Thursday, 26 May 2011

Achieving “Khushu” and a Positive State of Mind

We have all heard about the importance of inculcating Khushu in our prayers. It refers to a state of mind when we stand in front of Allah and fully direct our minds and hearts towards Him. Ibn al-Qayyim defined Khushu as a state “. . . when the heart feels aware and humble before the greatness and glory of Allah, and is filled with awe, fear and shyness . . .” (Al-Rooh, p. 314).
Anything less not only diminishes the rewards of our worship and Ibadah but we should consider it as a sign of our disregard for our creator, as well as a lost opportunity for our spiritual rejuvenation. After all, what good is being in front of anyone – let alone our creator and sustainer – when our minds and hearts are not focused on “the moment”?
Khushu – A Positive State of Mind
In psychological terms, we can liken this state of mind to a single-minded immersion of oneself with deep focus on the activity at hand and one that leads to maximum performance. We know that our state of mind, directly or indirectly, impacts almost everything that we do in life. A bad state of mind can have a debilitating effect on our overall performance, shows its effects on our outward appearances, and in general becomes a hindrance to bringing out the best in us. On the other hand, we also know the good feelings associated with being in a good state of mind. It makes us feel livelier and more productive, and life generally seems more fulfilling.
Needless to say, we must find ways to get in the right states of minds to maximize our performance for any given activity or else we can expect subpar results. The activity of “Prayers” or salat is no exception to that rule. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) alluded to something similar in that we get only a portion of the reward for our prayers depending on the level of our efforts. He said: “A slave may pray and have nothing recorded for it except a tenth of it, or a ninth, or an eighth, or a seventh, or a sixth, or a fifth, or a quarter, or a third, or a half” (Reported by Imaam Ahmad; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 1626).
The Tendency to Get Distracted
However, voluntarily getting in a focused state of mind and staying there is easier said than done. Many a time we tend to get sidetracked by our own thoughts. As for prayers, the reality is that as soon as we enter the state of prayers, various thoughts rush into our minds distracting us from the state of worship. These distractions also include satanic whispers, also referred to as “waswaas” (insinuating thoughts from Shaytaan) and sometimes reach to a level where the act of worship fails to deliver any notable spiritual value.
Sadly, this lack of control on our thoughts and states of our minds not only deprives us from establishing a relationship with our creator but also prevents us from bringing calm to our jittery nerves and lives in general. Among other things, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) relied on prayers to provide him comfort and mental calm. He once said, “The source of my delight is the prayer” (authenticated by Al-Albani). He also used to ask Bilal to give the Adhan for the prayer by saying: “Give us comfort by it, O Bilal.”
Stepping towards Khushu and a Positive State of Mind
Inculcating Khushu in our prayers, therefore, is about getting in the right state of mind where we are fully guarding our thoughts from any distractions and focused on Allah and the various prayer invocations. Besides spiritual rejuvenation, the practice of Khushu also teaches us to induce a positive state of mind for any other moment or activity by teaching us to keep distracting thoughts at bay and enabling us to focus on the task at hand with the heart and mind fully immersed.
So, what can we do to get in the right state of mind to help us perform optimally? The following are some tips that can come in handy:
Get passionate about the activity: One way to get in a positive state of mind so you may excel at a task is to ensure that you develop a passion for it. The more passionate you feel about doing something, the less likelihood there is to get distracted from that activity. We know this from our hypnotic interest in the many TV shows, movies, and numerous other entertainment episodes that occupy our minds on a daily basis. So, if you complain about reduced khushu levels in your prayers, you ought to assess your passion and level of interest in prayers and your relationship with your creator. How does it compare with your life’s other passions and interests? A reduced interest drives you to rush through prayers so that you can get back to your other activities of interest. The reason behind your poor khushu levels, therefore, may be rooted in your lack of interest to pray in the first place.
For some of us, this may be a harsh reality check but until our behavior proves otherwise, our priorities may be skewed.
You can get over this problem by spending time (when you are not praying) to learn and internalize the merits and rewards of prayer. That can help you go a long way in raising your passion for prayers and other forms of worship, thus minimizing the likelihood of getting distracted. In this context, we should remind ourselves of what Allah said about developing the right khushu in prayers. He said in the Quran (interpretation of the meaning),
“Successful indeed are the believers, those who offer their salah (prayers) with all solemnity and full submissiveness” [Surah al-Mu’minoon 23:1-2]”.
Remember, the more passion you fill in your mind and heart about anything, the less vacuum you leave for the distracting thoughts to fill the void when you are involved in that activity.
Prepare for the activity before the activity: Another sure method to help one perform optimally in any activity is to get mentally ready for that activity beforehand. Athletes do it regularly. We do it too before getting ready for any challenging activity (taking an exam, for example). This preparation before the actual event helps clear the clutter from our minds that maybe lingering from previous activities. As far as prayers are concerned, performing ablution, the high value associated with making dua before obligatory prayers in congregation, sunnah prayers, and so on are some of the things that can get us in the right state of mind before we start the obligatory prayers.
Be mindful of the activity: To ward off distracting and negative thoughts, psychologists and psychotherapists also recommend the use of “mindfulness”. Mindfulness helps in directing your consciousness to what you really want at the moment rather than letting negative thoughts pull your mind from one distraction to another. Being mindful in prayers can help you consciously guard your state of mind from being poisoned by negative thoughts as well as satanic whispers (waswas). While praying, be mindful of the meanings of the invocations of your prayers. Done repetitively, this voluntary control can gradually help you control your state of mind and achieve high levels of Khushu.
In Summary…
Khushu, therefore, is an ideal practice to help you increase the quality of your prayers that, as the prophet told us, can bring delight and calm to your lives and help bond with your creator and sustainer. The psychological underpinnings of this practice can also help you master the art of getting in the right state of mind for other activities too. It can also help keep unpleasant thoughts from the past at bay and also to stop related feelings of anxiety. That can come in quite handy in your relationships, at work, and in other aspects of your lives.

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