“Pain is a color. I realize that now. It’s the color of life. Or maybe it’s the canvas. But either way, I’m going to try to paint some strokes of love, patience and gratitude in the foreground.”
—from the journal of Umm Zakiyyah
The “Healing in Solitude” reflections offer a glimpse into the heart of Umm Zakiyyah, as she continues her emotional healing journey during the social distancing lockdown amidst the coronavirus epidemic. Each journal reflection represents a “new day” in her healing journey and/or a new day in the mandatory isolation of social distancing. The following is Day 2:
Today the burden feels a bit lighter, even as my heart feels a bit heavier, as I walk this unknown path of social distancing and “alone time” with my soul. The restlessness within remains, but I don’t imagine it will be going anywhere for some time. So I’m beginning to accept that it is a companion on this part of my journey, and perhaps for every other unknown journey that awaits my soul.
But I can’t quell the restless hope that I’m nearing the end of my painful journeys in this world. I don’t know how many more journeys my heart can take, because so much of me feels exhausted from the ones I’ve already walked.
It seems that despite all the trials I’ve faced in life, my story isn’t over just yet—and neither is my pain. And I am still a spiritual refugee trying to find her way home.
I know this exhaustion that I’m feeling isn’t a good thing. So I know I can’t afford to feel it too deeply. But I also know I can’t force myself to feel anything other than what I feel.
So I search my heart for a middle ground. I search for a way to be compassionately present in my exhaustion while not allowing my exhaustion to keep me from doing what I need to do to survive—emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
So I push on.
I let myself feel exhausted while I move forward in doing what needs to be done. I even let myself have a good cry (or two), and I even let myself feel pain.
My Companions on the Journey
In this forced stillness—of being quarantined from the emotional and physical toxins of the environment outside my home—I imagine this is how it’s supposed to be. Pain is my companion on the journey, as is that restlessness and confusion within.
Also among my companions are the moments of joy and happiness that grant me comfort and sudden laughter, and a fleeting glimpse of what my restless soul is reaching for beyond this world.
So my heart drafts another affirmation for compassionate presence to help me get through another day: I will not force away the pain, and I will not force away the happiness. I will allow each to settle upon the canvas of my soul. Then I will paint those strokes of gratitude that belong in every frame.
A Truce Overdue
In an effort to make this journey a bit more tolerable, I’m making peace with the consistent pain and restless confusion, and I’m allowing my heart to peacefully offer them a seat at the table within. After all, they’ve always forced their way in, time and time again, no matter how frantically I refused them.
The world offers me a dozen prescriptions for always “choosing joy” and “letting go” of pain and unhappiness—and of anything else that isn’t “serving me.” But today I ask myself why I should insist that my every choice and feeling serve me, when my only duty in this world is to serve my Creator and nourish my soul.
And certainly, pain and discomfort have a purpose in serving my Creator and purifying my soul, so why shouldn’t they have a purpose in serving me?
Beyond This World
During my healing journey, I’ve been forced to accept that there is no healthy way to run from pain and discomfort, especially when so much of what is happening inside you and around you is inciting those very things.
So no, I won’t chase away the pain and confusion anymore. Nor will I ask them to find some other place to live. I will instead ask them what they are trying to teach me as I open the door to them in my life.
Because even in those moments that I bade them farewell in peace and quietly closed the door on them, I found them suddenly disrupting the quiet “positivity meal” I had set aside for myself. This repeated experience reminds me that pain, discomfort, and confusion will always have a home in the human heart. So why should my human heart be any different?
And why should I even want my heart to be different? What good is there in a human heart seeking to have other than a human heart?
Perhaps in our sincere efforts to escape the inevitable trials of life, we imagine we can decide which tests will visit us and which ones won’t. This is what so many “positivity gurus” teach us—as they invite us to make pleasure and happiness our deen (spiritual way of life) and sole purpose in life.
This world is their Paradise, I remind myself.
But it certainly isn’t mine—nor do I wish it to be. So I remind myself that chasing away pain and confusion is a natural requirement of lost souls whose deen teaches them that their “highest level of Paradise” is found in this world, while shutting their eyes to their own suffering.
But my soul reaches for a Paradise beyond the suppressed suffering in this world.
Yet still, my soul reaches for a fulfilling life while I’m here.
Seeking an Authentic Life
My soul has beseeched me over and over to seek an authentic life, not a “happy” life. It has urged me over and over to understand that an authentic life is a fulfilling life, and that a fulfilling life is an honest life—and that a life of spiritual and emotional honesty offers the closest thing to happiness that any soul can experience in this world.
It was due to being touched by these spiritually nourishing lessons that I penned this reflection in my journal some time ago: More than happiness, it is gratefulness that is a choice. It is through acts of gratefulness that we experience the deepest possible happiness in this life.
The trials of life have taught my soul that there is no emotional or spiritual honesty in a heart that does not allow for the natural pain-pleasure balance of life. We can run from our pain, and we can suppress our pain. But still, it doesn’t disappear. It just manifests itself in ways we refuse to see, acknowledge, or take responsibility for.
This is because at the table of life, there will always be a seat for pain, discomfort, and confusion—just as there will always be a seat for love, patience, and gratitude (if you allow them in). In fact, we are more capable of denying love, patience, and gratitude into our lives than we are of refusing pain, discomfort, and confusion.
I think now on the famous quote by Chinua Achebe that always touches a deep part of me because it wraps up so neatly into words the difficult relationship I’ve always had with the pain and confusion of my life: “When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.”
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Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of more than twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. She recently launched her “Choosing To Love Alone” series via UZuniversity.com to support struggling believers seeking to nourish their emotional and spiritual health.
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