Trying to just go through life with the illusion that only by willpower we can achieve everything is just that: An illusion… Our rational, logical self-control is like a rider on the back of an elephant. The rider seems to hold the rein and direct the elephant… But, the rider can never force the elephant into a direction it does not want to go into. The elephant is the one running the show… We have always learned that Ramadan fasting is there to strengthen our willpower… it is there to train us to be more in control of our desires… but unfortunately, we got the mechanism all wrong… if we treat our fasting as mere training of self-restriction and self-control… we will be further wearing off our self-control muscle… Ramadan Fasting is not a physical exercise that trains us to withstand our hunger… Neither is it a psychological exercise that teaches us to control our desires, temptations, and urges. Ramadan Fasting is a spiritual practice… We reduced Ramadan to numbers and rituals (and an endless supply of sugars, fats, and carbs). Our heart and soul are not into it… We drugged the elephant so that it takes a nap until we finish the holy month; We dissociated our hearts from the whole process… because our hearts are already very heavy, exhausted and weary... So how can we make the best out Ramadan? How can we tame our elephants?
Mindfulness is an integral part in my own self-care practices. I learned its value years ago during a family dinner at a friend’s house. As we set in the garden at sunset, I smelled an amazing fragrance enveloping the air. “That’s my Queen of Night,” my friend explained pointing at the alluring tiny white flowers in the corner of her garden. Those enchanting flowers release their special aroma with every sunset. “They seem to send a gratitude message to the Divine at the end of each day”, my friend told me. “They remind me to send mine,” she added.
The following day, I accompanied my daughter to her weekly karate class. I sat in the club’s playground reading a book as I was waiting for her to finish. The sun was setting and with it came this enchanting fragrance again… I looked around me and there it was, the glamorous Queen of Night!
Suddenly, it occurred to me that I have been sitting in this exact spot, at the exact same time every week for the past 4 months. The Queen of Night has always been there, sharing its beauty with whoever was mindful enough to receive it; sharing its Divine gratitude reminder with whoever is aware enough to remember. I simply wasn’t.
Mindfulness is intentional conscious practice. It differs from self-awareness in that it involves both internal and external insight. You are not just aware of your inner feelings and thought; you are also fully aware and engaged with your surroundings. I guess I was too involved in my inner environment that I lost touch with my outer setting.
In 2013, when I first came to Canada I was introduced to Dana, a Libyan Canadian lady who had a project in mind. Dana wanted to gather ten Arab women and help them write their stories. She wanted to collect stories of immigration, living in a new culture, leaving the homeland, feelings of homesickness, stories of hope, loss, pain and gain, and stories of helplessness and bravery. Her aim was to publish the stories in an ‘Arab Women’s Notebook’ for the world to know more about those women’s dreams, hopes, pains, and struggles, for women around the world to see their own stories in those ten women’s narratives and reshape their own stories of hope and survival.
It was a long journey, and for me, it came at exactly the right time. My chapter was entitled ‘Journey of Self-Discovery’. I wrote it during a time of my life when I was wondering who am I? Where do I belong? And where am I heading? What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose? I wrote my story at a time when I had lost my grandmother, my only anchor in the world, her loss created a vacuum that seemed never to fill up. I wrote it at a time I lost my homeland, not by migrating away from it, but by it drifting away from me. I chose to leave as the land wasn't my land and the country wasn't my own. I was forever a stranger as I witnessed the collapse of the values, morals, and ethics I grew up with.
The book, An Arab Women Notebook, was published in 2016. At the book-signing event, we, the authors, met many women who told us how they found their stories in ours. They told us how our stories helped them heal and empowered them to re-shape their own narrative.
Between 1987 and 2002, 67.5 million antidepressant prescriptions were written in the U.S.; this accounts for almost quarter of the U.S. population. Many of the people taking the medication might, in fact, need it, but do they all? And, are they offered any other alternatives? In the late 1980s, early 1990s, Japanese strictly resisted the use of anti-depressants that Eli Lilly decided against selling Prozac in Japan. By early 2000s, however, Japan became a massive market for anti-depressants after removing what Bradley calls “cultural obstacles.” All it took was few years to ‘educate’ people about the importance of those medications in their life. Huge financial investments, media shaping public view, and continued medical education funded by pharmaceutical companies are clear conflict of interest that most people tend to ignore. All those facts make me question who is really benefiting from Bell’s Let’s Talk initiative? It is a double edge sword, removing the stigma by ‘normalizing’ mental illness is a good intention, yet are we offered any alternative, other than the biomedical model?
Junger, in his book Tribe, notes how history has never witnessed such high rates of depression and mental illness. As opposed to the traditional tribal culture where everyone is involved in a meaningful community role and purpose, modern Western culture, he adds, and I totally agree, makes us feel un-necessary and unimportant, which is one of the main reasons behind modern-day affective disorders. Dr. Gabor Maté sees that a person with schizophrenia in a tribal culture holds a better chance of survival and well being than one following the Western medical model. Our view on mental illness cannot be removed from the person’s context and culture. Our Western materialistic society focuses on achievements and possessions cutting off emotional, social, and spiritual needs, which, according to Maté, separates us from ourselves and paves the road for pathology. Loneliness, is radically different from solitude. Loneliness is not about being alone; it is rather about the lack of belonging and the feeling of unworthiness. Belonging is a stepping-stone to our independence, freedom, and maturity. Our self-image, self-esteem, and self-worth are major components of how we perceive and interact with our surrounding. And, this self-worth is defined within the context of the whole community.
Taking a closer look at Western Muslim community, one notices the oppression, cultural stigma, and social isolation enforced upon people living with mental illness. Attributing pathology to lack of faith is a way of blaming the victims for their own affliction. Sometimes, society could be more coercive towards people with disability than their physiological or physical limitation. Initiatives working at eliminating social barriers and stigmas are so much welcome, they will allow disabled people to better integrate into the society and assume better responsibility for their own life. But, are they truly authentic?
Foucault, the famous French philosopher and social theorist, argues that coercion is no longer a direct phenomenon; it is rather a series of subtle disciplinary practices, which gently causes the oppressed to internalize their own oppression. People start to discipline their own actions to comply with the ‘norm’ whatever the coercive power defines as ‘norm.’ The process happens in such a subtle way that most people do not even notice they are changing (like the Japanese cultural change discussed earlier). The hegemony of normalcy becomes a tyranny enforced by media ads, movies, novels, and the like. In a way, eugenic practices are still applied to date albeit in a much subtle and ‘socially acceptable’ methodology. The most affected are people “located at the intersections of difference.” Without realizing it, this difference, or ‘deviation from the norm’ becomes their identity. Replacing normalcy by ‘diversity,’ as the new trend is going here in Canada, does not quite solve the dilemma of mental illness discrimination either. In an open global economy where consumerism and lifestyle define one’s identity, the diversity picture does not make room for non-consumer mentally or physically disabled individuals.
If we are to tackle the mental illness issue, we need to go beyond the psychiatric, genetic, biomedical, and even psychotherapeutic models, taking societal, cultural, intersectional, political, spiritual/religious, economic, and historical sides into account. We need to find alternatives and collectively work at raising human awareness.
 Bradley Lewis, Depression: Integrating Science, Culture, and Humanities (New York: Routledge, 2012), 73.
 Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (New York: Harpercollins Publishers, 2016), 10.
 Gabor Maté, The Myth of Normal (2016). From YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_j5mmBa4mw (accessed October 30, 2017).
 Gabor Maté, The Myth of Normal.
 Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2010), 35.
 Sima Barmania,“Islam and depression,” The Lancet 4 (2017): 669.
 Tom Shakespeare, “The Social Model of Disability.”
 Mohammed Ghaly, “Disability in the Islamic Tradition,” Religion Compass 10, no. 6 (2016): 150.
 Michel Foucault, “Docile bodies” in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. (Vintage Books, New York, NY, 1979).
 Lennard J. Davis, “Introduction: Normality, Power, and Culture,” 10.
 Nirmala Erevelles and Andrea Minear, "Unspeakable Offenses,” 359.
 Lennard J. Davis, The End of Normal: Identity in a Biocultural Era (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2014), 1-14.
Grandma was right… Eat your vegetables!!! From a health standpoint, vegetables are unbeatable foods: naturally nutrient-rich; better tasting than a vitamin pill; low in calories; high in fiber and packed with disease-fighting, anti-oxidants and anti-cancer phytonutrients. Although fresh is best, still all types of vegetables are nourishing and delicious – fresh, frozen, canned or juiced.
To maximize your health with vegetables, nutrition experts suggest at least 3 to 5 servings per day – but why stop there? With so many ways to enjoy this goodness, you could easily eat vegetables at breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Here are a dozen daily ways to treat yourself to good health!
Many people don't eat vegetables until dinner. Make a commit to your health - Check off the new ways you want to try to enjoy more veggies during the day:
I can add vegetables at breakfast by:
□ Adding vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, onion, green or red peppers to an omelet
I can add vegetables at lunch and snack by:
□ Adding leafy greens, cucumber, or peppers to sandwiches
□ Adding different vegetables to a green salad, like broccoli, green beans, asparagus or peas
□ Adding a bag of sugar snap peas, carrots, peppers, celery and/or zucchini sticks to my snack
□ Adding extra vegetables to soup
□ Choosing kale chips or nori instead of potato chips
Jill Bolte Taylor, in her book a stroke of insight, says all it takes is 90 seconds for the body to process the hormonal and neurotransmitter reactions associated with negative emotions such as fear, worry, frustration, or sorrow… if you turn those emotions into stories, though, they may last forever. All we need to do is simply acknowledge them until they go away – just 90 seconds. Do not turn them into stories, do not feed the anger, fuel the pain, or pump up the fear; do not hold on to them but also do not push them under the carpet hoping no one will notice – they will still be there for you to clean up later on, this time with much more damage involved.
The stories our fears are feeding fall into two categories: worry and grief.
Worry is when we project our fears onto the future and grief is when we drag our past stories along into our present and allow them to shape our life and ache our heart and soul.
In his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert M. Sapolsky says that zebras do experience life trauma. Attacked by a lion or seeing a tiger devouring their cub, they experience fear, pain, and grief but they do not attach any stories to the feelings, they fully experience the event with all what it triggers from hormones and neurotransmitters, then they flip the page and change the scene…
Some people have this amazing gift of ‘flipping the page’, you see them cheerful, happy, and bouncing soon after a life trauma hits them… sometimes, it is really a gift, they do live in the moment, fill their heart with peace, faith, and trust and let life flow and unfold as they go… yet, in many cases, the page flipping is just a denial mechanism or a mask they wear hiding their true unbearable pain even from their own selves… they still write the stories in their subconscious mind and shove it under a pile of fake laughter and joy. This is not a healthy way of experiencing emotions. They might get by for a while, but these stories will one day resurface from the shadow and haunt them. Their stories may start as subtle Body Whispers®, but soon, the screams will force them to wake up and really face their fears.
Facing our fears starts with the inner work. It starts with true belief that we live in a purposeful world, that God is wise, merciful, and just and that every event, challenge, or ordeal carries a valuable lesson and meaning that might or might not reveal itself with time. Yes, we might never understand ‘why.’ Deep in our hearts we need to believe that there is a valuable reason… when we reach this stage of faith, belief, trust, and surrender, we will finally be ready to let go of the fear.
It might take weeks, months, or even years. You can’t rush it… “You can’t make a rosebud open by hitting it with a hammer” as R. N. Ramen says… Let the process unfold, be gentle with yourself, be compassionate towards your vulnerability… just keep doing the inner work one baby step at a time: Breathing, praying, meditating, reading, learning, getting therapy, hiring a life coach… whatever it takes, just keep it up and running.
2017 was a huge learning curve for me. Besides my Master's studies I read tons of books. And, as many of you requested, here is my list of the best 15 books I read in 2017 (in no specific order):
1. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction- by Gabor Mate.
This is the best book I’ve read describing addiction, and the meaning, implications and approaches to healing. Yet, don’t be fooled by the name, this book showed me how, in a way, we’re all addicts. We’re all trying to fill this emptiness inside us and everyone has his/her personal way of doing that.
2. Cultivating Wholeness: A Guide to Care and Counselling in Faith Communities by Margaret Kornfeld.
Although written for Christian faith communities, it is still extremely valuable for all communities. This book is a valuable asset for spiritual leaders and community builders.
3. Collective Narrative Practice: Responding to individuals, groups, and communities who have experienced trauma - by David Denborough.
This book shows how our stories can heal us. It is about finding meaning in our challenges, a meaning that can not only help us but also extend beyond that to help the world at large. If you are a care provider, community leader or therapist who work in group coaching and counselling, this book is a great tool to add to your practice.
4. Love & Happiness: A collection of personal reflections and quotes by Yasmin Mogahed.
Easy read, poetic, very deep and wise thoughts, as expected! I absolutely love it! It is an everyday companion in an ever challenging world.
5. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Lack of Focus, Anger, and Memory Problems by Daniel G. Amen.
The book offers new holistic approach to Mental Illness. Although the author advocates brain scanning so much (which I am not really sure about), yet the book still holds valuable information about how brain works, what goes wrong and how to fix it in a holistic approach. One of the best I have seen especially that it comes from a well-known psychiatrist.
6. Expert Secrets: The Underground Playbook for Finding Your Message, Building a Tribe, and Changing the World by Russell Brunson.
Great information for those of you who want to build an online community and market your online courses in a non-salesy way.
7. How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman.
The authors show how the brain actually changes when we experience the Divine or the transcendent reality. The authors give scientifically proven tools to broaden this awareness and live in a more connected way.
8. Revive Your Heart: Putting Life in Perspective by Nouman Ali Khan.
Amazing lessons from the Qur’an written in Nouman Ali Khan's captivating interesting way.
9. Strong Imagination: Madness, Creativity, and Human Nature by Daniel Nettle.
This is a fairly old book, yet it offers radical view to mental illness, truly fascinating.
10. First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety by Sarah Wilson.
The best book I have ever read about anxiety, depression, and OCD, a captivating memoire that highlights the struggle and the way to thrive with a ‘beast’ that the author finally decided to stop fighting and make it beautiful instead
11. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt.
Haidt compares the human mind to a rider (conscious, analytical mind) on the back of an elephant (subconscious beliefs, drives, and perceptions). Regardless of how much will power the rider has, he cannot move the elephant against its will. We need to learn how to “tame the elephant” which what the book is all about.
12. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.
Beautifully written book, good read for anyone who wants to make change whether on the personal, professional, or community levels.
13. Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods and Remedies That Heal by Rosalee de la Foret.
I love Rosalee’s teaching, her approach to herbs is so natural showing how to integrate them in everyday life and how to choose the ones that suits your body need and your temperament.
14. Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers.
Best business book ever! Feels like Sivers wrote it especially for an introvert like myself who find it very hard to embrace all the ‘have-to’ stated by modern-day business gurus. Derek’s rule is simple: Do anything you want!
15. And, of course, I can’t end the list without my own book in its newly designed cover: Body Whispers: Unraveling the Emotional & Spiritual Root of Illness and Restoring Energy & Vitality.
If you did not get it yet, check out what it is all about here. The information in there are truly life changing...
There are tons of things I am truly grateful for in 2017... May be the most important ones are, (1) Starting my Masters in spiritual care and psychotherapy study; (2) Getting my Canadian citizenship... I am now a Proud Canadian! and (3) Starting my health and happiness movement - or at least announcing it to the world. It took a lot of courage to do that.
This reflection was a bit challenging. Sometimes when we look at our life, we think we did not achieve much because we did not reach any concrete goals yet... But, on second thought, I believe I did do a lot laying the foundation and the groundwork for my next stage in life, for my mission and my movement.
I did a lot of inner work. I really needed it. Again, this might not appear as 'great achievement' if we measure it from a Western mentality standpoint. It took some time for me to acknowledge the effort and actually see the fruit of this inner work. I feel I am much peaceful, grateful, confident, and focused.
And, I did finish 5 courses of my Masters' studies and wrote so many research papers that hopefully I will be sharing some of them with you in the coming months, God willing.
My most precious 3 lessons learned (the hard way) this year: (1) We have to let go of some of the things we love in order to make room for growth and open a new page of our life. (2) There no place for toxic people in my life, I learned to protect my boundaries. (3) No one gonna believe in your worth and your rights until you believe in them first!
Sometimes I cannot help but have this fear of the unknown, fear and worry about tomorrow. I need to let go of the need to 'know' everything and the attempt to 'control' the results of my efforts and actions. I need to work harder on strengthening my connection with God, on my surrender and my spiritual growth. This work, I believe, will bring inner peace that will reduce the stress and actually allow me to focus on what I can control: my actions, my attitude and my thoughts... but not the result. Meanwhile I believe deep in my heart in God's promise: "We do not let the reward of anyone who does a good deed go to waste" (18: 30).
My 3 big goals for 2018 are: (1) launching my signature training program "A Brave Woman's Journey of Self-Discovery" hopefully you all going to love it! I have been working on it for a long time now and it is one of the best curricula I have ever developed; (2) establish a woman circle where I live so we can actually meet and create our little community of brave, ambitious, like-minded women who support and help one another and support and help their communities. (3) finish at least 7 more courses of my Master's degree.
Now it is your turn... Take out your journal and make some reflections!
Happy New Year!
Ramadan for me this year was a time for reflection and deep introspection… I needed this time off to re-orient my thinking and hone on the next step in my path.
It has been almost 10 years now since my first book Healing Body & Soul was published. I am so blessed and grateful that Healing Body & Soul has achieved more success than I ever dreamed of. It has been on the best selling list for 8 years in a row and has been translated into nine languages.
I’ve received hundreds of emails from readers telling me how the information in the book changed their lives and how they did not even know that many of the discussed topics in the book were an integral part of our Islamic beliefs: happiness, volunteering, gratitude, finding life meaning and mission, following your path and passion, affirmations, meditation, positive thinking, optimism, healthy eating, friendship… and many, many more…
In this time of my journey, I feel that I could no longer stay in my comfort zone behind my computer screen… I feel my duty and my life mission is to deliver this deep teaching of health and healing to women who are destined to raise our next generation of happy healthy and successful youth and the only way for those women to achieve that is to be happy, healthy and successful themselves.
My mission is to teach women how to heal the scars engraved on their hearts and soul along with healing the chronic whispers of their weary and depleted bodies.
It is a tough mission especially in this tough time of our history but my heart believes that this is my current calling…
This, my friend, will be my life mission… teaching women how to heal their Body & their Soul… Teaching them how to love one another, forgive themselves and others, how to give without awaiting rewards, how to strive while surrendering and enjoy while striving… teaching them how to eat healthy, how to live healthy and how to build healthy relationships and communities… teaching them how to listen to their Body Whispers® and decode the signs that their body, heart and soul are sending them for them to follow their bliss, find happiness, health, life meaning and passion.
I am starting a faith-based revolutionary movement in health and happiness … I am building a community… and I would really love for you to be part of it… My practice, my tribe and teaching will remain, as it has always been, welcoming to all faith… I am not teaching religion… I am teaching life skills, health and spirituality practices conforming to my Islamic faith.
If you would like to be part of this revolutionary movement- and I would really love it if you do, please share this blog with your friends and family and comment below to let me know what you would like to see me write, blog, teach about… If you didn't yet, join our Facebook page... I will be much more active in it from now on, so come along and invite all your friends... Let's Heal our Body & Soul and embark together on a mission to heal the world.
I am writing today to ask for your support … I am asking for your support to reach more and more women around the globe… I am asking for your support to spread the message of this faith-based health and wellness movement to all women who want to heal their soul along with healing their body and embark on their own mission to heal the world.
About the Author
Hi, Welcome to my blog. I am Amira. I'm first of all a wife and mother. I have been married for 20 years. I have 2 wonderful teenagers ages 18 and 16. My family is my greatest joy in life. For 20 years, I have been in health education career. I started as teaching assistant in the faculty of pharmacy. Then, I turned towards the natural health sector. I help women and teenagers in their search for health, success, and happiness. My practice focuses on balancing Body, Mind, Heart, and Soul.