This article is written by Mohammed Faris, founder of The Productive Muslim Company, and executive coach, author, and speaker who helps individuals and teams connect spirituality to productivity.
Spaces are sacred.
Each space triggers a mindset or ritual that helps us experience life differently.
The quiet space of the mosque with its soft lights triggers spirituality, the loud noise of the espresso machine at a local coffee shop filling the room with the smell of freshly ground coffee triggers the mood for creative work or a relaxed meet up with a friend, the hum of an office floor with printers beeping, people chatting, and the glaring white light overhead triggers productive work (and some guilty procrastination).
As you read the above descriptions, nostalgia for a pre-COVID-19 world is stirring in you. Because right now, you're probably reading this at the one space you've been confined in for the past 2 months - your home.
Our homes have become our mosques, office buildings, coffee shops, gyms, in addition to their original role of being a space for family and rest. All the spaces we had in our lives have collapsed to this one space - and along with it our multiple personas.
You had a specific persona for work vs. home - and now you're trying to balance between "Fatma the friendly colleague" with "Mom the no-nonsense iron lady" as you balance your work laptop on your ironing board whilst yelling at the 7-year old that he can't eat another piece of chocolate.
What happens when our spaces converge, when we don't have the physical and mental separation between spaces (and personas in those spaces)? How is productivity affected, and what - if anything - can you do about it?
The convergence of our space might seem like a mental and psychological disaster waiting to happen, especially if we're trying to prop up a pre-COVID-19 'normal' world where we can safely wear different masks in different settings. The post-COVID-19 world is challenging us to rethink this multiple persona approach to living and confined us in our home to ask us the following tough questions that reach the core of our being:
1. Who are you?
2. Why do you exist?
3. How will you prioritize your life accordingly?
These are uncomfortable questions, and one that many of us don’t spend time with often. Moreover, these are the same questions that religion came to answer and help us figure out.
In the Islamic tradition, the basis of the human being is the soul (ruh) and this soul seeks Unity (Tawhid) with God through being in a constant state of worship (ubuddiya) to God in all circumstances. It's when we turn away from this state of worship and our purpose in life, that we feel the stress that comes with trying to balance different "roles" in life. Hence, whether you're working, feeding, playing, praying, or sleeping, this constant state of ubudiyya is the gravitational force of your being that helps you stay grounded and stand firm against challenging circumstances.
The beauty of this worldview is that it helps us organize life through the prism of Unity (tawhid) regardless of the spaces we live in. When we wake up in the morning, our first thought should be about seeking God's pleasure through prayer and contemplation. And as we go about our day, we will try to live the best version of ourselves across our roles, not to please anybody, but to please God. At the end of our day, we will reflect and hold ourselves accountable - not according to life's arbitrary measuring stick or people's expectations - but according to God's Sacred Law and Compassion.
What does this mean in practice?
1. Make Your Time Sacred: Even though you're confined in space, you can still look at each hour of your day and be intentional about how you can spend each hour, living the experience of Tawhid. Focus on purifying your intentions and doing every action for the sake of God as "Actions are judged by intentions" (Prophet Muhammad - peace be upon him).
2. Negotiate Priorities Through the Prism of Worship: We tend to think of worship as performing certain acts of worship such as prayer or fasting, however, worship in the Islamic tradition is a concept that encompasses every word or deed that you do for God’s sake. With that in mind - how can you turn your work into worship, your family time into worship, your sleep into worship? Moreover, how can you negotiate the competing priorities that are placed upon you with the intention of pleasing God and fulfilling your rights and responsibilities toward others.
3. Create transition rituals between roles whilst remembering God: The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught us many supplications we should say as we enter or exit from different contexts.
For example, he taught specific supplications as we enter and leave our homes, start and finish eating our food, getting dressed and undressed. Each of these supplications is a trigger to keep the remembrance of God alive on our tongues and hearts as we enter a new context.
Adopt such transition rituals as you switch roles at home from being a parent to working to praying. An example of a transition ritual would be: At the end of your work-day, spend some time praying or seeking forgiveness for all the mistakes you've done and set your intention to greet your family with the big hearty smile - for a smile is an act of charity.
The COVID-19 global pandemic is forcing us to rethink our lives from the ground up. By going back to basics, understanding who we are and why we are here, it’ll help us navigate the multiple layers of challenges we’ll face as part of defining a new normal.
Perhaps, once things go back to ‘normal’ and our physical spaces open up - we won’t forget to keep our Unity with God in all those different spaces and remember that every space is sacred.
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