Today, I was on my way to my last appointment of the day and got struck behind a number of school buses dropping off children in the South End.  Instead of cursing my bad luck, I decided to enjoy the scene of exuberant young children happy to be home.  I watched these inner city children, many who live in abject poverty,  and couldn’t help but smile at their laughter, playfulness, and exuberance.   I wondered where did that all go?   The childlike innocence, the zest for life despite less than optimum living conditions, the hope in their eyes.

At what point did our life experiences create the tapes in our head which prevent us from enjoying life?  Somewhere along the way, we forgot to have fun.  We talked ourselves out of enjoying the simple moments and listened to the crazy voices in our head instead of doing what makes our soul happy.  We forgot that life isn’t something to “get through” but something to be savored.

We need to stop… stop listening to the negativity that plays nonstop daily in our head.  We have to ask ourselves a simple question – what makes our soul happy.  We need to listen for answers in the silence when those voices are muted.   It is only in that silence that our soul speaks.

“Return to the origin of your origin.”  These profound words by Rumi have been occupying my thoughts all week.  For me, this means returning to God.  But how do we do this?  Is it more than just prayer and remembrance?

When I hear this, I can’t help but correlate these words to the attributes of God.  Return to mercy, for God is the most merciful (Ar-Rahman).  Return to forgiveness, for God is the Forgiving (Al-Ghaffar) and the Forgiver (Al-‘Afu).  Return to nourishing, for God is the Nourisher (Al Muqit).   Return to generosity, for God is the Generous (Al-Karim).

However, at the center of all of this is love.  Love brings us closer to our origin. Closer to God.  It opens our hearts to being merciful, generous, nurturing, and forgiving.  It does not tolerate hatred, stinginess, or harshness.  It is not a limited commodity but a naturally renewing energy which sustains us and nourishes our soul .  It is the natural state of our soul and, when we return to it, we return to God, the Loving One (Al-Wadud).

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about why being grateful seems so hard.  It may be because we allow negative emotions like jealousy or envy to pervade our thoughts when we see others have things that we secretly wish for ourselves.  Or it simply may be that we think we are unworthy to receive wonderful things in our lives.  It may be as simple as we do not look for them.  But we need to.  Otherwise, we surrender ourselves and our happiness  to the negative voices in our head which crowd out any expressions of gratitude.

That’s why I think we need to practice simple gratitude  every day by expressing, loudly if need be, what we are thankful for.  In our prayers, we need to take time to thank God for what we do have instead of detailing the endless lists of things we need fixed.  We need to sincerely look for the positive in every situation.  When we see others receiving things in their lives which we sincerely want for ourselves, we need to let go of the envy, jealousy and unworthiness we feel and be happy for them.  When we find ourselves drifting into negative thoughts, we have to affirmatively draw on those things we are grateful for.  We need to retrain ourselves to operate from a default position of gratitude.

By no means is this easy.  Over the years, we have allowed ourselves to engage in destructive self talk.  We have found it easier to spot the negative things in our life instead of acknowledging the gifts God’s wondrous generosity has provided. We have wallowed in self doubt and destructive emotions for far too long.  But, when we do actively practice simple gratitude, amazing things happen.  Gratitude chases away unhappiness. It opens ourselves up to better relationships, love, and God’s abundance.    It frees us from the prison of our thoughts and allows us to see the possibilities God places before us.  It allows us to become closer to the Divine.  All this because we practice simple gratitude.

For almost fifteen years, I wore a scarf to signify my Muslim faith.  But, truth be told, I never found God wearing a scarf.  I never felt closer to God because I wore it.  Nor was I ever convinced that it was required.  I think I did it because, as a blonde-haired blue eyed American, I wanted to be “identified” as a Muslim.  I wanted to be a part of a wider community.

However, over the years this “identification” has lost its appeal.  I became increasingly disillusioned over those in my faith who judged a person’s relationship with God based on outward appearance instead of what was in the heart.   I didn’t feel I should be responsible for men’s inability to keep their own urges under control.  I questioned those who judged others based on outward reflections of religiousity and rigid conformity to rules devoid of compassion. This religion was more than just a piece of cloth.  To me, it was about compassion and kindness to all members of humanity.  It was about humility and gratitude – not just conformity to rules without any real connection to the divine.

This past year especially was a year of reflection to me.  Turning fifty does that to you.  I became more concerned with my personal relationship to God than mere conformity.  This is the relationship I needed to develop.    I knew in doing so that I needed to be authentically me – and so I removed the scarf.  I took it off it because it wasn’t authentic.  I took it off because I felt stifled by it and didn’t want any resentment from it to keep me from God.  I took it because I refused to let myself or others be judged on an insignificant matter such as outward appearance.  I took it off because I knew that anyone who judged me by its removal was far from God.

An amazing thing happened.  I feel closer to God now than any other time in my life.  God let me back to consistent and regular prayer through a kind kindred soul who needed my prayers.  Now, I feel His presence everywhere.  I feel His presence in those quiet moments after prayer when the voices in my head have been silenced.  I feel His presence when answers to my prayers seem to come from thin air.   I am reminded of Him when I recognize signs in my life of his wondrous grace and generosity.  Most importantly, in the love I have for others, I am continually reminded of His love for me.