The Prophet said: ”Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth before you become old; your health, before you fall sick; your wealth, before you become poor; your free time before you become preoccupied, and your life, before your death.” (Tirmidhi)
I was recently speaking with an old college friend of mine and we found ourselves reminiscing about the good old days on campus. How often do we find ourselves wishing we could turn back the hands of time? How often do we fondly recall our carefree college days and wish we could go back? Yet, at the time, we could not wait to move onto the next stage in life. We would spend hours wondering who we'd marry, what our future careers would be like and what the future would hold for us. It is human nature to believe that the “grass is always greener on the other side.”
A sure fire way to wake up each morning with heavy eyelids and an even heavier heart is to focus on that which cannot be changed. We are often so preoccupied with feelings of sadness and regret regarding what has passed and with anxieties surrounding what is yet to come, that we completely devalue a piece of treasure that Allāh provides us every second of everyday: the present moment. Every matter that the Prophet mentions in the hadith above involves taking advantage of the present moment. As imām Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah refers to it- “the time between two times.” He states, “Your attention must be directed to your life in the present – the time between two times. If you waste it, then you have wasted the opportunity to be of the fortunate and saved ones. If you look after it, having rectified the two times – what is before and after it – then you will be successful and achieve rest, delight and ever-lasting” (al-Fawaa'Īd, pp. 151-152).
So what is it about living in the present moment that promotes success and happiness? Reaching the point of being content with our current state and what we have can make all the difference in our perception of our lives. This reminds me of a quotation I read in Mitch Albom's novel, The Time Keeper, “We all yearn for what we have lost. But sometimes, we forget what we have.” We also yearn for what we do not currently have. One common denominator I've often noticed about my clients who have been afflicted with anxiety and depressive disorders has been a tendency to ruminate, meaning thinking constantly of negative incidents in the past, and a tendency to catastrophize, meaning expecting something terrible to happen in the future. In doing so, not only have we squandered a precious gift provided to us by Allāh , but we have also underestimated Him . The Prophet related to us Allāh says, “I am as My servant thinks of me” (Sahih Bukhāri & Muslim). The Prophet also said, “None of you should ever die except while assuming the best about Allāh.” (Sahîh Muslim) In ruminating continually on regrets from the past, we underestimate the Mercy and Forgiveness of Allāh . And by catastrophizing about the future, we forget that the One who created us is, indeed, all-Powerful and Able to do all things.
Don't get me wrong, it's totally normal to worry about the future and to experience feelings of sadness associated with the past at times. Particularly as new life milestones approach (a new job, the birth of a child, marriage, graduation, etc.), we may experience a mixture of apprehension and excitement- apprehension about leaving the comforts associated with the status quo and excitement about the potential for positive change. However, although humans have the capability of thinking outside of the present moment, this does not mean that this is to our advantage. A study conducted by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University found that people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they're doing, and this results in feelings of unhappiness. Focusing on the here and now can lead us to be increasingly content with our current state- as well as increasingly accepting of the fact that the present moment is all we are truly guaranteed.
With this realization comes the following benefits:
- Doing as many good deeds as possible without delaying due to not knowing how many more “moments” we have left.
- Repenting for a sin and moving past it by replacing it with good deeds.
- Putting forth effort to make the most of the present rather than expecting things to magically change in the future.
- Taking personal responsibility for situations rather than wasting our time and energy shifting blame onto others.
- Realizing that no benefit arises from focusing on the past due to our inability to change it.
- Improving our time management skills.
- Savoring the beauty of the sights, sounds, tastes and feelings around us and thanking Allāh for the ability to experience them.
This Ramadan, challenge yourself to live in the present moment. As Omar Ibn al-Khattab said, “Hold yourself accountable before you are held accountable and weigh your deeds before they are weighed for you.” Hold yourself accountable for how you spend each second of this blessed month. Use every moment to draw closer to Allāh and actively seek His pleasure. Show gratitude to Allāh for each breath He grants you during this blessed month by considering ways to positively use every moment of your time, whether it is while you are driving, waiting for an elevator on your way to work, cooking a meal for your family or as you fall asleep at night. Challenge yourself to live in the here and now and reap the feelings of peace, tranquility and freedom that comes from this achievement.