Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Make Way for Compassion

As salaam alaikum,

It's been more than four months! It's about time for another entry!

This one was a long time in coming, and perhaps more is coming. The Orlando shooting generated a flurry of emotions that are hard to contain and hard to enunciate. The overarching feeling is hurt. Pain. Mourning, dread, anger. Frustration. Anger.


As a human being, I mourn the loss of innocent life at the hands of Hatred armed with an assault rifle. As an ally and a person of color, I hurt for the attack on one of the few safe spaces for this very marginalized group of the community.

As a Muslimah, I am the most angry and the most afraid. I was of age post-9/11. I'm even more angry and so much more fearful than I was back then, and this is not because I've shed the ignorance of youth.

I remember going to a college football game with my high school band director, and I didn't know that I could not bring my purse into the stadium. I cried as they made me throw away my new purse, stuffing my belongings into my down coat pockets. I thought the whole exercise was ridiculous, because everything in my purse was in my coat pockets now and the leather posed no additional threat, and besides, who would want to attack a college stadium in the breadbasket of America? I thought terrorists had bigger fish to fry.

Flash forward 14 and 15 years, and this is precisely what these terrorists are doing. They are attacking stadiums and busy tourists squares, office Christmas parties and night clubs. Especially with these American sympathizers, their motives are random and no where is safe.

As an American Muslim, I am angry in some of the same ways that the non-Muslim population is angry, and then some. Terrorists are the foremost attackers of my faith. With each act of terror, with each vitriolic sermon, with each evil intent, in addition to their murders they are smearing the religion of millions of peaceful worshipers as well. Idle American Islamophobia have nothing on the years of heinous activity of these groups.

I am also afraid in some of the same ways as non-Muslims are, but I also fear retaliation. Two mosques in my community were threatened within days of each other after the Orlando shootings and one arrest was made. This is the first year I'm actually afraid for Eid.

Hatred abounds in so many ways, and fear is paralyzing. So I implore everyone reading this to counter with the best self defense: love. Love and compassion.

There are a lot of ways how, and I won't get to them all in this entry, but I'll share a bit of my personal journey.

It wasn't just because of residency and HIPPA that I strayed from this blog. A lot of things changed in 2012. The primary event was the beginning of the relationship with my now-fiance, who likes the term "culturally Muslim" for himself. This relationship transformed the way that I think of myself and the way I envision my religion, and for the sake of our privacy, I have not included details here.

It's mainly in positive ways that the relationship has changed my blogging. I am a lot happier and many of the writing topics born out of angst have no longer come to be.

But the ways in which I practice and believe have changed so rapidly at times, it's like whiplash. Sometimes, I couldn't put it into words.

Residency itself was still a major reason I have not been as prolific as earlier. I struggled my intern year, not only with the rapid changes in my faith but also in tussling with impostor syndrome and not feeling supported in my residency program. In spite of this, one of the gifts of my residency program was a curriculum in self care. "Heal the healer," I often remind myself, which not only reminds me that I need to take care of myself before I can fully take care of others, but that I am a healer. Or at least a healer in training. Not all physicians think of themselves as healers. I certainly didn't for much of residency and didn't intend to when I started.

With the curriculum came teachings on compassion, among many other things. I listened politely as my mentor presented data from randomized control studies showing the power of prayer. I was smug. I didn't need a study to tell me that. And as she taught us about the different types of meditation, I reflected on the aspects of salat that corresponded to each type of medication. God, indeed, knows best.

The study of compassion, particularly self-compassion, was more challenging for me. I learned to quiet the nay-saying voice that rejoiced in my perceived inadequacies and replaced my despondent negative self-talk with mindfulness and the RAIN technique. Until last week, I thought that I was primarily rid of negative self-talk.

Then, I accidentally put something into my mouth during Ramadan.

I have fasted consistently since I was 18, and that first Ramadan I accidentally put a piece of candy I was offered by a well-meaning friend into my mouth. Realizing one second later what I had done, I spit it out and drowned in guilt and shame the rest of the day, wondering if my day's fast had been invalidated.

That happened last week, as my clinic was celebrating Juneteenth and I had painstakingly avoided offers of food all day and reminded each person I was fasting, from the staff meeting breakfast in the morning to the barbecue, at which I was a scheduled speaker. I packed food that I would be eating 6 hours later when the sun set, and somehow, in the midst of that, I was offered an edible flower and I placed it into my mouth before realizing...

...and all those same feelings came back to me as that day 13 years ago.

And I realized why I had imperceptibly started to feel distant from my religion. I had cultivated a personal religion that was often devoid of self-compassion, and it was no longer nurturing me.

And it's lack of compassion and self-compassion that can breed hatred.

I realize this is a weighty claim. More on this later.

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