Affairs of the heart

I am a work in progress. I am working towards being a better human being. The essence of our being is reflected in our hearts. Our hearts are like mirrors. They either show our own ugliness, or they show the goodness.

One of the ways that helped me figure out, how many grudges and ill feelings I had been holding inside, was through meditation. I developed this meditation technique back in 2018 after, a friend told me about compassion meditation and shared some interesting facts about how our brains are wired, how the subconscious plays a key role in shaping who we are, and why we feel and do what we feel and do?

This meditation technique is known as Compassion Meditation. A Buddhist practice. The link attached is a short lecture with a guided practice.

I adopted this technique the way it would work for me. Here’s a short description of it, if you prefer to follow this method, I describe it briefly below:

  1. Start by sitting in a relaxed position in a quiet place. Make the body still.
  2. Close the eyes. Cutting off the sensory stimulation.
  3. Be present by focusing on the individual sounds in the surrounding (not busying the ears).
  4. Establish the focus on the breath. A few deep breaths to connect with the present moment.
  5. I start the compassion meditation by being compassionate to myself. I say a prayer in my head imagining myself, I echo this prayer until the force of the prayer is all around me in my head, then I start including those who are close to me expanding the circle of compassion in my head with every prayer. After that I bring the image of the whole earth in my head and echo the prayer in my head. The prayer translates in English to: Our Lord, have mercy on us. Bestow mercy on us!

The practise can last from anywhere from 5 mins to 20 mins.

This meditation technique really helped me let go of grudges and resentment I didn’t know I was holding on to. When I first started practising this technique, images of people that I disliked or was angry or holding some negative emotion for, started to pop up in my head while meditating. I countered this by including those people in my prayers too. I realised that I was holding onto unnecessary and unwanted feelings and emotions. I started becoming more aware of my negative side. I questioned myself why I didn’t like them? Was it useful to hold on to grudges and resentment? Was it helpful? Eventually, I was able to include everyone in this meditation practise without feeling any grudges, dislike, and resentment towards others. 

Back to the intro… I am a work in progress. Although I was happy to discover that some negative emotions found place in my heart and head easier than others. To give you an example, anger and fear found place in my heart and mind easier than other emotions like hate and envy. The reason I am writing this is because, in the past week or 2, I find that anger and fear is once more easily finding place in my heart and occupying my mind. However, armed with the tools to combat them, I am able to keep my composure. However, I cannot remain calm in everything I do, so this highlights that I should start practising this meditation daily, looking deeper inside my heart and subconscious. I am also sharing this because since developing this method, I have consumed a lot of content and found out that similar practices of contemplation have been part of the Islamic tradition too. Here’s a lecture series that talks about the practise of Tafaqqur by Dr. Abdullah Rothman. He talks about 9th century scholar Muhasibi, who mentioned a similar practise in his works. He highly influenced the main scholar of metaphysics Imam Ghazzali.

How to Read A book?

Currently I am listening to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil. The books are quite difficult to remember. I think they are meant to be this way. Even though I am taking my time listening, most stuff is really hard to grasp. I have started to think that for difficult books I should have the audible version and a paperback/hardback/kindle version. This is what I did when I Listened to The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan. I read and listened to it twice. Got to do it one more time. Anyhow, this is the reason why I haven’t been able to write anything because I am trying to decipher what I am listening to most of the time and that has taken away some ideas from me perhaps or maybe not because I am writing even though I am not actually writing about Beyond Good and Evil and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Honestly, I think most of it went over my head and I can probably recall very few points. It was only the first listen anyway.

A philosopher according to Nietzsche, is a man who constantly experiences, sees, hears and suspects hopes and dreams, extraordinary things; who is struck by his own thought as if they came from the outside, from above and below as a species of events and lightning strikes peculiar to him; who himself is perhaps a storm which moves along pregnant with new lightnings; a portentous man, around whom there is mumbling and rumbling and gaping, something uncanny going on. A philosopher alas, is a being who runs away from himself, is often afraid of himself but whose curiosity always makes him come to himself again and again… (292 Beyond Good and Evil)

This reignited the thought, how to read a book? So, I went back and listened to this lecture by the humble man whose lectures are always insightful, thought provoking and full of wisdom. The book is titled ‘How to Read a Book’ by Mortimer J. Adler. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf includes his own learning experiences to give a fuller understanding of the book, he explains the book really well, the different levels of reading, the elementary reading, the inspectional/information reading, the analytical reading. He also talks about the 3 types of people, the dabbler, the hackers, and the masters. Dabblers take up a sport/hobby/goal to give up after they are bored, not getting any attention and/or validation. Hackers take up a goal and learn the principles and practise it but never perfect it, the masters spend years after years improving and enhancing their understanding, wisdom and skills in their field. A great book deserves to be read a minimum of 3 times. A great book is a book that you can come back to over and over again. Hamza Yusuf then goes on to explain how the books written by moderns can be summed up in a line and how each sentence written by ancients can be elaborated into a new book. This is very true with the new boon that kicked off for self-help, how to start your own business and how to become better at marketing. Most of these books can be summed up in a line and very few are worth reading again and again. He ends the lecture by analysing a poem. This is what I mean when I say that my auditory memory is good haha, I am surprised how much I can recall from the lecture. I haven’t even gone back for references. He also explains in the lecture the difference between literalists, who find it hard to extract the meaning of poem and metaphorical texts. He talks about classical reads/novels/books, he talks about understanding grammar, rhetoric, logic. The 3 R’s Reading, Writing and Rhetoric.

So, if you want to start reading difficult books, classical texts, and original books. I would advise you to start by reading Mortimer J Adler’s How to Read A Book or Listen to the lecture by Hamza Yusuf on How to Read a Book.

One of the reasons why collectively we are failing is because we do not make the effort to educate ourselves by reading and studying difficult texts. I remember in one of his lectures he said, “The giants of the past were vast.” In comparison to the work accomplished and level of literacy reached by the past generations, we may have advanced technologically, but in doing so we have become the slaves of it and we do not push to find our real potential, unravel our minds, we are addicted to comfort of our homes, tech, media. Our education system fails to raise up mentally healthy adults, this is a crisis we face. This is a crisis to address too. Hopefully, writing this gives me the courage, insights, and ability to chase after my own goals. Goals for creating a better educational system.