Part 5: FOCUSING GIVES YOU POWER
Focus can give on strength
Think of the extreme concentration of the martial artist. It takes years of intensive mental and physical training to develop. Once mastered, he is able to shut everyone else out apart from the posture that he is concentrating on. His mind, soul, body, muscles and energy are in complete synch, which is why he is able to move with split second timing and strike with perfect precision. His focus and discipline empowers him to harness a force powerful enough to shatter a stack of bricks. It is the focus, rather than the muscles, that gives him the concentrated power, to be able to pinpoint his energy on the target.
In today’s lifestyle, we do not have time for seclusion, to simply calm down. Our thoughts are cluttered with hundreds of tasks, endless chores, errands and deadlines. We do not have purity or clarity of thought because our minds and hearts are so congested we cannot even hear ourselves think. Just compare the average person to the monks living in secluded monasteries, who dedicate months and weeks to shut themselves from the world and to develop their strength of thinking. Compare their state of mental tranquility to our scrambled thoughts.
The Prophets and Messengers were extremely focused from an Islamic point of view. None of them received the revelations before first undergoing a period of seclusion during which they emptied their hearts and minds of the material world and contemplated about the Creator. They spent days, weeks and months in deep concentration and in the remembrance of Allah.
What does focus achieve?
Imagine when you are studying for your exams and you are trying to memorise a complex formula. You need a calm and peaceful environment, without the distraction of human babble or commotion, to concentrate. All libraries in the world have one thing in common, which is the strict observance of peace and silence. The human mind and heart is most receptive when it is in a tranquil environment.
It is this kind of pure focus during the remembrance of Allah that one can gain comprehension, enlightenment and tranquility.
For example, Prophet Ibrahim AS found Allah through deep thinking and pondering. He spent time looking at the stars, the moon and the sun in his quest to discover his Creator. All Messengers and Prophets, at some point prior to receiving the revelations, spent time as shepherds in the desert. This was the training ground for them to be in isolation – a sort of detoxification from the clamour of the material world.
Prophet Muhammad SAW received the first revelation after he had developed the habit of secluding himself regularly in the Cave of Hira’, during which time he spent days and weeks not communicating, while he was in meditation and contemplation about his Creator.
Like his predecessors in prophethood, he spent time to distil his thoughts to achieve the purity of focus, without the distractions of duniya or Shaitan.
Losing the focus, you lose the plot
In martial arts, once you have reached a certain level of mental and physical concentration, you are alert to every subtle change around you. That is why you can feel the presence of someone creeping behind you, and why you are able to react with great speed. All your faculties are alert to the smallest things because your sense of focus is heightened. One momentary lapse of concentration could lead to total defeat.
In Islam, what if we do not have any focus, energy or power on the remembrance of Allah? We become distracted, our thoughts are split into hundreds of different directions. We neither have the purity of direction nor the purity of feeling. The thought process is muddled and tangled. With all the different distractions, we are kept busy by Shaitan and our own desires on small and unimportant things, and before we know it, the day is over and we have achieved nothing. At this point, you may as well forget the rules and regulations of Islam, because they are all supposed to lead you towards living a clean life for Allah. If our thoughts and hearts are not clean, and are filled up with a traffic jam of worries, anxiety, petty issues and endless mindmaps, how can we get closer to Allah?
How is it that Ibrahim AS managed to get that moment of clarity, where everything fell into place and the nature of his Lord was made clear to him? It is because he concentrated his thinking, and was focused on his mission to seek the Creator. He had only one thought on his mind, and he persisted, day after day, until the answer was clear to him. His spiritual exploration can be found here.
If that were the case, then why isn’t guidance as clear cut for the rest of us? Surah Mutaffifin offers us the clue: Nay! But on their hearts is the Ran (covering of sins and evil deeds) which they used to earn. Nay! Surely, they (evil-doers) will be veiled from seeing their Lord that Day. (83:14- 83:15) This applies to those who have transgressed, which results in the hearts being veiled (ran is a tar-like substance), darkness upon darkness, cover upon cover, because of their transgression. Part of this transgression is caused by us not giving the rightful focus on Allah, with the result that Allah chooses to veil our hearts.
Coming back from deep Duniya
When we lose focus, we tend to get swept away and we will find ourselves drowning in the tidal wave of deep duniya, swept away at a high speed. This is why guidance does not come easy for us. When we try to come back to the remembrance of Allah, when we try to seek comprehension, it is very hard. We cannot simply come back just like that. We have to clean up, keep on cleaning, and keep on cleaning, again and again, until layer upon layer of all the accumulated dirt has been scraped away. When our hearts are clear again, then it will be full of light, and we will be able to comprehend the message of Allah, able to live out the clean life that we were intended for. The cleaning up wipes away the distractions and attachments that we had, the ones that had made us lose focus on the remembrance of Allah.
Surat Ta Ha reminds us to the retributions if we lose focus on the remembrance of Allah. The implication will be felt by hardship in this life and blindness in the next: "But whosoever turns away from My Reminder (i.e. neither believes in this Quran nor acts on its orders, etc.) verily, for him is a life of hardship, and We shall raise him up blind on the Day of Resurrection. He will say: “O my Lord! Why have you raised me up blind, while I had sight (before)”. (Allah) will say: "Like this, Our Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) came unto you, but you disregarded them (i.e. you left them, did not think deeply in them, and you turned away from them), and so this Day, you will be neglected (in the Hell-fire, away from Allah's Mercy)." (20:124-20:126)
Contrast the above spiritual turbulence with what Surah Al Ra’d says: Those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah - Islamic Monotheism), and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allah, Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest. (13:28). Those who remain focused in the remembrance of Allah are the ones over whom Allah will descend tranquility, the ones whose hearts are calm. What greater commodity is there in today’s twisted and frantic world than to carry serenity in your heart? It is a prize that no money can buy and no amount of academic achievement can earn.
Once we lose focus, we lose the message of Allah and we lose the spiritual medication that comes with the message. When we lose focus, we enter into the realm where we are spiritually and emotionally asleep, and once in this state of comatose, it is hard to wake up and get back to the reality of the situation.
When we are physically asleep, we wake up disoriented. Our thoughts are confused, and we have no awareness. We are unable to solve analytical problems, and we take time to find our bearings. It is the same if we are spiritually asleep, we lack direction and we lack comprehension. If we are sleepy or asleep, can we really value the situation and the reality? We are overcome by weakness, and we succumb to desires and the persuasions of Shaitan. The message is before us, but we are not mentally or spiritually present to understand it.
Whereas if we are in focus, our iman will strengthen and give us power. It will give us ammunition and protection against our material desires and whisperings of Shaitan. If we have too much rest and amusement, we fall into a state of obliviousness. When we become so entranced by the lure of duniya that we lose focus on the reason of our existence and the remembrance of our Creator, that is when calamity will befall us. If we do not want to wake up even after Allah has broadcast one alarm bell after another, Allah will shake us awake in His own way, to bring us into awareness and wake us from our dream-like state.
If we are too sleepy, can we really value the situation? Our thoughts are divided, and we give our material desires and Shaitan a large portion of them, resulting in our actions being dictated by the demands on the material world. Our thoughts are running in so many different streams and branches that our focus on Allah is just a trickle, merely a twig in a large tree. Allah has given us guidance, but without focus, we are too weak to implement it. Desire and materialism consume us.
That is why the journey of knowledge is best done in seclusion, with minimum luxury, without the enticement of duniya to take away our attention. Even if we cannot spend time in the desert the way the Prophets and Messengers did, we should try to seek a calm and quiet environment, where we can spend some time in the remembrance of Allah. It can be at a forest somewhere, or a quiet beach. We can even try to generate this environment in our own houses, where we get away from the noise, the television and the electronic devices for a certain amount of time every day. Iman gives us power, and the ability to be, and it can come from focus, thinking and clarity of focus.
But there’s no time!
Our lives are all filled with activities and incidents, they are filled with things that we like and dislike. There will be celebrations, accidents, deaths, love stories, sickness, jobs, family demands; all these generates the drama of life. This drama will continue without any end apart from death.
Can our daily activities be above our journey for the happiness and the pleasure for infinity in the life of the hereafter? Can we busy ourselves and in turn pave the way for our infinity in hellfire?
This is what we should focus on. If we lose the main focus of life, which is to achieve the mercy and pleasure of Allah, we will lose our lives and we will not achieve what we were created for.
Next article: Knowledge – Benefits and Dangers