By Dr. Azadeh Weber
If seeking to break an extreme desire to discipline the body and soul you have to go extreme in the opposite direction to struggle with yourself until the extreme desire is broken. Not because the opposite extreme is preferred but because by seeking the opposite extreme you will eventually calibrate into a state of moderation.
Picture an ant in a ring of fire.
The best place for the ant is in the middle of the ring of fire. This is the metaphor Al-Ghazali uses for moderation.
The purpose of fasting during the month of Ramadan is to return to a state of moderation and self-control of desires through temporarily seeking an opposite extreme to satiety.
The desire for food is considered the fundamental desire that precedes the desire for fame, lust, power, status, etc. According to Al-Ghazali, until one can refrain from what is permitted one will be unable to refrain from what is prohibited, because the same faculty which desires what is permitted, desires what is prohibited. Thus by breaking the desire for food, a spiritual detoxification is believed to take place.
Source - Al Ghazali - Book 22 - On Disciplining the Soul and Breaking the Two Desires
Managing Mental Health within a Polarized Society
With intense polarization happening in our media and society, with regards to various issues, and the left vs. right political tensions, we are at an increasing risk of internalizing the polarization in the environment into our own psyche/soul.
If you have too many contradictions within your own soul, it may undermine your ability to exercise dynamic action, decrease your life force and symptoms of anxiety may manifest.
According to Abu Zayd Al-Balkhi, anxiety underlies all psychological symptoms. Some people's expression of anxiety is depression, other people's expression of anxiety is fear and panic, other people's expression of anxiety is anger, and other people’s expression is obsessions. (Of course there are combination factors at play, but I am referring to predominant predispositions to psychological imbalances.) This being said, below are three techniques to guard against an internalization of the polarization being played out in the media and within society today:
1. During states of calm and tranquility create a store-house of positive thoughts and emotions to counteract outbursts of psychological discomfort when they arise. This is like having a medicine cabinet of prescriptions for the body and a first aid kit on hand, even in states of physical well-being.
2. Treat unpleasant emotions with their opposite unpleasant emotions in order to neutralize them and make space for happiness. This is the principle of the "double negative," that creates a positive. For example, to counteract fear and panic or depression, use anger. Even though anger in and of itself is a disbalanced state, when combined with other disbalanced states it can be used to neutralize psychological symptoms and give rise to courage. In turn, courage may be used as fuel/motivation for self-development and improving functional abilities. Keep in mind, suppressing anger may be preferred to having no anger, with anger optimally moderated between recklessness and cowardice.
3. Seek out counseling from a wise person. Abu Zayd Al-Balkhi observed, often people accept from others what they do not accept from themselves because one’s own reasoning and thought are intermixed with passions, each implicated by the other. Secondly, painful psychological symptoms can be so preoccupying and overpowering that a person cannot think clearly how to overcome them.
Source Abu Zayd Al-Balkhi's Sustenance of the Soul: The Cognitive Behavior Therapy of a Ninth Century Physician