By Nadia Cassim
Consciousness, also known by the terms enlightenment and awareness, according to Eckhart Tolle (one of the world’s leading spiritual teachers at the moment) can be achieved through Presence¹. According to Tolle, Presence is “still and alert attention in human beings’ perceptions”². By practicing Presence a human being can “sense the divine life essence, the one indwelling consciousness or spirit in every creature, life form…”²
This teaching is not something new to Islam or the holy prophets (peace be upon them). In fact, one could say that all divine revelation was imparted to these spiritual teachers, through Presence. We are, as Muslims, aware of the fact that our beloved Nabi Muhammad (PBUH) received his first Divine revelation in the cave of Hira, housed in the ‘The Mountain of Light’ (Jabal an-Nour). Nabi Muhammad (PBUH) would sit for hours on end, meditating and contemplating on the wonders of creation. Meditation is a deep introspection of one’s very existence and place in creation and in order to gain such a perspective we are advised by the Almighty to take a deeper (conscious) look at His magnificence, manifested in His wondrous creation:
2:164. Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation and the sequence of the night and the day and in the ships that sail in the ocean carrying the things which are useful to the people and in the water which Allâh sends down from the clouds with which He brings the dead earth in to life and (in) all sorts of crawling animals which He has spread all over it and (in) the turning about of the winds and (in) the clouds subjected to (His) law between the heavens and the earth, there are, indeed, signs for a people who use their understanding.
So then, how does all this translate to the gift of Ramadan? Allah explains that fasting has been ordained for us as well as for those who came before us (Quran: 2:183). We are also aware of the fact that the Holy Quran was revealed in this lunar month, speaking to its significance on many levels, especially spiritually. When Ramadan approaches, we often have scholars and people alike advise us to increase our supplications, seek forgiveness and give more to the needy. We are given prayers to be read, repetitiously, daily even, and told what acts are more pleasing to our Creator, than others. How, I ask you then, can the benefits of these acts be maximised? Personally, I believe that when we perform these acts with consciousness and increased Presence, we can reap the true benefit of the Holy month of Ramadan as described in the Quran.
How do we grow our consciousness then? Eckhart Tolle says that Presence can assist us in growing our consciousness¹. Presence is about stilling the mind and stepping away from our egos. Stilling our mind is something that takes a lot of practice. We need to literally stop associating with our minds. This means that we need to stop all thought and patterns of thought and be in the ‘now’, the present moment, completely.
The ego can be defined as a false sense of self. This is when everything we believe of ourselves comes from a mental perception of who we are. Tolle terms this “The Illusory Self”³. He also explains that “What you refer to when you say “I” is not who you are. By a monstrous act of reductionism, the infinite depth of who you are is confused with a sound produced by the vocal chords or the thought of “I” in your mind and whatever the “I” has identified with”⁴. In other words, we have developed a sense of who we are through our mind, not our inner-being or our real essence, our souls.
Allah states in the Quran that in the creation of a human being made of earth (clay), He breathed into him of His Spirit (732:7-9). Hence, it can be said that the human being is not what his or her mind says it is, but rather a physical extension of its true nature (A soul made of light). I have to assert here that our beloved Nabi Muhammad (PBUH) was devoid of ego. From various narratives on his life, we are most certainly reminded of his humility and love for humanity as a whole. Being chosen as a recipient of Divine Revelation is testament to this fact as well.
Tolle also explains that human beings have become very much attached to form. Form can be defined as things such as, a car, house, item of clothing etc as well as a role we emerge ourselves in such as a mother, wife, business person etc. Associating oneself with form is an act of the ego. If you want to grow your consciousness, he explains, you need to stop identifying with the things around you, or the ownership of such things¹.
Taking the above into consideration, practicing Ramadan consciously could be achieved by applying the following tools:
- When performing any act of worship, perform it with Presence. This means stilling the mind and becoming focused on the very act of worship without your mind wandering off, whether it is making wudhu, praying salaah, seeking forgiveness etc.
- When practicing the Sunnah acts of Suhoor and Ifthaar, practice it consciously. Still your mind. Be mindful of what you are eating or preparing yourself for (the upcoming fast, performing Taraweeh).
- When performing a good deed, do it without seeking praise or without taking credit for it. Do it in the absence of ego.
- Abstain from engaging with form (material objects, things, roles etc) that are unnecessary. Our roles as mothers, or wives, to prepare glorious ifthaar meals can be a distraction if we immerse ourselves in such tasks completely. We often make a huge deal about shopping for Eid clothing as well, or spending our time daily looking for “new things to put on the menu”. Abstain from showing off your new BMW at the garage after taraweeh. These acts are deeply distracting on a daily basis. Abstain from any act that takes you away from connecting on a deeper level with who you really are as a servant of Allah.
- Practice I’tikâf consciously and with Presence. I’tikâf, mentioned in the Quran (2:187) and fabulously exampled by our beloved Nabi Muhammad (PBUH) has a profound wisdom to it. Allah forbids husband and wife to approach each other in this time as well, indicating the importance of seclusion and introspection to heighten one’s consciousness. Only in solitude and quiet can our spiritual selves manifest. It is no wonder that Lailatul Qadr (the night of majesty) occurs during one of these sublime nights!
May the Almighty accept our acts of worship, forgiveness and charity during this holy month and may our act of fasting, abstaining from ‘form’ assist us in our connection with our Creator. Ameen.
¹ Tolle, Eckhart. 2015: A New Earth, Penguin Random House, United Kingdom
² Tolle, Eckhart. 2015: A New Earth, Penguin Random House, United Kingdom, pg 4
³ Tolle, Eckhart. 2015: A New Earth, Penguin Random House, United Kingdom, pg 27
⁴ Tolle, Eckhart. 2015: A New Earth, Penguin Random House, United Kingdom, pg 28