Steps to transformation - #Essential Virtues in Developing Nobility of Character

blog quran & spirituality Oct 29, 2015

Given how much we hear through sermons and lectures, not many of us lack information about what needs to be done. In months like Muharram and Ramadan, we get really inspired through the mimbar. These months are like a spiritual re-boot for us in that we are invited to pause from our regular lives and reflect on the big picture. We are invited to ponder about the big questions in life and ask ourselves whether the direction we are heading is likely to lead to ultimate success and happiness. We are given the opportunity to change tracks or adjust our direction so that we can follow a path which will result in ultimate success.


(Note: this post consists of the speaking notes for Lecture 1 of the Nobility of Character Series. The audio file is also posted and may be helpful to hear while you go through the notes)

Listening to and getting inspired through lectures and sermons is obviously the first (and important) step to making meaningful changes in our lives because it leads to awareness and consciousness. If, however, the inspiration and invitation is not followed through with action in the desired direction, not much will change since life (and the hereafter) rewards positive action.

Here is something that may be useful to reflect on and practice as we begin the journey.

The steps to transformation

  • 1) The first step is awareness, knowledge, inspiration, tawfeeq. When we hear something that makes sense, we realise that we lack it, this is His invitation towards change. We also hear about examples and role models of those who have gone through this journey successfully.
  • So here is what may happen as a result of a lecture or sermon:
    1. I hear something and a light goes on within me that this is something I need to work on
    2. More often, a light goes on that this is something that someone I know needs to work on!!!

It is very tempting and quite easy to identify people who need to change aspects of themselves. However, this is not the path of spiritual transformation or growth for ourselves. When we think of someone else who needs to change we need to remind ourselves that this is our ego and shaytan diverting us from our life purpose.

  • 2) Intention, attention
    1. I need to make an intention that I will work on this. Very powerful and very necessary. Without this intention nothing can change
    2. Next I need to decide to give it some attention
  • 3) Assessment
    1. I start by doing an assessment of myself – where is this issue showing up in my life?
    2. How is it impacting my life?
    3. For example, if I lack kindness or compassion in my life, how does this show up? How is it a problem for me in my life at present. We need to get present to what it is costing me NOT to change.
    4. Going through this step is important because the clearer we are about why we need to change, the more successful our attempt is going to be

4) I need to have a plan and strategy about how I will do this (musharita)

    1. I need tools for no matter how much I change my attitude, it cannot transform if I don’t have tools to put into action. This is why we will talk both theory and action.
    2. What will I do more of, less of, in what situation to develop the virtue that I need? For example, in order to develop self control, what will I be doing more of? Less of?

5) Taking action, practice (muraqiba)

  1. Without this step we can get spiritual indigestion!! If we have lots of information but take no action, our knowledge can actually be harmful. It is also one of the ways our ego can lead us astray – by making us believe that we are doing something – “at least we are learning”.

There is some research which says that thinking about things and imagining them can actually make us believe that we have achieved it already so it can actually stops action!!

The magic of practice:

  1. To counter this, we need to develop a mindset that as soon as we learn something useful, we should get in motion, start taking baby steps. So we need to start taking action, one step at a time, the sooner the better
  2. “A ‘practice’ implies a discipline of acting in a certain way over and over again—consistently. It is not action by fits and starts, or even an appropriate response to a crisis. Rather, it is a way of operating day by day, in big issues and small, a way of behaving that is also a way of being.” NB
  3. To take action is actually quite simple. We need to ask ourselves two questions:
    • First question: What do I want? (which virtue do I want to develop)
    • Second question: What must I do? (how do I practice that virtue)

6) Taking stock, muhasiba

  1. I need to keep a track of how things are going so that I can readjust and re-strategize
  2. Tracking anything is a very powerful practice which leads to greater consciousness and an almost unconscious change in actions. For example, if we want to start moving more and excercising, an effective way to do it is to start wearing a monitoring device such a fitbit or pedometer. The numbers on the device motivate us to move more. Similarly, if we start monitoring our behaviour, we will become more conscious and start taking steps towards developing virtues.

So, as we go through the virtues that constitute Makarim Akhlaq, it is a good idea to start making notes of the above. There are a couple of things to watch for, however:

The importance of baby steps:

Often when we get inspired, we want to change everything all at once. We want to revamp and reboot our whole selves. For example, if we have trouble getting up for fajr, we want to start praying tahajjud as well. That is certainly one way to make changes but for most people it does not work because it is too far out of their comfort zone. We need to stretch, so to speak but not so much that we snap!

Of course people can and do transform overnight if a significant light blub moment happens. For most of us, however, making changes means taking small baby steps towards our goals.

We have to be outside our comfort zone but not so much outside that we do not experience little successes along the way that motivate us. The path to spiritual progress requires maturity and patience. It is said, that just as a water pot is filled drop by drop, similarly drop by drop people become good. If you fill your water pot with a fire hose it will be quite challenging!

So here is a suggestion. Go through the list of virtues in the hadith that we discussed in the last post. Do a quick self assessment – where am I with this? Is this a challenge in my life?

Pick top 1-3 qualities that you want to work on and make an intention to become more aware of them in your life. You will find that wherever you go, those qualities will be mentioned and it is as if the whole universe is conspiring to help you realize your intention. Make your goals action and behaviour oriented. What would you be doing differently if you had more patience or clemency?

What is your strategy for making changes in your life?


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