A person once told me, “Ambition is what kills you. You are never contented with what you have…” I thought about that for a while. It was true that I was always trying to improve my life, and I was never ‘satisfied’ with what I have. It was never good enough. I always wanted the fastest computers, the latest camera, the best gym equipment etc… Was that such a bad thing? It was hard to make sense of the idea that I needed to be contented with what I have when I always just wanted something better. For a long time, I just simply disagreed outright with any such ‘nonsense’ about ‘finding inner peace’ and new age spirituality stuff. I was like, “yeah, whatever, I’m glad that you’re contented…” Until, one day I struggled to get out of bed, totally burnt out and found that I just couldn’t get myself to do anything and here’s what I realised.
The energy with which I pursued so much was not healthy. It was not healthy because it became somewhat of a compulsion, and my drive to succeed was also driving me into the ground. I needed to improve, but I needed to do it with the right type of energy. That energy needed to come from gratitude. My book of guidance says, “If you are grateful, I (God) will increase you…” I needed to adhere, but how? I mean, if you’re not grateful, you’re not grateful. Let’s face it. No amount of telling yourself to be grateful is going to make you grateful! In fact, no amount of praying was gonna do that for me either. I needed to look around and take stock of my life.
I had a roof over my head, and that wasn’t a small thing when I considered that 80% of South Africans can’t afford a home. I had a business, and that wasn’t a small thing considering I was only twenty-five years old and at least half of South Africa was unemployed. I had a wife and two children, and that wasn’t a small accomplishment for a young man. I had my Martial Art, and I had the luxury of running on the beach nearly every day and more often than not, swimming two or three times a week. On paper, objectively, I was living the life. Why didn’t it feel that way? Well, because I didn’t say “Thank you God” or as we say in Arabic- Alhamdu li Allah.
Don’t get me wrong, I was doing my best to be a ‘good’ Muslim- I’m not entirely sure what that means. I said all the required amounts of praises to God and thanked Him often, but it wasn’t connected to anything specific. It was a general thank you. It was a lazy thank you. It was a “thank you God, everything is in your Hands anyway, so of course I should thank you.” It wasn’t, “thank you God for my family, thank you God for my health, thank you God for my business, thank you God for my children, thank you God for….” I decided that morning I was going to do that. I was going to follow the hymn I learnt at school. You see, I grew up in apartheid South Africa for the early part of my life. Christianity was compulsory at government schools and so my life was half and half. Sometimes the hymns I learnt like, “Count your blessings one by one…” and the passages I read from the Qur’an all converged in my head in a seamless and noncontradictory fashion. So sometimes it was “for what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful…” and other times it was, “In the name of Allah and with His blessings…” It just didn’t make much of a difference to me. God is God after all. Since I believe that there is only one God, this God is the God of everyone. I just didn’t function around the othering of people. Growing up with besties who aren’t Muslim made me acutely aware of the goodness in everyone, and sometimes the badness too. 🙂
What worked for me in trying to show gratitude to God was to get very specific. I had to reflect on my life and all the many people that have contributed to my life positively and negatively (which is also positive). I had to thank God for some of the lessons I learnt in very specific scenarios and I had to keep it real. That’s how I developed some gratitude. Now, I’m no saint and I’m a far cry from being ‘good’ even by my own measure of goodness, but I am grateful. When I started to do that, ambition stopped killing me. It stopped killing me because I knew that if I didn’t get better, I already had what was best! It stopped killing me because I had to acknowledge that my accomplishments weren’t only by my hand but it was by His Hands. I had to come to realise, “to God be the Glory, Great things He has done…” Like the opening chapter says, “Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds.”
Finally, I will share with you the next level version of praise I came across once reading a religious book. It was reported that Muhammad (s) the Messenger of God used to say, “Praise be to God, though my Praises of Him are insufficient, seeing as He is Great, and He Praises Himself.” When you stop and and you say, “Thank you God” it puts you in a resilient space. It makes you brave enough to keep going regardless of what the outcome might be. It makes you realise that it isn’t really up to you. All you need to do, is do your best, and God, Allah, will take care of the rest. Be contented, not complacent.
قل الحمد لله على كل حال