The Things I Used To Do

Bismihi Ta’ala

So, I’ve been thinking.  Contemplating.  Re-envisioning.  And one of questions that I have found myself repeatedly asking is: Why do I write?  I’ve probably addressed that question somewhere in the archives of this blog and I have a feeling I had some theatrical answer like: “Because I have to, because I breathe words, because without writing I would no longer be me!”  And at that time, I have no doubt that the answer was honest and true.  It may still be.

I know I’ve stopped doing a lot of things I used to consider essential to my description.  I considered writing and reading, drawing and talking, craft and art, all a part of what made up who I was.  I have done very little of any of that in the past few years.  And I can feel something missing, have felt it for a long time.  I’m not sure why I stopped to begin with – so many possible reasons come to mind: work, deadlines, schedules, getting married, learning how to cook, getting used to having to share my personal space with another (totally different) human being, traveling, migrating…but I guess none of those would have brought all my hobbies to a standstill if I hadn’t wanted to stop for a bit.

I have this need to re-assess not just the reasons why I did the things I did, but what effect they had in my life.   To re-explore who I thought I was as opposed to who I really am and then figure out how to get to who I want to be.  Is this what they call mid-life crisis?

But I feel too young to be going through mid-life! I haven’t done anything yet!  I’m still just dabbling in this and that, trying to decide what I really want to do when I grow up 😦  I’ve only just got married, am only just learning how to swim and to drive (hopefully!), only just figuring out how to feed others as well as myself, only just…so many things.  And Time is already running out?

So I’ve decided to go back to all the things that appealed to me in my ‘childhood’ and try them out again.  To see if I can re-kindle the passion that I had for them and if I can’t, to discover what’s changed in me since then.  Maybe I’ll find new things I can enjoy, maybe I’ll make some past dreams my present reality.  All I know is that I have to do something.

Here’s my current To Re-do List:

1.  Write

I’ve written a book, for God’s Sake! Surely I should be able to write another…right?


I need to write on this blog, re-start a journal, write articles, write stories, write anything…just let the words spew out.  Apologies in advance if something untoward or nonsensical makes its way here.

2. Draw

I used to draw like so:


But now my hand trembles at the sight of a pencil.  So it’s time to sharpen the nibs and go fulfill some papers’ purpose of life.

3. Tat

Of all the craft work I’ve ever done, tatting, crochet and weaving appeal the most to me.  The last time I tatted was literally eons ago…

Time to make more lace as well. And ignore that fact that lace making makes me sound even older than I actually am…

4. Read

No I’m not putting reading down here because I don’t value it more than tatting and drawing.  I just don’t know where I’m going to get books from (I loathe online reading) right now.  But I shall read…somehow.  Perhaps you can suggest something I should sink into?

5. Think

I’ve been doing things routinely for some time.  I’m not sure I ever stopped to consciously think about the things I did, although I did sit and stare into the distance and do a lot of musing-type thinking.  Perhaps some of that would be good to do now, but also some of the awareness-type thinking where you actually consider the impact of your action and in-action on your own life, on the lives of those close to you and the world as a whole.

Five things are good enough to start with I believe.  Who knows, if I’m lucky and determined, I might even get more than two of them done in the next few weeks while I’m on hiatus from ‘normal routine’!

Wish me luck!




12 thoughts on “The Things I Used To Do

  1. I totally agree with your points on nature and nurture.

    I’m talking about the pure nafs – the one that is “the true self” (it’s really difficult to translate some words to English). This type of nafs manifests itself in the khiyal/body parts and skin colour. So yes, while the inherent things in us like breathing and skin colour is nature and a lot of how we act is nurture, our deeper nature (deeper than our genes even) is that nafs. It’s that type of nafs that has absolutely every ingredient and every step in the recipe written in it, regardless of whether it is a natural or nurtured attribute. It’s at this dimension I speculate we are solely our nature, and whatever aspects of us are “nurtured”, is also our nature.

    What I was wondering is whether we can nurture this specific type of nafs and in so, nurture our nature? Now, I’m thinking that we can’t nurture our nafs because just like our genes, we were given unique talents. But can we nurture those talents until Infinity or do we have a limited amount of “writing” or “drawing” talent in our nafs? And this is where I’d loooove it if you linked me to br. Khalil Jaffer’s lectures! Share, share, share what you’ve learned please 😀

    You know those awesome people who can tell what kind of personality you have by looking at the way you dot your i’s? It just shows that our nafs does manifest itself in everything we do. I think even how we breathe (slow, fast, or not breathing at all) is a manifestation of the state of our nafs. Maybe that’s a different type of nafs than the pure nafs, dunno.

    Well we could never become perfect as much as we strive for it, and by perfection I mean the level of insan e kamil (ie. Ahlul Bayt). We were never created to be them, but their slaves.

    Oh gosh, that was a poor wording on my part – we were definitely not created to sin, but to struggle to come closer to Allah through love and worship. I mean that we can’t be blamed for the fact that we’re human. Rephrasing what I said – I don’t think we can be punished for our errors (instead of “sins”) as humans err by nature (is that less dangerous thinking? Maybe I’m putting it in the wrong way?) *I use error in the context that Adam erred, not sinned.*

    I’m really interested in what your take is on the idea of repentance. You say “risk of repentance” and to me a “risk” is negative. Is there any aspect of repentance which is negative?

    I’m still not over thinking about Endings and Beginnings… so even starting to think about the cycle of discovery will take some time 😛

    • S’laams,

      Hmm…here’s a question to consider. If our nafs was in another ‘body’ i.e. we had different physical traits, would it still essentially remain the same? I think that is the distinction I was trying to make. Yes, words are hard to find and I believe in the Arabic language, the same word is used to mean different things depending on context. A word as complicated and vast as ‘nafs’ will always need clarification – and as you said, sometimes even that isn’t enough because the equivalent just doesn’t exist in the English language (which could open up a whole different discussion on what a language says about its speakers’ philosophies.)

      From what I have read and heard. there is the nafs that we are supposed to ‘purify’ and ‘perfect’ in this life. So of course there are aspects of us that we can’t change, but there are aspects that we can as well. I know for example that there are things I never believed I could do but with time and just a small amount of effort, I have managed to do them – not master them, but at least achieve them. I think we while some of us are patient by nature, and others are quick tempered, it’s very possible to actually ‘nurture’ patience into a nafs that might be impatient by nature. And perhaps that is how our individual tests in life are different. For someone impatient, developing and practicing patience is their test, while for someone who possesses forbearance, the test might require conquering a different quality or characteristic.

      A lot of our inner qualities – even the ones we deny or are unaware of – come out through our subconscious actions (like handwriting) and that’s also why we need to try and learn about ourselves through every way we can. Sometimes through the help of others who observe us in a way we can never see ourselves. This is where you can learn about your flaws and errors and begin to understand firstly, how imperfect you are and then secondly, how to correct (or try to) those imperfections.

      Lol, I didn’t mean risk as a negative. I think a risk like so many other things is a neutral condition. It is the circumstance in which is it applied that makes it negative or positive. Repentance is not negative in that it is a turning back to God, but a lot of times, if we took a second to pause before speaking or acting or even thinking and became aware of our intentions for that act, we could prevent making a mistake and then having to seek repentance for it. To have avoided the sin is infinitely better than doing it and then repenting, yes? That is what I meant by the risk of repentance.

      Lol, I need to re-read some of the things I write if they actually make you think so much…! 😀

      Here’s a link to Br. Khalil’s lecture on The End of Negative Suffering, which is a good place to start. A lot of his other lecture series are built upon this initial premise so I always recommend that people listen to this one first to be able to fully appreciate the rest. (I would listen to his various series in chronological order if you can.)

      Enjoy, iA!


      • Well, helloooo fabulous! You know the right questions to ask and you always put things in the right perspective 😉
        It’s definitely something to consider. A lot of what I comment on your blog is from lectures by Saeid Bassam in New Zealand. So I think I’m going to be a tad annoying and actually ask him these questions in response to his lectures.

        Lol at re-reading what you write. I just like making a big deal out of stuff. Sometimes to my advantage (especially for my program) and sometimes destruction. Also, I like talking to you (I have a girl crush on you just so you know :P) so I’ll always have something to say!

        (eeek, I’m excited to listen to the lectures. Thank you)

      • Loooool…. ‘girl crush’… *blush* 😀

        And now I need to check up on Saeid Bassam and then get back to you.

        Rushing off now, but there’s a new blog post a-simmering…. 🙂

  2. Ah, finally, the reply I told you I’d get to!

    Sometimes I wonder if I had been named something other than my current one, or if I had not made that one promise when I was younger to commit myself to a certain “something”… would I still do what I do today? Would I still be that “me” that I am today?
    I know the discourse around nature vs. nurture is usually resolved to be 50/50, but I’ve also been learning about how our soul manifests itself through what we do (whether it be art, or in our speech etc), and maybe it’s more nature than nurture. As in, what we “do” – did someone teach it to us or did it just happen?

    It’s interesting that you’re able to describe yourself using these practices you used to do. Of course, I know you have many other practices that make you who you are, but you’ve chosen these 5 things that you want to refocus yourself on. It’s bizarre that often I wish I never wrote, never drew, never read, or never thought (I’ve never tried my hand at crochet, can’t harbor enough patience :/) while you wish you could practice them again! In these 4 practices, and others, I’ve learned a lot about my soul and it’s incredible what I never knew about myself. I think I’ve made a few conscious decisions to stop doing some things I used to do, because I’m afraid that my actions will expose undiscovered parts of my soul. It’s that “finding who you really are” thing that frightens me… I don’t want to find out because that would mean I’d have to grow up 😛

    How’s that for complicating a fairly simple post? 🙂

    I hope you’ve been able to conquer all that which you used to do. And I’d really love to get a copy of SZ in e-book format too, inshaAllah :D!!

    • Glad you managed 🙂

      It’s interesting that you mention the nature vs. nurture aspect of our existence. Is what we do really more nature? I’ve wondered that too – where do we shift responsibility for our actions and words? Can we really always justify our thoughts and deeds on the way we are? I’m not sure what you mean though by ‘what we “do”‘. To a large extent, doesn’t that depend on what is taught to us in our childhood and what we learn on our own through observation?

      And I think if I ever tried to imagine my life without these things that I do, I’d probably freak out! I find myself thanking God at random times for the ability to express myself in these ways, otherwise I might go mad! I have seen so many people who don’t know how to be alone with their thoughts for company, or who complain that they have ‘nothing to do’ or are ‘bored’ while I’m wondering where to find time to read all the books I want to or simply sit and write endless words…

      Yes, expressing your feelings and thoughts does allow you to journey within and discover more about yourself – but it’s a wonderful experience. Even in the times when I had to face bitter truths about my own flaws, it’s been an amazing process of being able to sit back and simply ‘realise’ and ‘accept’. And then of course the real work begins with figuring out how to deal with those flaws. In a way, it’s a chance to mould yourself into something of your own choosing – almost like one would do with exercise for the physical body. Except that with exercise, you’re still restricted by your genes and so you have to work with pre-set parameters. The soul on the other hand has limitless potential so you can choose to go as high as you wish really… or as low 😦

      Lol! Everything in life is complicated. And simple. The trick is to pick something that seems simple, dissect it into its complex components and then condense those into new simple truths. The cycle of Discovery, yes?

      And thanks for the good wishes! I’m getting there. Doing old stuff and learning new things as well! So far, so good… 🙂


      • Re the nature vs. nurture: I really have no clue whether its more nature or nurture, just speculating. I argue that it’s more nature than nurture because the way we are treated in public, in many cases, is according to how we look (ie. race, ethnicity… prejudices that are embedded in the nature of the ego).
        Also, the nafs is essentially “us” but it is ijmal – it (“I”/”the self”) cannot be seen, and only known through how it externally manifests itself. What I mean by ‘what we “do”‘ is everything we are (how we look) and what we do (from breathing to working to playing) is a manifestation/reflection of our nafs. Even how we take in what we were taught as children, or what take from our observations is through our own perception is guided by our nafs.
        So nature can be argued to guide nurture(?)
        Back to the original reply, what we “do” — is that in our nature or was is taught to us if the nafs/nature guides all?

        Here’s an idea that just came up (absolutely no background, just another speculation) – our nature is our nafs (with all its faults, and darknesses), but maybe the nurture aspect is what we choose to manifest from our nafs. This may go back to free will and predestination – where everything is already written in our nafs, but that doesn’t impact our choice. And maybe I’m afraid to know “the self” because I cannot put that ego down to ask for forgiveness for these lapses that I choose for my nafs to manifest.

        We were not created to become perfect – Allah wanted you and me to feel His mercy and so He knew, when creating our respective nafus, that we would sin. He created the beauty of rahma as an alternative to the defects that our nafs possess so that we may learn to love Him out of our own free will. Maybe our unique sins are manifestations of our respective nafus, and we can’t be blamed for it (ie. sinning), but we can be blamed for not seeking salvation from them. So maybe, maybe, maybe we can justify our thoughts and deeds on our nature, but we can’t justify the choice of not seeking salvation from them. In which case, I am of the most ignorant, because I’m afraid of finding out what my nafs holds (ie. “finding who you really are” thing I was talking about earlier) because I don’t want to seek salvation from them due to my heightened ego.

        Before I unnecessarily take it in a different direction (I already have and it’s part of my nature (or nurture :S?) to make a big deal out of the littlest things)… back to your post! All the things you “do”, you do because you have chosen to manifest your nafs in that way. So I find it interesting that you highlighted these 5 things you used to do is all I really wanted to get at 😉

        The cycle of Discovery? That’s an interesting thought. Yay, something to think about when I zone out of class again (I think I just missed like half the class thinking about this haha)

        P.S. I’m kind of a zombie right now with no sleep, stress, and being fully caffeinated, so I hope this was coherent! 😛

      • Aaaaah…so much to dissect here (*yummy!*)

        So, here’s my take on the matter. I agree that who we ‘are’ in terms of physical make-up is very much nature-based. We can’t choose the colour of our skin or hair, or how tall we are. However, these things are not a manifestation of our soul, rather they’re more like the tool we have been given to live life with. To some extent I also think our talents and basic dispositions are nature based. Extroverts, introverts, visual learners or goal-oriented types – all these groups that we put ourselves in are a result of both nature and nurture – we are born with certain tendencies but we don’t all have the luxury of exploring or exploiting them.

        The question of whether what we ‘do’ is guided by nature or nurture, I think really depends on the specific action we ‘do’. Breathing as you mentioned, would be pure nature, no one teaches you how to breathe anymore than they teach you how digest your food. As we grow older, yes we are taught how to walk or to eat or talk, but we already have the ‘tools’ to do these things, so it’s more a case of being taught how to used what nature has already provided you with. On a higher level though, when we add things like the etiquette of eating or the eloquence of speech – these things then are nurture based.

        I think one can distinguish what is nature and what is nurtured in oneself by trying to change it. If you can change the way you do something, it was nurtured into you and if you can’t then it’s part of your nature. By this I mean, if it’s physically impossible to choose to change it.

        Having to face yourself with all your flaws and admitting to them is probably the hardest thing in the world. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that this is one of the main aims of life. To be able to see how imperfect you are and in the process realise how Perfect God is. Perhaps it is only when we realise how much we have wasted the potential He has given each of us that we can experience enough remorse to turn back to Him with true humility. Even that though is a constant struggle.

        I would disagree though with the statement that we are not created to become perfect. It might seem a semantic issue, but I believe we were created to strive to ‘become’ perfect, we were just not created perfect to begin with. Yes, God Knows we will sin – even the angels knew that when He created Adam (a) – but that doesn’t mean He created us to sin. His advice to us has always been to avoid and stay away from sin. It may be dangerous to think we can’t be blamed for sinning – because where would that take the responsibility and accountability for those sins? The advice from our leaders has always been to avoid the sin to begin with so that we don’t have to bear the burden of regret or the risk of repentance. Because as much as we know God is All-MErciful and All-Forgiving, there are no guarantees that our repentance will be of such a calibre as to deserve being accepted.

        The ego will always be the block to all our progress – this is absolutely true. (Have you by any chance listened to Br. Khalil Jaffer’s various lectures on the topic?) And how we choose to manifest our nafs will in turn change the ‘nature’ of our nafs. Isn’t that why we are told that even if we’re not generous, for example, by nature, then we should pretend to be so and try to consciously give to others even if we’re not inclined to do so…and then with time, the pretense will become the truth.

        Lol, I’ve never thought of these hobbies of mine as being manifestations of my nafs. These are talents that are God-given and I feel guilty for not exploring them and trying to see how I can use them to do worthwhile things that would take me nearer to Him. That was the point of the post – to ask myself why I was looking for new ways or other ways to be a better Muslim, when there were all these things that I hadn’t ever seriously thought about except as ‘pass time’ and yet they were gifts from God that I had simply enjoyed and taken advantage of.

        Let me know what thoughts you have on the Cycle of Discovery – although, not during class time! 🙂 And it can be after you sleep, de-stress and de-tox your system (you were perfectly coherent though).

        bA 🙂

    • Ahsant! That list look fabulous – I’ve read quite a few on them, but not read many so it’s time to go hunting! I think I’ll have to overcome the online reading obstacle and just go at it.

      About SZ, trust me I haven’t forgotten 😦 For some reason, something or the other comes up and gets in the way. Let me go work on it right now…

      • Indeed! A Kindle is on my list of investments once I get back to the UK, iA.

        Lol, I need more than gentle pushes these days. Merciless self-imposed discipline is the key-phrase in my life right now. Have discovered a couple of new projects that might be the best way to get SZ out there, so hopefully it should get done ASAP!

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