These little universes

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At the end of this year’s clinical rotations as a medical student, I realise that as future physicians we will soon be moving around hospital corridors, checking up on our patients; their records maintained meticulously by the hospital paramedics. How many of us will look beyond terms inscribed on boards like the one in the picture – ‘Bed No.’, ‘Patient’s Name’, ‘Consultant’s Name’, ‘Ref #’, ‘Company / Private’, ‘Age’, ‘Diet’, etc, etc – and think of the stories that each one of these people walked into our clinics with? How many of us will be healers and not just mere physicians?

So many of us want to see things. We want to see the future, we want to see how the universe ends, we want to glimpse the edges of time and space. So many of us want to see all of that and still be able to have coffee at home in the morning. So many of us want to live a thousand, thousand lives. And still be able to have a cup of coffee in the morning.
And as doctors, witnessing the end of a universe will be an everyday day occurrence for us. You know how?
When you will tell a bereaved son that the father who sold his ancestral home to get him through college, is dying, you will see the end of a universe.
When you will tell a devoted husband that he just lost the love of his life, you will see the end of a universe.
When you will see a pair of young parents cradling a small coffin, you will see the end of a universe.
When you will see a loyal friend cry as he sees his friend lose the battle of life, you will be seeing the end of a universe.
Those are all tragic ends to what was a universe of its own, because, after all, as Rumi said, “We are the universe in ecstatic motion”, and as Sagan reminds us, we’re “made of star stuff”, aren’t we?
You’ll witness the end of those universes, and you’ll still be able to have coffee in the morning, in your own universe.

These people around us, struggling to make ends meet. The lonely kid at the school cafeteria wanting to share his mom’s sandwiches. The tired girl treasuring the silence of the night. The sick, old mother waiting for her son. These are all the salt and pepper, an entire cosmos of hidden emotions and beating hearts. And watching these universes disperse with a light that almost blinds your heart, is what makes Time so cruel, doesn’t it? It’s what I call the ‘Twenty-fifth Hour’ – that very intangible moment in the vastness of Time that will not be sorry for its existence as it will alter your perception of life, and love, and loss.

Smiling on the wall sits the ancient clock,
Chiming away – tick, tock, tick, tock –
The day attends to your curiosity
And the night courts your dreams
And between the hours on the clock
walk our insensibilities.
The Hand of the Seconds laughs at you,
And my mind spins a tale that is beyond
The imagination of the elves
And my heart beckons to the minutes
To explain the happening miracle,
And as we slide away on the island of existence,
Our gaze looks afar, into the infinite,
Towards the twenty-fifth hour.

 

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Why Sufism? (II)

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Spiritual stories don’t really have beginnings and I think that’s good because that lends it an aura of genuineness and sincerity that makes it all the more magical.
We’re all spiritual beings, we all chose our paths – took advantage of the Free Will – and hence, wherever we will be when we breathe our last, we will have chosen it for ourselves, but by His Will. It’s like the workings of a car – how you put in the key, start the ignition and the engine starts working, you pull the hand-break and the gear and turn the steering wheel and the car goes in motion. You’re doing these acts because that’s how this car is supposed to work, otherwise, it won’t move forward and you’ll be stuck in the same place. Forever. Who would want that? A motorcycle, however, will have a different mechanism. So, that’s us. Different. Individuals.
We carry out these actions to propel forward and that is our free will.
The fact that this is how we’re supposed to act because otherwise, we won’t be we –individuals with our own spheres – is Destiny. And I guess that’s it.

A revolution may not necessarily be about taking up firearms. It’s about revolutionizing our own life – for in the words of the beloved Carl Sagan, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” And hence, we hold gorgeous universes within ourselves, don’t we? So, why not revolutionalise this universe first? It is about revolutionalising our own lives in a way that forces people to see Him clearly, through us, to know that every cloud really does have a silver lining, that there really is light at the end of every tunnel, that despite all the unfairness and the cruelty, there are still good people with big, loving hearts. We can’t preach these things. We need to show them and when we do that, we are challenged and we are mocked. History is laden with examples explaining this. Talking about spirituality, and Sufism, and religion are merely reinforcements of armchair philosophy and that will only bring us temporary spiritual relief and make us feel good about ourselves. Sitting in a cave, meditating, thinking about the universe is all so romantic but at the end of it all, when He asks me what I did with the intelligence, the opportunities that He blessed me with, what will I say? We hate to disappoint the people who are dear to us, we don’t want to be responsible for hurting them, so what about the Being that created you? He who loves us more than 70 mothers? In fact, His Existence is an example in itself, isn’t it? Not just through the attributes of Mercy, Forgiveness, etc, but let’s just look at His love, the love that has been compared to that of a mother’s love. Our moms are so protective of us, aren’t they? They want to be around us 24/7, be there always so they can watch out for us. They are the first ones to rush to us and tend to us if we fall down and hurt ourselves. And then look at God: He knows that we need to learn to get up ourselves, that unless we fall, we won’t know what ‘pain’ is and if we don’t know ‘pain’ we won’t know what ‘relief’ and ‘joy’ are and if we don’t know those, we won’t be able to ease things for others because then why should we? I guess He really does want us to learn how to fish so we are self-sufficient, He doesn’t only want to feed us. We get furious when we feel our prayers going unanswered. But He wants us to learn through experiences because when He did tell us and when He gave us the manual – the Book – did we make use of it, did we learn from it? A relevant example that one can relate to is regarding the laws of inheritance. How many of us follow it as we should? Hardly. And then there are bloody disputes over tangible, temporary things like property, and they go on for generations after generations and relationships are lost and a myriad of other crappiness happens. Why? Because when we didn’t follow the Manual He gave us, He made us experience it because come on, we practically asked for it! So, He’s teaching us parenting, too; hold a child’s hands when you cross the road, but don’t hold it so hard that it starts hurting the child.

So again, when He asks me what I did with the intelligence, the opportunities that He blessed me with, what will I say? Aren’t I supposed to make use of it to help His people? But that, too, I can only do when I’m strong enough myself! And it is to reach that position of strength that we’re supposed to bring about these lifestyle changes, what we call the ‘outward change’. Because sometimes, in doing that, you wage a war on your nafs and on your lower self, and only when we overcome that can we hope to move forward because trust me when I say, dear you, that breaking your nafs is truly the biggest battle you’ll ever fight. It could be anything – fasting, waking up early in the morning, headcover, giving up anger or miserliness or greed or exorbitance, almost anything – but it’ll teach you what words can’t describe. And this is how outward change works. Just like how I must practically live like a socialist to be a real drop in this ocean of social and economic inequity and inspire others to do the same, I must also practically live my spirituality to be a real mentor to ensure that by giving up on all that hinders my spiritual growth, by being kind, and helpful, and loving, by killing my lower self, by establishing my connection with Him, because along the way, you’ll learn just so much.
Outward and inward changes walk hand in hand; often one runs ahead of the other and pulls the other one forward. That’s just how it works. It’s your own war against your nafs, against your lower self.                       Let His Oneness make you whole. 

With each passing heartbeat and with each passing breath, you will learn that the most difficult and yet, the easiest thing to do when one lies alone in the middle of the night with a lonely, broken, wailing heart, is to say, “Thank You, God!”. You will learn that your own voice sounds as strange to you as you do to those around you. You will realise that often, the people closest to you will not understand you, will misunderstand you, and will hurt you, but you must forgive them and be gentle because in doing so, you are actually making sure that you can spend the rest of your life in peace, not being unjust to the people who unconditionally love you. You will realise and experience how optimism and gratitude works. It’s not like you won’t know how tough things can be or how hard life can be. You truly will! You will live to see a lot of unkindness, a lot of inhumane acts, unfortunately. You’ll probably witness a lot of human suffering but you will still believe in love, and gentleness, and optimism, and most importantly, in Him. I know it’s a bloody system that kills you slowly, makes you despise everyone. But that’s the thing! A constant connection with our true, inner selves is what we need. And that’s what fully embracing Him means – inward and outward. It’s easy to turn bitter and pessimist after this life plays with you. It’s challenging to remain – or in most cases, turn – gentle and hopeful. But hey, that’s all we have because this life really is temporary and the sooner we learn to invest in our souls, the better it is. The sooner we realise that a beautiful heart is immortal, beyond the changes of age and time, the better it is. For everyone.

The C.S. Lewis quote that you read at the beginning of this post, dear reader, is how we should be, how I should be. We can’t hope to change others unless we change ourselves. We can’t complain about how cruel the world is unless we ourselves are making an effort to be kind, and compassionate, and forgiving.

And all of this brings us back to spirituality – practical spirituality – and Sufism, and why we need it. Because when you’ve spent all your life living according to a philosophy that has left you feeling restless and lonely – like an old, empty church, covered with weeds, built to a god who has long since been forgotten – as your soul reverberates to one lonely chord echoing through again and again, then it’s because your soul is demanding – or rather, begging you – to cleanse it, to reach out to Him. That’s the only way all of us can get to the Grand Kingdom – His Kingdom – without losing sight of what is relevant in this world. I’m going to be a doctor, I’m going to be a homemaker, and amidst all these worldly responsibilities where I’m not only sustaining my body but am also trying to help out others, how do I hold onto my spirituality, how do I reflect His Light? This is how; a constant guide.

I need a teacher to explain science to me. I need someone to help me fix the car because I’m not an expert there, I only know how to fix a broken bone or how to manage diabetes because as a doctor that’s my area of expertise. When I’m a novice here, I need someone to hold the torch for me as I find my way. It’s very relevant because armchair Sufi philosophy won’t help us get to Him. We need to practically do something to get there, whether it’s how to control our lower selves or how to ease the distress of His people, or best: both. So, when you’re sick, you go to a doctor. When you’re spiritually needy, who do you go to?

Life is very beautiful if we look at everything as a manifestation of His Being. And we all really want that till our last breaths; to enjoy the beauty around us, the miracles of love and life that we see around ourselves every day, the little joys and smiles. And because there is absolutely no other way, this is why Sufism, dear readers!

Good bye, Forensics! 

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As the sixth semester of medical school draws to an end, I realise that my initial interest in the subject waned into pure disgust and never have I despised a subject as much as I have despised forensic medicine; in simpler words, it is “the application of science to criminal and civil laws, mainly on the criminal side during criminal investigation, as governed by the legal standards of admissible evidence and criminal procedure.” In even simpler words, it is the realisation that the human mind can be a diabolic powerhouse of wrecking smiles and joys through acts of ‘homicide’ and ‘murder’ that may lead to ‘asphyxia’ (a condition arising when the body is deprived of oxygen, causing unconsciousness or death; suffocation). It is the realisation that I’m alive only because my soul has an undeniable relationship with my body and when they divorce, all that will be left will be my soul for the body will be ‘putrefied‘. It is the realisation that while I can not save my body from being the food of rodents and ants, I can save my soul from being victimised by greed, lust, lack of empathy, arrogance, wantonness, miserliness, ostentation, hatred, iniquity, and envy. It is the realisation that I must invest in my soul. It is the realisation that the glamour of this world will end with the end of the last note of my heartbeat, and that could be at the hands of another mortal or even by its natural course, but it will end and what then? That. What then

In the blink of an eye, three years have flown by. Before I know it, I will be breathing my last. So, whatever little time we have left on this huge ball of water and soil, we must spend it with love because there’s so much love in there, buried deep within, for everyone. We’re all in the same boat. All of us. All of us trying to be happy, trying to find ourselves – mind and soul – and not get lost in the maze of what seems to be buzzing around, and to have an identity of our own, one that is not lost in the crowd, one that sets us all apart. 

So, I guess all those hours of sitting through gross depictions of what ‘death’ really looks like paid off: the seconds between this breath and the next is what the ancient phenomenon of time really is, and if it’s all that is left, then I’d rather live it to combat hate with love, apathy with kindness, pessimism with optimism. 



The grandeur of womanhood

The transition from girlhood to womanhood is not just one defined by the turbulence of puberty; it’s bigger and grander than that. It’s the miraculous journey towards a period of self-discovery – the blooming of the seedling into a soft, bright flower with the scent of individuality, bearing its thorns, for thorns are the armours and armours there must be.

Womanhood is upholding the sanctity of humanity and not just women’s rights.

It’s the journey from ‘I, me, myself’  – and pulling other girls down – to empowering other women.

It’s understanding the often misunderstood concept of sacrifices so as to not compromise on her own rights and values as she sacrifices for her family or her nation.

It is appreciating the divine quality of patience well enough to know where the line between patience and injustice lies.

It is recognising the difference between listening and understanding.

You will want to impress a girl, dear reader, but you will be very comfortable being vulnerable in front of the right woman.

A girl will play the blame card. A woman will act responsible.

A girl will make a boy go nuts. A woman will inspire him to greatness.
A girl will want everything on a platter and she may even expect a man to be carrying that platter for her. A woman will know that she’ll have to work hard for things, she’ll have to sacrifice, and she’ll want to do her bit for her man, too.

A girl will look to another for validation. A woman will exude self-confidence.

A girl will want your compliments. A woman will want your love.

Womanhood is the journey from being a friend to becoming a companion.

It is the jump from following examples to setting examples.

It is the acknowledgement that life is not a fairy tale, not a bed of roses, and for a life contentment, and love, you need to be selfless, sincere, hardworking, and truthful.

But most importantly, dear reader, a girl blossoms into a woman when she accepts herself for who she is – scars, strengths, weaknesses – and will love herself for it and will inspire you to do the same.

That, my dear reader, is the difference between a young girl and a soulful woman.

 

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Eclipses 


A definitive, visible mark on our respective ennui, this eclipse serves as a fantastic reminder of how our actions cast shadows over our souls, making us a spectacular miracle in the timeline of our lives. All of it sounds pretty fascinating, the process of bearing with the ‘rub’ that is supposed to polish us.
It’s a pretty simple thought – if He can move these massive bodies, then we only have to let loose of our imagination to remind ourselves of what greatness He can lead us to, of what miracles He can spin our lives into.
The moon eclipsing the sun, grief eclipsing joy.
But in the end, everything does come back to its natural order, doesn’t it? That’s such a gorgeous note of the static change of time, and hope, and Divine Love! All the past grief, the anxiety, the fears will set. Eventually. For the Greater Good.
Even eclipses resolve so why not our lives?

The Twenty-fifth Hour

The Ziauddin University Atlas Blog

BY: ARFA MASIHUDDIN, M.B.B.S., BATCH XX

Smiling on the wall sits the ancient clock,
Chiming away – tick, tock, tick, tock –
The day attends to your curiosity
And the night courts your dreams
And between the hours on the clock
walk our insensibilities.
The Hand of the Seconds laughs at you,
And my mind spins a tale that is beyond
The imagination of the elves
And my heart beckons to the minutes
To explain the happening miracle,
And as we slide away on the island of existence,
Our gaze looks afar, into the infinite,
Towards the twenty-fifth hour.

About the Author:  Robbins for breakfast, Rumi for lunch, ArfaMasihuddin.WordPress.com for dinner.

WhatsApp Image 2017-07-02 at 14.54.51Dali’s Persistence of Memory. SOURCE: GOOGLE.

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