Mindlessness

I often find myself in the last prostration of my prayer wondering where it all went. Which verses did I read this time? Did I pray 3 or 4 rakas?  What’s worse is when I continue a train of thought right through the tasleem. I’m thinking about what to make for dinner while doing the tashahud, saying Assalamu Alaikum to the angels, and while I put my prayer clothes away. It’s as if there is no transition between the task of praying and the routine planning I have to do for my day.

Ukhhhhhh … I can’t believe it, how could I have prayed my whole prayer and still not recall a thing from it?!?! Clearly my prayer is not fulfilling its deeply meaningful purpose if I can’t even remember performing most of its tenants! Sometimes when my mind drifts back into the task of prayer itself, I think ‘Aren’t you embarrassed to stand in front of Allah like this and think about other things?!’. The Prophet of Allah swt taught us to face Allah during our prayers. He told us that Allah swt faces us so long as we are facing Him. When a slave of Allah turns away from Him though, Allah also turns away. The scary thing is that this might not just mean physically turning. What about spiritually turning away? What if your body is here in the prayer and your heart is off somewhere else. What are you saying to Allah swt, the Master of all creation, when you choose to think about the mundane of this trivial world while He is facing you? Is dinner really so important?!!?!!

Usually that helps me get back on track. But surely, soon my mind wanders again. It’s as though I am completely unable to focus.

Outside of prayer, I find that I’m usually trying to fit as many tasks and thoughts into a single moment. Concentration seems almost antithetical to what I spend most of my time trying to do: more tasks in less time. I’m not really sure what I’m planning on doing with all that extra time I seem to be trying to squeeze out of every task. I’m surely not using it to pray more or improve my spirituality. This prayer flaw is not simply a matter of time, it’s a matter of attention. Even short on time, one can focus in. Regardless of how much I expand the length of my prayer though, it won’t gain meaning unless I invest my attention wholly.

I am left with the task of training my mind and heart to focus. My stamina is low. I don’t have much practice in devoting my full and undivided attention to any one thing. But for the sake of my soul, I know I need to start practicing.

I want to bring my mind back into my prayer.

Haste

I don’t know why, but I am always in a rush. I always feel like I’m behind in getting to one thing or another. It’s always about getting to the next thing, even when there isn’t really any reason to race the clock. Maybe it has something to do with our American culture of getting things done, maybe its a personality trait, regardless, I’m always in a hurry.

Unfortunately, my prayer has not been spared. I rush to make wudu (better yet if I have it already from some ambiguous ‘before’). I rush to start, up down up down up down, tashahud. All done. I read shorter suwar or duaa. I rush to be done with the whole thing. I get up quickly, stash my prayer clothes away and run off to the next errand. I rush even if there really is no rush; even if after prayer all I do is sit there and surf the internet on my cell. It’s like rushing has become part of the ritual. How fast can you get it done?!

I’m not talking about the I-have-to-leave-in-the-middle-of-class-to-catch-prayer scenario. I mean when you have it easy; when there really isn’t much going on or the thing you’re going to do next isn’t so time sensitive. There’s this feeling that this prayer thing that I do is a mandatory chore that must be done in order to be done. . It’s not associated with deep feelings of spirituality and conversation.

The whole point of prayer is slowing dowwwwwwnn. It’s a time to pull yourself out of the routine and into a spiritual experience that energizes you. Rushing in prayer not only compromises its purpose but it can even lead to its invalidation. What’s the point of praying if you’re just hurrying to do the next thing after it. How spiritually uplifting can the experience be if all you want to do is get it done and cross it off the to do list?!!

The Prophet (s) alluded to this when he mentioned that a person who ‘pecks’ in his prayer is like a hungry man who only eats a few dates, what good will that do his hunger? Our souls get hungry. They need their own sustenance just as our bodies and minds do. When I rush through my prayer I’m barely giving myself enough to hold over until the next prayer. If I was physically hungry and had plenty of food in front of me, would I take just a few bites? Why do I feel like I can do that to my soul? If there is no physical urgency waiting for me, why rush through my prayers? If I’m really looking for soul solace in my prayer then, it should be the thing I’m rushing to, not from.

My goal then is to simply give more time to my prayer. Nothing too lofty really, but instead of thinking that I need to finish my prayer asap, I want to think ‘I have all time I need to prayyy’.

Learn Again

As with all great endeavors, I will begin this one with small steps.

I have been praying for so much of my life, at this point, prayer has gained a certain automaticity that I’ve surrendered to. So, the process of transforming my prayer must start first by relearning my prayer. I will need to begin seeing my prayer with more depth and feeling it with more care. Years of practicing the opposite means that I will have to undo habits that have become second nature. So for me, relearning will involve 2 steps:

Prayer NOW – Observation, Recognition, Reviewing. I will have to start bringing my mind into my prayer. How do I pray? When? Where? How long (short) are my prayers? Etc. This will mostly just be taking notes on what I am doing without really trying to adjust anything. I will pinpoint areas of weakness and bad habits I have accumulated over the years.

Research – Reading. While I work on recognizing my own patterns, I will look into what the wiser before me have offered up as advice. Books, articles, videos, and anything I can get my hands on about prayer will get the shortcut to the top of my reading list. I am looking both within the Islamic tradition as well as other sources. I will take the best and leave the rest. Reviews and inspirations gleaned from these sources will be chronicled here.

Bismillah