Sacred Monotony - Part 4 - Focus, Intention & Gratitude

Sacred Monotony - Part 4 - Focus, Intention & Gratitude
وَمَا ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَآ إِلَّا لَعِبٌۭ وَلَهْوٌۭ ۖ وَلَلدَّارُ ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةُ خَيْرٌۭ لِّلَّذِينَ يَتَّقُونَ ۗ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ

This worldly life is no more than play and amusement, but far better is the ˹eternal˺ Home of the Hereafter for those mindful ˹of God. Will you not then understand?

— Quran 6:32

In Part 3 we looked at how our purpose in this life is to know God; to be mindful of Him and thankful in all moments. We explored various prescriptions for spiritual maladies and how to better know God — but how do we adjust the underlying spiritual condition? How do we help ourselves to be strong, present and mindful people in the moment?

How do we become healthy people spiritually? So that we naturally find ourselves leaning on God — regularly in a state of mindfulness and remembrance of Him?

Love & Purpose

يُسَبِّحُ لِلَّهِ مَا فِى ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَمَا فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ ۖ لَهُ ٱلْمُلْكُ وَلَهُ ٱلْحَمْدُ ۖ وَهُوَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَىْءٍۢ قَدِيرٌ

هُوَ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَكُمْ فَمِنكُمْ كَافِرٌۭ وَمِنكُم مُّؤْمِنٌۭ ۚ وَٱللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ

خَلَقَ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضَ بِٱلْحَقِّ وَصَوَّرَكُمْ فَأَحْسَنَ صُوَرَكُمْ ۖ وَإِلَيْهِ ٱلْمَصِيرُ

يَعْلَمُ مَا فِى ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا تُسِرُّونَ وَمَا تُعْلِنُونَ ۚ وَٱللَّهُ عَلِيمٌۢ بِذَاتِ ٱلصُّدُورِ

Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth ˹constantly˺ glorifies Allah. The kingdom is His, and all praise is for Him. For He is Most Capable of everything.

He is the One Who created you, yet some of you are disbelievers while some are believers. And Allah is All-Seeing of what you do.

He created the heavens and the earth for a purpose. He shaped you ˹in the womb˺, perfecting your form. And to Him is the final return.

He knows whatever is in the heavens and the earth. And He knows whatever you conceal and whatever you reveal. For Allah knows best what is ˹hidden˺ in the heart.

— Qur’an 64:1-4

At the heart of this practice is the acceptance that all things in the universe were created by God and that naturally everything including the mountains, the plants, the stars and the planets all submit to Him and worship Him (in their own unique ways).

Approaching one’s day with this mindset we can take the time to savour things, focus on them and appreciate the beauty in them. We can be grateful and say alhumdulillah (All praise is due to God) for the beauty in all the little things.

وَفِى ٱلْأَرْضِ ءَايَـٰتٌ لِّلْمُوقِنِينَ

"There are ˹countless˺ signs on earth for those with sure faith" —Quran 51:20

This sacred-knowledge comes with the accompanying bliss of knowing our creator, knowing all He has done for us and all that He will do for us. Knowing this, we feel the comfort and safety of his presence, along with experiencing the awe of his unending majesty.

Experiencing Love in the moment

We know from a saying of the messenger that:

نَهَى رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَنْ نَقْرَةِ ا

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) prohibited pecking like a crow [when praying]

This saying of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) refers to praying. Specifically praying so quickly that the motions of one’s prayers begin to resemble the quick up and down pecking of a bird who is pecking seeds from the ground. This rushed state flies in the face of mindfulness and taqwa.

Unfortunately, when in a rush, one’s prayers can sometimes become a series of rushed moments between other commitments. Instead of this, we can transform our prayer into something more meaningful by savouring the moment, and performing our prayers conscientiously, and with clear intention. Not just treating them like a task to get done and cleared out of the way, but taking them as an opportunity to reflect and connect with our creator.

A key to bettering our prayer is rectifying our intention before beginning to pray. As well as disconnecting from other things that may be pre-occupying our mind — forgetting what we were focused on before, and not giving headspace to the next thing we will do after prayer either. Instead we focus whole-heartedly on what we are doing and make it our desire to connect with our creator. Reflecting on His favour upon us, our gratitude and in that, praising and thanking Him.

Focus in all things

This same distraction that plagues many of us in prayer, extends to other aspects of modern life. With distractions today it can be very hard to live in the moment and be present and attentive to what we’re doing.

When eating we may be watching TV at the same time instead of really savouring our food. When working we may be listening to the radio in the background or have our phone by our side that is preventing us from concentrating fully.

This isn’t always the worst thing, sometimes we want to relax and have some snacks while watching TV. Sometimes we want to message a friend while also working on something slowly and steadily. For most things in life however, that are of any serious value, they require and deserve our focus.

If we’re at a fine restaurant and savouring the food, we wouldn’t do that while watching TV at the same time. Likewise if we’re working on a challenging problem at work, it requires our attention and focus — we’re not going to work well if we’re also messaging our friends or colleagues at the same time.

Much else has been written around focus (deep-work and flow), but a simple rule of thumb is to avoid multi-tasking. When we’re doing something we should give that task its right, and be present in the moment. Focus and intention allows us to fulfil that task, to the best of our ability.

Often we will find that when we put our phone away, disconnect from social media, and focus on a given task we will end up doing much better work, in much less time. This time of focus and presence lets us be much more invested in our work, our social lives, our prayer or whichever other task may be at hand.

Intention in the moment

This sense of intentionality is really important, focusing on what is important, why we’re doing it and focusing on our intention and goals at any given time. This mindfulness helps us to feel purpose in our lives as well as helping us to focus on what is important to us in both the long and the short term.

"رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، يَقُولُ : " إِنَّمَا الْأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ، وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى

"The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, "Indeed actions are considered by intentions, and a person will get the reward according to his intention." [Sahih]

Similarly during our times of relaxation, we should bring intention into what we’re doing. If we want to relax for a few hours instead of working, we should do that, and work out the most relaxing thing for us. Whether that is going to see a nice film, reading a book, cooking a meal or even just taking a nap! But the important thing is to be intentional and do what we know will be best for our souls and worshipping Allah.

Even something as simple as taking a nap after work can be worship if we’re doing it with the intention of recharging for a bit, allowing us to have a better evening where we spend time with our family and perform our final prayers of the day being well-rested.

Nowadays it is so easy to fall into to the trap of just doing whatever is easiest and we’re used to, as opposed to planning what is actually best for us (and most enjoyable)! For example we may just spend time checking the news, flicking through social media, Instagram or Twitter just because we can. Just like flicking through the TV we want something to do with our thumbs, without thinking about what our intention is or what it is we actually want and need.

By stopping and spending just thirty seconds we can think about what will be best for us. What is most enjoyable for us, most important to us, and most pleasing to Allah.

فَـَٔامِنُوا۟ بِٱللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِۦ وَٱلنُّورِ ٱلَّذِىٓ أَنزَلْنَا ۚ وَٱللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌۭ

يَوْمَ يَجْمَعُكُمْ لِيَوْمِ ٱلْجَمْعِ ۖ ذَٰلِكَ يَوْمُ ٱلتَّغَابُنِ ۗ وَمَن يُؤْمِنۢ بِٱللَّهِ وَيَعْمَلْ صَـٰلِحًۭا يُكَفِّرْ عَنْهُ سَيِّـَٔاتِهِۦ وَيُدْخِلْهُ جَنَّـٰتٍۢ تَجْرِى مِن تَحْتِهَا ٱلْأَنْهَـٰرُ خَـٰلِدِينَ فِيهَآ أَبَدًۭا ۚ ذَٰلِكَ ٱلْفَوْزُ ٱلْعَظِيمُ

So believe in Allah and His Messenger and in the Light We have revealed. And Allah is All-Aware of what you do.

˹Consider˺ the Day He will gather you ˹all˺ for the Day of Gathering—that will be the Day of mutual loss and gain. So whoever believes in Allah and does good, He will absolve them of their sins and admit them into Gardens under which rivers flow, to stay there for ever and ever. That is the ultimate triumph.

— Qur’an 64:8-9