Turning to islamic spirituality in the face of depression

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Poet Thomas Eliot wrote, “Human kind can not bear very much reality.” Indeed, reality is a bitter pill to swallow. The reality is, life is tough. Ever wonder why this is so? Why can’t we sail through life without even a single difficulty? Why can’t life be about sitting by the beach, sipping a cup of coffee and reading a good book? Take a minute to ponder.

It is because this world is not meant for us, and nor are we meant for this world.

Life today is so much more luxurious than what it was a hundred years ago. We may not think so, but imagine what it was like before airplanes, television, mobile phones and internet! Everything is so much easier today than it was in the past. Yet, it seems that we are not happier. Depression is on the rise everywhere, including Singapore. A recent research by the Institute of Mental Health indicated that the majority of people with mental illness were not seeking help though. What should we do if we have depression?

Take that first step…
As human beings, perhaps one of the most difficult things to do is to ask for help. We feel vulnerable when we want to seek help. We fear the consequences of putting ourselves out there. But seeking help is important. In Islam, we are encouraged to seek advice from those who are sincere and those who know. Depression usually makes a person feel like shutting off from the world and to be alone. Being alone with dark thoughts is dangerous. It is at times like this when one should take the first step by seeking help. Depending on the situation, this can mean going to a therapist, a trusted friend or a teacher. Seek help from a person who is able to help, not someone who will not understand and cause further distress.

Good companionship
One of the best ways to change our state is to seek good companionship. The scholars of Islam have said that when a person wants to change, he should leave the bad environment he was in, and surround himself with good companions. The people we are around, and the places we go to, have an effect on our spiritual state. By surrounding ourselves with good companions, we will feel better because it is the meeting of souls. It is not a physical meeting, but a spiritual one. When souls meet, they recognize one another, in witnessing God. This uplifts the soul, bringing it back to a state of happiness, free from fear or sadness. Through companionship, we can also seek advice, and remove our burdens.

Remembrance
Ever attended a spiritual gathering and felt that great upliftment, only to go back home, feeling low all over again? Ever went to a sacred place like Madinah Al-Munawarrah, only to come back dreading the return to ‘normal life’? Or ever been up the mountains and marvel at the beauty of God’s creation and wished that moment could last forever? Those are moments of wakefulness, and the soul longs for it.

We visited a great wali once, and we were really saddened to leave such a spiritual surrounding. He said to us, “God is not closer to us here, than in Singapore.” This is an indication that we should be in constant remembrance of Allah swt even when we are alone, or at home. We must not get into a habit where we only engage in Dhikr when we attend gatherings or remembering God only when we see His Majesty and His Beauty. Be present, wherever you are. Therefore, set aside time each day for Dhikrullah (Remembrance of Allah). It is important to set a particular time to do Dhikr each day, because if we don’t, we have a tendency to forget or miss doing the Dhikr. Consistent Dhikr will help remove sadness and worries. One of our teachers have related to us that the Prophet ﷺ said, “La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah (There is no power or strength except with Allah) is a cure for ninety-nine illnesses, the least of which is anxiety”. Other scholars have mentioned that reciting the Istighfar (Astaghfirullah) and Salawat (Allahumma Solli Ala Muhammad) is a means of removing illnesses of the heart. Persist in doing dhikr and your heart will be illuminated.

Contemplation
Charles Dickens wrote, “Reflect upon your present blessings – of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Indeed, reflection is a powerful thing. What we think about and how we think have an effect on how we feel and behave. If we occupy our thoughts with negativity, this will be reflected in our emotions and behavior. Think about the blessings that we have. Think about the temporal nature of this life and the permanence of the afterlife. Everything that we go through of pain and tribulations in this world will come to pass. Another advice by one of our teachers, with regards to depression, is simply to, “Take a walk.” Why? Because we are constantly running. We live on auto-pilot mode, rushing in everything that we do. We have to slow down, and take the time to reflect. Walks are good like that.

Be patient with yourself
It is difficult to remain patient sometimes, especially when you’re feeling low, and it seems like the sadness will never end. Yet, being steadfast and trudging on, and not losing hope in Allah swt is what will elevate us. Allah swt has mentioned in the Holy Quran, “With every difficulty, there will be relief.” Be patient with yourself, and know that healing takes time.

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “If Allah loves a people, then He afflicts them with trials. Whoever is patient has the reward of patience, and whoever is impatient has the fault of impatience.”

Indeed, depression is meant as a way for us to reflect on life. To turn to God, in brokenness. It erases from us the love of this world, and in all the luxuries contained in it. It removes from us the veil of attraction to what we see, and brings us to a state where we reflect on the unseen in everything we see. May Allah swt remove from us sadness and despair, and make us steadfast in facing life challenges. Amin.

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For those who are struggling with depression and looking for support, join us for the next Sacred Circle on 27th February 2016. The Sacred Circle is a gathering of the broken and the healed, where people who have gone through or are going through unique struggles in their lives meet and share their stories with one another under the guidance of a moderator. We will learn from one another on how to deal with our struggles, how to understand ourselves and others better, and how to strengthen our relationships with the Creator through our struggles. For more info, click here. You can also contact enquiries@soutilaahi.com for more info. [Sacred Circle is held on a monthly basis in Singapore.]

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