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The Alchemy of Happiness

Every Saturday I feel so lucky to be able to listen to the beautiful zikr performed at Jerrahi Mosque and broadcast on YouTube.  The zikr which is a form of chanting practiced by Sufis is followed by sohbet, which is a teaching by the Shaikh, our brilliant Shaikh Yurdaer Baba. I feel so fortunate that these are broadcast, and yesterday Shahid even got it to work on our big TV, which made me really experience it. Often, I chuckle to myself that how lucky to be freed from all the repetitive yet sumptuous Saturday night dinners so I can even participate in this Thank you COVID for this long spell of learning, growing and developing spiritually!

Yesterday, the Shaikh said something so brilliant and attributed it to Imam Ghazali who wrote the “Alchemy of Happiness” in the 12th century: “the day-to-day activities and interactions we all experience are the materials that we can turn into gold if we take the inner journey to reflect”.  Obviously, I can never aim to represent the deep teaching as he did it, and certainly will be researching this amazing work more, but I was so delighted.  His whole teaching was about how we are emotional beings, and when we have negative experiences with others, we should not react. Rather, the opportunity is to stop and reflect as to what this ordinary incident is teaching me about myself and my emotions; That is the first step of the inner journey to turning ordinary life into happiness!

The reason this blew my mind and touched my heart deeply, not for the first time when it comes to his lectures, but as I have been studying human transformation, and continue to attend webinars with people like Benjamin Hardy, Carolyn Myss, Deepak Chopra and many, many others, I am continually delighted to see the same universal messages that are taught in various packages by New Age or New Spiritualism teachers. Daniel Coleman made a whole industry out of his book on emotional intelligence. The fact that it is taught by our faith in a larger context just makes it so much more pleasurable and satisfying.

This is not to say that we should not react at all, e.g. to injustice, in fact our faith tells us to fight injustice with action, and if that is not possible, with speech, and if that is not possible, with sadness in the heart, as Shaikh Yurdaer reminded us. Coincidentally I have been reading “Homeland Elegies” by Ayad Akhtar, a Pakistani American a Pulitzer winning author and playwright.  He deals with great courage, incredible wit and eloquence and brilliant associations about the American Muslim dilemma, from the continuous internal conflicts we face about identity, belonging, culture, politics, etc. I am in awe of his courage to speak his inside thoughts so openly, although he opens up a bit too much to the bedroom and sex too.  In many ways, he airs his own alchemy of unhappiness and conflict and complexity to provoke us all, Muslim or non-Muslim.  By writing his life story, although it is called a novel, he is sharing how he negotiates this continuing question of who we are really- the macro-, and who he is-the micro-.  In his case, Islam is just the faith he was born into and he is a non-practicing “cultural Muslim” – maybe not even that. More to come in future blogs about Ayad Akhtar and his writings….as we ponder these macro thoughts with Ayad, it is good to know we can go back and just work on our self and free it from unhappiness- what a privilege!

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