Beautiful Chaos

There exists

a hunger

inside me,

A hunger that only grows

the more my body tumbles

in the center of the gym.

So I try

to satisfy

this emptiness,

by tossing my body about like a rag doll.

I hold a handstand,

toes pointed,

and quadriceps flexed.

I take a chance on myself.

Can I hold this pose with a single arm?

I lift my left hand off the floor,

and tease gravity.

My back begins to arch,

and my feet come in contact

with the earth.

But I want to be airborne,

a weightless body that is closer to the sun,

than to this universe.

Weightless,

and greater,

than trivial matters,

that beg for my attention.

But I use my body as a tool,

to shift my thoughts.

So I run,

A hesitant attempt to gain momentum.

I throw my body,

in a carefree roundoff,

pushing the ground away from me,

as my hands meet the floor.

Pause.

I am airborne.

I am here.

I am free.

My thoughts have shifted from trivial matters about the past,

to this very moment,

that my body

is suspended.

This body,

that I deeply love and respect.

But soon enough,

my feet meet the floor again,

with a disingenuous greeting.

My ankles absorb the impact.

But still, I crave.

So I tumble about this empty space,

hungry…

My body twists in a haphazard single-arm handstand,

twists in a roundoff.

My legs catch my body as I fall from handstand,

to bridge,

catch my body as I dive into a cartwheel.

My ribs blossom, as I open my body into a beautiful arch,

open my body into a standing split.

I tumble,

harder,

and faster.

Round-off,

handstand,

dive cartwheel,

forearm stand,

front walkover.

Can you feel the energy in the room?

Can you feel the emptiness that falls upon me…

as my feet become grounded,

after only a split second of suspension?

Can you feel this hunger,

even as you,

dear gym member,

applaud me from several feet away?

Can you see purpose in all this movement,

as I try to find myself in this self-made chaos,

in this beautiful disorder?

My tumbling reluctantly evolves into a dance,

as I open the palms of my hands,

open my body into an arch.

Confident,

yet hesitant.

Certain,

yet so unsure of myself.

Let go,

of this weight.

Let your mind and body become suspended.

Let go of the fear of falling.

My back hits the ground as I collapse out of bridge pose.

My ankles take the impact of my falls.

My forearms chafe with the carpeted floor.

But in this chaos,

there was control.

In this frenzy,

there was sanity…

Just a voice pleading,

am I full yet?

 

 

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Human: Part III

If you separate yourself from your accomplishments, titles, and possessions, then who are you really? At work, I am Ms. Naima, the math instructor. At school, I am an unfamiliar passerby on the campus of George Mason University. And on Instagram, I am Naima, the yogi, contemporary artist, and blogger. But if we tap into our subconscious mind and explore our inner selves– strengths, vulnerabilities, aspirations, fear– then we discover the aspects that truly define us. Apart from being an employee, a classmate, a community member, or otherwise, who are you? We make myriad assumptions about other people every day, an automatic process conducted by the subconscious mind.

As I stood in front of a college class for a presentation today, I couldn’t help but wonder about the gaps that my audience may have filled in their minds regarding who I am. I shouldn’t be concerned with directly influencing others’ perception of me; doing so is just as ineffective as beating a dead horse. But observing the nature of perception (of humans and the world around us) is intriguing because our thoughts are presumably flexible, and thus, subject to external influence. It is often that I spend the nights in quiet introspection, as I lay my thoughts on the floor of my mind and pretend to be an outsider. These thoughts are organized based on category: art, religion, culture, politics, academia, and more.

I challenge myself to consider the counter-view of my beliefs so that I may gain an awareness of diverse perspectives. Some may call this practice “walking in other people’s shoes.” My history professor and I call it “mental flexibility.” During this process, I observe the contours of my face and employ the imaginative part of my mind. I imagine myself as a single individual among billions of humans. These people do not have unique countenances– no unique race, religion, background, or character. We are truly a unified human race in this scenario (which only exists in the boundaries of my skull). We do not compare each other on the basis of financial status or ridicule unique gender identities (many of which were recently introduced by the millennial generation). We are mind, body, and spirit . We are one collective whole on this planet. We are not a dollar amount, a simulation of photoshopped magazine covers, or titles upon titles of resume-perfect accomplishments.

We are thoughts expressing themselves through character and action.

We are vulnerability– embraced by the self or not.

We are human.

Stillness

Stillness feels like riding the hills of Fairfax city

After I’ve observed the break of dawn on my drive to school.

Stillness is the taste of the morning breeze,

The feeling of it kissing my skin,

as I turn the corner onto Roberts Road.

Stillness is the blanket of humidor that drove out the winter chill

In preparation for spring.

Stillness is the sound of rain,

Pattering against the mud of my backyard in the night,

Drops of water coalescing with dirt.

Stillness is the deep breath upon performing a controlled power-press

With a 60lb. bar,

The strength emerging in the crease of my triceps.

Stillness is talking to you on a Saturday night,

The sound of your exhale and the silence.

The seconds walking past us without hurry.

Stillness is the engagement of eye contact,

Waiting for a witty remark to further spur the conversation.

But the silence never bothered me

Because it is in that silence that I learned how to be perfectly still

Even among the rush of Fairfax city-life.

The stillness is the break of dawn,

Your brown eyes and the sunset.

It is the morning breeze and the humidity,

Showering the town in rain

So that the trees will glow healthy in the morning.

Let me rise for another Spring day,

When the vibrato of the winter hum

Has diminished,

And the birds tweet to the song of the new season.

Discussing a Writer’s Work

My intention of blogging has never been to aim for perfection. If the pages weren’t covered in subtle grammar errors, the site wouldn’t truly be mine. A few years ago, I worked with an editor who was an Oxford University alumna. Although I was relieved to have had help editing my college essays, this process stripped the work of my voice as a writer. I do not blame my editor, as she was a well-qualified and intelligent adult. But I refrained from being my own constructive critic, which hindered my ability to further develop as a writer.

When I ask my friends, family, and peers to read my blog, I don’t expect that they will assume my work to be perfect in every sense of the word. Even the published work of scholars has room for improvement. The grammar errors on this page are not intentional, but they do serve a purpose, as they convey the inherent imperfection of writers.

A fruitful way to discuss a writer’s work is by offering support and politely suggesting improvements. As my former Creative Writing teacher often said, “Comments are always positive.” In guiding these discussions, we must acknowledge that writing is a deeply personal art form. To insult a work without grounds of literary merit is to insult the writer himself. It is vital to conduct conversations about writing with the foremost intention to offer support; secondly, to offer suggestions about a work (on the grounds of merit, of course).

On another note, I developed a passion for writing at the age of 11. But this passion would not have become such an integral part of my life if it weren’t for the teachers, friends, and community members who offered their unwavering support. I would like to thank Ms. Chase, my fifth grade teacher, for encouraging me to make writing a lifestyle. To Ms. Dove, who humorously remarked that her name would be in the “Acknowledgements” section of my first book. And to Mr. Nelson, my high school Creative Writing teacher, who encouraged me to start this blog where I have observed my personal and intellectual transformation.

May we support writers in unleashing their creative and intellectual drive.

Unread

Writer’s Note: “Unread” is my most recent poem and extended metaphor. I am proud to say that this piece is among my most compelling works, as it subtly questions whether we can define ourselves by where we come from. You may have noticed patterns in my writing style. Painful subjects are only discussed through metaphor. I challenge you to read between the lines. All the best, and thank you so much for reading. -Naima

Unread

I am a book, sitting on a dusty shelf.

Countless passersby take a glimpse of my spine,

In awe at my compelling title,

But not intrigued enough to open the first chapter.

Few have read the first chapter,

Fewer having read up to the final page.

But it is the last few pages that I crave for others to read.

Lay me out in this quiet library,

And read in between the lines.

Although sometimes,

I’m not quite sure I want to be read.

I’ll just let you look at my cover until I’m ready to be opened.

My analytical mind craves to build a connection with a true intellectual.

Ask questions.

Assess the world around us.

Be passionate about something.

Be passionate about anything.

And let me share these aspects of myself with you.

I’m tired of small talk and, “how’s it goin’?”

Let us wrap our minds around a truly compelling subject,

And look beyond the title and the author name.

Hi, I’m Naima,

But I doubt you will remember my name.

But you will have something to remember.

The tone of my passages,

Dank with nervous excitement.

The image of myself, the author, on the back cover,

My eyes give away my curiosity,

My inquisitive nature.

Why do you ask so many questions?

Well, why don’t you?

You will remember the run-on sentences that leave little room for pauses.

 

 

So, go on.

Ignite a discussion

That doesn’t veer into nothingness and half-hearted summaries.

But if I can give you a preview of my story,

I would like to tell you that I am not where I come from.

Quite frankly,

You’ve caught me at a time when I’m shattering intergenerational absurdities,

And breaking the confines of cultural expectations.

I strive to rise above adversity,

Above the weight of dark memory.

But if I do tell you where I come from,

I won’t specify a location.

I am from

A bottomless thirst for knowledge,

A successful academic background.

I am from

A never-ending pursuit of quality health,

Weight-lifting by day to build physical strength,

Meditation by night to maintain a stable mind.

I am from

An infectious optimism,

An almost-English politeness.

I don’t belong in this library,

For my personality is much louder than this white-noise,

Or the aggressive hushhh.

Perhaps you should take me off the shelves,

And tell the librarian that my story caught your attention.

I can promise that I will broaden your perspective on people like me,

People who don’t characterize the places that they come from.

I can promise that I will inspire you to dig deeper,

To question and to analyze.

I only ask you for one favor.

Don’t bring me back to this library.

Take me to somewhere

Where I can thrive,

Express these words still unread

On my dusty pages.

Take me to somewhere safe.

A place that I can call home.

And when you reach the final chapter,

Please pass on my story.

I cannot thank you enough for completing the final page.

Don’t tuck these words beneath your pillow.

Vocalize them.

Perhaps I will learn to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feigned Optimism

The alarm begins to sound at 7:30a.m., as the winter doldrums tempt the eyes to close. The body begs for sleep, but the mind is wiser than to let itself drift off. Suddenly, the brain recalls the myriad tasks that must be completed. Classes bright and early starting at 9:00a.m. and work until 8:00p.m. Yes. 8:00p.m. My finish-line. The end to all this bustle. The time that I can prepare to go to sleep again. I crave the feeling of clean sheets against a weary body. But where do I find the starting line?

Just peel the blanket away from you slowly. Let your mind wander a bit. Thoughts wrap themselves around the prospect of breakfast, of listening to my favorite songs on the way to school, of my plans for the weekend.

I get through my gen-eds (Math, History, English) and complete my work as a math instructor at 8:00p.m. On my way home, I remember a valuable lesson I learned from running cross-country.

Suddenly, I can’t remember why I am tired. I can’t remember that I’m struggling to get through the week. Rather, I am empowered by the fight I have left in me. It may only be the 2nd week of the spring semester, but I can already imagine the summer break… for during the break, it is not the restless nights of free writing that I will remember… or the rush to travel from school to work… or the wish to just go to sleep and shut it all out. It is the triumphs of my freshman year at George Mason University that I will remember… wrapping my mind around discrete mathematics until the concepts click. To my professors, to my students, to my employer, and most important, to myself: I wear these dark circles with pride. These “I just rolled out of bed” winter leggings, this “just get out of the house already” t-shirt. May I repeat the successes of my past. Better yet, let me surpass them. Let me find myself on the Dean’s list, let me surround myself with loved ones on the weekend, let me spend hours on homework assignments that trigger a thirst for knowledge. It is in these activities that I find balance.

So I will wake up for my 9:00a.m. review session in a few hours and demonstrate an eagerness to learn. And to all my classmates: you’ll likely remember me by “the crazy girl who said the homework was fun.” It’s a lot more exciting to fight for optimism than to give in to indifference. Try it. I dare you.

Familiarity

Familiarity is the jacket I wear even if it’s hot outside.

Familiarity is remembering where every pothole is on the streets of my hometown.

Familiarity is the white noise in the background, the golden yellow paint on my bedroom walls, the countless race bibs hung nicely near my calendar.

Familiarity convinces me that there’s no point in getting comfortable in other cities. Why walk around the campus of your university? You’ll be home in no time.

Familiarity is coming home at 9 o’clock on a Wednesday night, the feeling of pajamas against a shivering body,  the aroma of home-cooked food.

Familiarity says your second semester schedule should be more like that of the first,

that you should take the same routes home,

even if it’s less time-efficient.

But I wish I could unzip the jacket of familiarity,

bare my skin, despite the wind.

Give me time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Wouldn’t discomfort soon morph itself into familiarity?

What are now unknown road signs are the signals that will soon lead me home.

Reclining on the couches of my university’s campus will eventually feel like hanging out in my bedroom on a Friday night,

Braless and weary from hours spent typing on my laptop.

But I want to feel free to get up at any time,

and handstand against my bed,

hang upside down in the staircase,

run around the house singing Lorde’s “400 Lux.”

I replay the same song over and over in my car,

to give myself the illusion,

that nothing is changing.

I can deal with new changes, I tell myself.

But the subconscious mind can’t keep its mouth shut

if I’ve been at school for eight hours,

and all I can think about is staring up at the same bedroom ceiling before going to sleep,

wearing the same pajamas,

hanging my clothes in the same parts of my closet.

But maybe soon I will peel away this jacket,

this attachment to familiarity,

though I know that I will undoubtedly return to my gym of seven years,

the bright yellow ‘Gold’s Gym’ sign luminescent in my mind’s eye.

I will continue my quest of morphing discomfort into comfort,

linger along the sidewalks of unfamiliar towns.

If I can just get my feet wet,

perhaps I wouldn’t mind if the water were cold.

The body eventually adjusts to the temperature.

The Embodiment of Free Expression

Writer’s Note: This story is one of my most powerful recent works, as it challenges the notion of what it means to be alive, as I strive to become the embodiment of free expression. Thank you so much for reading.- Naima.

    The Embodiment of Free Expression

         “You’re not really living. You’re just surviving,” she says. I notice that my breathing becomes constrained, lungs filling with discomfort. It is a skill to awaken the subconscious mind and enable it to coexist with the conscious mind, as I strive to do during meditation. But to deny my efforts to live fully is nothing short of offensive. I turn red. The mind is a philosopher whose tongue is tied. My words are lodged in my throat, eventually diminishing into the back of mind so that they may arise as an afterthought. I don’t really begin to breathe until she leaves. What can I do to rid myself of frustration? How can I prove that I am truly alive, despite that I am destitute of the roots of a healthy mind? Can I build health and happiness in spite of difficult circumstances? To rise above the weight of these desperate matters? I will use my mind as a resource so that I may learn to live fully, learn what it’s like to truly fill a canvas with freedom.

My car zooms down the length of Richmond Highway as I anticipate my workout. The elliptical awaits my presence, the yoga studio growing impatient for my arrival. And finally, I have reached my solace, my euphoria, my gate to freedom. I increase the resistance of the machine with haste. My mind’s eye observes adrenaline climbing to its peak… slowly. The minutes fly, and eventually, time becomes irrelevant. There is no greater extent to which I can be present. My mind, body, and soul is here… and alive. Techno music strikes the match on adrenaline. I speed up. Euphoria grows closer to its peak, and fatigue cannot hinder my pace. I dismount the elliptical and rush to the yoga studio.

During the gym’s final open hour, I turn down the lights, let lyrics flow into the mind. I focus on breathing. Inhale peace, exhale release. My eyes gently close, as I pedal my feet in downward dog. Listening to the sound of my breath, I notice as peace flows through my temples. Open the body as you stretch into three-legged dog. Inhale peace. Ground your heels on the mat, and tip your hips toward the ceiling. Exhale release. Movement begins to flow, as energy surges through my veins. This mode of self-expression leaves no room for shame… or judgment. I am present and aware of my body. My back arches to make space for oxygen, my body performs countless turns as I lose myself in a whirlwind of pure joy. One Republic’s “Apologize” begins to play. I place my hands in prayer and sit at the center of my mat. The eyes close. Oxygen fills my lungs, and serenity grounds itself in my heart. Tears fill my eyes, nearly tipping over the lower eyelid. “Alhamdulillah.” I whisper.

Gratitude floods my heart and spills over the expanse of the yoga studio. Pure joy sits in my throat, waiting for the tears to spill over the edge. Can I whisper the word “alive”? Better yet, can I bottle this feeling and hand it to those who told me I was merely surviving? Can I paint the town in the word “living”… in the word “present”? Place my name right beside them. I am alive. I am present. I am awake. The conscious and subconscious mind have found unity in this very moment, and I have only the shadows as my witnesses… the very reflections in the mirrors. I don’t need to repeat “alive” until I become that which I strive for. We are what we repeatedly do, and I—I have chosen health and exercise as an eternal realm of freedom. Free expression will imprint itself in my very being until I have become the embodiment thereof.

Tell me that I am merely existing. Tell me that I am merely surviving. But it is in the wake of these euphoric peaks, in the exhilaration that forces tears of joy to spill over the eyelids, that I become alive. Alive, and awake, and present. Here. Present.

I prepare to leave the gym, slowly putting my shoes on. Attention is diverted, as I cannot help but to replay the beautiful dances that I performed. The mind’s eye watches my graceful body, my arched back, my pointed toes… as I made space for freedom. Still, I crave to relive these moments that occurred in the very recent past. But without a doubt, I will recreate them. Undeniably, I will become them.

Ever-burning Fire

The roots of an active lifestyle often begin in childhood. When I was 11-years-old, my sister encouraged me to take part in physical activity by getting me a gym membership. Mental and physical health disorders are no rarity in either my family or the country. Over several years of cardio obsessions, love-hate relationships with the sport of running, and tumbling in my pastime, I decided to try something new. Outdoor track season had ended, and that meant I was off the sidewalks of Alexandria and dragging myself to the gym. I needed a break from cardio; even thinking about running was exhausting. So, why didn’t I stop going to the gym altogether? Sounds like a pretty simple escape, huh? Working out was a bonding activity between me and my sister, and saying, “no,” to exercise was the equivalent of giving up on holding our bond together. Even thinking about making such a choice was dangerous territory.

So I put my love-hate relationship for cardio behind me and tried a Body Flow class, which was a 1-hour workout that combines tai chi, yoga, and pilates. My instructor was a tall, energetic woman in her 50s named Wanda. I didn’t know what to expect from the class, but I liked the idea of not knowing. I needed a break from the predictability of interval training. Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” began to play, as Wanda guided us through various postures, from downward-facing dog and forward fold, to mountain pose and upward-facing dog. I’m going to be real with you. I thought all of these movements were just plain weird. I couldn’t help but be aware that my butt was in the air while I was in downward dog. Well, everyone was doing it, so there was no point in wondering if other people were staring (but who cares, right?). During the last five minutes of class, Wanda guided us through meditation. At the time, I had neither meditated nor thought about completely emptying my mind. My thoughts were always loud. I was always thinking, and if I were doing anything besides that, I was overthinking… reanalyzing, reflecting, replaying… you get the point. I rested on my back in corpse pose, my thoughts gradually becoming quiet. Wanda had turned off the lights. I felt safe and comfortable to be honest with my mind’s activity. Thoughts of attachment to people who served little purpose in my life kept coming to mind. My thoughts shifted from calm to critical… but I eventually found a balance. I let myself accept the state of my well-being… accept my body… accept my circumstances… accept who I was. But above all, I was free from judgement and criticism. It was okay not to be okay. I focused on breathing. My lungs expanded and contracted, my thoughts swimming in a sea of peaceful darkness. Tears began to spill from the edges of my eyes. I was saddened by the thoughts that occasionally interrupted my peace, yet empowered by self-acceptance. I was a step closer to personal freedom. Wanda eventually invited us to sit up. We took our final in-breath of the class, and Wanda said, “Namaste.”

I exhaled. Yoga was transformative. I was powerful not because I was one of the youngest people in the class or because I had the flexibility of a dancer. I was powerful because I knew how to gain control over my mind. I could practice controlling my thoughts, which were ultimately the root of my dying motivation for cardio training. I ran for every cross-country and outdoor track season until the end of my high school career, and my subconscious mind began to actively search for activities that made me feel just as full as I had felt in my first Body Flow class. I craved euphoria. I craved the adrenaline rush of crossing the finish line. And I eventually found another high… one that taught me how to keep the door to free expression wide open and even break the walls down if I needed to. Contemporary dance enabled me to unite my mind, body, and spirit, as I learned what it meant to truly live in the present moment. I began to perceive self-expression as more than just a 1-hour class at the gym on a Sunday morning. Self-expression was a limitless world in which I could move, speak, and dance in any way that brought freedom and dignity to my being. I lit a fire on all of my passions, from cross-country and track, to yoga, dance, and even weight-lifting. The fire still burns, and eventually, I will pass the torch, as I will begin a 200-hour yoga teacher training in February. I hope to inspire my students to become walking examples of creative expression, to make healthy choices that enable them to live more fully. Regardless of the decisions that we make for ourselves, we all truly want to live more fully. The greatest difference is, is our perceptions of what it means to live in such a way. It’s vital that our passions enable us to unite the mind and spirit.

To my generous and caring sister, Areeba, who helped me build the heat that would fuel my fire, I am thankful beyond what words could ever express. At night, I stand in front of the mirror and observe my figure. My long arms, my soft skin, my gorgeous pixie cut… I whisper positive affirmations, let them ground themselves in my mind, for mental health is equally important as physical health. These positive affirmations, this healthy body, are the product of those who supported me for years. To Coach Geraty, my former cross-country coach, whose cheers I can still hear in my mind to this day. To Coach Viviani, my former track coach, whose unwavering support led me to believing in myself more firmly. To Ms. Jessica Scharl, my former English teacher, who guided me in maintaining healthy relationships and often provided academic advice.  To Mr. Nelson, my former Creative Writing teacher, who encouraged me to start a blog where I have experimented with diverse genres of writing. To Wanda, who inspired me to become a yoga instructor. And to so many more. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. My success and well-being is due in part to each and every one of you.

My ever-burning lantern will remain lit. I will find myself on the sidewalks of Northern Virginian cities, running road races with hundreds of unfamiliar faces. I will dance on the floors of my yoga studio, let lyrics climb up every one of my ribs as exhilaration crawls through my lungs. I will continue to share my stories through this wonderful blog where creativity knows no bounds. But above all, I will walk through the doors of free expression and pour gasoline over creativity. Watch it kindle in times of darkness, let it shine in times of ease.

 

 

Freedom Living

Lying on the ground, I acknowledge the rough carpet touching the small of my back. Blood pumps through my temples, my arms, my neck, as I rest calmly. I close my eyes, placing my left hand over my stomach, the other over my heart. Visualizing the dance that invited this restfulness, I relive the burst of creativity that I experienced as I improvised dances to countless songs. My mind’s eye watches as my body stretches into a standing split before gently collapsing into corpse pose.

As I was dancing, I occasionally closed my eyes. I couldn’t see my body but I could feel… feel energy rush into my lungs, fueling a fire in my veins. The music notes have become a part of me, they live through my very being so that they, too, may be present in this moment. I arch my back to open my lungs, briefly resting both hands behind my head. Oxygen is a luxury, neither scare nor too abundant. My heartrate quickens as the dance intensifies. Standing split. Bridge. Warrior two stance. Corpse pose. Stretch every muscle in the body, feel the limbs take up more space. I open my eyes. It appears that the ceiling is growing further and further away from me. Creativity has no bounds, space is limitless, and I— I have found my outlet for free expression.