My name is Romina. I am the youngest of 8 children in an Afghan “pathan” family that lived in southern Africa and came to the UK when I was just under two years old. We didn’t have lots of spare money growing up- we never ate out and often went to jumble sales for our books, toys and clothes. We lived in a cramped and damp council house that had icicles on the inside of the window in winter ( yes, icicles inside the house!), and I went to a funny modern progressive primary school in an inner city area where some kids were too poor to afford a proper dinner and ate Weetabix with water instead. After that, I attended a failing secondary school in a rough area of south London where I was one of only a handful of Asian or “paki” girls (the eighties and the nineties even were not kind to Asian people) in amongst a majority of Afro-Caribbean girls who were cool, wore expensive branded trainers and laughed at my lack of street style for much of my time there. I didn’t “belong” there, but somehow got through by being a tough Afghan who had four older brothers and carved a niche for myself as the funny, “brainy” and always laughing member of the “benetton gang” made up of myself, a Hong Kong – Chinese girl called Heidi, Katie- a white girl, and two black afro-caribbean girls called Joanne and Mel (we were so called after the famous Benetton ads of the early 90’s which featured people from all different cultures as part of their “united colours of Benetton” branding).
I can tell you more details about my story – about how my upbringing was probably very different to my siblings because I was the youngest, and my parents were older and well, more tired of the whole parenting malarkey by the time I was 12 or so, about how they never attended my parents’ meetings at school, about how I sometimes translated that at the time to mean they were not bothered about me and I could tell you about about how I was craving to be “seen” by them in a sea of brothers and sisters doing more important things like O levels and A levels and degrees and things, and about how I felt I had to fight for attention and for my place in the family and in the world.
I remember one incident of being smacked in public at the age of 5 or 6 ( as many children were, back then) and I could (in fact I did for many years, I think) translate that to mean that my parents were more bothered about my compliance than my happiness, so I developed a hidden dislike for compliance…
I can take all those facts and now tell you a different story – my childhood was busy, bustling and full of family connections, people coming round and eating and sharing with us. Having lots of brothers and sisters around meant there was always someone to play with, there was always something going on, and certainly never a dull moment! My primary school was peppered with really lovely, memorable teachers who took the time to come home and speak to my parents about me, and gave us experiences that I only later came to realise were not normal for all primary school kids. I can tell you about how we all loved the jumble sales and looked forward to them enormously: it was like a mad treasure hunt – you never knew what you could find, and the books there….the books you could find! Boxes and boxes of Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton, The Three Investigators… I loved reading, so picking up books for 5p and then haggling for a free one was a real thrill at the time, and one that would have me coming home and bragging to my siblings about what my pennies had gotten me!
What I want to draw attention to is the fact that both of those stories have truth to them. Both of them include some things and leave out others. Does that make any of them more true or less true? Which is the story then that I should choose to tell about my life, to myself primarily, and then also to others?
The answer is…the story that empowers me the most is the one I must choose. The story which serves me better right now, that helps me to realise that my life is a story of blessings and that gives me hope – that is the story that I will adopt. It’s not “untrue”, I am not “kidding myself” as some more pessimistic types might say, because ultimately, every single story we tell is limited by our own capacity to see every single detail; it is not possible to measure all the different elements at play and include them all, so why not be mindful of that process and choose accordingly?
No story we tell ourselves is the “truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”; every single story we tell is subject to the limitations of our mind, the limitations of our memory, the limitatons of our language even. When we study the brain and how it works, we are told by scientists that our brains take in about twelve million “bits” of information every minute, and that our mind filters that information by various processes of deleting what is not relevant, distorting other things so that they fit into something you can better with, and by generalising so that you can categorise things which are similar together. This is normal and helps us cope, so that we don’t become overwhelmed, and so that we can choose what to concentrate our focus and the power of our conscious brain on. This process is part of what is called the communciation model in NLP, and underpins our understtanding of how we think and how we process the world around us.
As Muslims, this brings into sharper focus the name of Allaah, “al Haqq”, The Truth, because we are able to appreciate that Allaah is the only one who knows the full truth of any matter; He is the Only One who has the ability and capacity to take in all of the information pertinent to any situation – infinitely more than even the twelve million bits our brains have to cope with. He is the only one who can read and see not just the tangible, and the concrete, but also the intangible intentions and thoughts of every single person. This builds into our understanding a natural humility towards Him Who possesses the most perfect and complete knowledge, and we are able to better appreciate that when confronted with our own limitations. It also builds humility into our dealing with ourselves and with others as we realise that we don’t have a monopoly on the ‘truth’ and that other truths can be equally as right and as true as the version we have chosen.
Why is this important? Because we need to be open to the possibility that what we see as truth in any situation, that what we see as the truth of our story, may actually be only one possible truth amongst a plurality. Why is that important? It is important because we need to be honest about whether we are using our stories as an “excuse” for a behaviour that we don’t want to change, feel is too hard to change, or is just plain comfortable for us because we have lived in that story for a long time and the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t!
When I look back at my story and really dive deep into what the other perspectives of my “story” could be, I notice that when I lean into these other perspectives, they have a radical effect on my feelings about that situation. If I think that my parents didn’t care about me and that was the reason that they didn’t attend my parent-teacher meetings, for example, then I feel sad and that emotion will be carried in my heart and mind and will have a concrete effect on how I relate to them today. If however, I remember that they knew my reports were always good and that they were busy trying to establish a business that would help lift us into a better position financially, then I feel grateful to them for always telling me what a “clever” girl I was, and for telling me what wonderful things they knew I would achieve!
So my invitation to you, is to look back at your story, the story you yourself tell about your own life, and lean into the alternative stories that are hiding there, waiting to be discovered. Do that especially for the painful parts, the parts that your child brain has held onto for too long and which now needs your adult conscious brain to re-examine. As Albert Einstein is reported to have said :
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Find the miracles in your story, find the hidden gems and reclaim them. After all, you come from a line of surivors, don’t you? Yes, we all do. Our forefathers survived the flood of Nuh alayhissalaam; our ancestors and forefathers survived so much – wild animals, wars, hunger, famine, plagues, and the list goes on… all for you and I to be here today, so your life and mine are already a miracle. Now it’s just up to us to hold that microscope to our story and find the one that really does justice to the miracles that brought us here to this point, and the miracles that will undoubtedly take us forward until we meet Allaah, inshaaAllaah.
About the author:
Romina is a happy mother to four children, a Master NLP-practitioner in training, part-time teacher, coach and passionate believer in unlocking the wonderful potential of each and every soul by connecting them to Allaah and His Book. She has been blessed to be a part of Solace for some years now, and loves connecting with sisters and children everywhere! You can connect with her on Instagram at @connectedcoachingbyrom and listen to her podcast “Grounded in Guidance” at https://anchor.fm/groundedinguidance or on Spotify.