Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) is narrated to have said, “Anyone who embarks on a retreat (‘uzlah) from the world is fortified by Allah and protected by His guardianship. What joy there is for the person who has withdrawn with Him, secretly and openly! To do this, he must differentiate between truth and falsehood, love poverty, chose hardship and abstinence, and seize every opportunity for retreat.
It’s everyone’s fear to be alone. But what is there to fear? Of course, in the long run, nobody wants to be alone. Everyone wants to have a family, friends, a community, or a social network to belong to and be a part of. And of course, this is healthy and right, as Islam is a social religion and encourages its followers to speak with, do things, and network with each other.
But there may come a time (or there may not) in each person’s life when we take a second and wonder, “Who am I? And why am I so unhappy?” Sure, it helps to ask friends, discuss, get advice, try therapy/counseling, etc., but sometimes we just need to be alone.
It is highly recommended in Islam to do “self-retreat” – basically, isolating yourself in order to attempt to fully understand who you are, what you want, and what you are going to do about it all. In Lantern of the Path, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) is narrated to have said, “Anyone who embarks on a retreat (‘uzlah) from the world is fortified by Allah and protected by His guardianship. What joy there is for the person who has withdrawn with Him, secretly and openly! To do this, he must differentiate between truth and falsehood, love poverty, chose hardship and abstinence, and seize every opportunity for retreat. He must contemplate the outcome of his actions, seeing his incapacity for worship while worshipping as much as possible, abandoning pride, and constantly engaging in remembrance without showing heedlessness, which is the hunting ground of Satan and the beginning of every affliction and the reason for all that is obscure. He should also rid his house of everything he has no immediate need for.”
Pretty much climbing to the mountaintop and having zero contact with the outside world. But how feasible is that today? A weekend might work, but most of us definitely do not enough time available to take two months and discover ourselves. So in what realistic ways can we today go on “self-retreats” without having to climb the Rockies?
First off, we all need to evaluate our environment. Studies show that when an environment becomes too familiar, a person becomes pretty set in their ways, making it harder to even see that they have become so routine and usual. Environment is not only our cities or neighborhoods, but also our surroundings. Where we usually find ourselves? In a library? Maybe in the mall. Wherever it may be, change it up, take a 180 and see how you feel after a while.
The next biggest is observing our social circle. Sure they may be childhood friends, but do the people we surround ourselves with help in our self-growth? Even though people may grow up together, it does not mean they will hold the same values and morals ten years down the line. Take a break from the usual social scene you find yourself in. Maybe the hookah lounge is all played out, so try a friend’s house for a nice cup of coffee for a change, or a coffee house. Maybe reaching out to people you have always thought are not “like” you will help you find out something about yourself. Many times we find ourselves distancing from people we don’t usually hang out with, because it’s not in our comfort zone, so take a chance and reach out, and you just may make a new friend for the better.
Isolation and retreat does not necessarily mean you have to go hide under a rock, but trying to isolate from things or people who have made you stagnant is key. Nobody wants to be a stagnant and still human being. Our potential is immeasurable, and by doing the same old thing, when we know we don’t have peace, will not help.
Have alone time. Completely alone time. No electronics time. Just lay in bed, or grab a notebook and pen and jot down thoughts, random ones, specific ones, ideas and goals, plans on how to achieve them, set deadlines, or just scribble. Take a walk by yourself. Look at each living thing and wonder what their purpose is so that you may contemplate yours. Friends are definitely a blessing, but unfortunately modern society has instilled in our mind the “best friend(s)” concept. We are a group which is exactly alike. We eat the same food. We start to dress alike. Eventually we start to think alike, and depending on the personality type of each person, one friend is bound to have major influence or control over the other friend(s) thoughts. This stunts Allah’s best creation from using our full potential. Separate yourself from even your best friend(s) until you can confidently, honestly, and happily say this is where I am, this is what I want, and this is how I am going to do it.
It is a hard concept to fathom, wanting to be alone. It almost feels as if Islam preaches to be anti-social…it is our job rather to take the time to know ourselves and our religion, on our own – influencing not included, so that way we can really understand what Islam is preaching as a social religion. It takes guts to separate oneself from an everyday routine, friends, or surroundings, especially ones has been going on for months or even years, but in the long run, it will be an extremely rewarding and cultivating experience.