How can baking a brownie inspire you to write – especially in a rainy weather

2:12PM
The scent of brownies baking in the oven starts to linger in the house. My current thoughts – hoping that my popcorn brownies in the oven turns out good. 

It is the perfect kind of weather to laze around at home in my PJs – snuggling up with a good book, baked brownies and milk for teatime, and of course, a sideline of random thoughts lingering in my brain.

People often asked me, “What exactly do you on most days?” I can’t deny it, but that was the kind of question I will ask when someone told me they are on their Gap Year. Before I dived into my own Gap Year, I had a pretty bias overview that a typical Gap Year usually consists of 80% traveling and the other 20% lazying in bed.

But of course, that wasn’t the case.

Now that I’m almost 9 months into my Gap Year, my first rule of advice for those who are thinking of taking one is to set out and understand your purpose and intention(s) of taking a Gap Year. What makes one’s Gap Year different than the others is our intention(s). If your intention is to travel the world, then of course 80-90% of your time will be spent on traveling.

My Gap Year intention is pretty straightforward – it is all about self-care. Therefore pretty much everything that I do during my Gap Year is towards a greater intention of caring for myself (in other words, anything that will make me feel happy, rejuvenated and at peace).

For a while, I’ve always wondered why I do what I do, or why I love engaging in certain activities. Two weeks ago before my trip to Japan, I had a mini intervention for myself. It was after the intervention that I became more enlightened about my life. For a start, I became more assured that Allah put me on this Earth to serve humanity through my strength in influencing others to be a better version of themselves.

And I realised that in order to fulfil this life calling, there are a few factors that drive me or in other words, I need these things in order to be able to serve people in my best self.

1. A healthy mindset – that’s why it makes so much sense that I love the outdoors, traveling and nature. My interests in cycling, trekking and a sense of adventure are the medium for me to create a healthy mindset.

2. Constantly seeking knowledge – that’s why I’m always curious about life and the drive to learn new things is always there to keep my mind active with new knowledge and wisdom.

3. Getting inspired – that’s why I love to constantly surround myself with positive people and be in an environment that will never fail to inspire. This is where I actually thrived – especially when I meet new people and get inspired from hearing their life stories. At the end of the day, life is a series of stories we tell. 

4. Reflections – that’s why I love having deep thought provoking conversations with people around me. And it never fails to amaze me how sometimes you can get that connection with people whom you just met.

5. Love – that’s why family, friends and the religion are important to me to always keep me grounded and be grateful with everything that I have in life.

Even though it seems like a luxury to be able to take a year off, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. There are many times that I questioned myself, have doubts about where I am in life right now and how do I go about my life after this year.

Nevertheless, this reflection post was a great reminder to myself as to why I needed this Gap Year for myself. It is not about how much time you’ve spent that matters but it is how those time spent makes you feel that matters.

3:23PM
My brownies turned out great – slight regret in mixing the stale popcorn in the brownies though.


The kind of love you create

Tonight my heart is bestowed with feelings that bow down to the greatness of God and the everlasting love and gratefulness one could ever feel.

Have you ever wondered the kind of love that you create among the closest friends that you’ve ever had? You know how they say, “If a friendship lasts longer than 7 years, it will last a lifetime.”  But can anyone ever define the kind of love you gave and have for the people around you? What makes you love a person?

Hidden depression – it is hard to identify through oneself but somehow easy to recognise by the closest people around you. Lately, I’ve had a couple of my closest friends who are silently undergoing through this stage in their life and at times,  being a friend, it is hard for me to reach out to them – for the denial stage for some of them, prolongs till only time will tell.

And some things can’t be forced. Moving pass the stage of denial to the acceptance stage is a long process that differs through individuals. It takes time, prayers and patience for them to be enlightened and one thing is for sure, we can never help a person if they are not ready to help themselves first.

But it is hard. It is hard for me as a friend to see someone who is close to me going through this stage in their life. Sometimes, I feel helpless and then I wonder to myself, “Is this how it feels like to love someone you really care? To feel their pain and to get them out of that pain? Is this the highest form of love we can ever have for someone?”

Tonight, a dear friend of mine opened up about her struggles. I’ve always felt it coming but it was never the right time or situation to talk about it. But tonight, my question about the kind of love you have towards a friend was answered.

It’s the kind of love that you feel warmth when you see her cry. It denotes the trust and realization that this intimate moment is one that you both will remember till end of time.

It’s the kind of love where you knew her tears were tears of fears and trust. And I was there to witness her cries.

It’s the kind of love that all you ever wanted is to see her shine through this phase in life and bring back that sunshine in her life – no matter how hard it’s gonna take.

It’s the kind of love that creates a constant remembrance of God’s greatness and blessings in our life. How love is nothing without God’s love and how she’s not here in my life without God’s will.

At the end of the day, it’s not hard to make a difference in people’s life. It’s a matter of being present and having a sincere heart.

What if I was a tree? 
I would be the tree that shelter the vulnerable
The tree that feel the fears and see the tears 
The tree who knows the truth about them
To be the constant that they need

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What if I was a tree?

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What if I was a tree? 
I would hold on strong to my roots
The warmth it radiates to my every branches and leaves
The anchor beneath the weight of the Earth
To ground me

What if I was a tree?
I would be the tree that shelter the vulnerable
The tree that feel the fears and see the tears 
The tree who knows the truth about them
To be the constant that they need

What if I was a tree?
I would fall in love with the leaf litter 
Even when I am stretched way up high
It replenishes my soul (soil) and foster interesting form of life
To build the forest we can eventually call home

The forest is more than just a bunch of trees
Each individual tree is unique to its own strength
Just like how humans are, living in this Earth 
Be the strength that you can be
Be the tree that you need to be
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What happens when you make yourself vulnerable

Our generation is expected to grow up and know these things but in reality the first few years of our career is either a make it or break it time period for most of us. How do we face up to the demands of working and living yet still remain faithful to our religion? I’ve learnt this through my own experience of hustling for the last 2 years in my first job out of graduation.

How it began

For the longest time, I was afraid of being vulnerable. Growing up and ever since I could remember, I’m always known for being the strong and optimistic girl that could easily make the room comfortable and alive. And because of that, unconsciously I grew up having a mindset that I’ve always had to be strong and optimistic no matter what life challenges befall upon me – even though if it meant holding back my tears when I knew about the passing of my best friend’s Dad to be strong for her.

But as I was hustling for my career for the last 2 years, things began to get overwhelming at work. But of course, I was pretty strong and optimistic that I regard the feeling of overwhelming as something temporary and I should just throw it all at the back of my head and not talk about it. Well, it didn’t work out.

Apparently feelings started to build up inside of me, till one day I broke down when my colleagues started to push my button. And it all began with a simple question, “Za, are you okay? Do you want to talk about it?” And for a while because I was afraid to be vulnerable, I didn’t know how to start the conversation and what more to share about the emotions that I was not even aware of in the first place. I mean think about it, you are technically risking putting your heart on the line to expose who you are and all you are to somebody and you have to face the risk of being ‘judged’ for the rest of your life. So why should I share?

What happened when I started being more vulnerable

But my colleagues kept pushing through and eventually I became more aware about my vulnerability and was open enough to share the deepest thoughts and emotions that I’ve cleverly hid bit by bit. And that was where I realised the irony of being vulnerable. Vulnerability involves me opening up my heart and thoughts to take the stronger position. The more I share and make peace with the feelings I’ve had by understanding why I felt that way and how it can help me grow as a better person, the more I became stronger and less fearful about openness.

Connection beyond the conversation 

With vulnerability, I had a deeper connection with the people around me and naturally I’m surrounded by people who are attracted and inspired by the value of my openness. And it’s amazing how certain things that I shared are often relatable to the people whom I shared them to – naturally resulting in a more trusting connection between myself and other individuals. I also began to be more conscious of the relations of these feelings and thoughts in a more spiritual context – understanding deeper about the wisdom (hikmah) behind it. In a way, being vulnerable makes you reflect more about the level of connection and relationship that you have with your individual self and God. You began to rely more on God to help you through the various challenges in life.

It was also through this vulnerability that I began to question myself if I was hustling for the right purpose in life and what do I really want for myself? For a moment, I was secretly hustling to meet people’s and society expectations of what success is especially being brought up in a traditional society that has somewhat predefined to us what success is like. Unconsciously, I was struggling between juggling the demands of my career and the Hereafter. And that was where I knew that I needed to take a break from everything, to refocus back on what’s important and what do I really want for myself – that’s how my Gap year came along.

Importance of a great support system

However, I was lucky enough to have a great support system at work where my colleagues were mentoring me along the way in developing not only my skills professionally but also more towards developing my emotional agility in going through life challenges. And that was where, my friends and I realised that not many of us in our own Malay/Muslim community have the opportunity to be surrounded by a trusting support system that could guide us through juggling the demands between our career and the Hereafter, while being vulnerable to the people around us. Why is that so?

Do we then conform or challenge the status quo?

It could be that we don’t really talk about these challenges as a young Muslim living in a contemporary world among our friends/family as it might come of as a sensitive issue and we should just stick to the status quo. And specifically, could it be that we shy away from wanting to share new knowledge or ask more about the religion among our friends/family because it doesn’t seem ‘cool’ to talk about it during a casual lepak session? Are we afraid to show our vulnerability among our friends and family?

But as I’ve shared earlier, it could be because we are afraid to be vulnerable like how I used to be because along the way we grew up being shaped by the relationships or the society we grew up with to not showcase that vulnerability and challenge ourselves to define our own definition of success. It could also be that we are not aware of the benefits of opening up or at the very basic level, we just don’t know how to start being vulnerable among our trusted circle of friends to provide us the support that we need to be a better Muslim and person in general.

Taking the first step

For a fact, being vulnerable is the first step towards self transformation and I feel that our Malay/Muslim community needs to feel empowered and start seeing the benefits of it.

We’re not saying that letting people in—especially when you’re not used to doing so—is an easy process. But with a little bit of self-awareness and a few communication skills under your belt, you may just be able to lock down that loving, authentic, and mutually supportive relationship you’re afraid to admit that you yearn for. While this is sometimes scary, it is precisely what enables us to enrich our lives and grow – greatist.com

Think about it, when was the last time or have you ever become vulnerable among your friends or family in sharing the challenges or feelings that are affecting you emotionally or mentally? If yes, how does that makes you feel? If no, what was stopping you to have that conversation? 

Or have you ever ‘shut down’ or ‘criticise’ friends who are vulnerable and are open about their feelings as a weakling or being too emotional? What about for some of us who are aware of the benefits of being in touch and open with your feelings – did we share the awareness among our family or friends and specifically, how do we react to someone else’s vulnerability? 

And remember, like how it happened to me, it merely start with an intentional question that could trigger an individual to be more aware about his vulnerability, embrace that vulnerability and take actions to be a stronger and better person than he once was.

So what’s next?

For the last few weeks, this reflection kept me up all night to figure out a way where we can get more people to feel inspired, reflect and start a conversation within their social circle about what it means to be a young Muslim in this contemporary world we are living now and to live for a higher purpose.

Alhamdulillah, Allah opened up a pathway for me and made me realised that my life calling is to inspire and empower individuals through the knowledge and experience I’ve gained in my life. I didn’t realise that it was naturally ingrained in me that I have that power to consciously or unconsciously influence the people around me until people started sharing with me how at some point, I’ve inspired them in their life. MashaAllah, that is a pretty big responsibility to hold in some sense.

But I believe that Allah didn’t somehow made me went through that vulnerability stage while I was working and made me went through a Gap Year now for no reason. InshaAllah, what I’m working towards now for the community will be beneficial for all of us and may Allah bless all of us with the strength to continue to strive to be a better Muslim for His sake.

Here are a few reflection questions to myself and also to all my Muslim brothers and sisters out there.

What does it mean to be vulnerable as a Muslim living in this contemporary world?

How do you define vulnerability? What does it mean to you? 

What do you think is the most important factor in building that safe environment for us to be vulnerable with the people around us? 

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This is how I finally found my purpose in life

24. It is the age where you are independently capable enough to purchase things on your own as compared to when you were 16 – when waiting for your birthday every year seems like a 10 year wait for your parents or loved ones to fulfil your never ending wish list. Now that I’m 24, I realised that I had everything that I have ever wanted and most importantly, I knew I had everything that I was suppose to have.

But there is no deny that at this time and age, we have also evolved into creatures of habit. We stocked up on things that we don’t really need. We buy another pair of shoes just because the other pair that we owned no longer seems fashionable or fit the current look that we’re going for. Overtime, we tend to buy things for the sake of buying – it becomes a habit that no longer creates a value to an individual.

I’ve always been the kind of girl that isn’t materialistic enough to appreciate an expensive handbag or needed the most expensive items from the product range. I am relatively simple in that materialistic sense. It was went my best friend shared with me a quote from Yasmin Mogahed’s book, Reclaim Your Heart that made me think twice about my materialistic position in life.

“I thought I’m never the materialistic person, because I’m never into branded bags, high salaries, expensive items. but I realised materialistic is not just about things…its about emotions, people…anything related to Dunia. And it was then I realised that I AM materialistic, I was too attached to people.”

This quote made me realise that the word materialistic meant more than what I thought it was. And that my friends, was the catalyst that made me embark on this journey of self-transformation particularly with regards to any forms of tangible and emotional attachment towards worldly affairs. For a start, my journey began with me deleting my 4 year old Instagram account (a huge emotional attachment for me) which you can read more about here.

From there, I moved on to address the most obvious tangible attachment in life – cleaning out my room of items and clothing that I barely used. For a start, I googled and began to get more interested about the whole ideology of being a minimalist. My search engine often includes phrases such as “How Do I be a Minimalist? Ways to declutter your room? What is minimalistic?”

I asked myself the following questions every time I hold an item in my hands while I was clearing out my room.

  1. Does it spark joy to me now?
  2. How long has this been in my wardrobe/cupboard?
  3. Do I even know when was the last time I wore this or use the item?

If the answer to any of the questions above are either a no or don’t know, it either goes into the donation box or into the recycling/throw away box. And with that, I managed to clean out my room within 2 days – talking about efficiency guys!

For a while, I’ve always thought that being a minimalist means owning lesser stuffs and in some sense, being a decluttering expert even when you have other professions in life. If I were to summarize it, it was all about stuffs – dealing more with the tangible objects in our life. But that was just the beginning.

Over the next few days after cleaning out my room, I became more conscious that being a minimalist is more than just decluttering what’s on your counter top. I realised as a Muslim and in the spiritual context, being a minimalist is also about purifying your heart into reconnecting back to the reasons you are living in this time and your purpose in life.

I soon began to search for new spiritual knowledge and who would have thought that even if I’m still now at the beginning stages of this continuous learning process, God has shown me the path that has led me in ultimately finding my purpose in life. And there it is. My Gap Year has just gotten more interesting because now with this new found purpose of life (which I’ve yet to share), I am setting out on a new venture to make a change in the community which I’ll probably get around to share over the next few posts.

Here’s a quote from a recent documentary that I’ve watched about minimalism (Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things) to summarize how I feel about being a minimalist.

 “The people you bring into your life – we should always be hanging out with people who have the same values and that is what really being a minimalist is all about. It’s about living deliberately. So every choice that I made, every relationship, every item, every dollar that I spent – I’m not perfect obviously – but I do constantly ask the question, “Is this adding value? Am I being deliberate with this decision?” – Josh

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For a start..

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This is it – I finally did it. 

The past few weeks have been filled with graceful conversations and learning lessons with people that truly matters to me. As we progress into becoming the better version of ourselves, we became more conscious and realise that living as a human in this time is in fact the most challenging tribulation of our time.

We are surrounded by many distractions that concluded its path in leading us astray from our true purpose of living – which is to serve God and prepare for the Hereafter.

Making sins (especially unintentional sins) are more prevalent and easier in this time. A time where social media may lead you to be more subconsciously arrogant in portraying about your life to others. A time where our niat (intentions) in doing certain things is no longer sincere and is no longer because of God but is to please others. A time where you no longer realise that fighting the Dajjal within us is more difficult than waiting for the physical Dajjal to arrive – a sign of the End of Time.

Lately, I’ve had numerous discussions with a group of friends about truly being more present within ourselves and in the eyes of God, and here’s something that lingers to me for a long while. My best friend shared this excerpt that she read from Yasmin Mogahed’s book, Reclaim your heart.

“I thought I’m never the materialistic person, because I’m never into branded bags, high salaries, expensive items. but I realised materialistic is not just about things…its about emotions, people…anything related to Dunia. And it was then I realised that I AM materialistic, I was too attached to people.”

For that very reason, I felt a deep sense of urgency and importance to identify the materialistic attachment I had towards certain emotions and addictions, and to eliminate them from my life right now. And the first culprit on my list was my Instagram account.

Instagram is no doubt a great tool to be connected, get inspired and reach out to a wide range of audience. And as a visual person, Instagram was a sentimental medium for me to share my love of capturing moments through photographs and at the same time get inspired artistically in that area.

But Instagram was also the reason  I can find myself either consciously or subconsciously comparing my life to others, spending undocumented time scrolling through the feed, sharing things for other unintentional reasons and not for the sake of God, and also the reason where my niat is constantly tested whenever a new post is up.

And lately, I felt that our society and even myself at times have lost touch in connecting sincerely as a human. We are losing the element of being involved in each other’s life that we fabricate it with mediums like Instagram to portray the spirit of human connection but in reality, it doesn’t work.

To be honest, it was tough for me to delete my Instagram account as it was a medium that I actively documented my memorable life moments. But you know what, after scrolling through my Instagram feed of 4 years and making peace with the fact that I’m doing it for myself and for the sake of God, it wasn’t a tough decision after all.

This is all for a better and clutter free life, and until I find the real purpose and niat to create an account again, I will not have an Instagram account as of now.

Here is my journey to a minimalistic life. InshaAllah.

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Why you are chosen to live in this time?

Have you ever thought of why you are chosen to live in this time? A time where mass destruction is at its peak, a time where the rich becomes richer and the poor become poorer, and a time where not even the brightest light could light up the darkest of room and hearts.

Tonight, my question was answered.

It is when things are at their worst that God will raise the best generation. God thinks you – yes you – were born for this time. The transitions of time and change didn’t happened just for the sake of time. The understanding of the changes and transitions of time seeks deeper knowledge about the signs and manifestations of the end of time.

When we become more aware of the signs of the end of time, we have to not get overwhelmed with the manifestations of the worldly news around us. In fact, this awareness brings about higher level of purpose within us to find solutions to be the change we want to see.

If we cannot change it with our hands, change it with our tongue, if not with our heart.

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