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‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Simple Life

 

In this frenzied world, I often wonder how ‘Abdu’l-Baha would have lived his life if He were alive now!  It got me thinking about whether there might be some ideas based on how He lived a simple life back then.

Here is the standard He strove for – simplicity and love:

The husband of Amelia Collins, a devoted American Baha’i, was a very sociable man. He would take part in any discussion with perfect freedom and ease. But once, before entering the Master’s home, he was so excited that he arranged his tie just right, smoothed his clothes and repeatedly asked his wife what he should do when they arrived there. She told him, ‘Nothing! In the family of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá simplicity reigns, and nothing but love is ever accepted.’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

I love this sweet story where Bahá’u’lláh teaches us how little we need:

Mary Bolles (Maxwell) took an early pilgrimage to the prison city. She heard that the food man eats is of no importance, as its effect endures but a short time. But the food of the spirit is life to the soul and its effects endure eternally. She heard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tell the touching ‘story of the hermit’.  Baha’u’llah ‘was traveling from one place to another with His followers’ and ‘He passed through a lonely country where, at some little distance from the highway, a hermit lived alone in a cave. He was a holy man, and having heard that Our Lord, Baha’u’llah, would pass that way, he watched eagerly for His approach. When the Manifestation arrived at that spot the hermit knelt down and kissed the dust before His feet and said to Him: “Oh, my Lord, I am a poor man living alone in a cave nearby; but henceforth I shall account myself the happiest of mortals if Thou wilt but come for a moment to my cave and bless it by Thy Presence.” Then Baha’u’llah told the man that He would come, not for a moment but for three days, and He bade His followers cast their tents, and await His return. The poor man was so overcome with joy and with gratitude that he was speechless, and led the way in humble silence to his lowly dwelling in a rock. There the Glorious One sat with him, talking to him and teaching him, and toward evening the man bethought himself that he had nothing to offer his great Guest but some dry meat and some dark bread, and water from a spring nearby. Not knowing what to do he threw himself at the feet of his Lord and confessed his dilemma. Baha’u’llah comforted him and by a word bade him fetch the meat and bread and water; then the Lord of the universe partook of this frugal repast with joy and fragrance as though it had been a banquet, and during the three days of His visit they ate only of this food which seemed to the poor hermit the most delicious he had ever eaten. Baha’u’llah declared that He had never been more nobly entertained nor received greater hospitality and love. “This,” explained the Master, when He had finished the story, shows us how little man requires when he is nourished by the sweetness of all foods – the love of God.”’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

Even His wedding was simple:

Before His wedding day, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made the necessary arrangements for the few guests. His mother and sister made a delicate bridal dress of white batiste. A white head-dress adorned Munirih Khanum’s hair, worn, as usual, in two braids. At nine in the evening she went with the Greatest Holy Leaf into the presence of Baha’u’llah, Who gave her His blessing. She then went to the bridal room and awaited the coming of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The service was very simple. At about ten o’clock ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came, accompanied by the guests, and Munirih Khanum chanted a tablet revealed by Baha’u’llah. ‘Later, the wife of ‘Abbud recalled the sweetness of that chanting still ringing in her ears.’ There were no choir, decorations or cake – just cups of tea. Above all, a glory and a love there were more than sufficient to bless the happy event.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

Here’s a story He told about the benefits of a simple life:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá told a story about a Persian believer’s journeys and how he could not sleep at night while in the wilderness for fear of someone stealing his new shirt, a new gift from a prominent person.  After several sleepless nights he decided to get rid of the shirt so he could relax.  (Rafati, Vahid, Sources of Persian Poetry in the Baha’i  Writings, Vol. lll, p. 80)

He had His meals  as follows:

7 A.M. Tea and bread

1:30 P.M. Dines with the family

4 P.M. Tea

7:30 P.M. Sits with the family at dinner but partakes of no food Himself

10: P.M. Simple meal (Agnes Parson’s Diary, ©1996, Kalimát Press, Footnote  #6, p. 13)

He ate a very simple diet:

The Master . . . ate little food. He was known to begin His day with tea, goat’s milk cheese and wheat bread. And at the evening meal a cup of milk and a piece of bread might suffice. He considered the latter a healthy meal. Had not Baha’u’llah, while at Sulaymaniyyih, subsisted mostly on milk? (Sometimes Baha’u’llah ate rice and milk cooked together.) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s sparse diet also included herbs and olives – it rarely included meat.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

He does not permit his family to have luxuries. He himself eats but once a day, and then bread, olives, and cheese suffice him.  (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

He preferred to share His food with the poor:

On the occasion of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s first dinner in the home of Lady Bloomfield in London His hostess had prepared course after course in her eagerness to please Him. Afterwards He gently commented: ‘The food was delicious and the fruit and flowers were lovely, but would that we could share some of the courses with those poor and hungry people who have not even one.’ Thereafter the dinners were greatly simplified. Flowers and fruit remained in abundance, for those were often brought to the Master as small love tokens.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

Mary Lucas, a pilgrim to Akká in 1905, found that the Master usually ate but one simple meal a day. In eight days He was present at most meals, often coming just to add joy to the occasion, though He was not hungry. If He knew of someone who had had no meal during a day, the family supper was gladly packed up and sent to the needy. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

He served His guests:

Julia Gundy, an early pilgrim, described a beautiful supper at which many friends were welcomed by the Master Himself in Akká. He passed out napkins, embraced and found plates for each. All were individually anointed with attar of rose. He served pilau, a Persian rice dish, to each guest. There were also oranges and rice pudding. ‘Throughout the supper, which was very simple in its character and appointment, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the Servant of the believers. This was indeed a spiritual feast where Love reigned. The whole atmosphere was Love, Joy, and Peace.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

His schedule looked like this:

Tudor-Pole described a typical day for Abdul-Bahá: he rises about 5 AM, and works for some hours at his correspondence.  Interviews commence soon after 9 AM and last until midday.  After lunch he takes a short rest and then usually rides out into the parks or to visit various people who were deeply interested in his work.  Gatherings of the friends take place nearly every evening and he has given some wonderful discourses at such times… He is quite vigorous and looks both well and cheerful.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 30)

His clothing:

The Master kept little clothing – one coat at a time was ample.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s family was taught to dress in such a way that they would be ‘an example to the rich and an encouragement to the poor.’ Available money was stretched to cover far more than the Master’s family needs. One of His daughters wore no bridal gown when she married – a clean dress sufficed. The Master was queried why He had not provided bridal clothes. With candour He replied simply, ‘My daughter is warmly clad and has all that she needs for her comfort. The poor have not. What my daughter does not need I will give to the poor rather than to her.’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

A friend had sent some fur so that the Master could have a good warm coat; He had it cut up and made into twenty caps for the elderly men of the town.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of “Abdu’l-Bahá)

As someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and needs a LOT of light, I take great comfort in this story:

As we drove up Broadway, glittering with its electric signs, He spoke of them smiling, apparently much amused. Then He told us that Bahá’u’lláh had loved light. “He could never get enough light. He taught us,” the Master said, “to economize in everything else but to use light freely.”  (Juliet Thompson’s Diary, April 19, 1912)

Even when ‘Abdu’l-Baha was in great need, he didn’t accept financial help from the friends:

For his own personal use Bahá’u’lláh never ordered anything extravagant. The life of luxury to which He was accustomed in His youth had been denied Him since His imprisonment in the Siyah-Chal of Tihran when all His possessions had been confiscated. But He lived a life of austerity in a majesty such that in the words of Edward (Granville Browne of Cambridge University, He was ‘the object of a devotion that kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain’. His personal needs were simple and inexpensive . . . He Himself and the members of His family, however, lived an austere life. There were many occasions when He was in great need, but did not accept financial help from the friends.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 4, p. 248)

Here’s an example:

The gates of the Akká prison were finally opened for Baha’u’llah, His family and companions after a confinement of two years, two months and five days. Many of His companions were consigned to the caravanserai, an unfit dwelling-place. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá occupied one room himself. The rooms were damp and filthy. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sold a certain gift which had been given to Him in Baghdad and with the proceeds began to repair the rooms for the companions of Baha’u’llah. He left the repair of His own room to the last. The money ran out and as a result His room remained unrepaired and in very bad condition. Not only were its walls damp but the roof leaked and the floor was covered with dust. He sat and slept on a mat in that room. His bed cover was a sheepskin. The room was infested with fleas and when He slept under the sheepskin, fleas gathered and began biting. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá worked out a tactic of defeating the fleas by turning over His sheepskin at intervals. He would sleep for a while before the fleas found their way again to the inner side. He would then turn the sheepskin over again. Every night He had to resort to this tactic eight to ten times.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

He didn’t allow his family to have any luxuries either:

He does not permit his family to have luxuries. He himself eats but once a day, and then bread, olives, and cheese suffice him.  His room is small and bare, with only a matting on the stone floor. His habit is to sleep upon this floor. Not long ago a friend, thinking that this must be hard for a man of advancing years, presented him with a bed fitted with springs and mattress. So these stand in his room also, but are rarely used. “For how,” he says, “can I bear to sleep in luxury when so many of the poor have not even shelter?” So he lies upon the floor and covers himself only with his cloak. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

Has this given you any ideas on how you might live a more simple life?  Post your comments below!

Being and Doing

Experience suggests that a discussion about contributing to the betterment of society fails to tap the deepest springs of motivation if it excludes exploration of spiritual themes. The importance of “doing”, of arising to serve and to accompany fellow souls, must be harmonized with the notion of “being”, of increasing one’s understanding of the divine teachings and mirroring forth spiritual qualities in one’s life. (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 29 December 2015)

As a recovering workaholic, I’ve learned that I use “doing” (work, service, activities) as a drug to numb my feelings.  When I’m not doing, I feel anxious, flooded with emotions from past trauma that I’d rather not feel or experience.  When I’m not using the addiction to “doing”, I numb out with food, reading escape fiction, watching mindless television or playing phone games.  None of this is pure hearted work-as-worship.

I’m learning to include the following in my life to help me “be”, so I can feel spiritually centrered, happy and healthy:  prayer, meditation, fasting, studying the Baha’i Writings, tutoring study circles, journaling, spending time with other Baha’is, and working on my blog and books.  When I take time to “be”, I fill up my bucket and am able to go back to arising to serve and accompany fellow souls, mirroring forth spiritual qualities in a healthy, more God-oriented way.

Knowing that by giving myself permission to just “be”, I am better able to arise to serve and accompany others, 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 Fear into Faith:  Overcoming Anxiety

 

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Soaring on the Wings of Joy

Soar upon the wings of joy in the atmosphere of the love of God.  (Baha’u’llah, Tabernacle of Unity, p.74)

My first thought when I read that was “how do I do that?”, and then I thought of all the ways I prevent myself from doing it.  I get busy in the things of this world, things I think I “should” do, things I think the world expects me to do.  When I imagine the times I have soared in the atmosphere of the love of God, it’s when I’ve slooooowwwwweeeedddd wwwwwaaaaayyyy down.  I can’t hear God’s will when I reach for the outside things that comfort me in times of distress (work, busyness, food, escape fiction) or I look for my joy in connection with other people at the expense of my relationship with God.  A balanced life needs all of these things, in moderation, but never at the expense of my relationship with God, which always needs to come first.  When it doesn’t, the bucket of my being becomes filled with holes that leak out my energy and I can easily get overwhelmed and burned out.

So the best thing I can do is to slow down, take time for prayer and meditation, remember to consult in all things and be grateful for all of God’s bounties and blessings, so I can be aware of all the ways I’m being buoyed up as I sour in the atmosphere of His love.  Please God!  Help me to remember this, every day, and change my habits so I can put my relationship with you before all else.

Knowing I can choose my priorities differently, so I can soar in the atmosphere of God’s love, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read through 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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Time off Work 

   

You are encouraged to follow the advice of your therapist in regard to the absences which you should take from your employment in order to facilitate your healing from the trauma you experienced in the past. The time taken away from work beneficial to society would doubtless be more than compensated for by the increase in effectiveness with which you will be able to perform such functions when your healing is more advanced.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to me, 22 December, 1992)

I’ve come to realize that I’ve been driven by work and activity addiction for most of my life, in order to run away from my past.  This has resulted in several major “burn-outs” and recently in total adrenal exhaustion.  In 1992, when I could see it coming, I wrote to the House of Justice, reluctant to take time off work directly related to the social and economic development of our area.  I knew I needed to take time off but I was putting my job, and service to the Faith first, before my own health.  The above quote is from the letter they sent.

I find their reassurance very comforting: that there will be positive benefits to stepping away from work and service for a period of time.  If I hadn’t taken time off in 1992, I never would have started this blog ten years ago.  If I hadn’t burned out 2 years ago, I never would have had the insights and recovery I’ve enjoyed since.

Much though I’d love to know where the story of my life ends, I realize I’m just in the middle.  God knows the ending.  My job is to let it unfold, one day at a time, letting my movement and my stillness be wholly directed by Him.

Taking time off to heal from the trauma of the past is beneficial, 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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The Need to Retreat 

In the early days of Our arrival in this land, when We discerned the signs of impending events, We decided, ere they happened, to retire. We betook Ourselves to the wilderness, and there, separated and alone, led for two years a life of complete solitude. From Our eyes there rained tears of anguish, and in Our bleeding heart there surged an ocean of agonizing pain. Many a night We had no food for suste­nance, and many a day our body found no rest . . . for in Our solitude We were unaware of the harm or benefit, the health or ailment, of any soul. Alone, We communed with Our spirit, oblivious of the world and all that is therein.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, pp. 250-251)

As a recovering workaholic, and someone committed to recovering from childhood abuse, I sometimes burn out and need months and even years to regroup and recharge.  I used to beat myself up for this mercilessly, especially after tutoring a Ruhi Book or reading a message from the House of Justice.  Phrases such as these would intensify my self-flagellation:  “The time is short”; “there are too few workers”; “we need to make a herculean effort”; “we need to accomplish all these goals by the end of the plan” etc.  Living in an inactive cluster, I took it upon myself to do the work of those who weren’t able to and there was never enough time to do the things that were mine to do.  I felt guilty when I was in these times of pulling back from service.

This quote reminded me that there is an ebb and flow to everything.  It’s such a comfort to remember that Bahá’u’lláh took time away, where He too was “unaware of the harm or benefit, the health or ailment, of any soul”.  Maybe when I’m taking care of my own needs, I’m not being selfish after all!  Thank you God for this reminder!

Knowing I can retreat and not feel guilty, 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 Getting to Know Your Lower Nature

 

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God’s Timing

Do ye not look upon the beginning of affairs; attach your hearts to the ends and results. The present period is like unto a sowing time. Undoubtedly it is impregnated with perils and difficulties, but in the future many a harvest shall be gathered, and benefits and results will become apparent. When one considers the issue and the end, inexhaustible joy and happiness will dawn.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Divine Art of Living, p. 92)

Whenever I start a new project, I’m impatient and expect instant results, forgetting that seeds take a long time to germinate and before the harvest, there are lots of weeds and bugs and weather and other things to contend to.  I want to go straight from seeds to harvest without the messy stuff in the middle.

This quote reminds me to stop rushing, to slow down, to pray and meditate, to take the next right action, to keep my eyes on the goal, to be fully present to the moment and to not let my worries take over.  With God on my side, I have nothing to fear.  In this moment, all is well.  God knows all the tiny little steps I need to take in between, and the virtues I’ll collect along the way.  My job is to enjoy the process and let go of the results.

Knowing that when I remember to consider the issue and the end I will be a happy and joyful being, 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 Strengthening Your Relationship with God

 

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