Finding meaning whilst avoiding meltingThe recent heatwave in the UK has given many of us here pause for thought and provided an opportunity for introspection and reflection (whilst avoiding melting in the midday heat). Our response to the incessant heat certainly tests our resolve and patience in novel ways. The same world also looks remarkably different through the shimmering hot haze.
This shifting of perspectives reminded me of a favourite thought-provoking book ‘When You Hear Hoofbeats, Think of a Zebra’ by Shems Friedlander. His extensive travels combined with a profound understanding of the spiritual dimension of Islam render him a most able guide towards the elusive domain of self-knowledge.
"Whosoever knows himself knows his Lord."
The title of the book neatly encapsulates its aims; our total immersion in the dunya has conditioned us to imagine horses when thinking of hoofbeats. Friedlander’s objective is to encourage the reader to see things in a different manner – akin to lateral thinking, but exercising the heart and not the mind.
The author urges us to be mindful of Allah (swt) and proposes that the only means to do so is to interrupt the monotony of our lives by introducing adventure. This is not necessarily in the form of jungle-trekking and white-water rafting, but to a much milder degree. Our days can tend towards a repetitiveness which desensitises us to creation. These Groundhog days ensure we lose our connection with our Creator, who manifests Himself through creation. By stepping back and doing things even slightly differently, we can re-establish the ontological chain that connects everything with God, and reawaken ourselves to His presence.
One of the practical exercises he proposes is to simply rearrange our furniture around more often than we would normally dare - a gentle nudge outside our comfort zone. The scorching temperatures of late feel like more of an unexpected shove in the back than a gentle nudge but can serve a similar purpose: a spiritual jolt to break potentially problematic patterns of behaviour for which we're grateful.