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City of Banjul
Tuesday, December 1, 2020

What’s on your mind?

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The human brain is an amazing creation and until now scientists are trying to understand all its functions and how it is wired. As man evolved, so has the human brain. At the time of the first humans, the brain didn’t have as many functions as it has today. Back then, it was more important to follow your instincts than today.

You needed to quickly be able to decide if the person or animal you met was your enemy or not. You needed to know when to fight or go on flight. But these basic functions still remain in the older parts of our brains.  The human brain is an amazing creation and until now scientists are trying to understand all its functions and how it is wired. As man evolved, so has the human brain. At the time of the first humans, the brain didn’t have as many functions as it has today. Back then, it was more important to follow your instincts than today.

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You needed to quickly be able to decide if the person or animal you met was your enemy or not. You needed to know when to fight or go on flight. But these basic functions still remain in the older parts of our brains.  Back in the old days, when you didn’t have a supermarket where you could do your shopping, and you depended completely on what mother nature gave you, it was crucial to know what was eatable and what was not. Fruits, berries, mushrooms, insects, fish, roots, etc, were good food though some were poisonous.

You needed to use your instincts; taste it carefully and wait for a possibly bad reaction. Life back then, was about survival and people lived from hand to mouth. As people evolved, the techniques for hunting, preparing and preserving food also evolved. New tools were made, better huts were built and agriculture began to develop. Still, times were hard and life was more or less about survival; people were thinking about how to get food and provide for their families. People lived similar lives, had similar worries and similar threats. The only stress they had was when they were hunting or being the prey themselves. The fight or flight instinct kicked in sometimes but in between the mind was relaxed.

What about today?We don’t live in caves and most of us don’t live in huts anymore, but even if the human brain has evolved we still use the old fight or flight instinct. As long as we live in a peaceful community, we don’t need to fight or flight – literally, but this instinct is still there and we use it daily. Actually, we use it so much more today and for so many of us we are never able to relax the mind. Nowadays, this instinct is kicking in with stress, duties, rushing to and from work, phones ringing, texts and emails coming with a signal, computer games and computer work, traffic sounds everywhere, TV commercials, TV shows, influences from other kinds of societies which can’t be implemented on our own but we still want it.

Music, commercials and sexy girls and cool guys bombard us wherever we look and we begin to believe that this is the only normality we have.All this is stressing our brains all the time! We get problems with sleeping, mood swings, feel unsatisfied with our lives. We begin to believe that the cool TV shows we see are showing the true picture of a life somewhere else where people are happy, rich, good looking, have nice houses and expensive cars. We begin to believe that the way these people act and speak is how we also can behave.

We forget that the TV shows are produced in a studio, not in a real home. The people in the shows are actors, picked to show different strong characters. The way they speak and act is not dignified and dignity seems to be old fashioned!In normal life, you can have a discussion with someone and that can last for days. You can be searching for the right words to say, sometimes you are quiet and other times you discuss again. In a TV show, there is no time for consideration – it is only about action and then that episode is over and you will shoot the next. Producers want to sell their shows and have as many viewers as possible and top ratings.

They don’t care about anything else but making money from their shows and they make that by exploiting our curiosity.We say ooh! and aah! when we see the actors misbehave but still we keep on watching because we want to know if they manage to get out out of the trouble they are entangled in.  TV is showing us an artificial world and although we know that, we still get caught by the action. The actors say things we wouldn’t dare to say and they act in a way we have never dreamt of acting. Slowly, slowly this is changing our habits without us being aware of it. We get new role models and forget the old, boring role models of the past.

Young women want to use the same kind of make-up and sexy clothes the female actors wear. Young men believe that they should behave more or less as rap singers, have their trousers low so the underwear are seen and use a language that would make your mother cry of shame. Is this what we want to happen with our society?I tell you, my dear readers, that all this is stressing us because deep within our souls, we know that this is not good for us but we don’t know how to stop.

It’s like a wheel spinning faster and faster! What can we do to slow down the progress, even if we can’t stop it? First we must begin with an awareness of the problem, because without awareness there will be no change no matter the issue. We can never change anyone else’s behaviour; the only thing we can change is ourselves IF we are aware that a change is needed.Instead of rushing forward all the time, chasing after something new and different, we need to take one step back and consider our lives for a while. Ask yourself – what is on your mind? Speak to your inner self as you were your own best friend.

What would you tell yourself? I can’t give you the answers because I don’t know your situation; I can only advise you to begin to question your life a little.Ask yourself what is good in your life and what is bad. Be grateful for the good parts and don’t forget to add that in your prayers. What about the bad parts then? Well, you must begin with making a list of them and continue with studying each part to see what you can do about them. There are problems in our lives that can be hard to deal with, things that are out of our power to change, so for those we need to find a way to keep a healthy distance.

How will we find that distance? How will we find new strength and creativity? How will we find new energy when we feel empty and exhausted ? By praying and by keeping our minds on the prayer and nothing else. Scientists have found that prayer is slowing down our brain activity and releases stress. High blood pressure is getting lower and the metabolism is getting faster.As a good Muslim, you of course pray five times a day, but is it a habitual prayer or is your mind set on the prayer? We are only human beings and our minds change during the day and our lives.

If we feel stressed and on our way to something that feels more important than that prayer it can be hard to focus. We have this in common, all of us, so please don’t think that I’m accusing anyone for not being a good Muslim.What I am doing is to urge you to ask yourself if you are aware of how good it is for you to pray? By prayer we worship God, we thank Him for His gifts and we ask Him to forgive our sins.

I am a convert so everything is new to me, but for those of you who have lived all your lives as Muslims, you know exactly what to do and to say at times for prayer. You could do it in your sleep if you needed to.When people gather for prayer it gives you a feeling of a kinship, that you share something that is greater than anything worldly.

You listen to the well known words and you fall on your knees when you should, but is the mind always there – focusing on the prayer? Of course not, but that doesn’t make the moments together in worship less valuable.God has created us and He knows how we are. We can give up on God sometimes but God will never give up on us, He will always wait for us to come back to Him and He will never accuse us for our distance.  We have so much to learn from that because how easy is it to give up on human relations? How easy is it to accuse the others for being distant, not calling or answering the phone, not being online?God is always online, 24/7, and even if we don’t hear His voice, we will feel His response one way or another.

Sometimes, it can be hard to see the response but if we take one step back and consider our relation with God, we will understand His divine guidance. Take one step back and consider every relation, no matter if it is within the family, your relation to money and worldly things, TV shows etc.   What is important in your life and what is less important? What is good or bad? What can you change and what do you have to adjust yourself to? Don’t let prayer be habitual and if you struggle with the word “prayer” then call it something else.

Call it meditation, mindfulness or relaxation – it doesn’t matter, as long as you listen to your inner self and switch off the signals that are trying to disturb your peace of mind. As Muslims, we are called to prayer five times a day. That you take that call from the mosque for granted when you live in The Gambia but you miss it so badly when you live abroad.  It is not the same to listen to a recording on Youtube or an app on your smartphone. There is nothing more beautiful than the call for prayer, so please stop and listen to it next time.

Don’t let that sound disappear in the other noises around you. Let it go into your heart and make it sing a song of worship for our Lord.  Some words of wisdom from a website called InTouch, the topic is14 benefits of prayer:1. Provides timely direction 2. Prevents wrong decisions3. Eliminates worry and anxiety4. Produces peacefulness5. Invites God into your activity6. Produces confidence7. Eliminates fretting8. Sharpens discernment9. Gives us energy10. Prevents distractions11. Reminds us to act now12.

Protects us from     discouragement13. Opens doors of opportunity14. Helps us discern between busyness and fruitfulnessKeep your mind on what is important. Mindfulness is teaching us to stay in the moment and always do what is best for us. At least once a day, find a small moment for yourself when you ask for guidance.Fill your soul with gratitude for the gifts you have got, how tiny they might appear but don’t take them for granted. Fill your mind with things of importance and let them take so much space so the less important things will disappear far away in the background. They only get as much space as you allow them to.

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