By Abigail Maryam
“Each new chapter of our lives requests an old part of us to fall and a new part of us to rise.”~ Jenna Galbut
The sun was setting in Istanbul. While atop Çamlıca Hill with a dear friend, watching the orange-yellow rays settle on the city and the Sea of Marmara, I could not ask for a better way to spend the remainder of my Turkish journey. Besides reflecting on the beauty of God’s creation, I looked at the sunset symbolically. It not only appeared to me as the closure of a well-spent vacation but of an old chapter in my life.
I had carried a burden for far too long. The ego insisted on holding on, in spite of myself. We know very well what that feels like. The ego loves to keep a record of wrongs, ready to be presented to God at the moment of truth. It prefers to be right than happy, to protect the persona it crafted for us. It needs to be in control and attaches itself to results. We shut out love, and live in fear. Our sense of security is more placed in the ego than we care to admit.
Understandably, spiritual seekers criminalize this ego. Some try to destroy it outright, and I was one of them. Our usual solution is to wage war against personality aspects we consider anything but lovable. We may try to prove others and our ego wrong by covering our imperfections with quilts of their opposite qualities. Yet, our dark side tends to leak like water at inconvenient times. Many of us have felt stuck and wonder why we have not become better people by now. Crestfallen, I had to ask God for a more enlightened approach.
Education about the ego taught me, in fact, how difficult life would have been without it. The ego gives us our sense of self and has been working to ensure our survival. It has designed masks to help us adapt to expectations of how we should be. It swept our childhood traumas, hurt feelings, unmet needs, “unacceptable” personality aspects, and anything embarrassing about us under the carpet, as it were, for us to process later. These elements comprise our shadow self, which is a component of our psychological structure. The ego shields us from pain through defence mechanisms and attempts to keep us safe at all times.
When we disown, reject, or deny our shadow, it unconsciously runs our lives. Dr. Carl Jung rightly said, “What you resist, persists.” We start seeing our darkness in other people and become both the abused and the abuser. Our evil is not so much our shadow as failing to come to terms with it. When we treat it like a dirty speck to be washed off, we become not saintly, but fragmented. Separation of self is at the core of many psychological issues. Sadly, we consecrate a lot of time and energy into fighting our darkness not only to be loved by others, but by God as well. But we start from the wrong end.
We cannot fight darkness to make it leave, because it will only stay. Violence does not work since logically, there is nothing to hit. Instead, we need to bring in the light. Not only will the darkness dissipate on its own, but we will see that it never was a threat. The ego does not need to be murdered; it just needs to be transcended.
Islam is not a perpetual struggle to reach God, but a secure path through which God is already leading us to Him. We can still live in selfless obedience to Him without losing our humanity. Let us safely stop fighting the fight, relax, and surrender to Him. Let us melt in His Presence, feeling reduced to a lump of clay for Him to mould into what we cannot make ourselves. As Rumi so poetically put it, let us bury ourselves in love of Him so that His Love may fill and inspire us. The thing about surrender is not how much of God we have, but how much of us God has.
The Qur’an tells us that God is the Most Loving, Most Kind (Al-Wadud). He is the source of all love. Not the “feel good” platitude it has come to mean, but genuine respect, kindness, empathy, and wanting what is best for another’s growth. He is also Al-Ghafoor, Al-Ghaffaar – the One Who, time and again, completely forgives us, conceals our faults, and sets them aright for us to live free. If we cannot love or forgive ourselves, why not ask God to show us how?
Love changes people more than anything else does. It can piece together all aspects of our being into wholeness. Viewing our ego and shadow with the light of love, and hearing them out with the ears of understanding, will enable us to reclaim ownership of them. We could even discover the gifts they have to offer. Dr. Jung did state that the shadow is ninety percent pure gold. With God by our side, we can become the boldest and most beautiful version of ourselves!
While exploring Istanbul, I could not help but admire the Islamic art it has to offer. The style is very intricate, yet well-connected and harmonious, with a wise choice of colours. That is what makes it so breathtaking. From my point of view, human personality is like Islamic art- our own intricacy and wholeness are what make us beautiful.
Being more self-compassionate, we have more to offer to the world. The light in our hearts cannot help but shine. Loving and forgiving others become easier for us, and we are more interested in reaching out than in fault-finding. We know well that we can have no inner peace as long as we find someone guilty or attach ourselves to being right. The heart is where we feel connected to our Creator, and resentment is like a curtain that descends between us, giving the impression that we lost touch or that He withdrew Himself from us. Let us honour our sacred space through forgiveness. We need to lovingly process our feelings before we can respectfully convey them to others. Let us pray for God to help us see their innocence and cancel the debt we feel they owe us. We also need to pray for them and wish them all the best. When we are ready, we entrust them to God’s care, and release.
Praying for you, Dear Soul, as you begin your new life of self-love today.
About the author
Abigail Maryam is an American of Polish origin, and a revert since 2014. She holds an M.D. from Jagiellonian University Medical College. She resides in the UK with her lovely daughter.