As I sank into the wonderfully plush massage bed this afternoon, my face cradled in that circular pillow and my body limp with relaxation, I started to tear up. The soft music mimicking the hums of nature (sans chirping crickets) soothed me and imbued me with a sense of meditative mindfulness that I ironically have not yet been able to achieve through meditation itself. I embraced this newfound zen and almost immediately started to cry.
“I don’t deserve this,” I told myself, “there are people just like me all over the world who are currently suffering and grieving and being mistreated and here I am getting a Swedish massage just because I’m feeling sore. Well BOO-FREAKING-HOO.”
“I could be doing things that actually HELP people instead of wasting my time being self-centered and removed from the reality of the world” , I told myself in a less than kind tone.
As recently as a year ago I would’ve let the conversation end there. My takeaway from the dialogue would be that
1) I’m an ungrateful and undeserving person and that
2) People were suffering because of me. These conjectures might seem a little far out, but they inhabited my thought space for so much of my life.
Today, I didn’t let the conversation stop there. I let my clarity take the wheel and immediately questioned the intrusive thoughts.
“Sure, I don’t deserve this,” I said, “but do people dying every second deserve to die, or do people starving deserve to starve? Of course not! No one deserves anything but we are given different things and it is our God given duty to do what we can with those to spread love and goodness.”
My diatribe on the intrusive thoughts continued.
“If getting this massage makes me feel good, I am better equipped to DO good. I give to charity both through finances and time. Heck, I want my whole life to be centered on giving back! I deserve to treat myself, and doing so now and then does NOT make me a bad person!“
Long-winded from my rant, I relaxed again and sunk into the bed. I felt zen wash over me again and gratitude silence my thoughts.
I am incredibly privileged. I’ve always had a roof over my head, amazing parents to wipe my tears, and the finances to live more than comfortably. As a pre-teen, I engaged in more than one episode of complaining and whining “tantrums” over things as trivial as not getting a shirt from the Jonas Brothers concert or finding out my surprise birthday present before my actual birthday. I know. Tragic.
Despite what my 12- year-old tantrums might suggest, I also have always had an innate call to serve those who do not have the same privileges as me. Whether visiting my family in Pakistan and observing all the poverty-stricken areas with utter sadness or walking down the streets of Chicago and trying to read cardboard signs with sharpied cries for help on them, I have felt compelled to reach out to those who are afflicted with poverty and troubled circumstances. I’m tremendously grateful for this call I have been given and genuinely want to center my life in pursuit of it. But for far too long, I have interpreted my call to service to be in opposition with the life I live.
I have always believed that I couldn’t be a giving and service centered person unless I lived beneath my means and just allowed myself to scrape by. Anyways, I thought, I did not deserve all of the blessings that I had and so I should live as if they weren’t there.
I guess I probably adhered to the mantra followed by the Abnegation faction (from the Divergent series): “I choose to turn away from my reflection, to rely not on myself but on my brothers and sisters, to project always outward until I disappear.”
I don’t know about you but I think we need to reflect on our reflection in order to properly give back to others! If we are giving every second of every day, we will inevitably get worn out. If we care for ourselves, we can better care for others.
The Qur’an emphasizes the importance of spending money in the way of God. Charity (Zakat) is one of the five central tenants, or pillars of the Faith. Similarly, giving in charity is emphasized in each of the Abrahamic faiths. It is undoubtedly important and essential. At the same time, none of these Holy Texts ask that we give everything we own away.
Spending on ourselves (in moderation) is one way of being gracious for all that we are given! By taking care of ourselves, we allow ourselves to be more effective in helping others and honoring God.
I still struggle with the thoughts that I don’t “deserve” things that I have been blessed with, but I counter these thoughts with the reminder that life is not about getting what we “deserve” but rather about spreading goodness in whichever way we can.
I realize now that I do not have to deprive myself of things that I need or want.
Now that the message is over, my muscles feel relieved of pain and I am more productively writing this piece that I hope resonates with someone out there.