For the last several weeks, I've been working on introducing my new perspective on things. Insha'Allah, today I want to tackle the question, “What is the right path?”
I don't necessarily mean religiously. I mean, to get where you want to go in life, how do you know what is the right path to get there, or even if “there” is somewhere you should be? Often it is said in the LOA that the right path is the path that feels the best. If path A makes you feel fearful, but path B makes you feel happy, then you choose path B.
But is this necessarily always the case? Let's start by answering a simple question:
Why Does Something Feel Good?
What is it that feels good? Generally, what feels good is also something that feels easy to do. So the question is, why does something feel easy? There are a lot of possible reasons:
First, because it is right.
- It feels easy to love your parents, unless something has happened to turn away that love, because we are born with the innate knowledge we should love our parents.
- It is easy to not steal from an old lady, because we know inherently that this is not right.
- It's also easy to help someone in need, because our heart is moved for them and we want to alleviate their suffering.
Second, because it has become a habit. The first time you might try smoking, it's really hard, because your body is averse to it. But on subsequent occasions, it gets easier and easier, and soon it is easier to keep smoking than it is to stop.
We can see how the same can happen with the above items as well. If something has happened to make you dislike your parents, it might be painful at first, but eventually it will be easier to dislike them than to love them. If you somehow get into a situation where you think it necessary to steal from an old lady, you might have a lot of guilt the first time, but it's easy to imagine that after 10 times, it could become second nature. Lastly if you somehow become callused against those in need, you can fathom that you might pass over their need eventually without feeling bad about it.
A lot of my work with people in spiritual coaching is changing their habits, so that it's not as easy to do what they don't want to do, and it is easier to do what they do want to do. As humans, we tend naturally to always do what is easier. We are creatures of habit. If you want to start a business, for example, I have to help you make it easier to take the risks and perform the actions necessary to build that business. Otherwise by sheer inertia, it's far easier to remain in your current situation.
Third, because it is a desire. If you want to go on vacation, for example, it's easier to do the things required to prepare for going on vacation than it is to not do those things. The desire has to be stronger than the inertia of doing what you usually do, though. For instance, if you want to quit smoking, that desire has to be stronger than the inertia of continuing to smoke.
Fourth, because you are being tested. I won't go into detail with this right now, because I'd like to insha'Allah expand on it below.
So as you see above, there are many reasons why something might feel good to do. This isn't by any means an exhaustive list, but this is a pretty good overview I think.
I think a few of these reasons deserve a bit more explanation, though.
What Is Right?
Another common idea of law of attraction is that nothing is really right or wrong. As long as what you are doing feels good, you'll continue to get more things that feel good, so it goes.
But aren't there certain things that naturally feel good, as I outlined above? Unless circumstances have caused you to feel otherwise, it naturally feels good to help the needy, or to love your parents. You weren't necessarily taught that these are good things, but they naturally feel good to you.
So, that says to me that certain things are naturally right, and certain things are naturally wrong. How do we decide what's what? That's really a topic for another post, perhaps.
The real question here is, can you determine on your own that something is right or wrong? Perhaps when you are a child, but as you grow up, your habituated nature tends to take over, as I describe in point #2 above, so it becomes harder to. Plus, as I'll discuss a bit later, sometimes what is wrong is made to appear as what is right.
So taking the example of smoking again, is it right or wrong? If you're already a smoker, it's going to feel better to continue smoking. Does that mean it's right? But if you're not a smoker, it's going to feel better to not smoke.
Some people will come in at this point and say, “Morality is relative. Something might be wrong for you but right for me.” But this idea undermines the concept of morality altogether. If that were true, how could the laws of each country exist? Laws operate under the assumption that certain things are wrong. If morality were relative, society could not function at all, because everyone would just do what they wanted. Therefore, if morality is relative, then there is no morality at all, which I've already shown above is untrue.
It seems, then, that the best course of action is to believe in an objective morality. What this objective morality is, I leave to each of you to discover on your own. But once you have discovered the source of objective morality, then you know how you should act in all situations.
Are We Tested?
Now that we've established that some form of objective morality exists, this brings up a more interesting issue: is it always easy to follow that objective morality? Is there any reason to be tested, in order that we might not follow what is right? After all, that was my point #4 above, and it will make our pursuit of improvement rather more interesting if it is true. This is a bit more difficult to show logically, but I will still strive to do so.
We seem to have a natural inclination that those who have suffered more to do right, or those who have avoided greater temptation, are deserving of a greater reward.
Imagine this scenario: a man finds some money on the sidewalk. Instead of keeping it, he turns it into the police station.
Just about all of us would say he had done a good deed, and was deserving of some reward. But is there a difference if this man found $10 on the sidewalk and turned it in, vs. if he found $1,000 and still turned it in? We naturally think that the second one has done a greater thing, because it is more tempting to take that money for oneself.
It also might be different if the man was poor, vs. if he was a millionaire. If he's a millionaire, you figure the temptation isn't great, but if he is poor, you realize that he could use the money himself, and yet still does not do so.
The actions are the same: turning money into a police station for its owner to find—but the meritorious nature of that action is completely different based on the surrounding circumstances.
Here's a second example: do you have more respect for the person who is born with riches and never has to work a day of their life, or the person who has to build their wealth from the ground up, struggling the whole way? Likely, once more, you'd say the second person was more worthy, even though the end state is the same.
Now, if we all got everything we wanted with no struggle, if we all did the right thing because there was no chance to do wrong, would you feel fulfilled? Would you really think anyone was deserving of anything at all?
It's interesting to see that there's some agent of evil, or at least temptation, in every great religion.
Taking the monotheistic religions first, we see that Islam has the concept of Shaytan. The original Shaytan is named Iblis, who is a jinn that refused to bow to Adam. He has a respite from punishment until the day of resurrection, and until then can freely tempt humanity away from God. Those who do right, despite this temptation, will be rewarded both in this world and in the hereafter. Those who fall to temptation without repentance will be punished both in this world and in the hereafter.
In Christianity, it is taught that Satan was an angel who refused to bow to Adam. He, and about one-third of the angels, disobeyed, and were thrown out of Heaven. They try to tempt mankind to do wrong. In addition, there is the belief of original sin, which says that people are inclined to do evil anyway. Those who avoid temptation will be rewarded with Heaven. As far as I know, Christianity doesn't say much about rewards in this life. Those who fail without repentance will be punished with hell.
In Judaism, Satan is an angel who is doing the will of God, to put people to the test. If people avoid temptation, you will be rewarded both in this life and in the hereafter. Those who fail without repentance will be punished in some way, though the way depends on who you ask as it is not very clear, from my research, and there are various opinions.
Even in the other religions, there is some concept of evil beings. In Buddhism there is the idea of Mara, who tried to prevent the Buddha from attaining enlightenment. In Hinduism, there are the asuras. I cannot comment at length about these teachings as I am not quite as familiar with them. But even without these beings, I know that in both these religions, you struggle against your attachments to the world, to reach a state of non-attachment, or enlightenment.
My point in the above is that in all major religions, there is the idea of struggling in the pursuit of what is right. You do not simply fall into doing good naturally, because somehow it feels better than doing what is bad. You are tested, tempted, and lured into doing wrong, so that often what is wrong feels better and more natural than doing what is good.
So why are we tested? Naturally we can come to the conclusion that being tested, and succeeding, will improve our rewards in this life. Doing what is right when it is hard will be rewarded more than doing what is right when it is easy. Similarly, doing what is wrong will be punished in this life.
Why is this so? It seems obvious that God wants us to act according to the natural spiritual laws He has created in the universe. When we do, things go well, and we are blessed. But when we don't, we are punished, both as a result of the bad action, as well as a way of helping us to grow for such tests in the future.
As a Muslim, I also believe that such tests, and our reactions to them, have an effect for the afterlife, but it is not my place to go into that here. Yet it is interesting that just about every religion teaches some form of reward or punishment in the afterlife.
So, Is the Right Path the Easy Path?
With all the above in mind, I'd say almost certainly not. That's not to say it's always the hard path, either. We all have our own challenges, our own aspects of life that are the hardest for us. What might be hard for me might be easy for you, and what might be easy for me might be hard for you.
I do believe, however, that we are regularly tested on those things that are hard for us. If you have a fear of disapproval from others, for example, you might often be tested in order to surrender this fear to God. The end goal is total and complete surrender and submission to God, that we follow all of the spiritual laws He has put into place, and that we not rely on our own strength, ingenuity or intelligence to navigate life, but only put our trust in God. This is the way we were created to live.
How do you know, then, what is the right path? Here are a few basic principles:
- Does this path rely on your own strength, or does it allow you to surrender to God?
- When you've done this in the past, has the result been beneficial in the long run?
- When you go within yourself and ponder this path of action, do you feel at peace about it?
Most importantly above all, choose an objective moral system. If it is in agreement with that system, then it is right. If it is not, then it is wrong. For instance, as a Muslim, I know that choosing not to pray one of the obligatory five daily prayers would be clearly wrong, because the objective moral system of Islam requires that I pray five times a day. Similarly, Islam says it is wrong to eat pork, so clearly, any path of action that would include eating pork would be wrong.
By the way, I want to say that when I say “an objective moral system”, it doesn't mean that there is necessarily more than one objective moral system. Even to suggest such would be to make all such systems relative, not objective at all. An objective system necessitates that it is the correct system. However, that is the whole point of living here in this life, that we all must discover for ourselves what that system is, and then follow it to the best of our ability.
As I said above, I cannot help you choose what is right and what is wrong. This post has mostly been for the purpose of illustrating that the right path is not always, or even usually, the easy path, or the path that feels the best. To always take the easy path is to really not grow at all, and very likely to continue to receive negative results in life. But once you find out what God wants of you, then you have a clear answer for how to act at all times, and acting in accordance with this knowledge, assuming it is correct, will open you up to the blessings of God.
I will give an example to complete this post. In my own coaching practice, I want to make sure that everything I do is in alignment with what God wants of me. I pray every day that this site would be pleasing to God in every way, and that if something is not, that my attention would be drawn to it so I can change it. Why? Besides obviously that I want to follow God and do what's pleasing to Him, it's also true that when my coaching practice, including this site, is in alignment with God's spiritual laws, then it will be blessed. When it is not, then it will not be.
Has it been an easy path? Not necessarily. I know that speaking of God can be a bit scary for some people. After I made the change on this site, I almost immediately got several unsubscribes on my mailing list. I had the fear that people would hate this new change and be scared off by it. And likely, many will. But I also know that it is the best decision for me, because it's the right thing to do, to speak truth to the best of my ability.
I don't want to be simplistic. I know there are many people who appear successful and yet do horrible things. Yet, my view is in the long term. God deals with each of us based on where we are at this moment. The success of those who do wrong may very well be a part of their downfall. I don't want that to be the case with me, obviously. I believe that good will be returned with good and bad with bad. It is also part of the path of surrender, because though I don't always see the way in which it will turn out, I trust that if I do the right things, God will return it faithfully. I only need to trust.
That's the message I'd like for you to get out of this. Every day, be sure you are following the right path in all your affairs. Expect tests to arise, because they certainly will, and they will not be easy. But be assured that if you pass them, or realize when you don't and strive to do better, then you will certainly be rewarded, as long as you trust, and surrender.
Image Copyright: fever pitched / 123RF Stock Photo
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