Faith in Immortality
Islam propels the human heart towards everlasting life. Although faith in resurrection is a real and living faith that raises man over the plane of the sensible and vitalises his faculties for the realisation of sublime human ideals, it does not restrain man from enjoying the world's bounties. But it restrains the self from pursuing these joys in an unruly, self-willed manner in the expansive arena of life and counters wayward greed and acquisitiveness by subjecting it to controls and restraints. When one is really convinced that the world offers scant and limited opportunities, that its joys are insignificant and that its short days are devoid of real delights, then enjoyments of this world lose their glitter and glamour in his eyes and he does not regret if he fails to obtain more than what falls to his lot. Thus he does not become subject to anguish, sorrow and fear. His attitude towards material benefits is not like that of someone who is in a haste and perpetual agitation due to the fear lest death should one day put an end to his pursuit of joys. Rather, he possesses a peacefulness of mind and tranquillity of conscience. This confidence and serenity no doubt add to the pleasure that he derives from the bounties of life, which he utilises rationally and with dignity. Accordingly, a person with faith knows that these bounties are means for attaining to higher ends, not the end and goal of life itself in whose pursuit one should spend all his life and moreover lose his spiritual equilibrium. The painful stresses produced by anxiety also lead to physical illness and the loss of physical vigour. In order to safeguard one's physical health and well-being and save oneself from the influence of self-destructive forces within one, one must not allow anxiety and sorrow to overwhelm his soul. 'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, may peace be upon him,
Grief and anxiety have a destructive effect on the body. 18
Grief and agony have a wasting effect on the body. 19
Drink up (i.e. suppress) your sorrow and resentment, because it is the sweetest and the most pleasant of drinks from the viewpoint of result and ultimate outcome. 20
Scientific investigations have revealed that some physical ailments are the effect of psychic anxieties and outbursts of emotion. Munn, the well-known psychologist, writes:
Some of the physiological concomitants of emotion are evident in everyday experience. Palpitation of the heart, accelerated breathing, a sinking feeling in the stomach, sweating, trembling and many other organic phenomena are commonly-reported aspects of emotion.... Milder forms and intensities of emotion provide a motivational background to much that we do. In emergency situations, largely through adrenal secretions, we have energy in excess of that normally present.... The emotionally aroused organism is aroused all over. There is an overall interaction of receptors, muscles, internal organs, and nervous mechanisms, with resulting changes in blood chemistry, in brain waves and in the physiological reactions already considered... One frequent outcome of prolonged stress, emotional or otherwise, is the production of gastric ulcers. According to Selye, this is due in part to the overactivity of the adrenal cortex. The first clear evidence that ulcers can be produced by emotional stress came from observations of a man whose stomach was exposed and whose gastric activities were thus observable.... During two weeks of prolonged anxiety, the subject developed small haemorrhages in the lining of his stomach and also a heightened gastric acidity. Something resembling a small ulcer finally developed and the investigators were impressed with the possibility that "the chain of events which begins with anxiety and conflict and associated overactivity of the stomach and ends with haemorrhage or perforation is that which is involved in the natural history of peptic ulcer in human beings." Since the above observations were made, there has been additional direct evidence that psychological stress produces ulcers. 21 That which distinguishes the world of a realistic person from the world of an immature one is imagination. A superficial and shallow person who has seen only the appearances of things is so much enchanted by his faculty of imagination that his heart is swept every moment by the waves of endless desire. As soon as he comes to see the course of events as an obstacle in his way, his spirit becomes submerged in a fearsome gloom and he is put at a complete loss. If this crisis is accompanied with a weakness of the soul that may lead him to commit suicide. By contrast, the realistic person is free from the bondage of childish and unrealistic notions. He views things in a wide and extensive perspective. He does not see things partially and does not allow delusions to influence his practical life. Rather, he strives to conform himself to his physical and social environment and with the facts of his inner and external life. One who has a genuinely balanced personality and a spirit possessing equilibrium is not shaken by every gust of wind. The reason that some people feel upset and uneasy in times of leisure is their inadequacy of spiritual strength and the absence of secure foothold. Therefore, they turn to harmful and unwholesome modes of entertainment in order to kill time. But the stronger a person is in respect of his inner powers, the lesser does he stand in need of the external environment. A country that has lesser need of imports has more steady economic foundations. One who has adequate inner assets and is not in constant need of outside assistance can deliver himself from dangerous activities and destructive conduct. He can bring about a state of moderation in his ethical qualities and alter the impact of external factors on his soul. Jean Jacques Rousseau says: Prudence! Prudence which is ever bidding us to look forward into the future, a future which in many cases we shall never reach; here is the real source of all our troubles! How mad it is for so short-lived a creature as man to look forward into a future to which he rarely attains, while he neglects the present which is his? This madness is all the more fatal since it increases with years, and the old, always timid, prudent, and miserly, prefer to do without necessaries to-day that they may have luxuries at a hundred. Thus we grasp everything, we cling to everything; we are anxious about time, place, people, things, all that is and will be; we ourselves are but the least part of ourselves. We spread ourselves, so to speak, over the whole world, and all this vast expanse becomes sensitive. No wonder our woes increase when we may be wounded on every side. How many princes make themselves miserable for the love of lands they have never seen, and how many merchants lament in Paris over some misfortune in the Indies! ...We no longer live in our own place, we live outside it. What does it profit us to live in such fear of death, when all that makes life worth living is our own? Oh, man! Live your own life and you will no longer be wretched. Keep to your appointed place in the order of nature and nothing can tear you from it. Do not will against the stern law of necessity, nor waste in vain resistance the strength bestowed on you by heaven, not to prolong or extend your existence, but to preserve it so far and so long as heaven pleases. Your freedom and your power extend as far and no further than your natural strength; anything more is but slavery, deceit, and trickery. 22
Imam al-Sadiq, may peace be upon him, says:
Actually man's life in the world is like a fleeting hour. Whatever that has taken place in it up to the present is gone and you do not feel its pleasure or pain. As to that which is to come, you don't know what it is. All that remains in your hand of your precious life are your present moments. Therefore use them for the purpose of obtaining control over yourself and strive therein for your self-improvement and salvation. Be steadfast in obeying God and observing His commands and refrain from sin and violation of God's ordinances. 23
If one's involvement with the past or the future is for the sake of escaping the problems of the present, it is a psychic sickness or prelude to such sickness in the opinion of psychologists, who say:
If one were to decide to pay no attention to the present and should one fail to utilise the opportunities that arise, and should one continually go on saying to oneself and others, "It is true that I am not good at my studies, but wait and see what I will do upon entering life. All those who did poorly in their studies nevertheless succeeded in real life. I have certain ideas and dreams concerning the future"-this kind of thinking shows that one wishes to escape from real life and from his present. The psychologist knows well that these fancies do not accord with reality and are nothing but fallacious reasoning. This kind of thinking concerning the future is harmful, and that which is almost certain is that the person with this kind of thinking will fail to achieve success in the future like the present. If thinking about the future and the past occupies all one's time and energy and causes one to neglect the daily problems with which he is faced, such a person is definitely unhealthy and poorly adjusted. If one cannot face his present problems and constantly thinks about the future in order to escape them, this thinking about the future becomes a substitute for attention to the present. Such a substitute, which does not help in the solution of one's problems, is worthless and injurious. 24 The leader of world's free men, al-Husayn ibn 'Ali, may peace be upon him, said:
When a wise man is visited by an affliction, he is not enveloped by grief. Rather, with forbearance and farsightedness he removes the rust of sorrow from his heart and makes use of his intellect to find a solution.
With the power at our disposal we can struggle against the defeats and adversities that assault us from every direction, and whenever there is a spell in this battle, one's unused energies, like a heavy burden, torment him who is forced to use them for futile ends. One of the effective ways of relief from anxiety is to engage in some profitable activity. Those who in times of inner turmoil engage in some beneficial activity obtain relief during the time that they are busy, and they are delighted and satisfied when they see the fruits of their work. For this reason, though certainly many of such activities consist of a relative relief, they constitute a beneficial and satisfying response and the mind, at the least, obtains temporary relief from an apparently insoluble personal problem. And particularly if the activity involves a benefit for others it will be good for him too, for it is impossible that someone who is beneficial for others should not be such for himself. Moreover, that will save him from resorting to unwholesome and injurious ways of keeping himself busy.
18. Al-Amidi, Ghuraral-hikam, p. 23.
19. Ibid., p. 16.
20. Ibid., p. 351.
21. Munn, Norman. L., Psychology: The Fundamentals of Human Adjustment, 4th ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1961, pp. 321, 325, 342, 352.
22. Rousseau, Emile, pp. 46-47.
23. Al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 454.
24. Malm & Sorenson, Op. cit., p. 238.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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