We are sentient beings. Pain is a composite part of the human experience.
“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?” [Qur’an 29:2]
It is not possible to deny the human experience of emotional and mental pain. But our emotional and mental stability depends upon our ability to understand the reason for pain and the benefit within it. The term “mental health” is used to describe emotional struggles. But there seems to be a reluctance to admit that our mental health hinges upon our spiritual health. Everything is connected. If your diet is poor and you are not exercising, your mental health and your spiritual health will be impacted, not only your physical.
In Giulia Enders, The Gut, she writes
“Anyone who suffers from anxiety or depression should remember that an unhappy gut can be the cause of an unhappy mind. Sometimes, the gut has a perfect right to be unhappy, if it is dealing with an undetected food intolerance, for example. We should not always blame depression on the brain or on our life circumstances – there is much more to us than that.”
“Grumpiness, happiness, insecurity, wellbeing, and worry do not originate in isolation in the mind. We are human beings, with arms and legs, genitals, a heart, lungs and a gut. Science’s concentration on the brain has long blinded us to the fact that our ‘self’ is made up of more than just our grey matter.”
Enders focus is on gut health. My focus is on spiritual health.
It is central to our survival that we learn how to reconcile and make peace with pain’s arrival in our lives and rest in hope and assurance that there is khair within it and that it will, like all things, come to depart. Islam provides this toolkit.
Know that Allah writes a quota of hardship and ease for everyone. Absolutely no one can escape their share of ease or hardship.
The greatest spiritual beings that ever walked upon this earth endured the greatest hardships and they are the most favoured by Allah. Nuh (AS) lost everything and everyone in the great flood. He endured centuries of preaching the truth only to be rejected by most. Ibrahim (AS) was tested to put the knife upon the neck of his beloved son, he was engulfed by a fire and rejected and hunted down by his own father and his people. Yusuf (AS) was thrown in a well by his brothers and left for dead, then sold as a slave to a household where he would be sexually harassed and then thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit. Yaqub (AS) would mourn the loss of his son Yusuf (AS) and go blind with grief and Allah describes him as the one with “a beautiful patience” [Qur’an 12:18]. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the best of mankind, was rejected by his people and exiled from his hometown, he lost and buried his own sons, his beloved wife Khadija (RA) and suffered the greatest and most unfathomable pain and losses.
The stronger your emaan, the harder the questions on your exam paper and in spite of your spiritual tools being sharper, you’re also the most lucrative target for shaitaan. Forget not that he delights in coming at you from all angles.
“[Satan] said, “Because You have put me in error, I will surely sit in wait for them on Your straight path. Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful [to You].”
And Salamah Ibn Dinar al-Madani said, “every blessing that does not bring you closer to Allah is [really] a calamity.”
“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.” [Qur’an 57:20]
Thus we must perceive our struggles in a much more positive light than the secular framework permits. The secular solution to mental health seems to arrest itself in the paradigm of acknowledgement of pain. The secular solution demands that others validate our pain and through this validation and acknowledgement, we are somehow provided healing. But this is a very limited framework that in actual fact will keep the sufferer locked inside a cycle of pain. Until we revise our perception of pain and struggle in life, we will continue to respond to it in the same defeatist manner.
Islam provides the tools to enable us to perceive our struggles in a much more mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy way.
In the Problem of Pain, C S Lewis talks about pain as the necessary conduit to proximity to God. Without pain, one would not be desperate for God’s help. Indeed without pain, one would be heedless. It is difficult to feel thankfulness and to praise God when everything goes swimmingly well all the time. It is only after hardship that we come to truly appreciate ease. It is only during hardship that we forge a stronger connection and reliance on God, realising in the midst of our greatest storm that fellow man is incapable of assisting you through a storm through which only God can guide you.
In a secular existence, people are ever more conditioned to rely on each other. Rely upon those, who, like us are limited in their knowledge, understanding and experience of our struggles. Those, who like us are going through their own struggles. Those whose time is limited, whose capacity is limited, whose very existence is limited. It is like the blind leading the blind.
“And whoever turns away from My remembrance – indeed, he will have a depressed life, and We will gather him on the Day of Resurrection blind.” He will say, “My Lord, why have you raised me blind while I was [once] seeing?” [ Allah ] will say, “Thus did Our signs come to you, and you forgot them; and thus will you this Day be forgotten.”
Q: Don’t want to be depressed anymore?
A: Remember God.
“Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah . Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.”
On pain, Khalil Gibran writes:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.