The Great Pilgrimage

The greatest pilgrimage one can make in their lifetime is in moving one’s soul. We can constantly move from one place to the next in life without having much changed. New job, new relationships, new country, and so on and so forth. Somehow, we’ll still find ourselves with the same problems, playing in a loop despite the change of environment.

A predicament I’m all too familiar with. Every time I look for a fresh start, I always tend to think of it as only an external act rather than an internal one as well. The same problems plague my life even after a change of environment. Nothing’s changed, simply because I haven’t. Therefore I keep repeating the same act, expecting for something new.

One cannot expect to catch a new view if they keep looking through the same window over the years.

The prison escape scene from the Dark Knight Rises was one of my favorite scenes that depict the change that happens internally: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjffIi2Pl7M

From the scene above you can see Bruce Wayne training hard to escape the prison. Doing things the way it had always worked for him. Pushing harder and taking control of his fears.

But, he kept failing, with all his best efforts. It did not occur to him yet that it was doing things the way he’s so used to is what brought him to the prison in the first place.

It was the prison doctor who pointed out to him that his lack of fear was what made him weak. Bruce had always thrived on the fact he did not fear death. After having his back broken for approaching his battles this way, he now needs to unlearn what he thinks he knows.

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The climb was successful once he made it without the rope. Fear found him again. It was at this moment he realized he needs to move forward with his fears.

Even Batman had to acknowledge that one needs to make a change within to move forward. A man with vast worldly wealth, experiences, and skill-set. All his past achievements did not blind him from acknowledging that even he has to continue changing internally to move forward.

So, today I am reminding myself that at times the greatest pilgrimage one can take is learning to sit still. To look within sincerely and examine the self. I’ve moved from place to place myself. Jobs, people, culture, landscapes, flags, and relationships.

But, all this will mean nothing unless I have the courage to move my soul. The very essence of my being lies within it. Our condition will not be changed unless we change what is within ourselves.

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Don’t Be Shy

“Don’t be shy just let your feelings roll on by

Don’t wear fear or nobody will know you’re there

Just lift your head, and let your feelings out instead

And don’t be shy, just let your feeling roll on by”

-Don’t Be Shy, Yusuf/Cat Stevens-

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I took this picture about two years ago when I had the chance to see the Cat in person when he was on his book launch/tour at UIA.

The event hall was full and I remember I was told by the organizers that I had to just sit outside and watch him through the projector screen. After hearing that, I bought a copy of his book and sat down, quietly. I’m naturally a shy person and I always go out of my way to not make people feel uncomfortable.

But, after sitting down for a minute staring at the projector screen I said to myself,

“I did not come this close to watch him on another screen”

So, I sneak pass the organizers guarding the hall’s door and sat down on the floor of the hall. There he was, the man who made music to help me through some rough times was in the same room as I was.

For about 40 minutes or so I got to hear him speak and he’s a beautiful person in real life as he is on any screen.

After the talk, I got in line to get my book signed. No pictures with him were allowed. So, I took this picture right before my turn to get my signed copy of “Why I Still Carry A Guitar.”

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The book was signed and I remember one of the organizers immediately wanted me to get out of the way. It was done in the most unfriendly fashion. I was annoyed by the guy.

But then, I had a quick look at the man who just signed my book. He was looking at me in the eyes, with a big smile and he held his hand out.

I went in for a handshake, ignoring the guy who literally stood as a barrier between me and Yusuf.

“Thank you”

If these are the only words I’ll ever get to say to him in this life, then I am truly grateful and honored for it.

This story of my life serves as a reminder that I need to learn to apply this when it comes to doing the right things in life. Never be too shy in making mistakes in learning to do the right things.

This man turns 68 today and I pray that his message of searching for meaning, love, friendship, courage, and peace will live on through his music.

Happy Birthday, brother Yusuf/Cat Stevens.

 

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.