When you walk along the beach, a common sight is that of children and sometimes adults, building sandcastles. They scoop damp sand and use their buckets and spades to shape the sandcastle, slightly away from the waves but where the sand is still moist from the previous tide.
Beachgoers build sandcastles for fun, knowing from the moment of inception their inevitable ending: that the sandcastles are fragile and will vanish at the change of the tide. They are incapable of providing shelter, nor were they intended to last for more than a few hours. The elements will eventually swallow the sandcastle and by morning, it will be as if it had never existed.
Our Own Sandcastles
Life is no different when we build our own personal sandcastles. Our sandcastles are composed of our careers, jobs, houses, spouses and investments, and all our material pursuits in life. We stack upon them the entirety of our hopes and dreams, and expect our illusory sandcastles to fulfil our needs for happiness, security and assurance. In doing so, we build up unrealistic expectations that life will unfold according to what we want.
We have all experienced love, and some have lived out the tragedies of parting and death. However, even the most loving bond has a finite duration. It will end, if not by death, then by other means – illness, accidents or a parting of ways. Our hearts and minds can also change as we enter different phases in life, and with that, our love for others, or their love for us, can also dissolve.
Meanwhile, our Creator is transmitting constant wake up calls to us. People around us are ill or dying; there are various natural disasters which flatten homes and wipe out belongings – changing the course of lives forever. We hear of deaths, whether due to natural causes or by sudden tragedies. All of these are interruptions by our Creator to remind us that our ability to execute our life plans is exceedingly fragile.
Nothing is forever
Everything in life runs its predetermined course. The weather, the seasons, our age and the passage of time. From birth, we know for a fact that we are destined to die. Despite dreams of immortality, we are incapable of staying in this world forever. Youth, once lost, cannot be regained, opportunities, once lost, will never return. The clock will keep ticking, and one day it will be our own death, be it tomorrow, in a year or in a decade.
The first stage to cope with life is to accept that nothing lasts forever. What we hold in our hands is momentary, and we do not know when it will vanish, change or be snatched from us.
Consider the ancient civilisations that once formed the cradle of mankind: the Egyptians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. They were once mighty nations, ruled by brilliant and powerful kings. They thought themselves invincible and everlasting. However, all that remains of these dynasties are archaeological ruins. Like the nations after them, they enjoyed their prescribed time on earth, and then were destroyed. Even the history books have lost account of many of them, and under the weight of the centuries which have since passed, they are gone and forgotten.
We are Next
The message is simple: we are next. Our wealth and comfort do not grant us immunity from the inevitable.
Are we alert to our own realities? Most of us live in illusions and make believe, engineering sandcastles and not realising that the grains of sand will trickle away. Our time flashes by as if in a dreamland, and we spend it in futile attempts to guard the frail structures which we have built.
How much of our previous five year plans have came to fruition? Why do we imagine that what we are planning for ourselves five years from now will come to pass? The reality is that things will go off course, despite all our careful prediction and preparation. There is no certainty in life.
The mindset of permanency is what leads the millionaires and billionaires to emotional breakdowns and suicides when an economic downturn occurs – even if their financial empires haven’t been ruined. They assumed that the sandcastles made of their fortune were indestructible fortresses and thus banked their entire hopes, dreams and lives on them. They forgot that nothing lasts forever. When the change of fortune occurred, they were emotionally and psychologically unable to cope.
When misfortune strikes – illness, job loss, a stock market crash and a failed marriage – the shock of a change can lead to mental breakdowns, depressions and heart attacks. It is not unheard of in some countries that a person can snap, pick up a gun and go on a shooting rampage. In high pressured societies such as Japan, a professional or personal failure can result in suicide.
When a crisis descends, those who were stuck in their own dreams are the ones who cannot adapt. They thought that their sandcastles were made of indestructible concrete, and not mere grains of sand that can dissipate in an instant.
Today, regardless of the religious background, the majority of us lack faith in God. We worship the material life, thinking that the ability to purchase and accumulate is the key to happiness. Many of us have fallen deeply in love with and take false comfort our possessions – our cars, houses, even handbags. Some of us are constantly upgrading our furniture, computers, clothes and shiny gadgets … making us more vulnerable to corruption and the belief that the way to happiness is achieved by satisfying our material desires.
Many Muslims today, even amongst the learned and the worshippers, are deeply devoted to the material life – money, jobs, status, spouses, and children, to the extent that their values are contrary to the virtues taught by their own faith. When the material status becomes the key objective in life, they become enslaved, weakened and vulnerable.
Money and Happiness
The majority of the people who pursue the material life have no happiness or security. The more one acquires and chases ownership, the more the sickness of guarding, fear and worry festers. No amount of money or belongings will suffice, because no matter how much they have accumulated, the fear of loss places them in a state of constant agony and apprehension. They may have wealth, but the fear of loss places them in a position of poverty, hence they continue working like slaves, scrounging and struggling to earn more and more in order to safeguard their sandcastles. The same fear of personal loss is what leaves us rigid with worry, night after sleepless night.
The lifestyle we are running after, the illusion and mirage, will never bless us with happiness, peace or security. It will never make us achieve what we think we can achieve.
Accumulating the material possessions in life and ignoring the meaning and reality of life will give us the disease of long hope, accumulation, greed and selfishness. This is why the older we get, the more worried and scared we become of losing what we have.
A Simple Principle
If we understand the fundamentals – that nothing is forever, that we are the next to go, and that the material accumulation is not a recipe for happiness, life stops becoming an uphill battle.
The decree and future is in the Hand of the Creator, and He will change our conditions at any moment without prior notification.
This means that we continue in life as before – studying, working and getting married. We make provisions for our future, but we never allow ourselves into such a deep comfort zone that we are unable to adapt or improvise if our plans go awry. In embracing this attitude, we reduce the craving to accumulate and form attachments to our belongings. The life plan itself is a necessity, but it is not our main goal in life.
The Permanent Shelter
What is the alternative? It is to develop faith, obtain the maximum guidance of our Creator and to be content for everything we have or do not have. Everything else is peripheral.
We do not look and compare between ourselves with others, for we respect the Creator’s decision and wisdom of what He gives or withholds from us. The Creator always gives us the best, even if the reasons are obscure to us. We appreciate that the Creator is the owner of wisdom, and everything He decrees is for a wisdom we cannot comprehend.
All He wants from us is to trust and be contented with what He decreed for us. This is what enables us to respect the giving and the taking, for life will always be a combination of both. If we place trust in the Creator, our personal sandcastles are no longer important to us, and we need not divest our time, emotions and energy to safeguard them from the inevitable.
We are Travellers
We are in this world for a limited period of time, as travellers. In a way, we too, are sandcastles which will one day disappear. When we leave, we will take with us only two useful provisions: our faith and good deeds. If we live our lives according to this journey of faith, life becomes simplified.
With this, we can cope with life. Even the word “cope” is inappropriate. We will understand life and live accordingly, happy, contented and thankful to the Creator. We bear life’s hiccups and unexpected twists and turns with patience, and our inner equilibrium is undisrupted despite occurences which are not to our liking. This attitude makes us calm and relaxed. Instead of nursing anxiety and constant disappointment, we learn to be appreciative for even the small things, such as a fresh breeze or a sip of water.
Relinquishing control over what we are unable to alter and loosening our grip on temporal pursuits, allow us to have a clearer view on the purpose of life, and to distinguish between the necessity and the goal. Once we know the Creator and follow what He wants from and for us, we will recalibrate our way of thinking and perceiving. With this new vision, He will allow us to know who we are and what is good for us.
It is the Creator who will take care of us in this life and the next, and if we want to achieve happiness in both, it is by doing what the Creator wants from us, living by His set of rules and relying on Him.
When we realise this, our material needs in this life will be reduced, and our vision and understanding of life will be altered. Letting go will be easy because we were never holding on in the first place. We will live day by day to its fullest, instead of destroying the present by worrying about what will happen next month and next year. We learn to go with the flow rather than fretting over possibilities and permutations which are beyond our scope to alter or influence, but we also acknowledge and are prepared for changes if and when they arrive.
This understanding is the real treasure in life, not our castles in the sand.
May the Creator allow us to find the truth, follow the truth, living according to the truth and unite us with Him. Amiin