When we feel crushed by the weight of our life issues, we seek psychological and emotional cure in whichever way we can. One of these is by escaping from our failed personal issues – sour relationships, tragedies, losses, unhappy jobs, unfulfilled ambitions, to compensate those losses or dreams that failed to crystallise.
We try to escape from such failures and what is hurting us by filling our lives with various ‘substitutes’. These substitutes could be overeating, sleeping too much, travelling, new jobs or projects, new relationships, drugs, even moving countries …. anything to get away. When these substitutes do not live up to our expectations, we create another cycle of escapism, and chase new sets of dreams and aspirations, until these too, fail. The escapism spirals further and further, until we become believers of our escape mechanism, and are so pinned down by our weaknesses, fears and insecurities that our actions are dominated by them rather than our qualities.
Escapism is a chronic emotional and spiritual disease that can cripple and destroy us in subtle and insidious ways. It is a symptom of living in a dream land. We deny the realities of life and death, and are therefore incapable of taking responsibility for them. We fear tackling our own issues or making an effort to change our conditions, and we falsely believe that escaping will make our failures disappear. Rather than strengthening ourselves by solving the concerns, we weaken ourselves by escaping, knowing full well that we have failed to resolve the original issues. Since nothing truly fills the void inside of us, we keep running, cycle after cycle, substitute after substitute, and eventually surrender to our weaknesses.
These constant failures deplete our self-confidence and belief in our own qualities and abilities. So the escapism continues while we struggle to counterbalance our increasing sense of failure through different emotional “emergency exits”.
This emotional atrophy makes it impossible for us to view life positively or from different angles. It makes us so emotionally dysfunctional that we are neither willing to admit our mistakes nor let go of the mistakes of others. Instead, we keep sprinting until we are worn out, only to find ourselves back on the treadmill, running like hamsters in a cage.
Then one day, we find there’s no safe haven in our escape, and nowhere left to escape to.
What is the Problem?
Our interpretation of a successful life is pegged to the accumulation material accomplishments. It can be the quest for a perfect job, a perfect body, a perfect spouse, perfect children. We hurtle onwards even when we all know that such achievements or the happiness attached to them are going to dissipate. Once we have landed on one precarious stepping stone of achievement, we feel that if we do not jump to another one quickly we will sink. This psychology creates an insatiable hunger to accumulate more and more.
When our attempts fail, we then try to escape our reality by creating another reality in which we can succeed or where the problems just vanish. But we fail, or the sense of validation attached to our achievement is short lived. Even if some of our dreams come true, we do not know what to do with them because our eyes are on the dreams that crashed. Hence we are never satisfied with what we have already accomplished and the cycle of escapism continues. New places, past times, people, but same old story.
Simply put, it is the lack of faith, which causes our lack of bearing in life. Without faith, we look to ourselves for the solution, and are dictated by our own desires, perceptions and ethos. This enslaves us to our individual arrogance and temptation. This attitude also makes us slaves to our weaknesses and inadequacies, and therein lies the problem. We place misdirected hopes in our abilities, impaired as they are, rather than in our Creator. Our driving forces and sense of self worth are derived from our limited faculties, and this is what derails us.
We should accept and understand life for what it is. It is filled with imperfections, happiness and sadness. But nothing lasts, and every condition will change. Life is full of loss and gain. Focusing on the losses, being fearful of change, dwelling on what could have been instead of what is, are what pin us down with insecurities and worries, hence the desperate need to run away.
What does Islam have to do with escapism?
A Muslim claims belief in the Almighty and the Owner of Decree and Provision. The Creator owns the keys of everything and the treasure of mankind, and everything that exists, seen or unseen.
Life is full of compromises, ease and difficulty, sweet and bitter moments. Conditions alternate. This is how things are meant to be, for Allah will constantly change the course of our lives. All these changes are brought about to test our faith. What He seeks from us is our resolute and constant perseverance in dealing with the changes. This means that we should not despair, give up hope or amble through life feeling defeated when things do not run in the direction we wish. Fear of change, being anxious about the future, or loving someone or something so much to the point of emotional dependency, will block us from achieving the steadfastness that Allah seeks from us.
When we lose something, it is not the end of everything. It is merely the end of a cycle. When a tree sheds leaves in autumn, it is not dying, it is regenerating. The leaves that fall to the ground are not losses, but will disintegrate to nourish the soil beneath. In winter, the tree strengthens its roots and trunk. If we run away as soon as the first leaves wither, we will not be around to savour the spring petals and the summer fruits which follow.
Hence, when we lose a person, it does not mean that we have lost our lives. When we lose our jobs, money, friends and family, it does not mean we should lose hope. When something changes, it is not the end. It is merely the end of a phase in life, coupled with the promise of many new beginnings.
A Revert’s Tale
I met a woman from England some years ago, and this is the retelling of her story – her Islamic coming of age:
“Before I embraced Islam, I was always worried. I feared about what would happen tomorrow. Once I embraced Islam, I understood the meaning of who I am – a slave of the Creator, and the Creator has promised to take me in His care.
One day, I was sitting alone in the park, and I looked to the sky. A big bird was flapping its wings for a while, and then it rested its wings and was gliding. I looked to the bird and wondered what made it soar in the air? It was its complete trust and reliance. It was flying without effort.
I felt ashamed. This bird has the trust and reliance, and can stay in the air, not being afraid to fall to the ground. Whereas here I am on the ground, with all the bounty of the Creator with me, and I fear and worry about falling down. I fear my tomorrow.
I started crying and said, ‘Oh Allah, make me trust you and rely on you like the bird does.’
From this moment, my life became filled with tranquillity, peace and happiness. I used to eat myself alive with worry. May Allah forgive me, how could I have feared the future when I am with Allah?”
I am where should I be
Escapism is a false solution, a waste of resources and is not a cure for our failures.
Once a situation arises, we should face it with prayers and connect our hearts to Almighty Allah. We should believe that He will take care about us and guide us. Whatever happens, no matter how ugly, sad or fearful, we need to immerse ourselves with the belief that it is the best for us.
Almighty Allah says: “ …it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing that is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.” (Al Qur’an 2:216)
This is what He wants from us – unconditional conviction that we are safe in His hands. Allah wants our absolute trust to relinquish our life affairs to Him, and the unqualified belief that He can give us guidance wisdom, the ability to handle and rise above the calamities, and that He can even change the condition.
Escaping is not an option for a believer. Neither are the associated emotions, such as denial, doubt, stress, despair or misery. All these negative connotations are from Shaitan and lead to the poverty and weakening of the soul.
Allah is constantly checking our purity and sincerity to Him by testing us. When we are faced with a trial, we are supposed to survive it. If we are steadfast to Allah, despite the shifting sands, Allah will grant us victory. On the flipside, when we run away from a trial, Allah will place us under a heavier trial than the one we were escaping from.
If we understand the nature of our Lord, all our problems are immaterial. There is no problem! All these calamities, examination and trials are only for our own good. Faith in our Lord is what gives us the steadfastness to weather the storm. This is what gives us the strength to stay and confront the issues instead of denying and running away from them.
If we forget the essence and the meaning of our relationship with the Creator, we will feel lost and need to find the escape route. If we establish a firm relationship with Allah, escape is not necessary, because we know that we were meant to undergo this situation and that we are exactly where we were meant to be.
Allah the Almighty will never take from us except to give us. Our problem today is that we only perceive things from a dunia perspective. Values are calculated on absolute terms – material for material. Whereas from a Muslim viewpoint, while Allah can take away possessions or loved ones and place us under difficult conditions, He can also swap those losses with guidance, forgiveness, light, wisdom and elevation in this life and the hereafter – gifts which are infinitely more precious.
The ultimate success is to leave this life and migrate to our final resting place in Paradise. None of us have permanent residence on this earth. The wild card we possess is life itself, with its unpredictability, twists and turns and random ending. Even death is one of the transitions – the beginning of another cycle before we enter our final phase in the hereafter.
The reality is not whether we are happy with our spouse, or we have financial problems, or that our beauty is fading away. The reality is that the clock is ticking, and soon our cycle on this life will end to make way for a new phase.
Once we are living the journey of faith with our Lord, all our daily difficulties diminish. They take lesser priority relative to our goal in life and in the grand scheme of things. When put in its correct perspective, our problems are so insignificant. A Muslim’s eyes are constantly on a higher goal. One of my teachers told me that it is in aiming for the stars that we reach the mountain top. It is in striving for jannah that we can rise above our issues.
Instead of running and hiding, face your future, because if Allah is with you, your future is very bright indeed!