I go back to that day, when in the backyard of my California house, in the sweet morning sunshine, I felt so much joy in my heart that it spilled out in the form of tears. The Quranic verse, which attempts to explain how much God loves you had just resonated with me, and it made me weak in my knees. I was overwhelmed by gratitude as the Love of god touched my heart. The verse roughly translates to the following: To understand God’s love, think of a source of love we all know- The unconditional and powerful force of a mother’s love. Now take that infinite love and multiply it by 70. Thats how much Allah Loves you. While a mother carried you in her womb and gave birth to you..God created you. He created your mother, and everyone around you- who loves you. And in my deep meditation, I felt that love in my heart. That joy..that absolute raw and unconditional love that was too much to behold that day, completely escapes my heart right now as I write this.
Back then, all my prayers had been answered, I had done remarkably well on my USMLEs and finally had the confidence to believe that I could become a physician in the United States. The test of time was over. I was granted a residency in Internal Medicine, a salary to support my loved ones, and the promise of a future. The phase of struggle was finally over, and it was all because of the Almighty. I had been blessed with success, that I did not think was achievable. At that time, I was needy and therefore I was closer to God: I prayed, I meditated, I took out time to be Grateful. I had overcome a big struggle. I also felt thankful for having a loving and supportive husband, parents who loved me more than the world, a brother who cared, friends and family, who made life worth living. Somewhere in my heart I feared, that with all these blessings, I would forget God, I would no longer be needy, but I brushed these thoughts aside, knowing that I had a strong and undeterrable faith.
The next three years were the busiest time of my life. The stress and the fast pace of residency was overwhelming. My confidence took a huge blow. The demands of residency put strains on our marriage. It was everything I had worked towards, but instead of feeling rewarded, it had made me miserable. The high stress environment, the unreliability of your peers who pretend to be your friends, the knowledge that you are being judged constantly- not as a person: nobody cared about the kind of person you were- but your performance was constantly being judged, your knowledge was being rated. Everyone had an opinion about you. Long hours in the hospital, with not enough sleep, the load of carrying a full service, needy patients, mean nurses, attendings with a sharp tongue, a threatening program director- who lead a culture of constant demand. He demanded, that we constantly perform at our best while remaining “energy givers”. We were discouraged to crib, or to be an “energy taker”. Life was suddenly moving at such a fast pace, that I could barely keep up. I could not keep up with myself, with my husband, with mail, laundry, cooking, cleaning or my parents back in India. I felt suffocated, every single day. Everything that mattered to me had been pushed to the back burner and residency had taken over my life. Wake up, go to the hospital, come back and sleep. Repeat. I had no time to think, to breathe, to heal, or to fall back on things which gave me strength. I had no time for God.
It took me an entire year to re-build myself, my confidence, to realize that I was smart. The healing came from patients. While I was in the role of healing them, the act of making a difference in someone’s life was slowly regenerating my self esteem. I loved taking care of patients-even the needy ones, I was never the one to bitch about them in the resident’s lounge. I would sometimes butt my head with people, to make sure my patient got what they needed. The love that I received in return helped me recover. The very first time when I was told, that I was the best doctor that patient had ever met, or I was the only person who had taken out the time to talk and explain things to the patient and their family was very uplifting. One patient’s family wrote me a card, another wrote to my program director praising me. All the hugs, all the love finally helped me re-emerge as the person who I was. I could finally take pride in what I did. On my graduation, an attending gave me a card which said- that I was the only resident she had come across her entire life who actually cared for patients. And that meant the world to me. I received a $50,000 grant for a research project that no one had ever received in the program. I also volunteered my free time for the homeless. The transformation was solid and complete.
But I was unable to get back to my spirituality. The connection with God. The inner peace. I longed for that happiness. But maybe I didn’t try enough. My free time was spent on socializing. Social media, hanging out after work, exploring the city, the many restaurants. It was a lot of fun, but more like temporary material fun. Every now and then the acute depression would return, I would go into a phase of feeling listless, sad, a deep ache which almost felt sharp. I would be completely non productive during those phases, which would send me back into some more self loathing. Biking the Pittsburgh city trails helped, but it just fulfilled a physical need, rewarded by temporary endorphins. That space in my heart for Allah had been buried to such depths that I couldn’t reach it. I tried by meditating, by taking long walks in the parks by myself. By searching in the silence of the forests. In the songs of the birds. It escaped me.
It still escapes me as I am going through one of those phases again, its a cycle (no, it doesn’t correlate to PMS). I can’t get any work done. I feel stress and anxiety bearing down my shoulders. I feel unhappy. And I have been trying all sorts of things to help myself out. I have been hiking in the forest everyday, took my bike out yesterday, I have been exercising regularly, taking time out for myself- watching intriguing documentaries, listening to inspiring talks. This time around, they don’t even provide a temporary fix. And thats because I have been searching for the wrong help. Looking in the wrong direction. I am trying to fill that space in my heart with things that don’t matter.
And then I just remembered. The memory of that day in my backyard when I felt that deep connection came back. I can’t feel that love yet, I know its there, but I cant access it. I listen to Spiritual Sufi songs, tears roll down my face. But I still dont feel it.
—- Why does your Love Escape my Heart. Will I feel it, or will I be left in the Dark? —-