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‘I have been slain’…. My Scar, My Story

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Photo; Courtesy of Hussein Shaaban

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars” Khalil Gibran

They say a soul is nurtured with every wound. It is through pain that we learn and grow, our souls expand and our egos diminish. This, of course is true, only if we choose to grow whenever life serves us a wound.
In a world that strictly defines beauty, a physical scar can have a deep emotional impact- but it can equally tell a great story. I would love to share two true and inspiring ones here.

#1 Nadia: A scar that throbs with life

Young, attractive and carefree, Nadia had gone through life with little worries -until the summer of 1996 left its mark on her life. Nadia was travelling back home with friends after a weekend at the seaside when suddenly, a truck showed in front of their vehicle and flew them off the road. Nadia who was 17 then, suffered major blows. Glass shattered and cut vertically through her face and all the way down to her shoulder. Her right arm was paralyzed with pain. She was utterly dazed.

Hours of surgery left her with a heavily plastered right arm and a still very prominent vertical scar along her face. She was in agony and angry. Nevertheless, she went back to school and poured her energy into learning to manage with life and carry on her studies relying on her left hand. Deep inside she was aching and waiting for things to get better. Months passed. Her arm was healing while the scar on her face was not significantly improving. “It will get better but it will never completely fade” her doctor spurted out. At this point Nadia was fed up- fed up of the frustration, the waiting and the shaming. Her body has done its part in healing, now she needs to do hers. In a brave attempt to face reality, she tossed aside all hair and makeup tips to cover up her scar, and went for a bold a la garçon haircut that completely exposed her face. “It felt like I stripped down to my scar, that nothing else was more apparent. And it felt good!”

Today, almost 20 years later this scar marks my face as a reminder of the love I was showered with during one of the toughest times of my life, my mother’s bravery in supporting me and lifting my spirits while she was hurting badly on the inside, the strength I had to dig deep within to find and summon at the moment I realized that nothing on the outside will change; and most importantly a daily reminder of a renewed chance to live and make the most out of life.

Now when the gorgeous mother of two is given plastic surgery suggestions for her scar she responds with a cracking smile, “Well frankly, I’d rather get a nose job.”

#2 Habiba: I have been slain

No wait! This is no horror story, but it has got its share of pain and growth. Habiba (in the photo) 33 years old, has suffered from hyperthyroidism since 2007. In a relentless attempt to avoid surgery she tried different medication for years. Progress was minimal and a surgery became inevitable in 2014. At that point Habiba had to face her fears- of change to her body, of coping with new health issues, or simply of the unknown and what it may bring. The procedure was successful but it left Habiba with a deep scar along her neckline, and eventually a sense of self that is stronger than ever.

Initially she was uncomfortable and had to constantly explain her scar off as ‘temporary’. But it was not healing as it should. The weeks passed and it continued to glisten in the mirror, right back at her, day after day. “It was stubbornly unwilling to fade”. And to her surprise, the only thing that was really fading was her resentment for it.

Adorning my neckline like a priceless gem,persistently present and undeterred, it gradually grew on me. It reflected back my own stubbornness in a way and I decided to embrace it as it as part of who I am – a new part that I acquired by the simple process of living, and gaining and losing bits along the way.

Not only have I accepted it but I came to love it. That scar holds for me a moment in time- a moment when I had to face myself as I faced change, a moment when all my loved ones forgot their disputes (disputes that had marked most of my life up to this point) and simply united in love. The day I got my scar, my mother, father and sisters were finally in the same room, for the first time in years – and the last time forever. My father passed away suddenly four months later. Around the same time my sister had two consecutive miscarriages. It was a tough time. It passed! But it left a scar behind, the only visible part of an emotional journey. It remains to remind me of how I grew as a person and how we finally came together as a family to love one more time, hurt and heal, as one. Well, one minus a thyroid gland, two embryos and a father!

As the scar wove its threads into her very sense of being, it became much more difficult to explain it and unfair to be expected to. Tired of the frequent presumptions and the oblivious questioning, Habiba would cynically explain, “I have been slain but I am back to life, empowered as ever.”

The outer world sees only the ego in us and the ego exists in specific forms. These forms are easily labelled and judged- beautiful, ugly, bad etc. But the reality of who we are lies way beneath the forms we reflect to the world. We are the content of our stories, the product of our scars and the nourished souls beneath every healed wound.

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A Grudge – to hold or not to hold – that is the question 

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked, Gibran


Pain is an inevitable part of the human experience. We came to life so we shall experience it as part of living. However, to what extent we allow it to consume us, is a choice. 

Pain can be the biggest teacher of joy. Knowing it’s harsh gnawing within can make you look for its expanding opposite without. And when you know the sharpness of its blades you learn ways to soften the pangs of its thrusts. As Gibran beautifully puts it…

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight….

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed

As we go on in life things will happen that will aggravate, hurt, and harm us.  But we shall need to remember that these emotions are not here to stay – because they can consume us in the ugliest of ways. 

Love is the only emotion that is here to stay- love is the only energy that needs to keep flowing for as long as we are alive.  Because love heals- and empowers. And nothing feeds love more than appreciation – or a consistent ability to see the good and let go of the bad. And you let go of the bad only when you eye it with compassion and understanding. 

If l choose one value to teach my daughter, it would be appreciation- for herself, for others, for life. I want that when she has to walk away from a person or a situation, she walks away with love. I want her Not to remember ‘why’ she had to walk away but only that it feels good to be away. In other words, I want her to only seek peace and never hold a grudge. 

While pain is inevitable, happiness is possible. But a person who doesn’t have appreciation will never know how to be happy.

2016 – You Denied me a Year of my Daughter’s Life. 

“When I speak, my every word speaks of You. When I am silent, I ache for You.” Rabia 

I first knew real pain when I lost my first born to a list of congenital anomalies. Ozzy was diagnosed with the Warburg Micro Syndrome at the age of one. This genetic disorder snatched my baby and my dreams for him away- for good. I picked up the pieces, I learnt from the loss and I healed through loving and nurturing a child with no tomorrow (in the conventional sense). My goal became – to simply keep a smile on his face.

Three years later l was blessed with a beautiful and healthy daughter – a new love and different hopes: Taya. She enriched my life. The years passed joyfully; each of my children challenged me and taught me new things everyday.

I never had any other job (although there is nothing wrong with that). But I changed every nappy, prepared every meal and did every school run. I never missed an assembly or a birthday party. Taya and I scooted together to school everyday, cycled on weekends, messed up in the kitchen in the evenings- or she messed up and l shouted.

December was a special month for us. We went to every Christmas Fair, debated over the second hot chocolate she wanted, and took every opportunity to do what we do best together -Ice skating –  over the many rinks that adorn London during this festive month. But December has always been extra special for us because Taya’s birthday falls on Christmas Eve. She is my Christmas baby.

Life changed by the end of 2015. After living for 9 years in the UK I no longer had the right to stay for reasons out of my hands.

Beginning of 2016 I moved with my best friend and decided to put a fresh application for me and Ozzy who desperately needed to be in the UK. for his feeds, schooling and medical care. (While regular medication is missing in Egypt, the feeds on which he is dependent are completely unavailable. Not to mention that there are no facilities for blind children or there is any support for his complex needs). For Ozzy his life in the UK is a matter of survival. So I separated from Taya – for a short period – I had hoped.

A year has passed and my papers are still processing. I feel stuck because if I leave now I won’t be able to come back and I would be putting Ozzy’s life at risk. Taya was denied a visit visa three times, and every time we gave the home office extra guarantees of financial support and of her return- they still harshly refuse. They refuse an 8 year old the right to come visit her mother and disabled brother.

A year has passed I have not put my daughter to bed or woken her up in the morning. A year has passed without holding her in my arms, kissing, tickling and teasing. And for a year I have been sleep walking. That’s my second encounter with real pain – my distress as a mother is unimaginable. But that’s not the problem – the problem is that my child suffers too.

2016, you showed me the pain of separation as much as (I hope) you taught me the value of empathy and appreciation. But one fact remains – the lights of your festive season sparked no life in me.

2017 May you reunite me with both my children – without having me to choose between my love for one and the health and wellbeing of the other.

Help us by signing and sharing the petition please https://www.change.org/p/home-office-let-my-9-year-old-see-her-mummy-for-the-new-year?recruiter=false&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=whatsapp

The Day I Met a Guy who Killed

Sketch; Courtesy of my friend Marian Moravek

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live” Norman Cousins

Here he was sitting right next to me in an outdoor cafe on a chilly London night. His face was illumined by the heater that burned right above him. He was handsome, young, with glistening eyes and a charming smile – and he smiled a lot. Nothing about his looks or demeanor suggested blood, in any way.

An ordinary conversation evolved into a deeper one. Ideas exchanged and questions were asked. He had worked for the police forces. Yes – he has mentioned that at the beginning of our meeting. And suddenly it slipped out of me. Did you ever have to kill?  

 

The First time

One of the first missions I was assigned to was to arrest a suspect in a terrorist attack. Attempting to flee, he dashed through the desert as I chased after him with my regiment. But he suddenly disappeared. You don’t vanish in an open desert. As we stood bewildered and looking around, we suddenly heard gunshots from a distance. One of my guards fell to the ground as more gunshots were fired in our direction. Instantly and with outmost precision I fired back at the moving figure. I hit him and he dropped – dead. I did not have a choice….

‘I did not have a choice’ he repeated.  

 I lost my sleep and appetite completely for a week as the events of that day replayed in my mind over and over. I rethought and reevaluated the situation countless times – it could have not ended otherwise. Colleagues came and talked me out of my depressive state. Reminded me of those who lost their lives because of radicals like that man I just killed.  

 

Not a moral judgment, just my thought: The man came to represent an idea and the death of an idea is much more digestible to the mind than the death of a person.     

Killing as a group

The following two times he killed, death did not have a face.

These were confrontations between our forces and a group of terrorists. We don’t know who fired first. But there was an exchange of fire and human causalities were inevitable.

My thoughts:  A group conscience is probably more immune to the pain of a lost life. A group represents an ideology and an ideology is oblivious of the individual. 

Accidental killing
Leaving home for work one day, I stumbled upon two guys rushing in a motorcycle as one of them snatched a bag from a passing lady throwing her violently to the ground. I drove after them and hit their vehicle with mine – as they both fell, one got up and swiftly ran away. The other slowly got up and reached for a pistol that he pointed in my direction and fired. I reached for mine as quickly as possible and shot at his leg hoping to tip him off balance and to the ground – to arrest him. The bullet went right into his thigh rupturing his femoral artery, blood burst out and he died almost instantly.

My thoughts: Nothing!

As the stories unraveled with their intricate details, my mind numbed to the horror of killing – to the idea of a lost life. I numbed just like he numbed to it bit by bit. The first killing took its toll on him mentally and physically, the second less and less so.

“It chipped away a bit of the person you are; and that’s why it affected you less and less everytime. This is scary,” I finally said breaking the silence.   

In his mind there were good reasons, a ‘higher cause’ as he put it. As for me, there was nothing easier than to sit back and morally judge his actions. But I was suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling that that would be extremely unfair. If I did not enjoy a sense of security – one way or another – I would not possess the luxury of thought and contemplation. There are parts of life that are gruesome and someone has to deal with them after all! Hence, I decided to share his experiences and my thoughts free of a moral judgment – hopefully.

I faced death right in the face. I had to kill to defend myself and others, and I had to witness the death of colleagues with whom I shared meals, jokes and dreams of the future. And in a strange way it made me appreciate life – being alive – more.

“A thousand times we die in one life. We crumble, break, tear apart until the layers of illusion are burned away and all that is left, is the truth of who and what we really are” Teal Scott

Death may be the only truth in our lives, but when it touches us so closely, we inevitably change. Some people face situations where they must put their lives on the line, whether for duty or belief, but along the risk of losing their lives, and the innate urge to defend it – they lose pieces of themselves along the way. What fascinates me most about my friend’s experiences is how the mind works itself through the distress of taking a life.

The ‘mind’ is an interesting tool in devising reasons for what we want or have to do. While rationalism is much defended in this age, I could never solely trust a rational process. As young children we are fully reliant on our feelings to know, but as we grow and are socially conditioned, we learn to suppress our emotional intelligence. We learn fear. And fear disables both mind and heart, blurs our outlook and potentially enables us to hurt ourselves and others.

Terrorism is the byproduct of fear – but so are the means to ward it off.

As we go on in life, life leaves its scars on us; and the scars should teach us and liberate us from fear and limiting patterns of living, enabling us to live fully as mind, heart and soul- all in balance. It is an individual journey that does not complete without going inwards. 

Our journeys are different and some are rockier than others. Having to repeatedly face life or death situations and make choices accordingly, is not a path that everyone will walk. My friend did what he had to do at the time- but the choices inevitably left their scars on him. If he is content at heart with his choices I know he would continue to heal and evolve – for as much as he rationally justifies his motives, he still needs to reconcile his actions to his emotions. True self-nurtured emotions remain the more dynamic part of our human experience and inevitable to our learning journeys. May we all continue to learn. 

Separated from my Child – I Saw a World I Never Knew 

“In a gentle way … you can shake the world” Mahatma Gandhi

Our stories are largely dictated by our choices. So to start with I’m no victim of mine. I had choices – but they were difficult ones. At a point I chose to let my daughter go, while I stayed behind in another country trying to find a better life for my disabled son –  my child whom I was not able to help, but have learnt to accept and find contentment in his peace and happiness. And the smallest things made him happy – I couldn’t let that slip away too. So I let my daughter leave while I decided to remain in the UK to give him the chance to live on, and to live as a precious being. As I felt obliged to fight for one child, I had no intention to let the other pay for it. 
 

When I let my daughter leave with her father last January, I thought our separation will only last for a few months. She is with her father and a family that loves her dearly and takes good care of her; and thanks to modern technology we can stay perfectly connected. It will be hard but it shall pass. Little did I know then, that the few months will mount to a year, almost! And we are all still – painfully – waiting.

 

As I continue with my choice to stay and battle for my son- the child without a voice, without a choice – a bit of me shatters for the other child, every single day. 

 Many around me will not relate to my experience, because I don’t know anyone who would be away from their child for so long. And truth is, no one should. However, many do. Not from my world perhaps, but from the same world in which we all exist. 

My agonizing experience shook my world and brought me to a different place – a place where parents and children separate every day. Wars tear families apart, but poverty more so. Poverty does it silently but persistently and painfully. Domestic help in many households around the world come from impoverished countries. Countless mothers leave their little children behind, travel across boundaries to work and provide for their basic needs. They often even have to take care of other people’s children while they remain separated from their own, in some cases for years. Many have I seen myself in the households of family and friends, smiled in their faces, enjoyed their services and overlooked their pain. 

 

Have they had a choice? Yes, but it was between love and food, care and education, the presence of a mother or the sustenance of life itself – even if without love. It is wrong in every way. No mother should have to make this choice.

 My choice was hard but not as harsh. However, the pain made me reflect on other lives to which this destiny is inevitable – perhaps even the only way to survive. We think we are isolated and safe but truth is we are not separate in anyway. We actually have a responsibility towards those whose choices are painful because their conditions are dire. Voices that speak against poverty and disasters in remote parts of the world used to feel so removed – but we are the ones removed from the real world and its agonizing reality. And we are all responsible to reach out to those who suffer, even if they fall beyond our little boundaries.

 Last week my 8 year old daughter told me, “I want to write a story, the story of us, when life was perfect.” At this point you realize that your child has learnt loss – and now knows sorrow. 

My daughter battles with me, just like millions of children toil with the parents who left them behind – they toil emotionally. We make our choices to the best of our abilities and knowledge – and some come with painful consequences. But the pain should gain us more compassion, and perhaps take us beyond our personal troubles and limited worlds. I may not have solutions for myself and others but through my agony I wish to be a little voice – a voice for those who are not able to speak of their pain or to let the world know how harsh their choices were. 

The reason I write this is to undress a wound that drips freshly in my life every day. I expose it to the world as I realize it belongs not to me alone. Perhaps if we could all see a little, feel a little and reach out a bit more, we could then, in a “gentle way … shake the world.”

 

What is Love? A lingering Question

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“How often have you sailed in my dreams. And now you come in my awakening, which is my deeper dream” Khalil Gibran 

The notion of love has always bewildered me. There is a rise in the literature that strives to define it and explain this intricate life force, and yet I still find it as elusive as ever. And I have no intention to pin it down here either. In its ideal form, ‘love’ connotes various positive values like nurture, care, growth etc. However, stifling, obsessive, compulsive, are for some people expressions of love too, whether we like it or not.

Love takes many forms and guises depending on the type of relationship in which it thrives, but I’m interested mostly in romantic love. That high charge emotion that at moments gives us soul-expanding sensations and at others crushes our very sense of being.

As a teenager I used to follow celebrities’ life stories on “E! Entertainment Television” channel. I noticed a pattern that I didn’t quite understand back then. At the peak of a star’s career he or she often meets up with the ‘love of his life’ or ‘her soulmate’. Sweeping love comes in to crown professional achievement. But their career eventually suffers a dip. And life, more often than not, crumbles thereafter. Strangely enough the sweeping love fades too. Well, there is nothing actually strange here.

Your ability to love and be loved, has to do with what’s happening on the inside of you – more than anything. That’s why obsessiveness may seem like a form of love too, only for a person who is struggling on their growth path.  At the peak of their careers, stars and even regular people, reflect behaviour and feelings that are aligned with the high vibration of love. Thus, they attract seemingly perfect love. The problem is that they attach much of their professional success to their sense of self and when they lose that, they concomitantly lose the love.

It is a wise advice not to get into a relationship before having some stability in your life, but I would add to that a strong sense of self too – a self that is enriched by both successes and failures. The ability to love stems from the ability to hold one’s self and another in a constant state of appreciation. It takes a healed person to be able to love.

Only when you can find this connection with yourself that you can find it with another. That’s why this deep soulful connection, where you see part of yourself in the other – hold their gaze, share their breath and be able to unite physically, spiritually and mentally with them, is very rare to find. In fact, people can go through lifetimes before realizing that this enchantment can actually exist. Most people merely couple with others not to be alone, hoping that this ‘other’ would fill the gaps in their lives and offer something special that would make life worth living. But of course, it never works that way. You need to make life worth living first. Only then, perhaps, when you say I love you- it means I’m secure enough to lose myself in you.

 

Why do we have to Reincarnate?

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Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting” William Wandsworth

You, as a soul, must see it all. Different experiences enrich our souls – only how many can you experience in a lifetime?  And how many can one life offer you anyway?

Which parts of you would withhold in the face of war and devastation? Would you entertain the same principles if you had to deal with dire poverty or unaccountable wealth? How much of the same person you are today would you be in a more challenging circumstance?

I was first introduced to the idea of reincarnation at the age of nine. Overhearing my parents discuss it one night with friends, they explained that we – as souls – take different physical forms and come into one life after the other. Exciting, I thought – so I lived before – in a different time and place! Being the child I was then, I didn’t think much of it, went to bed that night and never revisited the idea for the next 23 years.

Three years ago I read Many lives Many Masters by Brian Weiss. By that time, I had gone through this life for some time and have had my share of the pain. I suddenly remembered – and have been remembering since.    

Many Lives Many Masters

This book recounts the transformation of an established psychiatrist after a very ‘unconventional’ encounter with one of his patients. Dr. Brian Weiss was a prominent psychiatrist, graduate of Yale and at the peak of his career, at the Mount Sinai hospital in New York. As a typical student of western medicine, he has always been a huge skeptic of spiritual forces. This, until he met Catherine. Treating her for her anxiety and phobias, Weiss hypnotized her in an attempt to regress her to her childhood and come to the core of her fears. To his surprise, Catherine recounted in her hypnotic state the details of a past life where she was caught up in a flood and died drowning. He was baffled. It made no sense to him. Catherine on the other hand, was significantly relieved by the memory. Keeping an open mind, Weiss researched the phenomenon of past lives. As evidence of reincarnation mounted before his eyes – from both his subsequent sessions with Catherine and the existing literature – he was born into a new dimension of thought.

This book enticingly narrates his journey from a pragmatic rationalist to a spiritual teacher – a pioneer in healing through past life regression today.  Just to remind you that Weiss was at the peak of his career when he came upon the notion of reincarnation and coming out with the story of Catherine, at that time, jeopardized his career. Nevertheless, he felt it was his calling and finally gave in to publishing the story three years later in Many Lives Many Masters.

 

Mission Impossible: Reconciling Reincarnation to Religion and Science  

Before I go on and on about reincarnation and how it finally made things fall into place for me, I feel a need to touch on its irreconcilable relation with religion and science – although I’m no expert on either.

Reincarnation is not an unfamiliar concept to followers of Abrahamic religions; some Christian, Islamic and Judaic thinkers found evidence to it in their holy texts and rendered plausible arguments. However, none of these arguments has ever been integrated into the mainstream teachings – and I doubt they shall ever be.  Nevertheless, when you reflect on the phenomenon of a soul having many chances to learn through multiple lifetimes – it seems immensely merciful.

As for science, well, there are many case studies of children with past life memories – countless have been investigated, validated and aptly documented in the literature. One impressive scholarly collection is Reincarnation : A New Horizon in Science, Religion, and Society. Notable too, is the work of world renowned psychiatrists Ian Stevenson and Jim B Ticker. Some of their reported findings are that 60% of children who recall past life memories are boys and 70% of those who remember at all, have died violently or unexpectedly in their former lives. http://uvamagazine.org/articles/the_science_of_reincarnation

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However, rationalists are hard to appease. Initially, my intention was to render some insight into the relation between quantum physics and the soul- or that life energy within us. But being the non-scientific person I am, reading through the modules proved to be an exhausting drudgery. However, I recommend The Physics of the Soul by Amit Goswami, for those who may wish to investigate the matter further. So left-brainers knock yourselves out!

In all cases this is not the place to debate the scientific and religious grounds of reincarnation, I’m only sharing my take here. 

Reincarnation and Suffering

As I contemplated reincarnation, the absurdity of suffering made some sense – for the first time.  Each one of us is a soul that came forth from a divine source and has to earn its way back to source, once and for all. How? By inhabiting different bodies and experiencing various aspects of physical existence. Through each life we face challenges, know pain, and learn lessons. And the lessons are the key for the soul to transcend.

We live a variety – we are sometimes born into perfect health and abundance but we also need to know poverty and deprivation. Extreme contrasts may occur in one lifetime but more often they require multiple lives. At times we make a choice to be kind and forgiving and at others, spiteful or resentful. Each life will provide us with the lessons that our souls need to learn – but we shall make the choice to either grow or grudge. This is why we experience pain. It is not to settle debts from past lives that most of us can’t remember anyway, but to be challenged to evolve. Intolerance and acts of injustice in one lifetime, would for sure script the conditions we shall face in our next life. We won’t recall our incarnational mistakes. And we will shatter with the pain. But the pain belongs to our physical existence – and is here to simply nudge us out of it. When we remember that we are non-physical beings, our worldly attachments ease and we connect to the divine. We allow it to show through us. We reflect that very source of life.

The more of us tap-in, the smoother our journey. Because not only individual souls need to complete their journey, humanity as a unit does too. History narrates horrors, rendered lessons and inspired trains of thought. Nevertheless, we are far from healing. We still suffer and we make others suffer. Every time an individual acts from a place of anger we all suffer, we all fall back; and every act of kindness, helps us heal and forwards our journey.

I am the other person – that I hate, I hurt, I judge. I am that very despised ‘other’ because we sprang from the same source; and because I shall take his form the very next time, see the world from his eyes and know his pain. We all pay for the pain, because we are the same. Collectively we bear the suffering and collectively we need to alleviate it. Every choice we make affects our journey and that of others who share this field of consciousness. If we see ourselves as souls – interconnected – heading in the same direction we will think our choices through. We need to see it all, live it all until we realize we are ALL. Only then can we unite back to the Oneness – which we have always been.