learning to breathe

by Aqeela Naqvi

Imam Hassan (a): “He who seeks to please God at the expense of displeasing people, God suffices him in everything including his affairs with people. But the one who seeks to please people at the expense of God’s displeasure, God relegates him to those very people.”

if you’re ever made to feel like you’re not good enough or that you don’t ‘fit in,’ remember that it has always been the few, not the many – the individuals, not the crowd – who have changed the world. people will always have things to say. you can never stop them from talking, but you can stop yourself from listening.

remember – the moon does not dim its light for fear of what the street lamps might think; so should you not dim your inner fire for fear of those who might be threatened the beauty of its flame. do not be fooled by giving into the opinions of those not strong enough to be original – they are weak and would seek to make you weak as well by turning you, too, into an imitation.

do not let them. do not let the siren’s song strip you of your own. allow only one voice to enter the sanctuary of your heart – the one that not only cares for the vessel of your body, but also the essence of your soul.

other voices come swiftly, and just as swiftly they will go. but it is only one voice that has been and will always be your companion – from the darkness of your mother’s womb, to the darkness of that piece of earth we will all eventually call home. there is only one voice that will not desert you in your most dire time of need; that will still respond to you in those dark, silent, lonely hours of night when you need an answer the most.

if you listen to the voices of the world, when they stop speaking, the song of your soul will end. but if you listen to the voice of the stars, even if the entire universe falls silent, your music will never die.

living your life within the narrow confines of ‘what people will think of me’ is suffocating. do not hold your breath, waiting for the approval of the created – that approval never comes. turn instead to what does: the approval of the Creator.

you who have been breathless for too long… let go. learn how to breathe again.

When the traveler enters the arena of spiritual struggle, he will experience difficulties with and unpleasant behavior from ordinary people and acquaintances who are driven solely by their own whims and social ambitions. They blame him and disapprove of him with their words and deeds in order to dissuade him from his path and goal. They are particularly disturbed with the divergence and gap that appear between them and the wayfarer’s lifestyle. They blame him and resort to various means to discourage the novice and stop him from pursuing the path.

Of course, the traveler will encounter new problems at every stage of his journey that seem impossible to overcome without patience and determination. By resorting to the power and blessing of God, the traveler must have such strong will power that he can withstand all these difficulties, and with the weapons of patience and trust in God (tawakkul) annihilate them all. In consideration of the magnitude of his objective and goal, he should never be frightened by those terrible storms that are impediments and obstacles on his path toward God.

In short, he should never let fear find its way into his heart,
as the Holy Qur’an says: “And in God let the believers put their trust.” (3:160)

—Allama Tabataba’i (ra), “Kernel of the Kernel”