Today we live in hyper-connected worldwhere "mechanical productivity" is a great virtue. Present-day life isdescribed as, using Ziauddin Sardar's conceptualization, life of "postnormaltimes". It is filled with colossal chaos, pollution, distraction,misinformation, obliteration, deconstruction, and reconstruction. Societies andcultures are dismantling the established "normal" traditions. Man's practicalengagements with the real world envisage the incessant process whereby"mechanical references" are replacing the "spiritual/psychological references"at an unpredictable scale. The organized "mechanical modelling" of conditionsof time and space have divorced us from knowing the essential meaning of"self". It disengaged us from the "world inside" (spiritual/psychologicalexistence) by diverting our whole focus to the "world outside" (mechanicalexistence). Our constant search of contentment and incentives in the mechanicalschedules and quantified functions has conditioned our consciousness to delinkwith the psychological/spiritual reality of our being. Such behaviouraltransformations have gradually allowed us to internalize a pattern ofmechanical attitudes vis-à-vis approaching to "self" and everything associatedwith the meaning and reflection of "self". The mechanical ingredients haveinfiltrated into the spiritual/psychological makeup of human "self".
Eventually, we have lost the place in thegreater order of things. We have lost purposive meaning of life. Unfortunately,we have become sort of beings- I won't say animals- who are, from head to toe,deeply immersed in a race of mechanical realization and appreciation. We growmechanically, socialize mechanically, think mechanically, communicatemechanically, and, ofcourse, die mechanically. Everything within and around us,is approached and assessed mechanically, and, finally, accepted or rejectedmechanically. We have set mechanical units and standards to measure: life,progress of life, movement of life, and meaning of life. Quite astonishingly,peace, love, happiness and sadness, the aesthetic tendencies that characterizeour "psychological/spiritual being" are reproduced, weighted and prescribedmechanically. We have become unmindful of our inherent; sociality,emotionality, spirituality, and, above all, natural tendency of normality. Inthis context, the critical question is; what is our "original nature"? And,does this disenchantment with the psychological/spiritual nature of "self",rendering man to an actualized "mechanical unit", using Schumpeteriantheorization of "constructive destruction", is coherently evolutionizing ourrelation with our "original nature"- our fundamental humanness- or not?
At the present terribly critical moment oftime, when our mechanical life has turned motionless, answering this questionmight take us "back to normality"- our original nature. Since Covid19 pandemichas, borrowing Arudhati Roy's expression, "brought the world to a halt likenothing else could", we are able to wrap off the spectrum of "realties" whichwe would usually miss due to, applying Ziauddin Sardar's three Ss – Scale,Speed and simultaneousty of our prodigiously committed mechanical schedules.The panic, fear, anxiety, and frustration exposed our unfathomable humanweakness which we would, in otherwise situations, hide under the guise ofartificial "mechanical strength". Unwillingly and unwittingly we realized, amicroscopic biology- basically a "life"- is more powerful than technology ifnot dealt with paramount level of care. We are now hell-bent to fight back andto safeguard our existence; our movement, our meaning, and, in nutshell, our"life". We are exercising "social/safe distancing" or "quarantine".Practically, we are forced to break with our regularized "mechanical" scheduleswherein all sorts of functions are prioritized as per their "mechanical utility".Also, we are temporarily breaking with those structures and institutions whichmanipulate our psychological/spiritual inducements through mechanical hammeringto, using Gabriel Marcel's conception, "fragmentize our personality." And,eventually, synchronize us in a "universal mechanical design".
Simplifying the argument, pandemic haspushed us back to our "normal-times". In the context of "dealing with self",normal-times refer to a relational frame of time and space wherein exercisingthe mindfulness is applied as a metacognition method to develop self-knowledge(marifat an-nafs), self-discipline (tarbiyat an-nafs), self-nourishment (tagziyatan-nafs), self-introspection (muhasabat an-nafs) and self-purification (tazkiyatan-nafs). The process of "dealing with self", according to Wahiduddin Khan, canbe only achieved through these "sciences of realization" since "self" is notmerely a technical subject. The constructive "dealing with self" depends on thereal interaction with "self" and everything associated with "self". The firstand foremost "Being", as per Islamic tradition, associated with "self" is God-the One who created it and created its inherent requirements too. Then comesthe family, relatives, friends, and neighbours- the created being alike man'sown "self"- who are directly and differently connected in giving value topsychological/spiritual/physical "self" of man. And, finally comes everyphysical constituent of this universe, from celestial to atomic size, whichsurrounds man's "self". Here, it is worth mentioning that man's equation withimmediate "environment" is the most significant element of the relation betweenman's "self" and universe. The triangular relational frame between man, God andcreation, affirms man's natural disposition (fitrah in Islamic epistemology).Hence, any negligence in observing this relation would mean discrepancy fromthe "original nature" and, subsequently, contradictory tensions. Therefore, tostrengthen this relation, man has to be in a continual process of "dealing withself" which is not possible without investing "quality time" on engaging with"self"; its essence, its needs and its development.
In the "mechanical framing", we grumbletime constraint when it comes to dealing with emotional/spiritual/psychologicalneeds of "self". This quarantine period, basically self-confinement, provide usa circumstantial window to appreciate the psychological/spiritual significanceof life. Although, the subjectivisation of "self" through "mechanical framing"has led to cessation of man's spiritual thinking and left him(her) incapable ofexperiencing meaning of values, truths and realities. Nevertheless, quarantinetime might excavate the deeper layers of psychological/spiritual reality of"self", enabling man to experience an empathic intersubjective relationshipwith "self", with God and with creation. This particular goal, approaching fromIslamic spiritual tradition, is achieved through the artistic exercising of thepsycho-spiritual methods such as contemplation (muraqabah), reflection (tafakkur),observation (tadabbur), remembrance (tadhakkur) and realization (i'tibaar).Through these experiences man heightens his(her) grasp of reality of "self"-the embodiment of his(her) being. Moreover, man learns to tune-up the spiritualand emotional demands of "self" despite being bonderized by the moderntechno-centric framing of life, time and space. It enables man to rise abovethe mechanical predilections and, resultantly, ending up with unresolvedthoughts, artificial beliefs, irrelevant choices, and mechanical temptations.Hence bringing back tranquil normality (al-sakinah) in man's thought (fikr),action ('amal), and inner refinement (tajrid). Specifically, man learns todevelop the balance with mechanical speed. That is, managing it positively-onspiritual conditions- instead of being managed by it- on mechanical conditions.
The quarantine period also provides us anopportunity to do "deconditioning"- I won't use deconstruction- of our "self".Undoubtedly, deconditioning is a powerful organic stimulus to undertake theprocess to a next level, which is "reconditioning" of "self". Methodologicaltools of "deconditioning" and "reconditioning" will be the same as mentioned inthe previous section. The great human potential will be actualized only throughthis dynamic training. Eclectic implications of the process of "dealing withself" will "reform" individual from "mechanical" to "spiritual", from "machineenergy" to "emotional fluidity", and from "limited structure" to "limitlesssoul". It will empower him(her) to seethe "inner corruption" through the transparent currents of mindfulness.Significance of every single particle of existence will powerfully circulatethrough man's consciousness. He(she) will feel imbedded in the "whole". The"whole" of which he(she) is a "fragile part". Man will benefit from beholdingthe "wholeness" of existence. And, in return, "wholeness" will expose tohim(her) the hidden treasures of life and ring of spiritual/psychologicalmeanings. Family, friends, neighbours and all people around will entangle withthe orbit of meaning of "self". Similarly, in a metacontext, all living andnon-living constituents of universe will find a relation with the socialdynamics of man's "self".
To conclude, "dealing with self" duringthis quarantine period will make life balanced. Spiritual/psychologicallyspeaking, balanced between "inside world" ('alam al-dakhili) and "outsideworld" ('alam al-khariji). Socially speaking, balanced between "office time" and"home time". Similarly, balanced between "calculations" and "emotions". And,balanced between "real" and "virtual". Resultantly, family interactions willbecome, at least, as much important as virtual interactions. Checking "familyupdates" will, at least, become an equal concern as checking "software updates"for social-feed gadgets. Meaning of sharing "real emotions" will replace theartificiality of sharing tech-based "emoticons". "Lived time" will replace the"mechanical time" in terms of giving value and meaning to life. In short, "realprofile" will become more meaningful than "Facebook profile". And, "real lifeaccount" will become more meaningful than any "social media account".
Bilal Ahmad Malik is research scholar at CCAS, University of Kashmir.