Coming home after a retreat is never easy for me. However this time I am deeply grateful to our writing teacher that she prepared us for the parting as well as the days after wards: what to expect and what to forbear.
Coming back from a retreat has to do with the heart. In a retreat whether it is a writing retreat or a spiritual retreat, I lay aside my worries, my pre conceived notions and allow myself to open my heart to receive and marinade in the nurturing atmosphere.
The rude shock comes on return where nothing has changed, people are still rude, uncaring, dismissive, ungrateful, unappreciative, demanding, and ignoring. This hits hard on the heart, which is still open to receive.
After the retreat the attitude of the people around me is as alien to me as if I am on an unknown planet and it hits me like a stone. It hurts more, as my heart is now wide open.
However this time the preparation before the closure of the retreat helped me and I stumbled but did not fall with the onslaught on return.
Understanding where I live has a lot to do with preparing for return and protecting myself. I live in a place where people are fed on processed food, the chemicals of which turn their hearts to stone, their brains to automatons and their fingers become programmed to know nothing except grasping.
I live in a place where people invite into their own living rooms, nightly violence and sexual predators with eagerness. They feed their children on video games in which blood from a crushed skull flows copiously and easily and the child is awarded a star for each person he or she kills.
I once found my son playing a video game of “cars” on closer scrutiny I noticed that the more bystanders he killed the more kudos he got and the more closer he got to winning. I also noticed something, which alarmed me even more and I immediately shut down the use of that game: Most of the bystanders were women and when they bled their bodies were uncovered exposing their private parts as they lay in their blood on the pavement.
I live in a place where men vie with each other not only for a bigger and more luxurious car and house but how to control others (including their wives and children) and how to demean them when they are under their control including their employees and colleagues.
I live in a place where women have been married for umpteen years to the same man, and proudly say so but when you get a glimpse into their daily life you see the constant barrage of vilification of the wife by the husband privately and publicly and I wonder why she continues in such a situation. Once on asking this question the response was “ I am grateful there is a man in the house” and she is correct in her assumption perhaps. Maybe it is better to have one known predator than a hundred unknown ones lurking outside your house ready to pounce on you at your weak moments. It is this fear of the open that keeps them in.
I live in a place where the children of women who are emotionally abused on a daily basis, marry other women and do the same to them and their wives have the same excuses……….. “Perhaps something is wrong with me and if I can change, things will get better”.
I live in a place which is one mile from one of the most tranquil, spiritual places one can imagine, where the river runs on one side of the trail and the canal on the other, where the trees grow new leaves in the spring and release them in the fall without regret or grief. Where the turtles sunbath in early morning and the blue heron skims the water at Asr time, where the birds break into musical Dhikr one hour before sunset and where the geese sit on the edge of the rapids just before the sun comes up and dive for fish.
Coming back from this retreat has been easier than others. Facing the hard hearts that surround me and their behavior with the soft and innocent hearts in their charge has always been a challenge. I am deeply grateful to our teacher for preparing me.
Thus even though I am prepared, I still feel my heart constricting with the onslaught of uncaring and thoughtlessness around me that I have been thrust into on return. Soaking this in and thinking about this, fatigued by the 27 hours of travel, I fall asleep at asr time to wake up in the wee hours of the night with a sudden realization and deep regret that I have slept through three salahs.
I am now fully awake after wudu and start the marathon of making up the salahs lost in sleep. It is the first time I do not feel the extreme guilt of sleeping through three salahs. I know that it was not a deliberate act on my behalf and that if He (Subhanawataala) closed my eyes to this world in His infinite Mercy, He knew best what I needed most at this time.
When I wake up, perform wudu and stand up for Salah, it is the last third of the night……… isn’t it in these dark hours before dawn that Allah actually asks his creation “who is feeling wretched” if they need to be “cleansed and forgiven”?
It is not until I reach the thirteenth rakah, the last two being of istighfaar that I feel the knot dissolve which was constricting my heart. I can breath and the reasons for constriction no longer matter. I am now free…………I can feel Him balance me in His hands for a moment to give stability (istiqamah?) and then set me free.
Stunned at what has taken place I thank Him and carry on to finish my Salah………
He has given me what he gave to our Prophet (pbuh) I cannot be grateful enough……