Were we mere blank slates?

In a tale of human progress and a defence of progress, people learn from their parents and their parents’ parents, and who, after trials and tribulations, wind up committed to each other. Unrecognizing that our life is a story of fellowship. Because when you look deeper into the unconscious, the separations between individuals begin to get a little fuzzy. It becomes ever more obvious that the swirls that make up our own minds are shared swirls. We become who we are in conjunction with other people becoming who they are.

We have inherited an image of ourselves as Homo sapiens, as thinking individuals separated from the other animals because of our superior power of reason. This is mankind as Rodin’s thinker – chin on fist, cogitating alone and deeply. In fact we are separated from the other animals because we have phenomenal social skills that enable us to teach, learn, sympathize, emote, and build cultures, institutions, and the complex mental scaffolding of civilizations. Who are we? We are like millions of sensations, emotions, and signals interpenetrate every second. We are communications centres, and through some process we are not close to understanding, we have the ability to partially govern this traffic – to shift attention from one thing to another, to choose and commit. We become fully ourselves only through the ever-enriching interplay of our networks. We seek, more than anything else, to establish deeper and more complete connections.

In psychotherapy, it is believed that the original trauma of disconnect often stems from parenting. This produces the wound, and our reaction to the wound. From how we encode the information, to how it creates chaos. What defence mechanism we use to cope and how our outdated defence mechanism leads to breakdown or occasionally breakthrough. Whether we choose to shift our life to a new healthier paradigm that allows healing and expresses unity, this system above is intended to help psychotherapists connect the dots and understand the blueprint. When we do this, we can adopt a more logical and linear approach to it all. A logical and linear approach helps us move from the amygdala (the emotional center) to our frontal lobe (where we can problem solve, make peace or accept and let go of past events).

Thomas Kuhn states that “awareness is prerequisite to all acceptable changes of theory.” Kuhn believes that it all begins in the mind of the person. The mind is central to your health. Disturbed mind gives rise to a disturbed body, and when the body is disturbed, it disturbs the mind further. However, a man’s innermost reality and center of consciousness, the mind, is governed by the heart. The Prophet ﷺ said “Indeed there is in the body a piece of flash which if it is sound then the whole body is sound, and if it is corrupt then the whole body is corrupt. Indeed it is the heart.” Imam An-Nawawi used this hadith as a proof that the seat of the mind is the heart (al-aql fi al-qalb) and not the head.

The sound and truthful heart is that which is secure from every carnal desires, it is secure from any doubt and uncertainty. It is secure in preferring what pleases Him in every circumstances and distancing itself from everything that would displease Him in every possible way. It is secure from seeking the ruling of other than His Messenger ﷺ . This is the reality of ubudiyyah (servitude), which can be directed to Allah, alone. And this is the deen al-fitrah that creates a love for deen al-Islam. Allah swt has given every child Qalb-e-saleem (a sound heart) and that “None of you will come to Allah in a state of happiness unless if it is in a state of salim (whole and healthy).” Now this enlightens both the mentally ill and the spiritually diseased that the search for a healthy heart is able to help them.

Kuhn further states that what we perceive, whether normal or metanormal, conscious or unconscious, are subject to the limitations and distortions produced by our inherited and socially conditional nature. However, we are not restricted by this for we can change. For example in some cases, our dreams, being misinterpreted as a spiritual message, may actually come from our subconscious desires (nafs). Or bad dreams which alludes to our subconscious fears. What we nurture in our minds determines the results. Therefore our minds, if filled with the zeal for the Prophet ﷺ or our Lord, are able to manifest expansion and revelations in our dreams or even in our awaken states.

Pulling it from an Islamic spiritual perspective, how this identifies with our relationship with Allah ﷻ , the Ultimate One who created us. Our disconnection with our Creator and our religious ancestor salallahu alaihi wasallam leads to all sorts of trauma.

“The great tribulations that we see in our age is because we have distanced ourselves from the life of the Prophet Muhammad

-Habib Kazim al-Saqqaf

We are, being the descendants of Prophet Adam alaihi salam and the ummah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ , enjoys this benefit, His intercession. And this definitely doesn’t only limit to Arabs.

In 1981, Andrew Meltzoff ushered in a new era of infant psychology when he stuck his tongue out at a forty-two minute old infant. The baby stuck her tongue out back at him. It was as if the baby, who had never seen a tongue out back in her life, intuited that the strange collection of shapes in front of her was a face, that the little thing in the middle of it was a tongue, that there was a creature behind the face, that the tongue was something other than herself, and that she herself had a corresponding little flap that she too could move around.

The experiment has been replicated with babies at different ages, and since then researchers have gone off in search of other infant abilities. They’ve found them. People once believed that babies were blank slates. But the more investigators look, the more impressed they have become with how much babies know at birth, and how much they learn in the first few months after.

The truth is, starting even before we are born, we inherit a great river of knowledge, a great flow of patterns coming from many ages and many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past, we call genetics. The information revealed thousands of years ago, we call religion. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago, we call culture. The information passed along from decades ago, we call family, and the information offered years, months, days, or hours ago, we call education and advice.

Relevant to how all of our souls, in its purest forms are connected to the message of Islam from our Creator through His messenger Prophet Muhammad ﷺ , his beliefs (hadiths) and actions (sunnahs). Also, as his ummah, our inheritance of his salallahu alaihi wasallam’s characteristics, and finally our tarbiyah on our path towards Him.

But it is all information, and it all flows from the dead through us and to the unborn. The brain is adapted to the river of knowledge and its many currents and tributaries, and it exists as a creature of that river the way a trout exists in a stream. Our thoughts are profoundly moulded by this long historic flow, and none of us exists, self made, in isolation from it. So even a newborn possesses this rich legacy, and is built to absorb more, and to contribute back to this long current.

How an infant is born in a state of fitrah (purity), with the knowledge of God, and the purpose of worshipping Him. But as we grow and we start communicating with the world, it instils in us memories, habits, which later becomes our nafs. Similarly, to an innocent child that helplessly attaches him or herself to the nurturing ways provided by his or her own parents, a seeker seeks to form a rabita (connection, attachment) with his own shaykh or murrabi, diminishing its own personality (nafs) and unifying it with what God or the Prophet ﷺ wants through surrendering. While the world, in its corruption, contributes to the nafs, the seeker seeks purification.

The heart, when has been renewed, now has turn alike a child, pure and innocent. The soul in its awareness of the need for social interactions, seeks the knowledge of adab (etiquette) in preventing harm to its character. However, through the struggles, it presents the lack of surrender of the salik (seeker). The mind still clings onto logic and reasoning and it doesn’t understand what the spirit is capable of understanding. This entails the emptying. The unlearning of what you have learned, in order to reach a state of equanimity and eventually, humanity.

“Allahumma Muqallibal quloob thabbit qalbee ‘alaa deenik” (Oh turner of hearts, keep my heart firm upon your religion)

Sayyidatina ‘Aisha (radiallahu anha) narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to recite this dua a lot. So she asked, “Oh Messenger of Allah, you make this dua a lot, are you afraid?” He said: “Yes. Who would keep me safe, Oh ‘Aisha, while the hearts of the servants are between two fingers from the fingers of The Most Merciful?”

Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin al-‘Aas said that he heard Allah’s Messenger ﷺ saying,

“All the hearts of the offspring of Adam are between two fingers of Ar-Rahman’s Fingers, as one heart. He turns it (in any direction) as He wills. Then Allah’s Messenger said, “O Allah! The Turner of hearts, turn our hearts towards Your obedience.”

Now let’s look at the bigger picture, what is our purpose in life?


Now act accordingly.

via Daily Prompt: Descend

This topic was explored with the help of some authors. Most of the psychological aspects of this writing came from David Brooks’ book called ‘The Social Animal’. I do not claim it to be mine.

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