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By Roger Coe

 ABSTRACT: On the concept of intimacy, its importance and necessity, and methods for establishing intimate relations within the Bahá’í Community.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:

The souls may come to know each other and become intimate with each other; the power of the love of God may make all of them the waves of one sea, the flowers of one rose garden and the stars of one heaven.          (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 426)

Intimacy is the sharing of close, personal information, and may be “measured” by the degree to which one discloses those details of one’s life and thought to another –  especially of those aspects which are normally shared only with a close circle of friends or relatives, and where disclosure leaves one open to possible criticism, negative judgment, or other attitudes from another person which may cause one to feel unsafe, or hurt.

In a certain sense it is not “knowledge” of those details of another’s life that is most important or transformative in its social effect, but rather the act of giving voice to these details within an environment where true love and care exists, where one’s “reality” is identified with the pure soul and not with the “dust” that covers the mirror of the soul – where one feels safe, and not potentially subject to criticism and negative judgment;

The basis for the definition above, its central place in our teachings and the transformative effect on the individual soul can be established from the following set of writings:

  • Bahá’u’lláh, in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá‘u’llah, pp. 314-15
  • ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in Tablets of the Divine Plan, pg. 50
  • Shoghi Effendi, in The Advent of Divine Justice, pg. 30, and Bahá’í Administration, pg. 130
  • Stories from the Delight of Hearts, pp. 109-10, where Bahá’u’lláh speaks of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s method of teaching the Faith.

In the Tablets of the Divine Plan ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speaks of the central place in all the Revelations of the establishment of intimacy between souls.

For one of the greatest divine wisdoms regarding the appearance of the Holy Manifestations is this: The souls may come to know each other and become intimate with each other; the power of the love of God may make all of them the waves of one sea, the flowers of one rose garden, and the stars of one heaven.  This is the wisdom for the appearance of the Holy Manifestations!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 50)

In Gleanings one can find an indication of the transformative effect of being listened to within a non-judgmental environment.

If ye meet the abased or the down-trodden, turn not away disdainfully from them, for the King of Glory ever watcheth over them and surroundeth them with such tenderness as none can fathom except them that have suffered their wishes and desires to be merged in the Will of your Lord, the Gracious, the All-Wise.  O ye rich ones of the earth!  Flee not from the face of the poor that lieth in the dust, nay rather befriend him and suffer him to recount the tale of the woes with which God’s inscrutable Decree hath caused him to be afflicted.  By the righteousness of God!  Whilst ye consort with him, the Concourse on high will be looking upon you, will be interceding for you, will be extolling your names and glorifying your action.  Blessed are the learned that pride not themselves on their attainments; and well is it with the righteous that mock not the sinful, but rather conceal their misdeeds, so that their own shortcomings may remain veiled to men’s eyes.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 314-315)

In Mirza Haydar Ali’s Stories for the Delight of Hearts one can find another indication of the same transformative effect where he describes how Bahá’u’lláh spoke of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s method of teaching.

But the day dawned with splendid sunshine, and I went to His room in the Mansion of Bahji.  He spoke about teaching.  He said: ‘A kindly approach and loving behavior toward the people are the first requirements for teaching the Cause.  The teacher must carefully listen to whatever a person has to say – even though his talk may consist only of vain imaginings and blind repetitions of the opinions of others.  One should not resist or engage in argument.  The teacher must avoid disputes which will end in stubborn refusal or hostility, because the other person will feel overpowered and defeated.  Therefore, he will be more inclined to reject the Cause.  One should rather say, “Maybe you are right, but kindly consider the question from this other point of view.” Consideration, respect, and love encourage people to listen and do not force them to respond with hostility.  They are convinced because they see that your purpose is not to defeat them, but to convey truth, to manifest courtesy, and to show forth heavenly attributes.  This will encourage the people to be fair. Their spiritual natures will respond, and, by the bounty of God, they will find themselves recreated.  “Consider the way in which the Master teaches the people.  He listens very carefully to the most hollow and senseless talk. He listens so intently that the speaker says to himself, ‘He is trying to learn from me.’ Then the Master gradually and very carefully, by means that the other person does not perceive, puts him on the right path and endows him with a fresh power of understanding.  (Bahá’u’lláh, quoted in, Mirza Haydar-‘Ali’s, Stories from the Delight of Hearts, p. 109-110)

In both The Advent of Divine Justice and Bahá’í Administration one can find “intimacy” as one of the key factors for the establishment of interracial harmony and consciousness of the oneness of humanity within the Bahá’í community.

Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions, and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on the part of a people who have received, for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 33)

In their relations amongst themselves as fellow-believers, let them not be content with the mere exchange of cold and empty formalities often connected with the organizing of banquets, receptions, consultative assemblies, and lecture-halls.  Let them rather, as equal co-sharers in the spiritual benefits conferred upon them by Bahá’u’lláh, arise and, with the aid and counsel of their local and national representatives, supplement these official functions with those opportunities which only a close and intimate social intercourse can adequately provide. In their homes, in their hours of relaxation and leisure, in the daily contact of business transactions, in the association of their children, whether in their study-classes, their playgrounds, and club-rooms, in short under all possible circumstances, however insignificant they appear.  (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 130)

I assert both from deduction and from my practice as a counselor, particularly in working with men on the responsibility of men in achieving equality between the sexes, that intimacy is also a key factor in the realization of this principle.

The practical methods I, and several other counselors with whom I’ve worked and consulted about these matters, use, are fairly simple, and we have refined their application through time and experience.  Their effectiveness depends upon scrupulous adherence to a few basic principles and rules, and an opportunity for deeper and more prolonged knowledge and practice.  However, within a one hour session I’ve seen many times the creation of a deeply-loving and trusting environment among people who began as essential strangers to each other.

These sessions open with a short lecture on the reality of each human being, i.e.:

1.  that our soul is our reality, that it is pure and unsullied in its essence

2.  that through the natural course of life and development the soul becomes “oppressed” (dust gathers on the mirror of the soul, obscuring knowledge of one’s true nature)

3.  that one can gain a qualitatively better and deeper connection with one’s own true self by being in the presence of another who manifests a loving, caring, attentive, non-judgmental attitude towards the other.

 In the early stages of the workshop we practice this from the perspective of learning to be a “teacher” in the model of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (as described by Bahá’u’lláh), rather than from the perspective of the other being healed, listened to, or transformed.  Essentially, we are training teachers and counselors rather than doing “therapy” on a patient.

The teachers are reminded of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s example: i.e., that He loved all without distinction, that He saw only the good in people and not their faults or negative qualities, and that He listened with close attention, and loving care.

We then divide the entire workshop into pairs, asking one to be the listener and one to be the speaker.

After emphasizing the importance of confidentiality, using the quotes below, the teachers are then asked to silently emulate ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as much as possible while their partner speaks about a certain question proposed to the entire group for a set period of time (usually 3-5 minutes).

At the end of this time period the roles are reversed and the other person has the opportunity to practice being a “teacher” by emulating ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s style of listening while the other speaks.

In getting feedback on the experience from the various groups I’ve worked with the most usual remark concerns how it feels to be listened to in such an atmosphere rather than how it feels to listen in such a way. People often express the feeling of the transformative effect of being listened to without judgment and with so much love and attention.

 

Quotes on Confidentiality:

Any information which comes to the notice of an Assembly member, solely by reason of his membership on that Assembly must not be divulged by that member, even though the Assembly itself may later decide to share it.  (The Universal House of Justice, letter dated September 18, 1968 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States)

The Assembly must itself carefully consider which information should rightly fall in the category of confidential information and which should not be shared with others, and which information may be divulged under special circumstances, and how such information may be divulged. Should confidential matters regarding personal problems be freely shared with others, upon application, the confidence of the believers in the Assembly and its members will obviously be destroyed.  (The Universal House of Justice, letter dated September 18, 1968 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States)

It must be remembered that individuals can reform, and a reprehensible past does not necessarily disqualify a believer from a better future.  (The Universal House of Justice, letter dated September 18, 1968 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States)

Every institution in the Faith has certain matters which it considers should be kept confidential, and any member who is privy to such confidential information is obliged to preserve the confidentiality within the institution where he learned it. Such matters, however, are but a small portion of the business of any Bahá’í institution. Most subjects dealt with are of common interest and can be discussed openly with anyone. Where no confidentiality is involved the institutions must strive to avoid the stifling atmosphere of secrecy; on the other hand, every believer must know that he can confide a personal problem to an institution of the Faith, with the assurance that knowledge of the matter will remain confidential.   (Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, August 2, 1982 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Virgin Islands, in Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities, p. 4.12)

Members of Assemblies, whether they are assistants [to Auxiliary Board members] or not, are obviously in a position to receive confidential information as individuals from several sources. It is an important principle of the Faith that one must not promise what one is not going to fulfill. Therefore, if a Bahá’í accepts confidential information either by virtue of his profession (e.g. as a doctor, a lawyer, etc.), or by permitting another person to confide in him, he is in duty bound to preserve that confidentiality.  (Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, August 2, 1982 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Virgin Islands, in Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities, p. 4.12)

Assistants who are members of a National Assembly or a national committee do not function as assistants in relation to that body, and they have the same duty to observe the confidentiality of its consultations, and of matters considered by the Assembly to be confidential, as does any other member.  (Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, August 2, 1982 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Virgin Islands, in Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities, p. 4.12)

It should be clear to the believers that they are not justified in assuming that because a matter is known to individual members of the Assembly it is therefore before the Assembly itself. If a believer wishes to bring a matter to the Assembly’s attention he should do so explicitly and officially.  If a member of the Assembly knows of a personal problem, and if he has not undertaken to keep it confidential, he may bring it to the Assembly’s attention if he feels it would be in the interests of the Faith for him to do so, but he is not obliged to.  (Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, August 2, 1982 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Virgin Islands, in Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities, p. 4.12)

For more by this author, please see:

The Responsibility of Men in Achieving Equality Between the Sexes