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Personal Ambitions Don’t Bring Happiness

The fulfillment of our personal ambitions in life is very seldom what brings us happiness. On the contrary, it usually arouses an entire group of new ambitions. On the other hand, when we immerse ourselves in our duties both as human beings, to our families and our associates, and as Bahá’ís toward the Cause of God and serving it to the best of our ability in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we begin to know what happiness means. (Shoghi Effendi, letter dated 23 May 1956 in Family Life, #108)

As a recovering work, service and activity addict, I’ve had to learn this the hard way.  I was into my 60’s before I could see that my ambitions weren’t bringing me happiness.  Keeping busy filled a lot of time and helped me feel productive.  Work, service and activities kept the grief of the past from overwhelming the present and it also drove people away because I didn’t make time for relationship-building.

When I was turning 60, I did some research about what to expect from the next decade, expecting to find a lot of information on planning for retirement, but instead what I found were a lot of articles talking about the importance of relationships and health.  According to some research, if we don’t have nurturing relationships by this time in our lives, we are more likely suffer more complex health challenges and to die earlier.  The more I studied addiction, the more this made sense.  Current thinking is that addiction isn’t caused by the thing we’re addicted to – it’s caused by lack of relationships and using other substances and activities to fill the holes in our souls.

So I was happy to find this quote in my reading today, because it reminded me that instead of focusing on achieving my own ambitions to the exclusion of all else, there were other things I could do to have more balance and moderation in my life:

  • immerse myself in my duties towards myself (including self-care)
  • immerse myself in my duties towards my family and friends (including more contact, more love, more forgiveness)
  • immerse myself in my duties as a Bahá’í toward the Cause of God (including more prayer and meditation; and striving to put the Teachings into action)
  • serving the Cause of God to the best of my ability in the circumstances in which I find myself (including reading my reality and aligning my service to the will of God instead of forcing myself into activity meant for someone else)

Being reminded of where true happiness lies, I can focus my attention away from my own ambitions and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Be Happy


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We All See Reality Differently

Participants in a consultative process see reality from different points of view, and as these views are examined and understood, clarity is achieved.  (Office of Social and Economic Development at the Bahá’í World Centre, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 13.  Bahá’í Library Online)

I like this quote because it reminds me that not everyone sees reality from my point of view.  Nowhere has this been more obvious than during this pandemic, where my choice to adhere to government directives and guidance from the House of Justice has been at odds with the behaviour and actions of many of my closest Bahá’í friends.

I became aware of a huge difference of opinions during the first lockdown, when they chose to gather at a cottage for our semi-annual retreat at a time when people were being asked not to come up to their cottages and to avoid the 3-C’s (close faces; closed spaces and crowded places).  I was furious that they would so blatantly disregard the lockdown and potentially put each other at risk.  I was afraid that the gulf between us had widened to such a degree that I’d never be able to find my way back.  I found myself incredibly judgemental, superior and self-righteous and at the same time, I was also jealous because they were continuing on and having fun without me.  They continued to have a retreat in the fall, when we still weren’t allowed to gather in each other’s houses, and it is now is happening again in the third lockdown.  Many of them are not planning to get vaccinated and I wonder if I will ever feel safe to go back to these retreats again.  I am swimming in a sea of poisonous, attack thoughts aimed at people I thought of as my closest friends for over 30 years.

I realized that I had a choice.  I could find a way to allow a difference of opinion and approach them with love and forgiveness; or I could let my bitterness eat away at the foundations of our friendship.  I know how to walk away when the going gets rough.  Now I’ve had to learn how to apply the things I’ve been teaching others in this blog and in my books, so I can keep these friends and at the same time keep my integrity and walk with my head held high with the effect of my decisions too.  Consultation with others has been an important key to remind me that we all have COVID-fatigue and everyone has their limits.  This has helped me be more understanding, and please God, may I continue to let go of judgement so I can hold love in my heart.

Remembering that consultation helps me see reality from different points of view, I can relax and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Consult Effectively



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Man’s Highest Station

Man’s highest station, however, is attained through faith in God in every Dispensation and by acceptance of what hath been revealed by Him . . .

This quote came to my attention at just the right moment.  My life has been fraught with so much abuse, trauma, loss and disappointment that I often long for my next life to begin.  The Bahá’í Writings promise a much better life next time round and I’m looking forward to that.  I know that one of the purposes in this life is to acquire the virtues I’ll need in the next world, so some time ago, maybe when I was a new Bahá’í, I decided to set the bar high for myself, so that I could perfect as many virtues as possible, to acquire as many “spiritual brownie points” as possible to guarantee my best possible life in the next world.  The Writings are full of “if you do this, God will do that” and being a black and white thinker, I latched onto these and strove to put them all into practice, and then beat myself up mercilessly when I couldn’t reach the standards I thought were being set for me by the Writings and the ongoing guidance of the House of Justice.

Nowhere do I feel this more keenly than when the statistics officer calls and asks what service I’m offering to my mostly inactive, very white cluster with a handful of elderly Bahá’ís who don’t have the energy to participate anymore.  Because I haven’t been able to interest the local Bahá’ís or the wider community in the core activities, most of my service is in this online environment.  My articles for this blog and for the Bahá’í Teachings blog reach so many people that I can take comfort that I am participating in a mass teaching event, and I can view the online environment as my receptive population, but none of it counts in the statistics.  None of it helps my cluster get to milestone 2 (when we aren’t even at milestone 1 yet).  None of it can I find in the ongoing messages of the House of Justice.  All of this leads me into such deep despair that I burned out trying.

I believe that God is happy with my puny efforts, and can look Him in the eye when I get to the Pearly Gates.  I see evidence that He magnifies my teaching and service activities and sends me opportunities to serve in ways that unfold easily and effortlessly.  I know at some level that I can’t bargain with God for a better future, and slowly I’ve been learning about God’s infinite love, mercy and forgiveness of my sins.  I’m learning that I don’t need brownie points.  All of this flies out the window when I read the latest letter from the House of Justice and can’t find me and my efforts in it.  For some time, I’ve been praying most fervently for God to show me in the Writings that my efforts are OK.  Through this process, I’ve come to remember that my purpose in life is to know and worship God and not to get my cluster to milestone 2.

All of this to say that this quote seems to be what I was looking for.  I’ve already reached my highest station, because I have faith in God in every Dispensation and I totally accept everything that has been revealed by Him.  Thank you God for answered prayers.  Please help me remember, so I can stop abasing myself!

Knowing I’ve already reached the highest station there is, I can stop judging myself and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Letting Go of Criticizing Others


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God’s Invisible Justice

He hath, however, caused you to be entangled with (the) affairs (of the world), in return for what your hands have wrought in His Cause. This, indeed, is a chastisement which ye, of your own will, have inflicted upon yourselves, could ye but perceive it. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 209)

When I was first trying to come to terms with my childhood abuse, I wanted justice and it was clear I wasn’t going to get it from the legal system because the statue of limitations had passed.  Even if it hadn’t, I’d watched some of my friends go that route, and witnessed first hand how the court system retraumatizes those who’ve been abused, especially as children.

Slowly, the idea of God’s justice came to my awareness and over time, to my attention.  This quote remained in the back of my mind for many years, though, because I just couldn’t get my head around it.  Like many abuse survivors, I couldn’t understand why the perpetrators seemed to not only get away with it, but had materially rich lives as well, whereas many of us lived in poverty and couldn’t seem to get ahead no matter how hard we tried.  It didn’t seem fair, was the general consensus.

One day, something clicked when `Abdu’l-Bahá elaborated on Bahá’u’lláh’s words:

In like manner, they consider spiritual punishment—that is, existential torment and chastisement—to consist in subjection to the world of nature; in being veiled from God; in ignorance and unawareness; in engrossment with covetous desires; in absorption in animal vices; in being marked by evil attributes, such as falsehood, tyranny, and iniquity; in attachment to worldly things; and in immersion in satanic fancies—all of which they reckon to be the greatest of torments and punishments.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, 2014 ed., p. 60, #4)

And now it came together.  Being poor in all save God has its own rewards, in that I had no choice but to turn to God for my daily needs.  When we have everything, it’s easy to forget God and to think that our good fortune is of our own doing.

Being subjected to the world of nature; being veiled from God; being ignorant and unaware; being engrossed with covetous desires; being absorbed by animal vices; being marked by evil attributes, such as falsehood, tyranny, and iniquity; being attached to worldly things; and being immersed in satanic fancies is surely chastisement and the greatest of torments and punishments!  Given the choice of their lives and mine, I’m glad to be close to God and remember Him every day.

Leaving justice in God’s hands and trusting His justice, I can relax and I am grateful.

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Overcoming Abuse and Violence


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The Courage to be Chaste

As to chastity, this is one of the most challenging concepts to get across in this very permissive age, but Bahá’ís must make the utmost effort to uphold Bahá’í standards, no matter how difficult they may seem at first. Such efforts will be made easier if the youth will understand that the laws and standards of the Faith are meant to free them from untold spiritual and moral difficulties in the same way that a proper appreciation of the laws of nature enables one to live in harmony with the forces of the planet…’  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 361)

I believe that Bahá’í laws and ordinances, including chastity, are prescriptions from our Divine Physician for leading healthy spiritual and marital lives. Having said that, sometimes I wonder if anyone has any moral principles around chastity anymore.  I think being chaste before marriage and absolutely faithful in marriage have lost their meaning, in the cult of individualism.  No one seems to consider it a sin to have sex with people they aren’t married to anymore, and anyone who has the courage to be chaste, is just labelled a misfit, in our society.

One thing I’ve noticed is that Baha’is who are trying to be chaste usually refrain from talking about their struggle, so no one knows there are others who want to know how to put up good boundaries in a relationship in order to remain chaste.

I was in a gathering of assistants to the auxiliary board one time, and we were taking a course on something or other.  Somehow the topic of sex was brought up and the whole discussion got sidetracked.  Everyone was longing to talk about sex.  Every single one of those assistants had a struggle with it at one level or another.  It was really good to see that – but we didn’t get to talk about it for very long.  And of course, by the time lunch was served, everyone had gone back to “Baha’i-mode” and we couldn’t finish the discussion.

My goal as a teenager was to wait till marriage to have sex, and in the end, I had sex hoping it would lead to marriage, and after a couple of misses, it worked.  But the marriage wasn’t based on spiritual foundations and eventually floundered and died.  As a Bahá’í, I learned why.  Shoghi Effendi, in Lights of Guidance tells us:  “Briefly stated the Bahá’í conception of sex is based on the belief that chastity should be strictly practised by both sexes, not only because it is in itself highly commendable ethically, but also due to its being the only way to a happy and successful marital life.”

I tried to teach my son about the importance of waiting till marriage, but he saw hypocrisy when my deeds did not match my words.  I think all parents (including me) can take some of the blame for young people today not even having the concept of waiting till marriage – as the Universal House of Justice points out so clearly in its 28 December 2010 letter to the Counsellors:

What needs to be appreciated in this respect is the extent to which young minds are affected by the choices parents make for their own lives, when, no matter how unintentionally, no matter how innocently, such choices condone the passions of the world – its admiration for power, its adoration of status, its love of luxuries, its attachment to frivolous pursuits, its glorification of violence, and its obsession with self-gratification.

In the same letter, the House says:

Exhortations to remain pure and chaste will only succeed to a limited degree in helping them to resist these forces.

While I was struggling with how to encourage my son to make different choices than I made, in a world where no-one is modeling chastity, I was at a conference where Sue Johanson was the guest speaker.  She won the distinguished “Order of Canada” for being Canada’s foremost sexual educator and counsellor.  For over 35 years, she had a live radio talk show called “Talk Sex with Sue Johanson”, where listeners could call in and ask any question they wanted about sex.  She was in her 70’s when I met her and was still on the air.  I was both uncomfortable and disturbed by the explicit nature of her discussions, which sounded pornographic to me.  I had an opportunity to talk to her at the break.  I told her as a Bahá’í, I was trying to teach my son about abstinence, and she was encouraging young people in their desire to experiment.  She said something I’ve never forgotten:  She said “We have to teach them how their bodies work, so that they understand when they are starting to get into the danger zone.  If no one gives them a vocabulary and teaches them what’s going on in their bodies, they won’t be able to say no, but will just get caught up in the moment.”  This made a lot of sense to me.

Because of the sexual abuse I experienced as a child, I was left with a belief:  “If you touch me, I’ll have to sleep with you.”  So (without making excuses) I had two relationships outside of marriage.  One gave me an opportunity to claim back my body, and the other taught me that I could have a healthy sexual relationship with another human being.

Now I understand the wisdom behind the law of chastity, I plan to be chaste in the future.  In the meantime, I’m not in a relationship, not tempted and very grateful.  But even though I intend to be chaste the next time round, part of me is OK with the idea of never having another relationship if it means I have to be tested again.   I’m not sure if, in this culture, I’d ever find a man willing to respect my boundaries.   Who can I talk to for support in this area?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could share our struggles around sexuality with each other?  My hunch is that if we started doing more home visits we would have the 1:1 time to get to know each other, that’s currently missing when the only time we get together is for Bahá’í activities.  In the absence of clergy to tell us what to do, I’m gaining a much better appreciation of the importance of home visits to help us get to know each other better and share our burdens.  Perhaps then we’ll truly begin to learn how to do as Shoghi Effendi suggests in Living the Life:

“draw on each other’s love for strength and consolation in time of need. The Cause of God is endowed with tremendous powers, and the reason the believers do not gain more from it is because they have not learned to fully draw on these mighty forces of love and strength and harmony generated by the Faith . . .

It’s not easy to find the courage to be chaste.  Let’s start a dialogue where people can feel safe to talk about their struggles and support each other.  What do you think?

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my books  which can be found on Amazon.  


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