Since the dawn of civilization, one fundamental question that has always perplexed human being is “why?” Why is there so much suffering in the world? Illnesses, physical pain, and suffering could be debilitating and crippling. Nevertheless, for some people, they turn out to be the most rewarding experience of their life, a blessing for them and others.
The arabic word for patience is Ṣabr, a word from which the name of the cactus plant, Ṣabbār, is derived. Cactus is a plant that can grow in the toughest conditions of the desert, it adapted itself to withstand the most difficult and extreme harsh environmental conditions. Cactus represents hope, hope in the face of adversity and hardship, hope coupled with determination to survive despite the circumstances, hope that defies, hope that strives to make life worth living.
Ṣabr means more than patience… within its name you get meanings of:
Ṣabr is also the Arabic name for the Aloe Vera plant. Aloe Vera is the highly bitter cactus that offers amazing medicinal properties. Herbalists classify Aloe Vera as vulnerary, meaning it helps heal wounds. It is applied to burns, abrasions, and even to bites to sooth the pain and promote healing.
Bearing those meaning in mind, now, look at our Ṣabr, It is like an acknowledgement that patience in the face of pain and suffering is bitter, it is spiky and prickly, it hurts , yet in its deep core, it is soothing and healing.
Like the cactus, Ṣabr is not passive, it does not helplessly wait for conditions to change or for water to pour down from the sky. Rather, it digs its roots firmly in the ground and stubbornly reaches for those underground invisible streams; it toughens its skin and, faces the desert harshness with determination and fortitude; it saves water for the rough days and perseveres when the sustenance is scarce. Ṣabr is an active engagement in life, it honours the struggle, the grit, the pursuit, it is motivating and empowering.
The Quran teaches: “So be patient with gracious, beautiful patience” (70:5)
“فاصبر صبرا جميلا”
A gracious, beautiful patience is brave, assertive, honourable, determined and active.
And, “God does not change the condition of a people until and unless they changes within themselves” (13: 11)
“ان الله لا يغير ما بقوم حتى يغيروا ما بأنفسهم”
Change is tough, but, as Anais Nin says: “and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud is more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Change happens when the passive, helpless patience turns into an active determine Ṣabr, this Ṣabr is the quality of the people of excellence, people who do good - people of Iḥsān.
“ واصبر فإن الله لا يضيع أ جر المحسنين”
“And be patient, for indeed, God does not allow the rewards of those who do good to go to waste.” (11:115)
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...
About the Author
Hi, I'm Amira... I'm all for simple, natural, uncomplicated life... My core values are derived from my Islamic faith... My definition of wellness includes lots of smiles, human interactions, delicious food, music, joy, colorful paint, Mediterranean sunshine, blue sky and turquoise sea, care, love, compassion and deep heart-felt peace.