateful for what we have, whether it’s a little bit or a lot was foreign to me.

I always thought that people are only grateful because that their life is blessed. It took me a while to realize that it was the other way around. People’s lives are blessed when they’re grateful.

The happiest people I have been around with and the most attractive ones were always those who complain a lot less and practiced gratitude.

They weren’t necessarily people who had a smooth ride in life. Not at all. In fact, they’ve gone through things in life that I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like to carry such a weight on my shoulders.

But, they persevere. They face their problems head on and find ways around them. If life is a battlefield that we are charging into, then gratitude is the armor that we wear in battle.

I’ve also met people who have the world at their feet one way or another. They could be blessed with wealth, intelligence, health, time, energy, and family. Somehow, they always have a reason to complain about everything. And they stay with the same problem for years.

We forget that all of us are given different provisions in life and that our resources are not limited to just money alone. As I’m typing this right now, I’m doing this on an ironing board in the living area.

My room recently has been rendered as a health hazard to live in. Some jackets(My favorite ones) that looked brand new just a week ago, has now decayed because it was exposed to the air in the room. It has something to do with the corals in the empty fish tank that the room is attached to.

My option now is either to cry about how every little thing in my life has gone wrong, or acknowledge that it’s all just a test and part of my journey.

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Every day when the sun rises we have the choice to either make the best of things or the worst of things. Gratitude can only be practiced once we understand that life isn’t meant to be perfect.

That our only job is to strive to be better and the best that we can. We’re always going to fall short and that’s the adventure.

But, while we’re on this crazy ride, there is no reason not to take notice of the little things. Even something as small as our fingers being able to hold a pen or put food in our mouth is such a delight.

If we can acknowledge every little thing that has gone wrong in life there is no reason why we can’t open our eyes to all the small good things. They’re both there. It’s about where we want to spend most of our time with.

Learning Humility From A Rebel (Chirrut Imwe) vs Vader

Humility is an essential lesson to learn in building our faith in this world. In the journey of building our faith, we all take similar paths. We find a group of people in doing good for the benefit of our community.

NGO, Social Enterprise, CSR projects, and religious institutions are some of the common places we go to in making the world a better place. However, at times our good deeds can work against us if it leads to arrogance.

The Star Wars universe has a great analogy of how humility is crucial in our journey to do good. Anakin Skywalker and Chirrut Imwe are two characters who are great parallels to study.

Both men wanted to do good because of their belief in the force. Each of them joined a group to uphold peace in one way or the other.

Anakin, joined the Jedi Order, where he was meant to protect the entire Galactic Senate. Chirrut was a Guardian of the Whills, protectors of the Temple of Kyber crystals (crystals that powered the Jedi’s weapon-Lightsabers).

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Being a Jedi, Anakin has led an army, dined with senators, and is constantly surrounded by Jedi Masters. Anakin had many great achievements as a Jedi. But, he did not benefit from them. He took pride in them and became arrogant, hateful, and filled with anger. All of those things eventually turned him into Darth Vader. The most iconic character to represent evil in cinematic history.

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As a Guardian of the Whills, Chirrut’s duty was to protect the Kyber Crystals. These crystals would allow the Jedi’s to carry out their sacred duties. However, missing out on the glory did not bother him.

Even when he was on the streets of his home planet due to Imperial occupation, he was still practicing and spreading the message of the force. He did not feel the lack of recognition should make his message and mission any less worthy.

 

He remained steadfast in his beliefs until the opportunity presents itself. Once a group of Rebels appeared on his home planet he joins them in their fight against the oppressive Empire.

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On his final mission with the Rebels, his last act was to activate the master switch that allowed the Rebels to receive the Death Star plans. The Death Star plans were the key to the destruction of the Galactic Empire’s Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Chirrut’s greatest contribution was that his action paved way for others to continue their mission. His sacred duty is to protect the sacred duty of others. No task is too small for him.

In building faith, it is a constant struggle to understand that there is no such thing as a small deed. We all get carried away with doing the big things, that it is so easy for us to lose the plot.

If our hearts are truly set on God alone, then we would know to not look down on any good deeds. We would also know to never look down on others. Because we know that no matter what our title says in this life, it will all be the same once we’re buried in the earth.

 

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In building faith, it is a constant struggle to understand that there is no such thing as a small deed. 

 

How we treat others is a good indication of our faith. Once we become selective in who receives our smiles, then know that this is the path of the dark side. You could be surrounded by Shaykhs, professors, world leaders and the likes but it will do no good to your faith. Just like Anakin Skywalker, who was in the company of Jedi Masters and still turned to the dark side.

The practical step I was told to take is to never take credit for the good that we do. Always know that it is because of a higher power. We are merely tools in the grand scheme of things.

Anakin took pride in his achievements. Chirrut credited everything to being the will of the force.

Humility was what saved the other, from taking a dark path.

Finding Balance in Life

Back in my University days, I thought having balance in life meant having a little of everything. An active social life, great career, quality family time, and even community service. I tried to do it all at the same time.

That lifestyle lasted for a period before completely burning me out. I learned the hard way that you can’t have it all at once.

Now, having balance in life for me means to prioritize on what it is that I really want out of life and stay focus.

 

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Striking for balance is a lifelong pursuit. 

 

Time and focus are finite assets.

I once juggled between classes, part-time work, social events, and family time. At that time, I felt that I was balancing my life with work and play. This was true for some time.

The reason eventually became because I was afraid of missing out.

What if a great opportunity comes my way if I miss that networking event? What if I miss out on a great joke at this party and I’m excluded in the next hangout? What if I look bad for saying no to this gathering?

What if? What if?

Because of these what ifs, I have a lot of trouble saying no to almost every invitation that came my way.

One of the costs I paid in saying yes to everything was my health and well-being. Exercise, a good night’s sleep was completely off the menu.

Living in perpetual fear of missing out on things is one of the fastest ways to throw us off our balance.

Something amazing is always happening somewhere. We’re going to miss out on a lot of things. That’s okay. We can’t be everywhere.

Being a part of one or two things that’s larger than life is already such a blessing. We have to decide what is it that we want to be a part of in life and work towards that direction.

What I’m working on practicing today is to limit my focus only on things that will get me closer to the things that matter to me. Even if these are things that others do not view as being important.

A spiritual person, for example, would prioritize their life with meditation, prayers, and other act of worship.

To someone who thinks spirituality is not important would view any act of worship as being extreme.

The only person that can feel the weighing scale of our life is us. Our priorities can change. That’s also okay.

In university, my priority then was to try as many new things as possible. It was my balancing act then. Which I feel that was why it lasted for as long as it did. Fast forward to today, my balancing act needs to change.

I need a clearer path rather than just exploring for the sake of it. My health took a toll on me during my days of trying out new things all the time. Today, I may have to focus my weeknights on going to the gym rather than constantly socializing.

There will come a time where I’m going to need to spend more time giving back to people. It’s a constant cycle of seasons.

Striking for balance is a lifelong pursuit.

Know One Another

It was such a blessing to have met with my friend, mentor, and brother Rick Chong, visiting from Melbourne a couple of days ago. There’s always something for me to learn from him with each meeting.

Just recently he requested to join me and some friends for Friday prayers. Such a pleasant surprise. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone from another faith attending a Friday prayer sermon.

“That’s because they’ve never been invited to I think” Rick’s reply to my comments on the usual attendees.

So, I brought him out to a local Mosque. He respectfully and intently observed practices that I have taken for granted and showed me his appreciation after we were done at the Mosque.

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In return to what little I could share about Islam to him, he enlightens me with concepts of Buddhism that I find so deeply connected to my own faith and worldview. The best Friday prayer session and lunch after I’ve experienced so far. 🙂

The most important lesson from that session I want to apply is to be more proactive to learn from people who are different than myself.

It’s so easy to get trapped in a cycle of getting only negative information about people from another faith group. If ever we find our only comments and sharing about those from another faith group are to ridicule others, it really has very little by the bad act of others, but it has everything to do with our heart’s state.

Every religion teaches us to commit to something higher than ourselves. But, if we play this game of “I get to go to heaven and you don’t”. We’re only worshipping ourselves and our ego.

During lunch, Rick told me that he views all of us as one. That we’re all connected to a source that we would return to. This worldview helps him to think twice before doing any harm to others. For when he hurt others, he would hurt himself.

The only way for us to take care one of another is to love one another. And the only way to love one another is to know one another.

So, one of my first few efforts is reaching out to my friends through this post. If you like to learn more about Islam or anything about my culture please feel free to contact me. If you like me to learn more about yours please do the same.

We need to mobilize ourselves and be active in uniting the people. Because the people who are out to divide us are not sleeping in doing their job.

So, never underestimate the power of a coffee session with people. Communities are built through friendship.