By Fatin Nabila.
Fatin is a college student who was battling anxiety. In her therapy sessions, she discovered the wonderful teaching of mindfulness. She integrates mindfulness into her spiritual practices (Islam) and it has been a life-transforming experience for her. In this article, she writes about how she let go off the past, accepts her fears, and embraces the challenges in life.
How did I start to learn about mindfulness?
“You are useless, you were born to be a trouble maker - a real troublemaker!” and “You are an absolute failure, you will not be able to achieve anything that you desire in life!” These are the thoughts that have always disturbed my mind. My life was always in tears and pains. I was fearful and insecure in facing the upcoming days as my thoughts convinced me that I would fail in everything I do. I was also disturbed by the feeling of no confidence, breathing difficulty, and heart palpitations. My lecturer advised me to go for therapy as she noticed that I was behaving differently in class and my studies were affected. I finally went to consult a psychiatrist and was soon diagnosed to have an anxiety disorder.
During my therapy sessions, I was introduced to the practice of mindfulness which helped tremendously in coping with my anxiety. In this article, I will share with you how I integrate mindfulness into my spiritual practice to overcome anxiety.
1. Mindful Breathing:
I practice slow, deep, and mindful breathing whenever I feel nervous. It really helps to cool me down and relieve my heart palpitations. People sometimes say, “I have tried that but it does not work for me.” What I have to say is “It definitely works; but only if it is done with the right understanding and technique.” It involves appreciating every breath, savoring the little air that we need to live in this world. It seems simple to practice but most of us often forget this.
As I breathe in, I remind myself, “Everything happens for a good reason” and as I breathe out, I assure myself, “trust Allah (God) that everything will be fine.”
I have realized that being grateful is the ultimate key to long-term happiness. The impact is powerful if I appreciate things even if they are small or simple. This is consistent with my religious (Islamic) belief, as mentioned in Quran 14:5, “And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, “If you’re grateful, I (Allah) will surely increase you [in favor]”.Overall, this simple technique has changed my life so much in terms of being a happier person.
2. Present Moment:
Being mindful means paying full attention to the present moment experience, instead of worrying excessively about the future. This is done through ‘HTC’ (focusing on what we Hear, Touch, and C/see), a mindful tool that I have learnt from the MINDFULGym program. I apply that in my prayers at the five set times of the day. How? Firstly, I listen (H – hear) to every single word that I utter during the prayer. Next, I give full attention to the movements of my eyes, hands, and legs; the way they should be bent and positioned. I consider this step as a practice under T (touch).
Then, I gaze (C – see) at the prayer mat that I stand on. The prayer mat can be considered as the center of attention that helps Muslims to have khusyu’ (wholeheartedness) in their prayer. In this way, I can feel like I am really praying in the here-and-now. I am more connected to Allah.
I am able to better handle problems in my life. I am calmer in facing unexpected situations. Indeed, it is highlighted in the Quran 23:1-2, “Certainly, will the believers have succeeded. They who are during their prayer humbly submissive.”
These words are really true. I have achieved what I desire most in life just by improving the quality of my ‘solah’ (Islamic prayer) with mindfulness. The calmness that I achieved is beyond my thinking. By applying mindfulness in my routine, it really helps me to become the person that I wish to be.
3. Befriending Anxiety:
One of the powerful ways to cope with anxiety is by embracing it. With therapy, I understand that fear is part of me and it is there for a purpose. I get to know it – befriending anxiety. By doing so, it helps me to accept who I am. It helps me to acknowledge the flaws that lie within me. It consumes time. But don’t be worried, you will be fine because you have started to accept who you are and healing is in progress. Never say that anxiety is our major weakness. Instead, turn it into the source of our strength. For instance, there was a man who had an excessive fear of bats. Years later, he became a hero who saved people’s lives after conquering the weakness. The name of the man is ‘Batman’ (in the movie Batman Begins).
Previously, I was afraid of taking risks in study related matters as I believed it would affect my performance. But now, things are changing. I try almost everything which is important to me because I am able to get rid of the ‘what if’ (catastrophic) thoughts.
Instead of worrying about how things may go wrong, I focus my attention on brainstorming action plans to prevent them from happening. I also remind myself, “No matter what happens, it is always a wonderful learning experience.” That works well for me most of the time.
However, the negative thoughts are sometimes very stubborn. They return to haunt me, “The thing that you are doing may not be the same as what you have experienced. You are inexperienced – you will make the wrong decisions! – you will fail! – you will be a troublemaker!”
These thoughts sound familiar and scary, don’t they? Ha ha, I now can take them easy and do not get too much affected. I have learnt to respond to them with kindness and understanding. I have furthered developed these three coping statements to tame the thought monsters:
You will never discover your potential until you try.
The more mistakes you have made, the more you will learn, and the better you will become.
Accept the fear and embrace the challenges. Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves (Quran 13:11).
All in all, to become someone who is successful is extremely tough. I have realized that having an anxiety disorder is no longer a hindrance for me to be successful in life. Not only that, my experience with anxiety has been a great teacher. It has taught me to redefine the meaning of success.
Previously, I defined success as getting good grades for all the examinations and being happy with the reputation that I portrayed as an excellent student. Now I define my success as the continuous process of solving problems, learning from challenges; and using my experience to serve Allah and to help others in need of my support.
In addition, I consider life as a game – something fun and adventurous. We have a choice; either we want the game to be over or move on to the next level. Undoubtedly, there might be lots of obstacles in moving on to the next level, but do not be afraid! Accept the fears throughout the game and face the challenges. Believe me, at the end of the day, you might be the winner. To anyone reading this, stick to this slogan,
“let go off the past, accept the fears, and embrace the challenges.”
* Permission is granted by Fatin for sharing the article in MINDFULGym blog.