By Calisha Bennet
“You are as close to Truth right this second as you ever will be. Why don’t you just learn to relax and appreciate what you have in life? When you do, I guarantee that you’ll stand a far greater chance of finding what you are looking for than by running all over the world looking for it.” Sydney Banks
When I was younger, I envisioned that when I grew up I was going to have an amazing little family of my own. I loved children; I would daydream about my future husband and I wished for a life where I had a wholesome little Muslim family and I’d just be super happy and in love with my life.
I had always wanted to become a woman who lived a really settled and fulfilled life. I wanted to be a woman who was always in a state of feeling okay and being in control of her emotions. I wanted to be a wholesome and content wife, a confident and competent mother, a woman who was calm and who had a real grip on life and could handle anything thrown her way.
However, when the time came to actually living that life and having that idealised dream that I had envisioned – it was a whole other story. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Certain situations would trigger me and cause me to lose control of my emotions. Feelings of insecurity would creep in and negatively impact my relationships and I would operate from a place of relentless defensiveness and protectiveness. I placed everyone else in charge of meeting my emotional needs and it was always someone else’s fault for how I was feeling. I found myself constantly feeling unsafe, unhappy, and in situations of conflict I used to be absolutely overwhelmed.
I was left feeling miserable, discontent, frustrated, resentful, guilty, unfulfilled and ultimately NOT how I envisioned I would feel. The more I demanded that the external world should ‘fix’ how I felt – the worse I would internally end up feeling, Subhanallah.
Despite growing and maturing in many ways and managing to settle my emotions a lot more as each year passed by, I still felt a sense of everything not being fully okay. I had done a lot of personal development, reading, research, Islamic learning and more over the fifteen plus years of my married life, but hadn’t quite figured myself out.
A couple of years ago, I’d made a decision to spend a year deeply working on myself internally and I trusted that Allah SWT would guide me to what I needed. Then by Allah’s permission I came across a concept called the Inside Out Paradigm founded by Sydney Banks in 1973. I was unexpectedly introduced to it by a close friend and without knowing very much about it at all. I felt a sense of curiosity and decided to step into the journey to see if it could help me uncover what I felt was ‘wrong with me’.
As I learnt about the Paradigm I discovered a psychological fact that was an absolute game-changer: It was the fact that your feelings are derived from your thoughts ALL of the time. What this meant for me was that my emotional state was actually tied to my own thought patterns and process and were absolutely not derived from those around me. At last I was set free from the illusionary trap of believing that others had control and responsibility for how I felt!
This led me to the ability to take responsibility for my own feelings and state of being. It freed me from needing anyone else to ‘fix’ how I was feeling and it caused me to take a super close look at my thoughts. I started to notice and observe what I was thinking throughout the day and why I was thinking it. I would observe whether what I was thinking was the truth, whether it was just and pleasing to Allah SWT, or whether it was untrue, unjust and what Allah SWT would not be pleased with.
Discovering the Paradigm and becoming aware of such a basic fact of life (that I simply couldn’t see up until this moment in time and hadn’t been made aware of) allowed my broken perception of the world and my reality to simply fall away. The negativity, disappointment and frustration about people and issues around me fell away once I realised that it was my thoughts which has created my feelings of not being ok. That didn’t mean I didn’t sometimes struggle with my emotions or get overwhelmed ever again, however, I knew could feel an absolute change and improvement of mental and emotional wellbeing compared to how I had been before I had learnt about the Inside Out Paradigm.
This change and sense of deep wellbeing came from realising that I actually was always okay, and that my world was always going to be okay as long as I could see the reality of my feelings coming from my own thought. I felt as though the Islamic concepts of Qadr (Divine decree), tawakkul (trust in Allah) and sabr (patience and forbearance) were finally sinking into my body, mind and soul. I had discovered that my experience of my reality was dependant upon the thoughts I had around it.
“Allah is the best of planners.” (Quran 3:54)
I realised that my world CAN be spectacularly beautiful – if I want to think of it that way. And alternatively it could be miserable, dark and hopeless – likewise if I want to think of it that way. I was finally in the driver’s seat of my life rather than being a passenger who was recklessly thrown around and at the mercy of my expectations of others. I didn’t have to continue to think that the failures, disappointments, disagreements and tests around me meant that my world was not okay or that I was not okay.
I let all of that nonsense fall away.
Alhamdulillah I now realise that I can’t control anything but my own choices and actions. I realise now that my experience of life is created through the lens by which I choose to see situations that arise.
Instead of seeing a difficult situation as a negative thing, I look at it as a blessing decreed by Almighty God, as a means of learning and growth or as a way to earn Allah’s forgiveness. I learn true submission to Allah, acceptance of His decree and trust in His Plan and so much more…
At last I felt safe enough (through my journey of understanding the Inside Out Paradigm and that feelings come from thought) to accept that life is perfectly imperfect, that I am the only one who is responsible for my own state of wellbeing and that no one can truly hurt, or damage, or affect my quality of life. I now feel free from so much of what was weighing me down unnecessarily and which took me away from seeing the true blessings and joy that I had right in front of my eyes. The life I had dreamed of was in fact in front of me all along. All I had to do was remove the protective wrapping with which I had encapsulated my view of the world with and I could see the great gift of this beautiful life we have. I know that the protective wrapping was what I implemented somewhere along the way in order to cope with life and get through certain stages of my life – but those techniques were not necessary and were in fact damaging to the type of life and state I so desperately had always wished to live in.
I now feel whole, I feel grateful, I feel calm and accepting. The story that had once been, no longer needs to be. I still struggle some days, a regress to my fearful, insecure ways of thinking, speaking or behaving but I can now quickly catch myself and come back to reality. I am determined to rewire the way I think, perceive and behave in the world.
I see only better days ahead Inshaa’Allah.
The biggest thing that I’ve realised is that my childhood, my life journey so far, my varied good and bad experiences, the choices of others around me – all of these things which I used to think defined me actually DON’T DEFINE ME.
I define me.
I now understand deeply that it is ultimately what I think about myself and my life which what will create my lived experience of it. I understand that we all live our own separate realities and no two experiences of any situation is the same.
I totally accept what Allah SWT gives me:
“Allah does not burden a soul beyond what it can bear…” Quran (02:286)
Discovering the Inside Out Paradigm has changed my life forever. Because it had so greatly impacted me, I decided to train as an Inside Out Paradigm mentor and coach program under Sister Kathryn Jones and alhamdulillah I recently completed my certification so that I can support others towards this understanding. I make duaa that countless others can benefit from the hope, freedom and psychological liberation that it provides. It is truly a treasure to be uncovered by the world.
And All praise and Thanks belongs to Allah SWT.
About the author:
Calisha Bennett is the daughter of an Australian convert father and Cocos Islander mother. She is a home-schooling mother of 5 with over a decade of experience as an active speaker, community teacher and mentor of Muslim women, converts and youth. She has a background in Quran Tajweed, Islamic Shariah, youth work, education, coaching and fitness studies. She is the founder of Developing Diamonds which provides identity and success coaching, workshops, courses and retreats for Muslim women around the world. To find out more visit: www.developingdiamonds.com.au