Are our bad habits actually worse than we think?

We all live in slavery to a Reactive Mind that urges us to consume, to speak or behave in an unconscious way, to live without God-consciousness. Each Ramadan the Muslim intentionally deepens the level of struggle with his or her inner compulsions. In this way we may get a tiny taste of actual spiritual freedom and yearn for more. But what is more?

In Islam, we seek inner unity. A soul truly at peace is not ruled by the tyranny of the ego. You and I can look into that inner mirror of the heart—through the veils woven by the many unreal selves within us—beyond the socially created self, the social identity, the protean ego, and the desires.

Look within. Who is home? Not just the meter reader. Not just the narrating Mind. As if you are a house with many levels– shine a light into the basement! Moment-to-moment refinement of awareness brings new clarity to the swarming floor. This voyage of discovery is also a struggle towards liberation. This effort of transcendent self-knowledge is the Greater Jihad. Who are you really?

The picture we get in this process is not always pretty—it may offend our self-esteem but it is true. Truth is its value—greater than gold. We may wish to imagine we are what we wish to be. But we are not. And even in the prettiest palace, home life may be a hell. What is true?

There is no compulsion in religion. That means Islam cannot be imposed by force. Attempts to force Peace onto individuals and societies produce monsters—we see this in the world and it is true on the individual level too. But we can learn. How? The Quran enjoins us to reflect and to do Dikhr again and again. Peace comes sometimes with preparation but not through our human efforts alone—we cannot take credit for this. Harmony arises from prayer and practice, from intention and reflection, taqwa and tawheed, from a remembering that does not look back in time but only into the present.

As we breathe in and out, are we aware of our total presence, our being at this moment– or are we instead shrunken into one small part, focused in our thoughts about what someone did to us, problems of injustice in the world, what we must do later or what we will be having for dinner…? What is our relationship with God in all this?

Those of us with bad habits—and these habits certainly include over-eating, smoking, gossip, complaining, just to mention some oral cancers— we can dance with self-blame all we like, but we will not get anywhere. The tune must change. To want change, we will need the bitter taste of our illusion, to feel the ebb of energy and the limits of our time on earth. To accomplish change, we will surely need help—from our friends and family and mosque—and from God the Compassionate. May Allah guide us!

It is easy for us to point fingers at other lifestyles and behaviors, and we may be correct in a theoretical way. But instead of sitting in judgment on others we can stand in solidarity, sympathy, and struggle. We are all in the same boat. Humanity has work to do—and each task has many levels. How we interact with others matters. How we interact with ourselves matters. Even emptying the garbage is significant and sacred – not only in how that affects the climate, but how it affects my understanding of my life. Yes!

So as I avoid cleaning my rooms—and as I get lost in my own words—I see my habits. As I blame myself, I see another habit. There can be many layers, increasing over time.

Therefore—the Greater Jihad is not only for Ramadan. This Sacred Struggle must continue in other forms—quitting smoking, or trying to—dieting, exercise and other disciplines—studying and work in all their levels. Be aware, endure, embrace the challenge, every moment. We are not strong. But each little failure may create a condition for success. And when one door closes, another opens, insh’Allah.


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