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Selma Cook

Finding Happiness - As Easy as One Plus One - Selma CookI complained to my friend that I feel pain.

 “What kind of pain?” she asked.

“All kinds. Physical, emotional. You name it. Especially emotional.”

She looked at me for a while, raised her eyes toward the ceiling of the room and then said, “Have you ever felt numbness?”

“Yes, many times.”

“Did you like that feeling?” she enquired.

“No, not at all.”

“So pain is better, isn’t it?”


I had to think about it but the answer was obvious. Numbness is a symptom of disease; an imbalance. So it must mean that pain is part of the normal human state. I felt afraid.

“Do you mean that feeling pain is normal? Am I to except pain to be a part of my life?”

“Yes, of course. But don’t just focus on the pain. There are many other feelings and sensations as well but we tend to ignore them and give our attention to the overwhelming and perhaps more frightening ones.”


Her words settled on me heavily. I certainly didn’t want to feel numb; I would much rather undergo the turmoil of emotional pain and loss than to be locked out of reality. Surely it was better to be vulnerable. Realizing this gave me a sense of balance, despite the ache.


She could see that I was thinking deeply and added, “You must accept pain, not fight it. Accept the state you are in.”

“But isn’t pain a warning signal that something is wrong?” I asked.
“Yes, but it might be your thinking that is out of balance. Regardless of your state, accept it and trust in Allah, then He will help you to see the positive that always exists in and around the hardship.”

“With every difficulty there is ease…” I remembered the verse of Quran.

“Yes, exactly. Anything that moves the heart is good for us. Everything in life has a positive or negative potential and everything is created for the greater good. Even in death, flowers and plants grow on a grave. Nothing is wasted.”

“Even death is positive?”

“It is often sadness that moves the heart the most, even more than happiness. And sadness makes the heart softer while great happiness can sometimes make the heart hard, unfeeling and exultant.”


I understood the importance of having a heart that is soft and sensitive so I can decipher the meaning of life, but it didn’t take away the emotional pain I was feeling. This pain was strong enough to engulf me. It threatened to overwhelm me leaving me hollow. “Is there good in this feeling?” I wondered.

She continued, “You live in your own internal world where you dream, perceive, decide and respond. What counts are the decisions you make, your intention and the effort you exert in striving to be a power of good in the world. Anything that pushes you towards that is ‘good’.”

“So all these feelings are good for me,” I spoke half to myself.


“Look, you have pain, you don’t like it and you’re afraid of it yet you hold onto it! You have to learn to let it go because you are not in control anyway.”

“Do I hold onto the pain?”

“Yes, you do. You have to ride it out and let it go.”

“Can I do that?” I wondered.


“And it’s not just your own pain; you also have to feel the pain of others.”

“Mine is more than enough!” I declared, almost laughing. “More than enough!”

“When you feel the pain of others it helps you to bear your own.”


“Well, look what’s happening now. You’re telling me how you feel; don’t you feel better having done that?”

“Yes, actually I do.”

“And as I listen to you, I feel calmer and I feel less pain. We benefit each other.”

“Do you feel pain too?”

“Everyone feels pain.”

“Life is so hard.”

“Oh, come on. Don’t forget that everything has two sides. For all the marvelous emotions that can fill our being there are also darker emotions. You can never appreciate beauty, truth or joy without having experienced their opposites. If we only experience beauty and happiness we would be angels! But remember Allah says that the righteous human being is higher than the angels – so feel your pain, enjoy it and grow from it!”


I closed my eyes and let the waves of pain fall over me. I didn’t resist them. I waited. They passed. I opened my eyes. There was calmness.

“So what did you learn?” she asked.

“I survived it. It passes. Everything changes.”

“Yes, accept change and accept yourself. It’s the only way you can start to build.”

I felt stronger. The pain had edged its way to the background and left me with a sense of clarity, tranquility.


“Where did you learn all this?” I asked. “Is there a book I should read?” As if anything could be so easy.

“No,” she laughed. “Allah puts His signs in the universe all around us. Anyone can see them and understand them, even if he can not read! It is up to us to comprehend the messages He sends us and learn from them, or repeat situations and feel the pain til we understand. Our ability to do this depends on the state of our heart. If you look back at your life and compare yourself in the past with how you are right now, you will surely see many changes and developments. You are not the same person you were ten years ago. Try to remember the signs you had along the way. Try to remember what guided you.”

I could remember.

“Change is a part of life, don’t resist it. Learn to ride out whatever happens and know that joy is contained in and around the hardship.”


“Tell me about your life,” I asked her. “What was the changing point in your life?”

“There have been many really. I learned that helping others always brings about something positive.”

“Please explain.”

“Well, if someone comes to you with a problem that is counted as negative. Then you try to help them, comfort them and support them and that is counted as positive.”

“But won’t the negative of that person counteract your positive?”

“Remember what you learned about Math at school? A negative and a positive make what?”

“A positive!”

“Yes. And a positive and a negative make a positive and a positive and a positive make a positive…”

“Yes, only a negative and a negative make a negative,” I realized.

“That’s why we should always return evil – a negative – with goodness – a positive, then the whole thing will transform into something positive. Isn’t life amazing!”

“Most certainly. But you still didn’t tell me about the changing point in your life.”



“Oh yes, it’s quite a simple story really.  There was a time in my life when I felt very depressed, almost broken. I felt like giving up. I’d lost faith in people and in myself. Yet deep inside I had this sense that I must never give up. Allah guided me to a place that changed my life.”

“Where were you living at that time?”

“I was living in Malaysia. I visited a prison that had opened to the public as a tourist site. I went there alone because I wanted to see and feel what it was like for the inmates there long ago. I felt I was in my own prison; one I had built for myself.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I had constructed walls in my thinking, limiting myself and my choices. Telling myself that I can’t do this and I can’t do that; that life is difficult, meaningless. I was always negative. I decided to face my greatest fear.”

“What was that?” I trembled at the thought. Wasn’t fear something to run away from?

I went down into the depths of the prison into death row. In the room where they used to hang the prisoners there was a cage where the prisoner would stay for three days before his execution.”

“How awful!”

“I sat inside the cage and looked at the ropes hanging from the scaffolding. I imagined I was a prisoner there watching and waiting for my death to take place. I looked at the swinging empty ropes. I felt afraid. I felt more than afraid. I forced myself to stay there and feel what the prisoner must have felt. My life flashed before my eyes. I felt regret, sorrow, pain. I experienced what death must feel like. But I experienced it many times over. Then I told myself that I am lucky, so lucky because I am free to get up and leave. I wondered at how the prisoners would have wished for such a chance. I felt a wave of happiness and relief. I have never felt such happiness!”

“And this changed your life?”

“It certainly did. Every time I feel negative, I go to this place in my mind and remind myself that I am free; that I still have time. That I can get up and leave, change, and my heart soars.”

“Such a negative place brought such a positive result.”

“Yes, that’s the lesson. Whenever you insert a positive the negative changes, transforms – it disappears and becomes something that gives us life and spurs us on.”