After two weeks of praying five times a day, it’s not obvious that I’m becoming more humble. Nobody would notice anything different in their interactions with me. My routine, other than the actual prayers, hasn’t changed too much. At work around 1:30 I will mysteriously disappear for 15 minutes into a conference room by myself, but that’s about it.
But I find that the prayers have had an effect on me in small ways.
For example, the other day my mom wanted me to order something for her on Amazon. It was some kind of compression face mask thing that would tighten up saggy and wrinkly skin on your face.
Yea, I think it’s pretty stupid too.
Anyway, she asked me to order to it because she doesn’t know how to order things off Amazon; she only knows how to browse the items.
I wanted to tell her how stupid the item was and that it obviously wouldn’t work. It is just a gimmicky product designed to play on people’s insecurities. I wanted to tell her that the only effective thing to do was exercise and eat better.
It was incredibly hard to resist telling her why the product was dumb and just refuse to order it out of principle, but I did, and I ordered the product without making a single comment about its efficacy.
What helped me resist the temptation to lecture my mother was thinking about what it means to be humble.
Being humble often means accepting that you don’t know what is best for people. To tell people, especially your mother, what they should or shouldn’t do based on perceptions of what I think is stupid would be an act of arrogance.
Of course, if you’re trying to prevent someone from getting seriously hurt, this wouldn’t apply. If my mom wanted me to buy her steroids or something, obviously, I would refuse.
But this particular product wouldn’t hurt her. Worst-case scenario is that it doesn’t work and she’s out a few bucks.
For me to make a mockery of her purchase would not be coming from a place of kindness, it would be coming from a place of arrogance and superiority. It would be me trying to assert my intelligence and mom’s cluelessness.
Here’s another example. Yesterday I had a dentist appointment. I’ve never been to this dentist before. I went at the recommendation of a co-worker.
The appointment was for 4 PM, and I showed up right on time.
I figured I would have to wait a few minutes before I would be called in, but I started to get irritated when two families walked in with a bunch of kids and they were all called ahead of me.
I began to have all sorts of nasty thoughts about the competence of the staff at this practice. Didn’t they know I was there first? Are they purposely trying to irritate me? I’m a new customer, don’t they know they need to make a good impression on me if they want me to come back?
After stewing in my anger for a little bit, I thought about the idea of submitting to God’s will, the essence of Islam. I thought about why Muslims are required to say “Insh’allah” (God willing) when referring to an event that will happen in the future.
This calmed me down. If it was in God’s will that I see the dentist today, great. If not, so be it.
I also tried to observe my thought process as it was happening. Why did I think the staff was trying to annoy me on purpose? Why do I think I deserve to go ahead of everyone else? Why am I so focused on myself?
It was a very strange Islamic/Stoic/psychological exercise that helped me move past my irritation.
The assistant finally called my name 45 minutes later. The dentist apologized for the long wait time and mentioned that they were renovating part of the office, which meant less chairs, which means they were at a diminished capacity to treat people.
It wasn’t personal. They weren’t trying to insult me. It’s just the way it was.
I’ve been doing this project for three and a half months now and I really think that religion and ancient philosophies work best over time and with practice. We often have the expectation that there will be an epiphany or singular religious experience that will change the way we live, but I find that the effects of practicing a religion or philosophy are subtle and difficult to notice.
It’s similar to any sort of physical training. You won’t become noticeably stronger after a single workout, but over time, you will be able to run faster, lift more weight, be more flexible, etc. To expect results after the first day is to guarantee failure; to expect to work hard and consistently is the path to success.
But maybe I’ll have an epiphany this week. If I do I will most certainly let you know.