I’m doing pretty okay. Nothing has changed, nothing has been forgotten, nothing has magically been fixed, but slowly two facts I have always known are sinking in and settling down:
i) No one can change the past.
ii) I’m only ever responsible for my own actions.
Wishing I had made different decisions doesn’t change what happened, and never will. I can’t make you someone you’re not, no matter how angry or sad I get. Only you can do that. I can, however, decide what I want to be, how I want to change and in what way all that has happened will make me a better person.
I can decide the kind of letters I would want someone to write to me long after I have left their lives.
…I hastened to advise you on the best ways of leading a noble, virtuous and useful life. I hated the idea that death should overtake me before I could tell you all that I wanted to tell or that my mental capacities, like my bodily strength, might fall prey to deterioration. I convey all this knowledge to you, lest unreasonable desires, temptations and inducements start influencing you, lest adverse changes of times and circumstances should drag you into their mire…
I often find myself wishing I had started implementing my faith earlier. I was taught all the relevant information as a child, but I never really applied all that I learnt. I performed the actions but didn’t bother about what could not be taught in a classroom – their essence. In this way, religion is like any other art or science. You can learn all about its rules and technicalities, but until you actually immerse yourself into it and connect emotionally, you never truly master it.
Too often, the times we live in distract us into a Media Mindset. We think and behave a certain way – even in our private lives and personal relationships – in order to fit in with the marketing society. After all if people didn’t lie to each other and break each other’s hearts, if people actually tried to make relationships work through the hard bits instead of abandoning them when a challenge arose…who would listen to all the songs about heartache, buy chocolate by the giant bar, eat ice cream by the tub and weep on the shoulders of agony aunts? A large number of corporations need for us to hurt each other in order to survive.
And those words: temptations, inducements, desires…so emotionally-charged and yet how many times have you seen them used casually in adverts or on television? From cars to chocolate bars, the subliminal message is “Don’t think, just act”. Because if you pause to think, you might (gasp!) actually become aware of your responsibilities and do what you’re supposed to instead of what you want to.
Why does it matter that we do the right thing or make the right choices anyway? Because Creation survives on balance. So it only makes sense, that if we see things unbalanced in the world we live in, that there is a counter-action somewhere that will happen to balance it out. Call it the Universal Sine Wave if you will.
Each of us contributes to this Wave with every breath we take. And since every action has an equal and opposite reaction, if we don’t see the reaction straightaway, then it’s waiting somewhere to happen. That is why we are to be held accountable for every word, every whisper, every thought, every action we make in our lifetimes. And if annual tax audits and monthly cheque books give us a headache, are we ready for the Real Accounting in which there will be no chance to play with the numbers?
I have made use of early opportunities…before you start facing life unprepared for the encounter, and before you are forced to use your decisions and discretions without gaining advantages of accumulated traditions, collected knowledge and experiences of others. The advice and counsel that I give will save you from the worry of acquiring knowledge, gathering experiences and soliciting others for advice. Now you can easily make use of all the knowledge men acquired with great care, trouble and patience. Things which were hidden from them and which only experiments, experiences and sufferings could bring to light are now made easily available to you through this advice.
I’ve often heard and I think this might be your reason too (although I am fast doubting all the things I thought I knew about you), that people rebel against religion because they don’t want to be ‘controlled’ or because it doesn’t make ‘sense’. Neither of these really hold fast under scrutiny.
For one, it doesn’t have to make sense to you – not immediately anyway. What would you say to a child in kindergarten who told you quantum physics didn’t make sense? Say that to yourself.
And the controlling excuse is a little lame to say the least. Trying to live something as complex as Life without guidelines – and in the process risking your Hereafter – is like buying a new gadget, trashing the Manual and trying to get it to work on your own. We all do that because we like to think that since the gadget was designed by another human being, we have access to the same intelligence / common sense they used and should be able to ‘make it out’ on our own. Even in the event that we don’t end up with ‘extra’ pieces that we’re sure some generous / incompetent packer threw in and we do get it to work, it takes a whole lot more time to finally enjoy the product than if we had just followed instructions.
In the case of Life, it’s not even another human being who did the creating and you have no guarantee you’ll figure it out before you run out of time. God made the product, and it’s a mighty complicated one at that. He Knows how it works, what it’s meant for and what will make it work best. That’s why He sent religion as a User Manual.
The correct manual will not only show you what the different bits are, where they fit together and how they really work – it will show how to best use what you have when you’re done putting it together. That’s why religion is a choice. You’re supposed to pick the one that not only makes most sense, but also yields results.
Religion isn’t about control, it’s about self-control. It’s also about knowledge and growth and love and strength and discovery and discipline and progress and all those amazing things that no one seems to want to know about anymore. That is the real reason why God sent us rules and guidelines. Not to lord over us or prove that He’s ‘In-Charge’. Not to place restrictions over us and make us into little pawns enslaved into His Way of Doing Things. If He wanted that, then giving us Free Will kinda botches up the plan, no?
But honestly, it’s like we want to mess things up as much as possible. We try to make it sound like we’re gaining valuable experience by making mistakes. Here’s the catch though: we’re all making the same mistakes over and over again…and no one’s learning anything from the experience.
I might be biased but one of the many reasons I love my faith is that it jolted me pretty early on out of the misconception that you can learn only from your own mistakes. True, you will make them, whether you like it or not, but wisdom involves learning from the mistakes of others as well. If you can work upwards from the lessons learned by someone else, then your own growth will be from an elevated step and you’ll reach higher.
Isn’t that how all progress works? One generation of scientists experiments and makes a hundred mistakes before making one discovery. The next generation doesn’t start from scratch, they build on the one discovery and make their own different hundred mistakes before opening the next door of knowledge. We wouldn’t have Bugattis to drool over if everyone kept re-inventing the wheel, would we?
It’s how innovations work in art and business and psychology does something similar in regard to human behaviour. So why aren’t we willing to do the same in terms of self-building and spirituality. Are we so blinded by pride that we cannot agree to be corrected and change ourselves – for our own good – to become better human beings just because someone else is telling us how?
I don’t want to be that proud or that blind. I want to move so that I take at least One Step Forward in my life, so that the people who follow me will have that much of a higher base from where I began my journey on which to begin theirs. I want to have contributed something to The Wave that will result in a higher peak on its next upward swing.
This Will I am weaving my thoughts around, it is a treasure of knowledge and experience. Starting so late to use it or to share it with you has been a mistake on my part, and a loss to both of us. I’m trying to make up for that on my side. I wonder, is it too much to hope you will on yours…?
*All italicized blocks of quotes are from the Will of Ali bin Abi Talib (a) to his son.