Air whooshes over my head. I can feel the circumambulation of the blades of my old fan rustle my khimar. My eyes focus on the rough, oatmeal colored rug that feels like a massage under my feet.
I stand. I bow. I prostrate. I repeat. What can I cook for dinner? Will it even be any good? I need to focus. I Bow. Is that a stain on the rug or a bug?! No matter how much I clean, I am never able to keep up. Focus.
If I have to wake up early on Thursday, what time should I go to bed or can I just get away with drinking more coffee? Either way, my mind will be foggy so what does it matter? Focus!
I prostrate. My phone buzzes from the other room. Who is that? Focus!! How difficult it must be to focus in prayer when you have children running around. FOCUS. I stand. I recite. I repeat.
17 years in practice and I am still in a constant fighting with my mind as khushu’ slips in and out during prayer.
Sometimes it feels like everyone has this down and I am the only sad sack that is still trying to get it right. I am a child at the salah while everyone else has matured vastly in their practice. I am in a sea of experts pretending to fit in.
My mind drifts with these thoughts outside of prayer: Everyone is better than you. You are pathetic and a failure at even the basic, fundamental practice of your faith. Why do you even try? You have already failed. Why get back up just to fail again?
These thoughts are of course absurd. Most people have a hard time with khushu’ in prayer and the only true failure is quitting. Fighting or doing your best is success. But if I let them, these mean-spirited ruminations will take over. They develop like a fast-growing vine, strangling the life out of everything in its path.
For me and the many like me, it is not the connection to Allah (SWT) or even the prayer that gets in the way. It is this dark internal dialogue. For those who have yet to establish the prayer in their lives, it is usually this same issue. The discouraging thoughts like why start now? Do you even think you can be consistent? Probably not, so why even try?…
It is funny that most of us let this mean voice in our heads bully us around when in real life, most of us would never let other people talk to us like that.
Who would stand around and listen to someone say awful things like: You’re so dumb! And fat! No one will ever love you. I don’t even know how you have accomplished what little you have. Must have been a fluke.
But many people allow these thoughts to take over the dialogue in their mind and control them. The thing is that we actually have more control over this dialogue than we think.
Whether it is in salah, or praying regularly, or even just our own self-image, we let this voice – whether it is Satan or just our own internal dialogue – push us around.
How to Stop it?
But why? And how can we stop this pattern of putting ourselves down with mean and defeating thoughts in life and in deen?
The answer is simpler that many assume.
Just like getting rid of a creeping, strangling vine; this negative dialogue can be beaten back. Every time a negative thought pops up in our mind, actively thinking of something affirming, positive, or constructive will cancel out the negative. Rewrite the dialogue!
This sounds like overly simplified self-help-y nonsense. Guess what? That’s the dark dialogue telling you to quit before you can succeed. That is the mean girl voice we all have in us, telling us to not even bother because we aren’t strong enough to make a change.
Redirecting negative, self-defeating thoughts takes time and practice. But every time you think you aren’t enough, tell that thought to sit down and shut up, because Allah (SWT) made you enough.
Anytime that mean-girl chatter in your mind tells you that you will never be able to be consistent in prayer so why try, tell her to get lost because if Allah (SWT) has made it obligatory that means you are capable.
When you are standing in prayer and the thoughts of the day creep in even if they aren’t negative, it’s the same voice trying to distract you from the life-affirming action you are doing. Replace it. Think of what you are saying instead. Think of standing before God. Think of your connection with Him.
I still struggle with this internal distraction during prayer and beyond. But with practice, it has become easier. I have allowed myself to grow in confidence and khushu’. But I also know it is a lifelong struggle.
This is a kind of jihad to affirm that, as a part of Allah’s (SWT) creation, we were all created perfectly the way we are with success written into our DNA. We just have to Hayya ‘ala-l-Falah—Hurry to success.