Synchronicity

Have I written about Synchronicity here before? No matter. It is a phenomenon that occurs multiple times, if one is attuned to its features, and I’ve just enjoyed another episode. Synchronicity is a concept introduced by Carl Jung, the pioneer practitioner of Depth Psychology. The heart of Synchronicity lay in meaningful coincidence.

Coincidence might seem meaningful by definition, but ordinary coincidence does not carry the significance of Synchronicity. Let me bypass definitions that are readily available, and tell you about my most recent experience of it.

Several months ago I found an Arabic language class offered by our local university. The class was entitled Arabic ll, a second semester class, and I knew it would be too easy for me, but I needed a refresher. With the possibility of going back to Riyadh later this year, I wanted to renew my study. I enrolled, and attended the classes.

Only three students had enrolled. One night, two of those students did not show up for class, so I was the only one, and the teacher asked me if I wanted to review any specific aspect of Arabic. I told him I’d like to review Tajweed– the special rules of reading the Qur’an in Arabic. He gave me a fast and furious refresher course in just an hour, and I felt energized. He told me about a system called The Qur’an Pen, and he said he would get it for me.

The classes ended. I forgot about The Qur’an Pen, but my interest in Tajweed had been renewed. One week before Ramadan, I received an email from the local mosque informing of a sister’s Tajweed class commencing soon. I attended the first class, and felt as though I’d come home.

Two days before Ramadan, I received an email from my former Arabic teacher saying that he had obtained The Qur’an Pen and wanted to give it to me. I was surprised and pleased. I met him at the city’s main mosque after Friday prayer, the day before Ramadan, and he showed me how to use it.

These coincidences– the teacher’s refresher class, the new class at the local mosque, and the teacher giving me The Qur’an Pen– all occurred within two weeks of Ramadan. Ramadan, as all Muslim know, is a time of giving increased attention to the Qur’an.

Why would these coincidences occur this year, when nothing like that has occurred in all the nineteen years I’ve been repatriated? I had actually abandoned Ramadan. My faith and practice has never been strong enough to observe Ramadan in the midst of the non-Muslim society in which I now live.

If Synchronicity is about, “meaningful coincidences,” the meaning of these coincidences for me is clear. The time is right and proper for me to return to the Qur’an. I now have support. I now have tools. I am weak; I need to be bolstered, and I have been bolstered.

I am happy.

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A Figure-Eight of Sorts

From time to time, I get spam post notifications for this blog. If I hadn’t gotten those notifications, I would have forgotten this blog altogether.  I have now apologized to myself for observing yet again another one of my life’s patterns— to turn away from something that feeds my passion and renews my energy. At the time I turned away from this blog, I resumed another artistic passion– photography– which I had neglected during the period of posting regularly to this blog.

Riyadh, the Middle East, and Islam, have never flown far from my consciousness, however. I still have “Return to Riyadh” dreams. I’m still in love with the Middle East. I still call myself a Muslim, albeit with adjustments, if such a thing is possible. As the years pass, and separate me further from my twelve year residence in Riyadh, my memories congeal upon the positive aspects of those years, the aspects I will never lose, and never live again.

Here I am, approaching the center of a figure-eight of sorts, with respect to this blog. I ebb and flow, spin and turn, and then shoot forth, but I do not fall off the far end of the figure-eight. My artistic nature must be expressed, but the form of expression is not important. Writing, photography, music, knitting– yes, knitting!– are all part of me.

However,I am not one of those dedicated, tenacious people who do not lose sight of their path. I will never stick with one activity long enough or deeply enough to achieve notoriety in the world. That is not my purpose, yet I envy those who apply themselves unflinchingly to their artistry, over time, to achieve mastery and authority. I envy them, and wish I were able to apply myself to passions without becoming lured and seduced by other passions. The important thing for me, however, is that I engage in some sort of artistic expression every day for several hours at the minimum…and better, all day long.

I am happy to post here again. Perhaps I will continue posting regularly for a time.

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Another Ramadan

Ramadan begins today, another Ramadan. I’ve been a Muslim for maybe twenty Ramadans, but none of them have enriched me like those first ones in Riyadh. In fact, I actually dislike Ramadan in the United States, astaghfiruallah (may Allah forgive me).  Here, in my home country, fasting in Ramadan would make me ill, and I’d hate to admit that I’ve not even tried to fast.

This Ramadan, the fasting day lasts approximately eighteen hours, longer than any fasting day we endured in Saudi Arabia. That’s because of geography. America, especially the state in which I live, is located farther north of the equator than Saudi Arabia, so days are much longer in June, and nights are long in November.

I’ve hoped that as I got older, I might acquire a medical dispensation to excuse me from the fast. In fact, I believe I now have such dispensation, though I have not consulted a Muslim physician or a sheikh, because I am confident enough– some people would say arrogant enough– to decide for myself that fasting eighteen hours while remaining awake and functional would be detrimental to my health. Even the “authorities” of Islam will admit that fasting is not supposed to compromise one’s good health. Certain people do merit an exemption, according to their state of health and whether or not fasting would challenge it.

Nowhere in Islamic sources, however,  do we find the instruction to carry on with our normal daily routine during fasting. Correct me if I am wrong. Therefore, while I was in Saudia, I followed the example of the Saudis, who had been fasting for many more years than I had, and who had established the habit of sleeping from Fajr to Dhohr, thereby accomplishing the tricky requirement of keeping daily prayers while fasting, and not taxing their bodies more than necessary. Those who worked during the mornings received an exemption from completing the workday while fasting. During my working years, I was excused at the time of the Asr prayer, and I thankfully went home and napped or remained quietly reading until the time of breaking fast. Fasting is not a pleasant experience, especially during the first days of Ramadan before you get used to it and develop strategies for tolerating it during the day.

The Saudis know all of this better than anyone, but I’ve heard Muslims criticize the Saudis for changing their routines during Ramadan. I, too, used to criticize them until I experienced for myself the wisdom of  doing so. Besides, changing one’s routine does not occur consciously. The body responds to fasting by slowing down metabolism, and then consciousness. When a Muslim breaks fast at the end of the day, he/she experiences a surge in energy, a physiological response to an influx of nourishment after the period of deprivation. Staying awake during the night becomes easy, and sleeping during the morning hours becomes natural.

The Saudis accommodated this physiological fact by adjusting their regular daily activities. In the hospital, for instance, surgeries would be performed either very early in the morning or after breaking the fast. Businesses closed during the day and remained open at night until well after midnight.

During the last hours of each day’s fast, Riyadh looked like a ghost town, with only an occasional car, and a rare pedestrian who performed a necessary outing, or people driving to attend breakfast invitations. After Isha, the city lit up with worshippers praying Taraweeh, families shopping and businesses offering sales and new merchandise. By the end of Ramadan, everyone’s circadian rhythm had been reversed. The Saudis knew how to do Ramadan, and I came to appreciate their habits.

Unfortunately, many Muslims think the one’s fast becomes less valuable, or even invalid, by changing the daily routine. These people think that the discomfort of the fast should not be alleviated. Even here in the United States, where very long days and unforgiving work environments make the fast difficult at best, impossible at worst, many Muslims think that observing it brings more blessings because of its difficulty.

Yesterday I attended the Friday prayer at the city’s largest mosque, not our neighborhood mosque. The khutbah (sermon) focused, predictably, on the necessity of staying focused and strong during the fasting hours, and of resisting the temptations of nightly television and entertainments after breaking the fast. Ramadan is supposed to be a time of drawing closer to Allah by reading the Qur’an more frequently and doing extra prayers, and of purging oneself of bad habits. One does not fast only from food and water, but also from all sorts of activities that do not bring one closer to Allah, such as unhealthy eating habits and unproductive social habits.

I left the mosque feeling depressed, as I often feel after such a khutbah.

In Saudia, I did read the Qur’an more frequently, and I made a dedicated attempt to curb overeating after breaking the fast.  Reading the Qur’an enriched my faith in some ways but challenged it, or, to be honest, wrecked it, in other ways. Religion, in general, apart from its distinctions, has always produced this dual response in me– an increase in faith concurrent, or alternating, with a decrease in belief. Sometimes, the increase prevails, and at other times, the rejection takes hold. Neither pole is rigidly bad or good, neither is necessary, neither helps or hinders me, except when I try to maintain one or the other. I circulate around and through them, always approaching the middle, and thereby aiming for an ultimate balance, or maybe simply a holding of the tension of the opposites, which isn’t such a simple position to maintain, after all.

A more interesting blog post would delve into the specifics, would produce a narrative that would take the reader with me along this figure-eight of attitudes, and perhaps I will address such a project in the future, but for now, I will continue to write generalized comments, in an effort to accustom myself to writing regularly again. Apart from any religious  practice or lack thereof, a regular writing habit has always cleared my mind, set my heart straight, and quieted my anxieties. As for Ramadan, I will go back to reading the Qur’an. Jung’s theory of Synchronicity has shown me that a return to the study of the Qur’an is appropriate now, and I’ll write more about that another time.

 

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Learning Tajweed– Again

The Internet is awash in web sites for learning tajweed. I am amazed and impressed, but not tempted to use them. I first learned tajweed the old-fashioned way, by sitting at the foot of a master. Now, I have returned to that method.

My local mosque has begun a tajweed class that meets once a week for two hours.  The Egyptian teacher knows her subject and how to teach it. I look forward to that class. It’s better than nothing but I admit to craving more, needing more.

In Riyadh, I walked to a local madrassa every weekday to attend  a class that began promptly after Asr and ended at Maghreb. The teacher, also Egyptian, taught us not only by explanation but by beautiful example. She would recite, to illustrate the technique she wanted us to learn. She would explain in Arabic. I loved her velvet voice and her determination to teach well. Tajweed needs intensive practice over time. My life in Riyadh offered the perfect milieu in which to learn. Every morning before class, I would review and practice. I learned well.

Twenty years has passed since those golden days of sitting at the foot of a master, and I’ve fallen away from the practice of tajweed. The reasons are many and banal; you can imagine them and you won’t be wrong. Now, however, retired from the necessity of working for money, I’ve decided to resurrect the inspiring and enriching practice of reading the Qur’an with tajweed.

Surprisingly, I have not forgotten all of what I’d learned. I am rusty, to be sure, but the foundation is well-entrenched in my brain and heart. It’s like riding a bike, or swimming. Once you learn thoroughly, you can revive the skill after a hiatus. I look forward to reviving my practice and my skill.

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Too Much of a Good Thing

When I was a child, and I wanted something, and asked my mother for it, she would invariable refuse, with the admonition, “You know what will happen when you have too much of a good thing.”

This admonition was most frequently applied to my desire for sweets and second helpings of regular meals, but she also said it in response to my desires for non-edible delights.  She said it so often, she shortened it, saying, “Too much of a good thing…” as a standard response.

My mom is most comfortable in controlled circumstances. She lives according to schedules and duties, and she does everything according to the directions. She was the perfect adjunct to my father’s extremely controlling nature, and reinforced his repeated,  “Not no, but HELL, no!” attitude towards all the activities and behaviors– normal, I might add– in which I wanted to participate as a young adolescent.

Having two such controlling and restrictive parents, I eventually stopped asking, but I vowed that, “When I grow up, I will never…” (apply any restriction whatsoever on whatever I wished to do, feel, think, eat, accept or reject.)

I grew up with what they called, in those days, “a weight problem.” In the beginning, I might have been a fat kid for several reasons, but as an adult, I kept myself fat, partly because of my childhood vow— so strong and well-entrenched– never to deny myself, restrict myself, hold myself back, for fear of reliving my childhood sadness of having been denied the experiences of peers. My adherence to this attitude towards food has been obvious, but only now, during my sixty-seventh year, do I understand that I have  applied the principle to all areas of life. When younger, I applied the principle of permission to experiences, risks, and limits. As I got older, and more financially able, I applied the principle to the acquisition of possessions.

Now retired, and looking around with an eye towards the down-sizing that all older people must attempt, I see before me the evidence of my self-indulgence.

In the attic is a long, low bookcase of two shelves, packed with books I’ve accumulated over the years and haven’t yet read. In my closet, several dozen shoes are stacked and line up, but I only wear six or seven pair of them. Also in my closet hang clothes I haven’t worn for years and never will. On a tall bookshelf in the hall, I’ve set two dozen packs of audio courses in all the subjects that interest me, yet I haven’t listened to more than several of them. As for music and film, I don’t know how many DVDs, CDs, and even cassettes from before the CD era are packed into corners of shelves and closets. Even the hard drives of all my computers are filled with music I haven’t yet screened.

Images take more space than music; that’s one reason I bought an iMac with the biggest hard drive available. My Flickr header says I now have more than 6,ooo images in my photostream.  While I’m on the subject, I confess that I’ve also accumulated a large assortment of frames, having planned to print and mount some of these images, but I’ve done so for only ten or twelve.

I usually own three to four swimming suits, ten to fifteen handbags, and three dozen scarves at one time. My latest example of profligate accumulation has been in the enrichment of my yarn stash. I now have enough wonderful yarn in all colors and natural fibers to feed my knitting frenzy for the rest of my life and the lives of those who come after me.

You get the idea. I’m not a genuine hoarder, however. I hoard objects in only the aforementioned categories, and maybe several more that have escaped my attention. I don’t hoard empty containers or knick-knacks or anything for which I have no use or care or no foreseeable function in the future. I throw-out garbage and empty waste baskets before they get very full, and I’m good about shredding old financial statements.

This behavior, I’ve now realized, reeks of my entrenched attitude of not denying myself anything I desire, if I am able to get what I want. If I cannot get what I want, I find a way or I forget about it, but I focus on that which is in my control.

Last week, a friend of mine confessed to a common anxiety. He said, “I often feel guilty about enjoying myself when I have tasks to complete.”

Without missing a beat, I replied, “Not me. I have the opposite affliction. I enjoy myself, and let everything else go.”

Even my political persuasions run counter to those in which I was instructed while growing up. I’m a left-of-center liberal, and Mom always thought I adopted that stance in rebellion to my father’s Tea Party position before the Tea Party existed, but she’s wrong. I did not rebel against anything, I merely let myself go, intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually. I wandered far, and I’m still going.

Perhaps this vow, to never restrict myself in any way, if I can possibly avoid restriction, is  partially at  root of my being able to convert from Christianity to Islam. Surely, it is at the root of my bristling in front of all the behavioral imperatives that most Muslims adopt as part of Islam.

While living in Saudi Arabia, I tried to adapt myself. I set my mind towards acceptance of performing the five daily prayers, as well as the myriad little behaviors everyone else did as matter of sunnah (the example of the Prophet). I willingly covered myself completely, even my face when appropriate. I successfully fasted the months of Ramadan.

As a person who makes a determined effort not to restrict myself when I don’t have to by force of law or social pressure (and even to chuck those imperatives when I can get away with it), I easily pulled off the headscarf when I travelled outside the Kingdom, and I’ve never, to this day, been able to make all those daily prayers.

Even the dietary rules have gone out my window when not convenient, I confess. No, I do not restrict myself unless I choose to do so, and I rarely choose to do so. This year, I am hoping I qualify for a medical exemption so I can withdraw with impunity from the fast of Ramadan. As you can imagine, my lifelong commitment to immoderation has not always enhanced my health or well-being.

Now, however, in my second year of retirement, I am realizing for the first time how profoundly my principle of hedonism has infiltrated my entire existence, not just my dietary practices and religious track-jumping. It has exceeded its capacity for satisfaction, and has actually hindered me from enjoying its promises.

I must re-evaluate the adherence to excess that has marked my life in many ways. Actually, re-evaluation takes only a moment. What lies before me, practically, is the effort to voluntarily restrict myself, to appreciate and make use of what I already have, and to not add to the collections. I must now rein in, whether I like it or not.

I’ve taken steps, not easily, not thoroughly, not with pleasure but with an unfamiliar sense of obligation. As Mom says, “Who wants to sort through all of this stuff when I’m gone?”

She is right. I have an obligation now to face this lifelong commitment to extravagant living, and to atone for it.

I’ve given as many clothes to others and to Good Will as I still have unworn in my closet. I’ve weeded the book collection and parted with those I’ve read, giving up the intention to read them again, but adopting the intention to read those I haven’t. I’ve contributed to Mom’s rummage sale. I feel lightened, and I don’t miss what I’ve sent out into the world. I still have such a large pile of possessions to sort,  and I’m not looking forward to the task.

The amount of money I’ve wasted on possessions that have not benefitted me makes my stomach turn. Recently I gave away a lovely jacket that had cost $60 even back fifteen years ago. I’d never worn the jacket because I’d never lost enough weight to fit into it. The only way I could give it away was to regard it as a sort of charity.

As far as my mental and emotional excesses, I’ve already suffered and benefited by many of them, but the bill has not yet been paid in full. The most difficult habit to change will be eating too much. I don’t know if I’ll succeed or even if I’ll make a prolonged attempt to do so. Maybe, as I practice restraint in the more outward areas of my life, I will strengthen my capability to restrain in inner aspect.  Maybe, as I get comfortable with not increasing my yarn stash, I will learn how to get comfortable saying no to dietary excess. The rest of my life promises to be longer and more comfortable by reversing the guiding principle by which I lived since I left my father’s house forty-five years ago. Can I, will I, do it?

We’ll see.

 

 

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Return to Riyadh?

As soon as I retired on New Year’s Eve of 2015, I knew I was free to travel. I could buy a ticket to any place for any day of the week, stay as long as I wanted, and return on any day of some other week in the future. What a relief! Anyone who knew me expected me to take flight rather promptly, but I have remained earthbound, and happily so.

Strangely, as soon as I became free of having to work, I also became free of the strong desire to travel. I am happy, and content, sitting in my chair, or outside when the weather is nice, knitting, reading, listening to music, watching Italian movies and writing to Internet friends. Settled in  this new situation, I received an invitation from my friend S. to come to Riyadh with her this year. Her (Saudi) husband could get a visa for me.

We’ve been talking about it for months, now, reminiscing about the days when we both lived there as younger women, studying Arabic together at the Ladies Community College in Riyadh. Wouldn’t it be lovely to go back together, visit our favorite bookstores, markets, and traditional suqs, see old friends who still live there, and even to go Mecca for Umra? Wouldn’t it be exciting to see the fancy new malls we never imagined could exist there?

I sent her a copy of my passport so she can pass it to her husband.

We are intending to go during the latter months of this year. Ironically, I feel neutral towards the potential fulfillment of my twenty-year longing to see Riyadh one more time. Sure, I would like to go, and I will go, inshaAllah, providing my health and finances permit, but the desire no longer burns, because I’ve gotten old rather quickly, and I’ve learned one of the secrets of being old, a secret that old people never talk about but young people perceive as a certain fading of enthusiasm for life, a decrease in desires, an indifference to appetites that once demanded fulfillment. Young people eschew what they perceive as the withdrawal from vibrant life, but old people know– if they are healthy and secure enough to know– that the last years of life need nothing more than a continuation and indulgence of the comforts one has built during the preceding years. These last years need only a move toward reconciliation with the foibles of years past, maybe a correction of unhealthy habits that gripped one during those early years but now serve no purpose. These last years need also to remain open for opportunities to fulfill intentions that never got satisfied earlier because of the obligations of vocation. Nothing new, exciting or drastically different needs to infuse a life already as secure and content as is possible within the confines of the human condition.

If I get the visa, and my life situation still permits me to go to Riyadh, I will go, but if not, if I or my mom or any one of my family suffers blows that need my support, I will give up the dream of this trip, and I will not lament. After all, my memories of those twelve years between 1986 and 1998 are far sweeter than any new ones I might create.

 

 

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Another Hallmark Occasion

Today is Mother’s Day. I am blessed to still have a healthy, in-her-right-mind, ninety-one year old mother with whom I live and share household duties and expenses. For many years now she has refused gifts, citing her plethora of possessions, richness of blessings, and lack of need for anything beyond continued good health.  At first, I resisted not giving her a gift on Mother’s Day, but as I have grown older, I have arrived at the same place. I, too, do not want to receive gifts, for the same reasons. All I want is good health, the good health and happiness of the rest of my family, and especially, a good life for my girls and grandchildren.

However, I do buy a nice card for Mom on Mother’s Day. I go to Walgreen’s and peruse the cards, reading sometimes a dozen before finding the perfect verse in the most pleasing pastel colors. Yesterday I went to Walgreen’s. The parking lot was full, and the card aisle crowded with adults on the same mission– to find a perfect card, or even just a card, for Mom. I was lucky. The first card I saw was perfect, and I took it to the cashier.

These beautiful cards are always no less than five dollars. I resent paying that much, not because I resent buying a card but because I resent the stranglehold that card companies have thrown and tightened around the necks of consumers. Not just Mother’s Day requires a card, but birthdays for Mom, Dad, kids, grandkids, spouses, aunts, uncles, grandparents and even good friends, if they are lucky.

These cards are expensive; they give a moment of pleasure and elicit a grateful smile. They are placed on a shelf for a week or two, or maybe even a month, then stuck into a drawer until the drawer gets full and the space is needed for more cards or other important papers. The message of the cards wears off, and they are tossed into the recycle bin long before the next year’s occasion rolls around and the giver is obliged to buy another card.

My mom keeps her cards. I will probably put them in her casket. Nevertheless, my irritation with the expense grew considerably when I heard the cashier ask me for $7.59.

I groaned.

At that moment, I felt like a rat in a maze, slave to inherently hard-wired responses that get activated instantly to stimuli designed to energize those responses. Corporate America has constructed a revolving door, the elements of which are monetary greed propelled by the soft spots in human character. This combination creates a perfect storm of consumer spending on an artificially constructed occasions custom made for their purpose.

Mother’s Day is only one such occasion. Father’s Day occurs in June, along with the aforementioned occasions for which perfect greeting cards cost more and more each year.

Living in Saudi Arabia all those years pulled me off the greeting card merry-go-round.

In the Middle East, birthdays, in particular, are not celebrated with the vigor and expense that characterizes American culture. I knew many Muslims who did not make birthday parties for their children, citing precedent in Sunnah, if I remember correctly, and lack of indication for the permissibility of such celebrations within the pages of the Qur’an. At first, I thought their attitudes rather stiff, as I remembered my own birthday parties as a child, and how much I enjoyed the attention and the gifts.

Now, however, I understand birthdays, and all other occasions for which one might buy greeting cards and/or gifts, as artificially created occasions promoted by Big Business in order to suck more money out of consumers.

Once I admitted this, I easily gave up the habit of participating. I have long felt no need to buy a greeting card for any person, for any occasion, as a matter of habit or obligation, and I feel quite free of this particular noose. I passed that attitude on the my girls, who easily accepted it because they’d been raised in the Middle East.

We do celebrate birthdays, as an act of thankfulness for having been allowed by Allah to complete another year of life on Earth, but we celebrate quietly, and we do not make shows of spending money on cards, cakes and unneeded presents.

The only card I buy during the entire year is  Mother’s Day card. I buy it not because she expects it (she doesn’t) but because I enjoy the opportunity to tell Mom how much I love and appreciate her. The card is certainly worth the expense from that point of view. When she passes, I will feel sad that I will no longer be able to buy these wonderful, expensive cards, just like I feel sad on Father’s Day that my father is no longer with us.

I also buy sympathy cards when someone I know has suffered the loss of a loved one. Sympathy cards serve a purpose. When Pop died, we received dozens of cards, and each one gave us comfort.

What I will not buy, ever again, is a card simply because another holiday approaches, and I see advertisements for cards or gifts. I will not participate in customs designed to play upon the loving bonds between people in order to enrich the accounts of people whose accounts are already large. I thank my residence in the Middle East for this maturation of attitude, and I salute the teaching of Islam, which directs us to be thankful for the blessings of Allah, and to show our thankfulness in prayer, kind actions towards others, helping those who need our help, and forgiveness of their offenses against us.

Mom understands all of this perfectly, and she’s not even a Muslim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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