The Oxford dictionary defines mindfulness as: focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, especially as part of a therapeutic or meditative technique.
Have you ever driven from A to B without noticing much along the journey, as though on ‘autopilot’? Well, for a lot of us, this is our normal state of being – our mind is racing from thought to thought with no focus on the present moment. A good description of this state of mind could be heedlessness, or even unconsciousness.
How can we become more mindful?
Simply put, It is a matter of practice. Start by using your five senses: as I type this, I am paying attention to the feel of the keyboard and the noise of the keys as I press them. Notice the sensation of the water on your skin as you perform wudhu. Observe the colour of the sky and the movement of the clouds. This may seem boring, but once you begin to cultivate such awareness, mindfulness will be easier to achieve and may even become second nature.
Try eating your iftar meal more mindfully and notice your bodily sensations. Eat slowly and chew deliberately, savouring the taste and texture of everything. Listen to your body and stop when your stomach feels full. Eating in this way will encourage you to slow down and take your time as well as reduce stress and aid digestion.
Mindfulness can also be described as ‘awareness of one’s awareness’ and ‘self-awareness of what is really going on inside your heart and mind,’ i.e, your inner thoughts as your mind races from this to that.
For Muslims, the religious equivalent of mindfulness is muraqabah, which is the state of being aware of oneself in relation to Allah i.e. we should know that Allah is always watching us and therefore we should give more attention to our thoughts, feelings and inner state of being as well as our outward actions.
Just as the Majestic Quran itself states:
Believers, be mindful of Allah and search for ways to draw close to Him and strive in His way, so you may be successful.5:35
Mindfulness in Salah
Imam Al-Ghazali’s book, Inner dimensions of Islamic Worship, enlightens us that:
- Salah has been made the chief pillar of religion
- The criteria for distinguishing between Islam and unbelief
- Salah takes precedence over the pilgrimage and other forms of worship
- It is the mainstay of conviction, the chief of good works and the best act of obedience
Imam Al-Ghazali further explains that during salah, ones mind should be fully focused in what one is saying and doing. The recitation must be expressive of what is in the heart and mind, and this is not possible without conscious awareness.
Salah is an intimate conversation between the Lord and His creation, so how can those reciting without engaging the heart be conversing properly?
Having presence during our salah is therefore an absolute obligation if our efforts are to be accepted. This is where mindfulness can help us in our ritual prayer. If we can master mindfulness, we can pray with full focus and attention on what we are actually reciting instead of mechanically reciting whilst our mind races from thought to thought. May Allah forgive us.
Tips for firstly reducing external distractions:
- Pray with congregation or in a darkened and quiet room
- Turn off mobile/radio/tv etc.
- Lower the eyes
- Remove any distracting objects in range of your vision
- Reduce your range of vision by praying up near a wall
- Avoid decorative prayer mats
Tips for achieving conscious awareness:
- Adjust your mindset beforehand by reminding yourself about the hereafter
- Learn the meaning of the Arabic recitation to understand what you are reciting
- Focus on each and every word with you heart and soul
- Whenever your mind wanders, bring your focus back to the words you are reciting and keep doing this
- Be in awe and reverence of the Lord
- Hope that he accepts your humble efforts
- Be aware of your own shortcomings
Mindfulness in fasting
Imam Al-Ghazali states that there are 3 grades of fasting. Ordinary fasting, which is when we simply refrain from eating and drinking for a period of time, special fasting, which means keeping the ears, eyes, tongue, hands and feet and all other organs free from sin, and extra-special fasting, which means ‘fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts in total disregard of anything but Allah.’ This kind of fast is broken as soon as you think of anything other than Allah and the hereafter. Only the Prophets and Saints can observe this fast.
As ordinary mortals however, it is within our power to skip ordinary fasting and aspire to special fasting. Watch the video below to learn more about mindfulness in fasting.
Experts say it takes 21 days to develop a habit. In Ramadhan we have 30 days, so plenty of time to develop good habits, insha-Allah.