The worst crisis inspires the most meaningful change. Abdalla Shaheen shares with Brian the story of his own crisis, finding love in the Sinai, getting married via Google Translate, and experiencing Bedouin superpowers first-hand.
“You are here on a training mission to learn how to tame your ego.”
Abdalla: This is the way my (forefathers) , this is the way our ancestors lived. This is how it is…. this is how it was until we somehow intervened. So I think by not working against nature, this is enough. Do not work against nature.
Brian: Hey, I’m Brian Pagán. Welcome to episode six of “Mindfolk: Human Creativity and Mindful Innovation, in a podcast”. Here I’m speaking with my good friend Abdalla Shaheen. When we met two years ago in Egypt, we clicked immediately. And so far I’ve actually never been to Cairo without spending a little bit of time with him. Also I’m elated to congratulate him and his wife Brecht on getting married recently.
In this episode, we discuss what the permaculture philosophy means for humankind, how a professional crisis sent Abdalla on a path to spiritual awakening. And we discuss what superpowers we’d have if humankind lived closer to nature. But we begin with the story of two friends they (Abdalla and Brecht) made in Turkey. Enjoy!
Abdalla: So I go to a mosque nearby almost five times a day. And, I mean, this guy who doesn’t speak English or Arabic, he only speaks dutch. And we say hi (to each other) , we see each other frequently. I don’t know how we got to communicate (to each other, such as through) sign language (and) Google translate. And then, he invited me and Brecht over to his place and, his place is in a valley. Very, very simple (home) , sort of shed. So this guy is very punctual, every prayer (he’s) on time. He’s very clean, always takes care of his looks. I think he’s maybe (in his) sixties and, he invited us over and he does garbage separation, it’s like recycling. And, he lives there with his wife, very, very happy and cheerful couple and, everything there is repurposed. Everything is reused. Me and Brecht, we went there and we spent almost four hours communicating without a common language and, you know, there’s…. a human connection.
Brian: Wow… a human connection. I love that. It seems like you’re really enjoying your time in Turkey these days. Your life has transformed completely since we met, no?
Abdalla: At that time I co- founded a FinTech startup in Egypt, and there was very intense, almost two years of nonstop chase; of working day and night. You don’t have time to stop and think and ponder on important questions. Shortly after we met, something happened and, this (startup) had meant a lot to me. It was like security, it was the future. It was that I (had) found my plan…. that was my plan for the future.
And, suddenly this didn’t materialize and I was left with nothing and that was a wake-up moment. It was [poof…]. That shaked me, that shaked me up. At that point, I got to ask myself important questions… what’s happening (to me) ? What’s the point of life? And, while it was happening, that was the most painful experience (I have) ever had. I have dealt with loss before, I lost both parents in the past nine years. So I knew loss, but that (period) was very, very difficult because it was …. the whole plan I had. And suddenly you don’t have any (plan) . Now, looking back at that, that was the best thing. That was the best thing that ever happened to me. It made me stop and think, “What is important?… why keep going and the (importance of the) chase. And, that was the major shift that happened in my life.
Brian: Was there a turning point for you?
Abdalla: I remember I was in my bed crying and questioning God….is there a God? Are you there? If you are there, why are you letting this happen? It was….. I still remember that moment… there was… that was the question. I was like, are you there? Is there something as such a God, or is this just an illusion? If there is a god, you (god) should intervene, you should not let such things happen. Around the same time, maybe in the same week or something. I came across, some guy… American math professor.. and telling his story… and answering the question of “Why are we here? What’s the point of life?”
I had this question I was trying to find an answer to, for a long time. And, I kept asking in my circles, people who I thought they would know the answer. But I didn’t get any satisfying answer. And here I find this guy, he’s American, born to a Catholic family. Turned an atheist, he was speaking at the atheist conferences. One day here in our reading materials and, then he finds a Quran. He starts reading the Quran and the way he interpreted this and…. he gets the idea of “Why are we here?”
And that was to me, that was like…. whoa… here I am finding the answers to the nagging questions that I have got. This is what I need to do. And, my life has been… I’ve never been happier, never been more content. Yeah, life actually, life makes sense. You know, every thing makes sense, even suffering; that everything they (people) suffered makes sense. So, that was amazing. His name is Jeffrey Lang and, he has this YouTube (channel) “The Purpose of life” by Jeffrey Lang. It’s some amazing, an hour and a half (talk) .
Brian: So why are we here (in life) ?
Abdalla: So you are on a training mission to learn compassion… to learn forgiveness…. to learn to give… So you should actually start getting yourself to learn these things, you shouldn actually…. you are here on a training mission to learn how to tame your ego… to sort of put your ego in check…. and you go through every day…. let’s go through this day. You go through life with intention.
Brian: You mentioned taming the ego. I would probably say this is the thing I’ve struggled with the most on my training and mission on this earth. And so, I’d love to hear how, like an example of how you’re learning to tame your ego.
Abdalla: I love to tease my ego, making her (my ego) embarrassed.
Okay. So I go through the… every day, I wake up really early; wake up at dawn before the first light. And, I pray. And then our prayers, as a mix of kneel (ing) , yoga postures, and meditation; and then you have a dialogue (sort of) with the creator and you actually speak to the creator. And in this prayer I get a feeling that I have never experienced in different ways. It’s this sweetest feeling ever, and I tell you from experience. I’ve experienced a lot…. yeah…. we experienced sensual feelings and… you know… this (feeling after the prayer) one trumps any feeling I’ve ever experienced. But you don’t get it every time, sometimes you get it….sometimes you get, you’ll get a bigger dose.
So it’s valuable. And then. It’s depending on your state…. how your heart is, how in tune with your nature, and how in tune you are with the values that you want to embody. This feeling becomes sort of your compass. If I did something that’s not really in sync, I keep going through the day chasing that sweet feeling…. not there….
Then. there was this day. I was, telling Brecht, we were having a discussion. I was telling her about something. And then, she got the impression that I did something big… I didn’t do it, but she got the impression that I did something, you know? So the macho in me is like….,yeah…. I didn’t tell her. No, I didn’t. So it was, yeah, it was…. So the ego in me was happy.. it had a boost…. I actually did something big. but I actually didn’t. And I let her believing that I did that. So I didn’t say no, I didn’t do (that) . And, for the next two three days, I am praying and nothing….I keep chasing that feeling, it’s not there.
And then, when (i was praying) ….the prayer I told you… it’s a dialogue. And then, there is a verse that talks about those who like to be praised by (for the) things they didn’t actually do. I was like… ah…. that was it. And I go back to her (my wife) and I tell her the truth and I put that little ego of mine in an embarrassing situation on front of her.
And it was like, okay. And once that is out of the way, I got my sweet feeling again. And that was …. it’s an example of…. you go through life every day and every decision you make, you actually ask yourself, “Does it align with the values that I want to teach myself or not?”
And then you go… you move from one to the other… and again, there’s this, the ego thing is one thing I noticed as well. The ego is natural. So he, everyone does have habit. Sometime this battle is real and you, it will keep happening. It’s a natural thing. So you shouldn’t even feel bad that it’s happened. No, it’s natural…. it will happen…. But the important thing is not to feed the ego by wanting to be victorious over the ego. So it’s like, I want to beat the ego and that’s your ego. You’re actually feeding the ego The important thing is to acknowledge when you see the ego actually pushing you to do something, do not yield…. no… I am stronger than the ego.. I’m stopping you….Nope, that’s not how you do it.
It’s just…. ah, that’s you…hello ego…. thank you. No, we’re not doing that this time.
Brian: I love when you tell me stories like this and you give me examples where they involve Brecht. I have the feeling that you both have a wonderful marriage, a wonderful relationship. And. I’d love to, if you don’t mind, I’d love to hear the story again. Of how… how y’all met.
Abdalla: So, I was volunteering for the Habiba community forum. And at this forum, you meet people from all around the world coming there to volunteer and learn about permaculture and healthier ways to experience life and, what goes in your food and how to grow your own food.
And she (Brecht, my wife) came to volunteer at Habiba. She was coming from Holland and… she came there and the second day she arrived, she was, asking Maged, who was the founder of the, the forum. She was asking him questions about something about philosophical questions. And he was like, you know what? I know someone who have (has) some answers to these questions.
And we met and it was… she was asking the same questions that I was having….that I just found answers to. So I was sharing what answers I had found and it resonated with her so well. She was… she is… a biologist, so she knows abou, how things work and she pondered on different theories to explain life.
But, there are things that doesn’t make sense; that didn’t make sense to her. So, about evolution stuff…. yeah…. there are things that make sense but there are parts that doesn’t make sense. So, we kept talking for almost two weeks and I left back to Cairo to get ready to go to Singapore. And, she left to Holland. And then Corona happened
And we kept talking and sharing questions and sharing findings. And we built a connection… that’s (priceless) I don’t think I’ve ever had this connection with any human. She’s a beautiful soul and yeah…. we are…. I’m very happy I met her. It was like, it feels to me that it’s a godsend . I don’t know how but it feels like if God had tailored someone… you to you are matched. And then we decided that we’re getting together and the guidance is “you shouldn’t have intimacy before marraige”.
And Islam it’s a bit (different) . Marriages just like girlfriend, boyfriend, and the Western culture.
And in Islam marriage is you know… it’s just committing together. Committing to each other and approaching relationships with respect. So when the flight resumed. So we… I actually talked to the Imam at the local mosque. So it was Corona and they were…. gatherings weren’t allowed and stuff like that. So I talked to this Imam who doesn’t speak Arabic or English. And I asked him… can you, I asked him using Google translate…. I want to get married in two weeks. Would you be, would you mind being the Imam doing the ceremony and he’s like yes…. So he did the ceremony in Turkish while I don’t speak Turkish, I had my niece translating from Turkish to English and Arabic, translating the ceremony….
Brian: Could you tell me a little bit more about your time in Sinai?
Abdalla: , originally the people who roam around in the desert. In the past… (they) became…. they started settling down. So when you go there, you’re actually living in their turf. Like this is their own, they live there… so it’s like… when you visit someone who grew up in a place and they take you out and they show you around…. and they show the places that they take you to that tree that looks like you know… they take you to show you that rock that has sort of a painting, like a nature made painting inside it.
So these people love their life there. They grew up there and it’s sort of a secluded environment. So they have senses that we (have) lost as people who live in the city. So we’d be sitting around the campfire and one of them would tell us, “Brian is coming”. Hmm.. okay. if you say so. Then maybe 10 minutes later, Brian will be showing up.
How did you know? They actually can tell; first, that there is someone coming. We’re sitting all around the campfire, everyone’s speaking, but they can actually listen and hear (that) someone is coming. And then they can tell who is coming from the way they move on top of the sand. We (have) lost these senses. Another example was this old lady, her name was (inaudible) . There (it) was a cold day, it was in the morning and I was chatting with her and then she asked me, are you, are you feeling cold? I was like, yes, it’s cold. And she looks up at the mountain and she tells me it’s going to warm in five minutes. I’m like… okay…. if you say so, and then five minutes later it’s warm. I’m like…. whoa… how did you know? And it appears that she actually looks at the sky and she sees a space between the clouds and she looks at the clouds shadow over the mountain. And she knows the way the direction the wind is coming and she does (the calculation) . And this lady doesn’t read or write. She wasn’t …she didn’t go to school. She was taught by nature. She was taught by nature.
Brian: That’s amazing! Being around those people and understanding a whole different way of living, almost a way of living that we could’ve had if civilization would have taken a different trajectory. What do you think about that kind of thing?
Abdalla: This is the way my (forefathers) , this is the way our ancestors lived. This is how it is… this is how it was until we somehow intervened. So I think by not working against nature, this is enough. Do not work against nature. If you just do that, that’s enough.
I’m actually starting a small business with my uncle, it’s looking to do renewable energy cause he has a great experience in the energy field. We’re trying to see how we can have benefit from both worlds, the corporate world and the hightech world that I come from. The experience he has in the energy sector, we’ll see how this shapes up.
Abdalla: Thank you. I really enjoyed that talk. It was always amazing talking to you.
Brian: Abdalla my friend. I always enjoyed learning and exploring with you. And you Intrepid listener, what’s your take on the purpose of life? Leave me a voice message through our website “mindfolkpod.com” or get in touch on Twitter and Instagram via @mindfolkpod. Special thanks to Zubin Nayak for the transcription.
Until next time, dear one, fear less and love more.