What if there was a simple way for you to control your brain in all aspects of your life? Whether it’s being able to overcome procrastination, or being able to focus better on your prayers, or just improving your overall quality of your life, both spiritually and temporally.
The fact is, there is a way to be in control of yourself, and it’s backed by both contemporary science and Islamic tradition.
You may have heard of the concept of mindfulness. It’s a mental state of self-awareness achieved by focusing on the present.
Think of a straight line. One end represents a state of being unmindful: This is where you react to your thoughts and emotions in a knee-jerk fashion and let them control you. If something makes you angry, you just get angry; if you feel lazy, you just don’t bother doing anything.
On the other end of the line is the state of mindfulness: This is where you have the ability to choose to follow or not follow your thoughts and desires.
Basically, you control your actions. If something makes you angry, you don’t just react; if you’re feeling lazy, you’re able to overcome it.
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness decreases stress, emotional reactivity, depression, and anxiety, while improving memory, focus, and personal relationships, and increasing empathy and compassion.
Mindfulness in the Islamic Context
There are many different types of mindfulness practices like meditation. Mindfulness in Islamic context is very similar to something called “muraqabah”.
Achieving muraqabah means being in a complete state of vigilant self-awareness in one’s relationship with Allah in heart, mind, and body.
Basically, being in the state of muraqabah means knowing, and finding peace, in the fact that Allah is always watching you at all times both inwardly and outwardly; and consequently, developing greater attention and care for your thoughts, actions, feelings, and inner states of being.
Done right, muraqabah has a two-fold result:
1- In this world, you’ll be able to reach a state of calm and contentment.
2- In the next world, you’ll be able to achieve a state of eternal calm and joy in Paradise.
How to Achieve the State of Muraqabah?
Muraqabah is a means to reach the highest spiritual state in Islam: Ihsan, or spiritual excellence.
Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him, which naturally brings us back to that state of self-awareness.
How can we actually achieve the state of muraqabah, or mindfulness?
For that, we have to understand how they’re actually practiced.
Meditation is a practice in mindfulness and there is secular meditation and Islamic meditation.
The difference between the two can be traced back to the four aspects of muraqabah. According to the renowned sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, muraqabah is realized in:
1- Knowing, or being aware of the Almighty.
2- Knowing the enemy, iblis, or satan.
3- Knowing your soul’s capacity to suggest evil, or being aware of yourself.
4- Knowing the deeds to be done for the sake of Allah.
In secular meditation, the purpose is to achieve mental strength and well-being by being aware of one’s own heart and mind. In other words, just number three of the aspects of muraqabah.
In Islamic meditation, the purpose is to achieve both mental and spiritual strength and well-being by being aware of all four aspects of muraqabah through a holistic framework of Islamic mindfulness.
However, achieving number three (being aware of your heart and mind) is also emphasized on its own within Islamic tradition as well.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was known to regularly observe periods of silence in seclusion in order to cultivate presence, or the mind’s quiet awareness of here and now.
The righteous predecessors practiced several forms of meditation to enhance their acts of worship to enhance their acts of worship, prayer and remembrance.
Ibn Al-Qayyim, for example, detailed seven types of meditation. Al-Ghazali recommended four distinct daily spiritual mindfulness practices, including supplication, remembrance of Allah, Quranic recitation, and deep contemplation.
The idea is that a balanced spiritual life depends upon different acts of worship and meditations for complete sustenance. So how exactly can you become a more mindful Muslim?
The Four Stages of Thought
According to As-Suyuti, you go through four different stages of thoughts before you put something into action:
1- Al Hajis: A sudden fleeting thought.
2- Al-Khatir: A thought you actually give attention and consideration to.
3- Hadith nafs: The inner dialogue you have where you seriously consider acting upon that thought.
4- Al Ham and al Azm: The decision you make to put that thought into action.
The key is to become more aware of the distance between a thought, feeling, or emotion, and your reaction to that thought, feeling, or emotion. Realizing that there is a distance gives you the time to control your reaction to it.
A Mindful Exercise For Muslims
1- Choose a time of day, a quiet secluded area, and a comfortable posture for yourself
2- Focus awareness on your natural breathing, and progressively relax the muscle tension throughout your body, in your arms, your legs, your core, then your jaw. Slowly settle your state of heart and mind by feeling the life and energy Allah gave you throughout your body.
3- Perceive the feeling of muraqabah. Know and feel that Allah is watching you. Silence that inner dialogue. Focus on being with Allah in the present moment. When you get distracted, recite the remembrances of Allah. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
Verily, at times, there is a fog over my heart, so I seek the forgiveness of Allah 100 times. (Muslim 2702)
Benefits of Islamic Meditation
Remember that the act of meditation is repeatedly bringing yourself back to the state of muraqabah through dhikr until it becomes a natural habit to be in that state.
Dhikr is your calming anchor. If done regularly, the mindfulness exercise will allow you to have an easier, more natural presence in prayer; strengthen your mental and spiritual muscles; provide stress relief and relaxation; give you better focus and attention; increase you in empathy and compassion, and most importantly, it will allow you to gain control of your thoughts, desires, and emotions.
You’ll notice your thoughts as they begin to appear, which will give you enough time to decide to act on the good, and dispel the bad.
We might not always be able to change what happens to us in life, but we can change how we experience it and react to it. Modern science has proven that mindfulness exercises yield a number of health and wellness benefits, even in non-religious context.
These insights can be synthesized with Islam’s own rich tradition of meditation to produce practical, contemporary techniques that cultivate Islamic mindfulness, enhance worship, and enrich our quality of life.
Remember that God knows what in your souls, so be mindful of Him. (Quran 2:235)