Islam: Day 20 – Were you really born for this?

I’ve struggled for a long time with my poor attitudes to work. I’m not against the act of working, but I always seem to develop a negative attitude towards the job I have at the time. The feeling is one of resentment . I resent that I have to go to work every day. I resent that I have limited vacation time. I resent that I often have to do work that appears to be boring or meaningless.

There are a few techniques I’ve practiced that seem to work to some degree. The most effective was negative visualization, which I practiced during my Stoicism month. This is where you take the time to imagine all the ways your life could be worse. It forces you to not only to mentally prepare for the worst, but appreciate the present as well.

The second technique I’ve found to be effective is volunteering for a charitable organization. I’ve been volunteering once a month at a homeless service organization and I get a sort of “high” that carries on to my day job. I suspect increasing the frequency of service would increase my general satisfaction.

The third is combining a side project with daydreaming. The Ancient Wisdom Project makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, and I can always fantasize about the site becoming super successful and getting a book deal and making a living off my writing.

It’s perhaps dangerous to fantasize, as fantasies are often just that, fantasies, but they provide some relief from the feeling of resentment.

So far, Islam has helped me be more humble in small ways, especially in my thoughts towards others, but it hasn’t helped me become more humble in a more expansive, general sense.

I still feel as if I deserve more from life, that there is something else I should be doing that is more important, more significant than government consulting.

Islam teaches that our purpose is to submit to God’s will and to behave righteously in this life. You will win entrance to heaven if your good deeds outweigh your bad.

It’s a comforting thought, precisely because it offers a worthwhile end goal: union with God.

But it doesn’t particularly help me now when I still have 60 or so years of life left (Inshallah).

I pulled a few intriguing sayings from the short book, The Heart of Islam.

Were you really born for this?

“A Sufi teaching story tells the tale of a prince lost in a desert while hunting a stag. His quarry was a magical animal, however, and when the prince finally caught up with it he was shocked to hear the beast him, ‘Were you really born for this?’”

The story is meant to convey that the ultimate purpose in life is to awaken spirituality. Wandering through the desert is a metaphor for people living life without God; the hunt is a metaphor for the trivial pursuits that consumes most of ours days, and the beast’s response represents the feeling we have that something is missing.

Great! I’m on board with abandoning “the hunt” per se.

But then I also saw this Islamic saying:

“Trust in Allah but tether your camel!”

The saying is a reminder that though your ultimate purpose is to submit to God’s will and be reunited with him, we must “stay grounded in the practicalities of everyday existence.”

Ugh, I was hoping I could just pull a Thoreau and move to a cabin in the woods somewhere.

I’m not sure how to balance the desire for transcendence and still learn to appreciate day-to-day life. Perhaps struggling with this is the whole point of Islam, and religion in general and I shouldn’t expect there to ever be a point in which I don’t struggle with this.

I’m going to continue to mull this over, but for now, I have to go to work and “hunt” a spreadsheet.

  • Fatima Tariq

    Hi Dale
    You wish to gain wisdom form Islam , you want the advice of the ancients , I have to ask did you try reading the Qur’an ? Its Qur’an thats the fundamental book of Islam. It teaches you everyting. You can get an english translated Qur’an. I am pretty sure you will learn some valuable lessons from it. You can still learn without of having to believe in anything beforehand. Also try pondering over the verses , it also takes you to a level of transcendence .

    • When I started this project I thought I would read many of the primary texts (Bible, Torah, Qur’an, etc.) but since I only had 30 days, it was easier for me to read commentary and interpretations.

      It’s a good idea though, and I’ll definitely have to dive deeper into it in the future.

      • Fatima Tariq

        hey you forgot to say InShaAllah 🙂 … Sure read them when ever you can If you need any help in understanding or a question about Islam you can always ask me . I ‘ll try my best to help.

        Actually I’m only seventeen , I was born Muslim but didn’t start to believe or even properly practice Islam until a few recent years. It takes time to do everything and you constantly grow. I love your approach and how you seem to extract so much in such a limited time.I learned a lot from you , things it took years for me to grasp , wow you nailed it pretty quick.
        I hope you do believe in at least good wishes. All my good wishes are with you and that you may find what you are looking for . 🙂

        • Ah I forgot! I’ll remember next time…InShaAllah 😉

          I suspect religion is a lifelong practice that will only grow richer with time so I imagine you’ll see more benefits and growth over the coming years.

          Thanks for reading!

  • Mariam

    Interesting dilemma. Not sure if you found the answer to it but I found 2 ways to cope with the everyday mundane parts of life;
    1. To know that Islam also tells us that we will be made to account for every gift/blessing we’re given in this life. Even something as “trivial” as out eyes. We’re expected to maximize the good that we have; our health, wealth, work situations, etc. because we will be expected to account for it.
    2. Living an everyday life is a sunnah of the prophet Muhammad (SAW). One of the main attractions of the prophet for me is that he wasn’t just that; he was a father, a husband, a best friend, a military leader, a widower and at one point in his life a businessman. So were a great many of his companions. By studying their lives, we learn that part of worship can include doing the best you can to live in this life to provide for yourself and your family in a God conscious way. That way everything that we do, even the boring trivial things, become acts of worship and are pleasing to the Creator.
    It helps make it more bearable.

    As Ustadh Nouman said; There should be no such thing as an average Muslim. We should all try to be the best whatever we are, whether it’s cooks, doctors, businessmen, parents, bloggers, engineers, spouses, etc. All while seeking the pleasure of Allah. (paraphrasing here)