"Allah is the light (nur) of the heavens and earth." ~ Holy Quran, Surat An-Nur
It is scientifically proven that meditation and prayer aid mental health and aid recovery from mental and bodily illness. In addition to various positive cognitive effects, such as raising awareness and attention, prayer and meditation have positive consequences for our emotional lives, with periods of practice resulting in ‘positive mood, emotional stability and resilience to stress and negative life events’. Many studies have demonstrated these effects using behavioural and social measures, and conclusions are reinforced by research using brain imaging techniques, which have shown that emotionally oriented meditation activates areas of the brain known to have important roles in emotion-related processing. (Source: Cognitive Neuroscience, Spirituality and Mysticism: Recent Developments, in: Psychosis and Spirituality, Ed. Isabel Clarke, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010)
"By learning to focus our attention we can move away from damaging habits, thought patterns and actions."
Connected to taking control over our attention (and what takes away our attention) is the ability to detach from habitual modes. Such cognitive flexibility requires us to assert control to overcome the way features of our world automatically grab our attention. Only by stopping the automaticity we can re-frame the approach we adopt in a given situation. A classic example of such a habitual mode leading to inappropriate processing is the Stroop effect. In 1935 Stroop demonstrated that our ability to read a colour as word (e.g. ‘red’) was compromised when the word was written in ink of a colour that conflicted with the word (e.g. ‘red’ written in blue ink). The Stroop effect demonstrates that the colour that is before our eyes captures our attention, even when we have been instructed to ignore it.
By learning to focus our attention we can move away from damaging habits, thought patterns and actions. The Islamic healing traditions have been working with this knowledge since the days of the Prophet Muhammed (a.s) and with time a vast collection of deep gnosis and scientifically frameable knowledge has developed to aid not only those who seek deep spiritual knowledge, but also those who are in need of healing when in the midst of trauma, loss and mental and physical illness.
"Meditation is consequently understood in Islam as a permanent process of spiritual development and not as a series of one-off events."
Muraqaba (Arabic: مراقبة) is an Arabic term which means "to watch over", "take care of", or "keep an eye". It implies that with meditation, a person watches over or takes care of his spiritual heart ("ruh"), and acquires knowledge about it, his and her surroundings, and it's creator. Unlike many modern day spiritual teachings Islam is based on a rooted tradition, and brings with it a high emphacy on a holistic life. Meditation is consequently understood in Islam as a permanent process and not as a series of one-off events. Through Muraqaba attention shifts from the noise of the world to pay attention to the soul and the creator. There are various stages of Muraqaba when it is approached with the goal to attain enlightenment. I will talk about those stages in a seperate post. As a healing aid it is recommended that a person first of all follows these base steps:
1) Practise the Shariah - follow the 5 pillars of Islam, and incorporate daily prayers, charity, sexual responsiblity, kindness, cleanliness and good manners (adab) into your daily life.
2) Practise Tafakhur (concentrated contemplation) - contemplate over Allahs attributes and names, take lessons from the things Allahu has created.
3) Practise Muhsabah (self-assessment) before and after prayers - meaning, reflect on your actions and seek to improve your actions and your character through spiritual understanding
4) Do the salat, pray daily, and during prayers learn to focus your mind when reciting the Fatihah (opening prayer)
In due time attention and intention will shift, focus and understanding will increase and healing processes within the body and the mind take root.
Here is also a simple instruction for an energetic light meditation that can help to increase attention, intention and focus:
After prayers, just before contemplation, keep your mind still, close your eyes and imagine a light that comes to you and that you breathe in. Through your breath spread this light within your body, gently from your head down to your toes and fingers and vice versa, and also spread this light outside of yourself, in the room or wherever you are sitting in. Repeat this a couple of times.