A Mindful & Productive Summer

Meditation health benefits for body, mind and emotions, raster infographic with icons set A Mindful & Productive Summer
What are you doing for self-improvement? I’m consumed by two fascinating courses that have the potential to literally change my brain. My work impacts improvement for Islamic schools and halal businesses, and now my repertoire includes research-based strategies for mindfulness, emotional intelligence, character development, and productivity.
Define 360 has been on my radar for several years, as I was acquainted with the founders since we overlapped in our interests in education and business. I’m in the first cohort of the Character Coach Certificate Course, and it is truly rich and ambitious, reflecting the excellence of the international team that has designed it.
Meditation and multi-faceted nuances of the Self are in the curriculum and have become my daily practice. Added to this is a vast array of wisdom and quotes from a variety of sages. fMRI imaging has verified increased brain connectivity, and studies report better academic performance, increased focus, reduced anxiety, improved emotional control, reduced blood pressure, and a change in blood flow correlated to a more profound spiritual experience in prayer. I’m finding validation in my journey.
The Productive Muslim” is a book I’d read a few years ago; but in bumping into its author, Mohammed Faris, recently in New York City, it resulted in me taking his Productive Muslim Masterclass online. I’ve found the 4th edition of his book to have even more research and resources than my previous edition. We have weekly assignments and experiments, and I must admit that the most significant life hack has been to eliminate most notifications from my phone. I’d never realized how often I’m distracted, and it took some adjusting to let it go. Another benefit, even though I’d known of it before, was to schedule blocks of focused work periods into my calendar and utilize scheduling software for my consulting calls. Mohammed also fortifies the research with gems from Islamic sources, of which the greatest is about our own mindset, motivation, and reason for existence. What is your Why? Do you think the work you do is truly a source of blessings?
Both courses feature mastermind accountability groups which have resulted in new friends from around the globe who share the passion for sincerely trying to improve ourselves.
Yet, the greatest evolution I have is that I’m juggling this, as well as practicing yoga, studying a little Spanish each day, completing a copywriting course, and adopting a year-long school project in northern California, with caring for my 4-month old grandson during work hours each week. These courses certainly have come at a fortuitous juncture in my life, as I juggle time, productivity, and cultivate him with my newly learned emotional intelligence and mindfulness insights.
Hopefully, your summer has been filled with growth and restorative fun! What do you want to learn about in the next term?

My Media Message

Ertugrul   My Media Message

“Resurrection: Ertugrul,” also originally titled “Dirilis: Ertugrul,” is on Netflix. Filmed in the Turkish language with subtitles, it tells a historical rendering of feudal Turkey in the time of the Crusades. I’m not a scholar of Turkish history, but what I like about it is that it is not wretchedly sexualized, indecent, horrifically violent and depraved like “Game of Thrones,” which I discontinued after two seasons. I’d notice how disturbed, agitated, and unsettled I’d felt when watching G of T, but the twists in the tales tended to keep me curious until I just determined that it affected me, costing my peace, at the least.

The Turkish show, though not quite as twisted with multiple story threads, reveals a code of living that we don’t seem to have in many families and social institutions. It nicely demonstrates a life with religious values and customs which relate to Islam. For example, people ask permission to enter the homes of others. This was directly advised in the Qur’an.

“O you who have believed, let those whom your right hands possess and those who have not [yet] reached puberty among you ask permission of you [before entering] at three times: before the dawn prayer and when you put aside your clothing [for rest] at noon and after the night prayer. [These are] three times of privacy for you. There is no blame upon you nor upon them beyond these [periods], for they continually circulate among you – some of you, among others. Thus does Allah make clear to you the verses; and Allah is Knowing and Wise.
And when the children among you reach puberty, let them ask permission [at all times] as those before them have done. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses; and Allah is Knowing and Wise.” – Quran 24:58-59

Another feature I noticed was the role of the bey’s (leader’s) wife, who wisely is the confidante and counsel to her husband. She has significant power and is intelligently aware, but her husband has the position of tribe leader. Other women too, are respected and use their voice in opinions and yet, they are protected, treasured, and valued for the work they do to contribute to the community. Coincidentally, it also features Cameron Diaz’s doppelganger!

Over my life, I have seen some changes in gender roles and in the lot given to American women; and while I do not advise to go back to 1950’s gender roles in the limits that women endured, I see an erosion of family values and vacuum in teaching good character and ethics. Many mothers are working so hard to provide for their families, that they have little time and energy left for personally guiding their kids and enjoying relationships with spouses and friends.

This brings me to another point about the impact of media.

While driving one of my sons (and his two cats) back to his apartment in the city, he shared an interesting perspective with me. He’d mentioned that it was considered “cool” to be rude and disrespectful to adults when he was a teen. Now he finds it incredible that I had the patience to endure his attitudes and antics.

Reflecting on the past, I do believe the Disney Channel, which we “cool” parents were held ransom to provide via cable TV, was culpable in the shift from what I’d modeled as a kid. My high level of TV consumption was certainly instructive.

As a youngster, I was influenced by reruns of “The Little Rascals”, as was my father. And I gleaned my perspectives of fathers from “Father Knows Best,” “The Lucy Show,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “Bonanza,” “Mayberry RFD,” and “Leave It to Beaver.”

Other shows I enjoyed were “Dobie Gillis,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “Batman,” “Superman,” “Zorro,” “The Lone Ranger,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Honeymooners,” “Gidget,” “The Flying Nun,” and “I Dream of Jeannie.” My family watched “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “Lawrence Welk” for entertainment. These all bring happy memories to this day.

Then, as I went through my adolescence, I raced through chores to watch “The Brady Bunch,” “Bewitched,” “It Takes a Thief,” “Love American Style,” “Fantasy Island,” and “The Love Boat.” That correlated with the time when I found myself at odds with my parents, especially my mother who did not appreciate my subscription to Cosmopolitan magazine, with its cleavage teasing cover shots. And life was decidedly not so innocent, nor so happy.

Americans are not happy. Maybe it’s more than the unacceptable conduct and rhetoric of our president. I expect our leaders to exemplify the highest of virtues and to be examples of higher quality character. The media influences us in many ways, and the state of the nation may be a result of our poor choices, as I conclude from the outpouring of ignorance and hate in deeds and words. The resurrection of people with morally diseased hearts is apparent, and I thought the messages of brotherhood, liberation and the Age of Aquarius had taken root. The weeds of society are still among us, and they have nasty thorns.

Some people fail to realize that we are of different races, ethnicities, and cultures as a benefit to our humanity. Exploration of languages, cultures, handiwork, and cuisines is sustenance for our intellect, and I believe diversity in America is our strength. In these are clues for appreciation of our Creator.

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” –Quran 49:13

Knowing that we all bleed red, I find the current culture of rudeness unacceptable, and I call upon our schools, media, and parents to promote justice, manners, tolerance, industriousness, and civility. In short, let’s resurrect a conscious humanity, find our joie de vivre, and choose leaders who will work for the benefit of all citizens. We’ve been duped, sold out, but our system has the capacity to correct this mess. I’m counting on it.

But when people are too busy slaving to survive, the fox can get in the hen house. That’s where he is now and we should learn from this. Democracy needs whistleblowers and watch dogs, and this is where media can be a force for goodness and virtue. We just have to choose wisely so they get the message.

My Ramadan

photo credit: Travelwide-Alamy

photo credit: Travelwide-Alamy

My Ramadan

Certainly Muslims from diverse cultures bring characteristics from their upbringing to Ramadan, and nowhere is that more apparent than in America. We find some communities segregated to mingle within their own identified culture, and others truly blend several traditions into unique experiences.

For me, however, although I appreciate the expression of tradition and culture, my Ramadan is mostly a solitary journey of reflection, connection, and renewal.

The fast entails not eating nor drinking in my locale for roughly seventeen hours this year; that means 3:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. Mercifully, the weather has featured a cool summer with frequent rain, so that even on the recent longest day of the year it was not as arduous as one may assume. That is, in my opinion, one of the curious aspects of Ramadan. Engaging in the rituals of extra prayers and sleeping odd hours is perceived as a gentle way of cleansing the body of toxins, healing and fortifying the nervous system and internal organs, and drawing closer to the Creator. Fasting also is about refraining from smoking, chewing gum, and intimacy from dawn till sunset, and one should be mindful to not gossip, or lose one’s temper. I don’t participate in some of those anyway, and I’ll leave it to your imagination.

Exemptions from fasting are permitted in the case of pregnancy, nursing infants, traveling, and menses; again, some apply to me and others not. Yet curiously, I have noted that when making up for those days, when I have been legitimately exempt, seems more difficult when it is no longer Ramadan. Somehow, the perception of Time changes in this month.

I sleep at 11:00 p.m. and wake for a middle of the night meal called suhoor some nights, but lately I might be awake until after the dawn prayer and sleep at 4:00 a.m. Lucky for me, I have my own flexible business hours and can nap if my energy flags in the afternoon.

The topsy-turvy schedules, viewing scenes of Mecca, and reading extra pages of The Holy Quran bring a clarity and closeness to my Creator. I have found the capacity to catch up on tasks, domestic, personal, and business related so that my life is in better order. It is the perfect “Stay-cation.”

Once I have settled my priorities, made progress in projects, and deepened my commitments to future plans, solidly convinced that I am on course, I find my communication to Allah galvanized. And when comes the 29th or 30th day of Ramadan, there is a melancholy sense of missing usual favored routines—like breakfast with coffee, bicycling, golf, getting a workout in the sun followed by a cool drink—contrasted by the realization that when Ramadan is over, we somehow lose the glow. The hand-hold of God and His scaffolding of protection somehow slips away.

Too many times while trying to discern if the crescent moon, signaling the end of Ramadan, has been sighted, we can literally sense it is gone. Someone starts a fight, the tensions ramp up again, our patience is less than before. It is explained that Allah chains the Devil or Shaitan in the month of Ramadan, and one gets the feeling that he has been let loose again.

Yet, we realize that if we have used the month to fortify ourselves, we have gained many blessings and have strengthened our own self discipline. My Ramadan brings me back to heal my body, mind, and soul. It is a gift, I wish everyone to cherish it as I do. One finds numerous facets of self discovery and awareness on this journey.

–Haroon al-Rasheed, the 5th caliph, stated on his deathbed, “All the wealth that I had is nothing, and all the power that I had is nothing. Oh God, You are the One whose power never goes away. Have mercy on those whose power leaves.

Hangin’ On Through Ups and Downs

Misty

Misty

Hangin’ On Through Ups and Downs

Crazy, never boring, always challenging…these are apt descriptors of life with my family. Especially as my children become adults, my empathy seems to magnify in amplitude. Each has their own set of dramas, and with gravely sad news of deaths of people connected to my acquaintances, I find solace in reading the Qur’an. Of particular timeliness was today’s surah Al-Jathiya, of which I did not recall its meaning, so I read it silently in English before attempting my practice aloud in Arabic. Coincidentally—or not—came the welcome news that another acquaintance had received a legal reprieve that is most fortuitous.

I’d mentioned dramas…one is getting married, another is going to Italy for the summer, one is worried about health issues, and another is hoping to graduate early, yet has much coursework to complete without definite future plans. Oh, and we’re between visits of overseas relatives for a short spell, so we are getting a new roof. When the dumpster comes to do that, we hope to purge the house of 19 years worth of clutter so that we can sell it, hopefully.

Actually, that roof job was scheduled for this weekend, but the forecast of rain has it rescheduled so that we can have more time and flexibility to fete my youngest who is about to cross his 18th milestone in life. That is, he is my youngest child, for we have recently acquired a new member to our family, a bearded dragon, as in lizard, named Misty.

I suppose I’ve been a sucker for feeling badly that my son finds his siblings all moving out of our home in close succession, and so a pet seems to compensate some for that void. Now I get to start each day with initiating the heating lamp and find myself feeding collard greens, crickets, and wax worms by hand to this companion while I write curriculum and work on various projects from home. In a weird way, she’s kind of cute, and I never thought I would ever take a liking, much less own, a lizard. However, one of the benefits of having her is that we are selling my son’s video games to pay for her; therefore, I have started to declutter the house. Next, will be separation from years old clothes.

A friend shared a video with me about Marie Kondo, author of
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
The gist of it is that we pile and sort each item, while holding it in our hands, to introspect if it gives us a “Spark Joy” feeling. I’m willing to try it for I really must be aggressive in lightening my load in anticipation that I may be anywhere within the next year, as we have no solid direction about where to relocate. We just have that sense that it is time to unload the house, be flexible and free to go. We may stay in the area in a townhome until our kids are more stable, but at least for winters a Mediterranean climate sounds divine!

Reminders about our age keep surfacing; and although we enjoy good health now, the efforts toward organic, gluten-free, minimizing sugars, and increasing exercise are becoming more heightened in our thoughts. Moderating stress, getting enough sleep, and reducing inflammation are all part of our goals that will play into the decision about where to go next. Because while reading Qur’an may assuage my mind and soul, I still have to be aware of what the ups and downs in life are doing to my body. A votre sante!

It’s About Love & Gifts

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Appreciation notes from my students were gratifying aspects of my career as a teacher. If only I’d kept more of them. I found this one as I was cleaning out a dresser, and I love it when former students—now adults—care to “friend” me on Facebook and when I see them succeed various milestones of life.

After all, I always felt that each of them was my kid, and even though the boys and girls are now fully adult men and women, some married and some with children, I remember just about all of them. I guess that I must have done something right.

As we approach the start of another school year, I’m missing the classroom a bit, and have genuine appreciation for the gifts given to me. I am a teacher.

For this reason, if the reader will permit, I want to share and highly recommend a book I received from my daughter, who was gifted with it by her cousin prior to her two month journey to teach, tour, and connect with family in Turkey and Jordan.

Reclaim Your HeartReclaim Your Heart by Yasmin Mogahed taught me that all we tend to put in our heart—our relationships, the value of our intellect, looks, health, wealth, position, and possessions—are actually gifts. Such gifts should be kept in the hand though, not the heart. For the heart is only for the Creator, and gifts bestowed to us are eventually taken away.

If such valuable gifts reside in the heart, they become objects of coveting and obsession; and when removed, they create such deep pain from their loss. We miscalculate that they were given by The One, and we may not realize that the Creator gives what is best for us. Sometimes the revocation of a gift is meant to remind and draw us back to The One.

My daughter, despondent over the genocide in Gaza, asked her aunt if such a horrific situation—one of the most densely populated, essentially trapped and defenseless populations being killed like ‘fish in a bucket’—if it depressed her? Her wise aunt stated, “Allah created mankind to be forgetful, and it is a gift.” Those of us who have lost mothers never forget the strength of our bond; yet, we are able to function because we are able to forget, accept, and continue.

In Islam, families mourn for three days; then they are expected to accept God’s Will and people move on. The loss of a spouse is certainly more disruptive, and two months is acceptable before re-engaging with the world. The point is to realize that we must accept; and we trust that The One gives what is best, no matter how seemingly tragic on the surface.

Given the circumstances in Gaza, I surmise that the haters and malevolent perpetrators will determine their eternal justice. Yet how humanity can generally ignore or misconstrue the situation, in spite of obvious media manipulation, I cannot fathom.

The Palestinians have transcended this world; their faith so solid as to recognize that this existence is fleeting, and so they greet their fate with resolve and capitulation to The One who can best serve justice. When people no longer fear death and accept it, they cannot be vanquished.

Our gifts, our blessings are to be cherished and preserved, but keep them in hand, not in the heart. Hope for their return, and better, as destiny proceeds.

We are members of the human family, and those who remember, care, serve, and educate others will find themselves in rank just under the prophets.

Be glad, patient, and share.

Change Perceptions: Make ‘The Strangers’ Yours

Anyone can be Muslim

The picture you see is my family celebrating an Eid camping trip after Ramadan in 1998. The red, curly haired, very Caucasian peanut just secured his driver’s license today, and he is a towering 6 foot, 2 inch (183 cm) tall Muslim.

When people see him with brown skinned kids at school, they are very surprised to learn that he is indeed Muslim because most people think of Muslims as ‘Other,’ meaning other than ‘Us.’

Typically, the image that comes to American’s minds is that a Muslim is Arab or perhaps Asian, although a large proportion of Muslims are in fact from African descent.

I believe this is significant to how we tend to value the lives of Others, and in particular to the political perspectives and policies toward the Middle East and Central Asia in general.
What should be known is that anyone can be Muslim. It is not an ethnic or nationalistic reference; rather it is simply a comprehensive religion on the continuum antecedent from Judaism and Christianity that guides the lives and identity of about 1.6 billion people (23% of the world’s population), according to a 2012 Global Religious Landscape report from the Pew Research Center.

Most disconcerting though is a more recent Pew Research Study referencing How Americans Feel About Religious Groups. The study was conducted May 30-June 30, 2014, and cites feelings towards religious groups on a scale of 0 as cold to 100 as warm. A 50 would reflect no particular positive or negative feeling about a religious group. In this report, prior to the Gaza spectacle, Muslims were dead last compared to all other groups, including Atheists. Forty-One percent of respondents placed scores of 33 or below for Muslims, which I find pretty sad and perhaps not representative of where I live.

Fortunately for my family, we live in a relatively affluent suburban Chicago setting with an abundance of educational institutions, houses of worship for many religions, and a fairly large non-segregated population of Muslims. Many of them hold advanced degrees and professional employment.

In retrospect, I noted that when the U.S. economy took a hard pullback a few years ago, it seemed that store clerks were friendlier than they’d been in the past. Looking around the malls, I found a greater percentage of Muslim patrons making purchases than other shoppers. Maybe the cashiers were the first ones to realize the value of Muslim purchasing power.

Even yesterday, I was acknowledged with a smile and friendly “Hi there!” initiated by non-Muslim women in two separate incidents while walking through parking lots at the local community college and at Whole Foods Market. I felt hopeful that the gloomy implications informed by the Pew reports were not representative of every part of the United States.Strangers

With this data though, I am asking everyone to help make ‘The Strangers’ documentary a reality. My friends, Abdalhamid Evans and Salama Evans, who are also on the founding team of the American Halal Association, have been working on a film project which is critical to changing erroneous perceptions about Muslims. Their story about a misfit group of hippies who stumbled upon Islam, converted, and created a community about 40 years ago in the town of Norwich, UK, is a story which needs to be told. salama-profiledownload group-copy-300x175 Please read about their amazing story and see them in the film trailer. Then give a bit of help to this project and share with your friends. It could make a positive move toward reigniting compassion, illuminate hearts, and dispel the ignorance out there. At least get a T-shirt and warm things up for the next Pew report. knees-300x174 http://halalfocus.net/the-strangers-documentary-essential-viewing/

The Trials

220px-Kent_State_massacre The Trials
Ramadan typically entails much reflection about one’s life and deeds, and this one has focus, sadness, and frustration over the increasingly dangerous situation in the Middle East.
From my memories of living under occupation in the West Bank of Palestine in segmented episodes over the 80s and 90s, recollections on the uprising in Tahrir Square and subsequent coup in Egypt, the massacres of civilians in Syria and Iraq, famine in Sudan, and smoldering discontent of citizens in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, there is a heaviness to this Ramadan like none other.

Fasting seventeen hours a day has not been as fearsome as anticipated, but neither has it been very productive. Mercifully, the cooler than normal temperatures are interpreted as a favor. I have many tasks to do, but I am not burdened with the worry of deadlines. My days typically start at 11 a.m. and end at 5 a.m., with an hour nap sometime between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. The disruption in normal working schedule gives me the night to attend taraweeh prayers at the mosque where I hear the recitation of Qur’an, and I have the chance to read, put time into my social media assignments, and write.

Listening to Qur’an is like putting salve on the heart’s wounds, and making supplication for the ease of people’s suffering may seem shallow in power. Yet, I am reminded of the Qur’anic ayah, “…Allah is the best of planners…” (8:30).

Though the situation may at times seem hopeless, I am also reminded that God gives the hateful people ample opportunity to rectify their deeds. When they eschew choosing compassion and are blinded by base desires, they set judgment against their souls.

A range of criticisms and areas of misunderstanding about Islam are explained quite well by a blogger I reference here. I hope it is useful.

Meanwhile, I highly recommend an hour long panel session from the Aspen Ideas conference, titled “What Will The Map of the Middle East Look Like?” In it, one of the experts cited our collective angst when our own government sanctioned the murder of 4, only 4, Kent State demonstrators. Think how people in other countries feel when whole groups of innocents are murdered by armed authorities?

When will people realize that we are one human family? Compassion is the weapon against hatred, and it is slipping from society.

It strikes me that the only solution is to stop the financing of war machines and mediate grassroots parties into a semblance of democracy or shurah, which is recognized Islamically as dialogue and collective decision making between relevant parties. Even the historic Iroquois League set the example of this model’s value, and the forefathers of our Constitution saw its utility.

This is my humble contribution to suggest that violence and military intervention are ill advised, but a framework of society building could best resolve the mess.

In tandem with this understanding, I learned of the death of one of my elder cousins. Over the years, he’d been what could be described as down and out, and he became typically inebriated and had failing health. Not many of the relatives cared to maintain contact, and he quietly lived out his days downstate until he peacefully passed away in his sleep.

What I consider his greatest achievement was that he patiently endured his problems and maintained a heart of gold. In spite of the cynics around him, through our occasional conversations I could tell that he stayed compassionate; and he leaves an adult daughter with the same quality.

Success has many definitions, but I think the greatest success is when one leaves this life Pure. Ultimately, the rites of Islam aim to purify us, and a soft heart is a good reflection of the quality of purity in a person.

May our hearts stay soft, our supplications answered, and may we endure our trials with dignity and with steadfast faith. Amen.