Personal Reflections on Service, Education, Economy and Sacrifice
By Rachel Perry
Last week I hosted a gathering in my home for five youth between the ages of 11 – 15. My daughter helped prepare the space by cleaning and beautifying the area the night before. She worked so diligently to tidy, sort, clean and create such a warm and welcoming environment and I was so proud of her.
We prepared snacks, made phone calls, and prepared activities for an evening themed on friendship.
When the participants started to arrive it filled my heart with Joy to see them come together with a sense of playfulness and adventure. They filled our home with laughter and I can’t remember the last time I felt so happy.
This JY Group calls themselves “Spirit Wings” and they have been gathering together weekly for nearly a year now. Their time together includes studying thought-provoking stories relevant for their age and discussing important themes with a global message. The exercises and discussion is designed to help develop critical-thinking skills as well as improving capacity for self-expression. In addition, building skills by doing service in the neighbourhood is an important component of the group. Ideas for the service come from within the group and the youth participate fully in the planning and implementation of the service projects.
This week we decided to have a casual get-together to welcome the new members and to build bonds of friendship while playing card games, eating together and watching a movie. Of course, true friendship includes much more than this but this was something the group wanted to do together so we helped them achieve that.
The reason I’m writing this article is not just to highlight the meaningful way that the JY Group is bringing happiness to our family but I also want to acknowledge something that I do which I have come to understand is very different than what others do.
SACRIFICE IS A GIFT WE GIVE OURSELVES
You see, at the moment I am unemployed; I have applied for E.I. but it is not yet certain if my claim will be accepted; I have a small savings from a generous severance package from my former employer but it is not enough to even guarantee that I will have enough for rent in April. I do not qualify for loans at my bank because of $50,000 unpaid student loans which I wanted to pay but couldn’t because of several factors including being associated with someone who made irresponsible financial choices on my behalf and also because of a deep economic recession which severely affected and limited my career beginning in 2007 and lasting until the present.
In reality, it means I don’t know how I will pay my rent in April. It means I am considering the undesirable possibility that my daughter and I will have to move yet once again as a result of forces of opposition against us which we are powerless to control. It means that this radiant JY Group may be dissolved within a month’s time because I have been unable to find suitable employment in this most conservative of Ontario cities.
The work is out there, no doubt. But at the moment I do not know where it is. The effort required in securing employment in this city is quite monumental, despite being educated, experienced and qualified to work in a number of professional fields.
So the thing I did last Thursday is undoubtedly something which very few people can do. Or perhaps they can do it but it is very difficult so they don’t give it a try.
TURNING FEAR INTO COURAGE; ANXIETY INTO CONFIDENCE
What I did was put aside my worry, fears, frustrations and anxieties about possibly losing our home and our treasured JY Group, yes, I put aside all those negative emotions and I just moved forward with Trust. I just trusted and still do trust that things are working out for us and will continue to do so.
In truth, it took monumental effort to prepare for and host the meal and activities for the gathering, as well as picking up the children and dropping them off at their homes afterwards. It stretched my time, energy, skills, capacity and financial resources to the maximum.
Why then did I do it?
First of all, I did it because I knew I could. I’ve done it before so I knew I could do it again. But more importantly, I did it because what I have learned in the past 15 years of volunteering with the Ruhi Institute is that there are a few things which are different about this organization and methodology which does not exist anywhere else in any other program I’ve seen.
The aim of the JY Group is skill-building, not just for the participants but also for the animators. This means that people can take on opportunities to contribute without having the expectation of perfection. No one is in competition with anyone so while learning about excellence is important being perfect or giving the appearance of perfection is not the goal.
This means that I can participate and contribute even though I’m not perfect. It means I can participate and contribute even though I’m unemployed and my net value is something like $200, according to some metrics of the value of human life which is outlandish if you ask me anyways but that is a topic for another day.
SOME PERSONAL BACKGROUND EXPERIENCE WITH RUHI INSTITUTE
I first trained in the Ruhi Institute when I was just 22 years old. I participated in many study circles until I was ready to tutor. Then I tutored many study circles until I was given the opportunity to coordinate all the study circles in a region. I coordinated until I was given the opportunity to serve as an assistant within an Institution which was closely associated with the JY Group and similar children’s classes. Then I worked as children’s class teacher and now, 15 years later I am a co-animator of a JY Group.
The other day I was filling out a resume for a prospective employer and what I realized is that I have 15 years experience as a volunteer for the Ruhi Institute and that is more experience I have with any one employer. The sequence of courses which trained me to do what I now do as a JY Group co-animator has formed the foundational educational base of my experience in my early adulthood.
Why does all this matter?
Because I chose to spend the majority of my time volunteering throughout my 20’s and 30’s now I have found myself without the financial assets which others my age enjoy. So I may not have credit cards, a savings account, a Will, Life Insurance, or even a dresser for for that matter what I do have is something which no one can take away from me.
I have 15 years of amazing memories of working with incredibly loving and dynamic people from all across Canada to raise up the human resources in a generation of youth and accompany them to build capacity to serve in their communities in ways which make their neighbourhoods better and better places to live.
WHY DOES SACRIFICE AND SERVICE LEAD TO HAPPINESS AND GROWTH?
So last Thursday, as I was spending more time, money, energy and resources than what I should spend I still felt very happy. Every sacrifice which I make like this brings me abundant Joy. It has been my life long dream to live in a neighbourhood where my being there made a positive difference and where I could contribute in a meaningful way to empowering a community to increase their conditions to be ever more prosperous.
On days like last Thursday I felt like I was living my dream.
It was a most challenging day to get through. But no less rewarding than the wonderful feeling of having ascended to the top of a mountain.
So now, if we lose our home and we lose our group, still we will have the joy of many memories to add to the growing collection we already have.
As I was going through the day and putting forward my utmost energy to make it happen, even while very much alone, I took note of the fact that I haven’t seen a lot of people do things like what I was doing. I’m sure they are doing it. I’m sure I’m not the only one making these kinds of whole-hearted sacrifices in order to create a group which can last for another 3-5 years until the youth are old enough to go into a study circle of their own.
But I am a writer and while my single most favourite activity is supporting the education, my second favourite activity is promoting education. Therefore, I thought I would take this opportunity to share in writing just how meaningful our neighbourhood JY Group is to us and what we are doing, as a small family, to contribute to an ever-advancing civilization. Fully recognizing that in doing so I am breaking nearly every social norm known to North America but as a freelance journalist I have the right to speak of what I choose. Additionally, I tend to be a bit of an adventure-loving free spirit with a mindset of Carpe Diem or Seize the Day. If I only had today to live, I would want others to know just how much I have given and sacrificed in the hopes that I might contribute in a positive way to one of the most revolutionary educational system operating on the globe today.
In the past, I kept my financial hardships a secret but I have found that what corrupts our social structures more than anything is this false idea that economics are a personal and private matter. I don’t agree. This is a topic for another day and another article in time but for now I share that I wish to live in a divine civilization where everyone has their basic needs met and their physical suffering is minimal. I wish to live in a neighbourhood and society where people are not suffering from extreme conditions of poverty. In my opinion, experience and research, one of the most revolutionary ways to create a prosperous future civilization is to support the sequence of courses and core activities which branch out of the Ruhi Instutite.
It is my wish for others to know the good things the JY Groups are doing so that day by day the positives can grow. In a world fraught with complexity such as it is right now, I receive Hope, Inspiration and Joy when working with these radiant souls.
More information on the Ruhi Institute and JY Groups can be found at this link.
Rachel Perry is a Baha’i living in London, Ontario. She is raising her daughter independently. She is a full time educator for children. She also owns and operates a marketing and promotion business as well as a non-profit organization which supports the empowerment, education, and employment of women and children in recovery from various forms of oppression. The not-for-profit services include providing Reiki, Body Talk and Dreamwork sessions as well as distributing basic day-to-day needs such as food, and clothing.
Rachel Perry has been a long-time supporter and friend of Susan Gammage. After first meeting her as a participant of a study circle, the dynamic scope of their relationship has also included times when Susan provided life coaching services for Rachel and in exchange Rachel provided marketing and promotion coaching services for Susan. Rachel can be thanked for being one of the first ones to see the potential in Susan’s brand new life coaching business in 2009. With encouragement and support through crisis and victory the new venture has now emerged into what we see online today. For example, when Rachel was on pilgrimage in 2011, she gave Susan the idea for an online database for her website featuring Baha’i quotes, stories and prayers. This is just one example of the many ways in which Rachel and Susan collaborated successfully in a mutual endeavor to create positive environments for larger and larger numbers of individuals to gain easy access to the Writings of the Baha’i Faith.
Perhaps one of the most significant collaborative efforts between the two, was in 1999 when, with the encouragement from Susan, Rachel asked the Universal House of Justice to consider removing the rights of parenthood from her father in order to free her from the obligation to ask his permission to get married. The Universal House of Justice and Local Spiritual Assembly investigated the request and granted the removal of this obligation due to the negative nature of the home environment which Rachel was raised in, which was described by the Universal House of Justice as abusive. This decision has had a long-lasting effect on Rachel, her family, five Local Spiritual Assemblies who were directly involved in the situation and 16 communities who were directly or indirectly involved during the past four decades.
Although Susan is no longer directly connected to the situation, or actively working to support women who have been abused, her book “Violence and Abuse; Reasons and Remedies” is one of the most comprehensive collections of quotes on abuse from a Baha’i perspective in print today. Rachel’s life experience, and the public discourse on her “family situation” so very different from Susan’s in that Rachel was born and raised in a Baha’i family, has created a framework for transformation which takes the concepts placed in Susan’s book to the next level of application with a focus not only on understanding the reasons and remedies for an imbalance of power in society but also to include an active process for growth, recovery and transformation to realize the full potential of an individual who has experienced past traumatic experiences and has learned, through trial and error, how to use their own strength to overcome their own greatest weakness.
In this way, Rachel is now able to talk about “Cycles of Joy” which is a pattern of prosperity and happiness which has emerged from her learning to understand the nature of the oppressive conditions she was raised in within the home, the socio-economic environment in which her home and family were placed and the views held by society (including the larger community and the Baha’i community as well).
For the past 15 years Rachel has run neighbourhood children’s and youth classes from her home as a part of an international community development initiative. Her personal motivation in commitment to education and empowerment at the neighbourhood level comes from her own internal passion for being an agent of change for children who do not have the voice or the power to create change for themselves. Her intention is to create positive environments at the level of the neighbourhood which introduce children, from an early age, to concepts and ideas which will give them courage, enthusiasm, trust and confidence to be true to themselves and to use their innate gifts and capacities as they grow into maturity to be a part of the betterment and advancement of the world, even if it begins in a run-down and not-too-pretty looking “low-income” neighbourhood.
What makes the Baha’i concept of transformation from powerlessness to might, or from poverty to wealth, or from weakness to strength is the deep and profound idea of Forgiveness, Compassion, and Grace. Without these qualities, too often in the past individuals who have experienced oppression tended to identify themselves with the idea of “victim” and harbor deep anger and resentment towards those who were perceived as the “oppressors”. Feelings of jealousy may also emerge as one strives to achieve something that they perceive others have achieved and they have somehow been excluded.
Taking “Violence and Abuse; Reasons and Remedies” to the next level of recovery means finding positive application in the day-to-day life experience which allow for the positive development and growth of the unique traits and abilities of the individual. In this way, deep Acceptance is found alongside Forgiveness, Compassion and Grace. There is no longer any identification with the “victim/oppressor” story and instead all can be regarded as being on an enlightened continuum towards knowing one’s Creator and serving humanity to the best of one’s abilities given their innate capacities and the life environment in which they live. Every “victim” has also been an “oppressor” at one time or another, whether intentionally or unintentionally…and every “oppressor” has also been a “victim” intentionally or unintentionally. When we are strong enough as individuals, families, and communities to be able to look at the darkest sides of our human nature as well as our brightest sides, then we advance as a society in our abilities to establish and maintain a peaceful condition of mutual growth and well-being that we all long for and desire.
While transformation and growth is life long and there are still many mountains to climb, Rachel has come to a place where she can easily engage with others in a conversation about the effects of generational abuse dating back to the time of Hitler and the effects it had on her her family, herself, and her community. She is finding many opportunities to speak with large and small groups in school, community, and neighbourhood settings to offer a broader perspective to the concept of recovery – one that includes not just a new framework for growth and change but also a re-writing of the language itself which describes the conditions of oppression which individuals of all classes of society experience.
Her focus for the past 15 years, and going forward, is on developing her international marketing business which will in large part fund the community-based non-profit. This is a unique social agency the likes of which no one has seen before this.
In the meantime, even while Rachel’s business is advancing and growing in notable ways, she is still recovering financially as a result of her personal life circumstances in the past. Even though she is working full time and is responsible with her income, still, on March 12, 2015, she had $2 in her bank account. She has no savings. She has no credit card. She has no assets. She has no contact with her family (by their choice) as a result of the before mentioned situation with the Universal House of Justice. Therefore it is only with creativity, patience and faith that Rachel has been able to recover financially from past economic oppressive conditions and create positive financial experiences going forward.
She is transparent about her personal financial recovery so as to eliminate any potential mis-givings about her motives and actions. Her long-standing belief has been that “the solution to financial hardship is growth” and so at the same time that she has been nursing this financial wound she has also been growing as an individual, as a mother, as a neighbour, and as someone serving on an Institution of the Baha’i Faith.
There is an intricately linked connection between abuse of power within a home which includes oppressive financial conditions. There can be nothing which can be perceived as causing a greater limitation than having financial limitations.
However, Rachel has recovered from financial oppression a number of times and has now decided to be transparent about the process so that as she continues to recover this time around it is a transparent experience which includes a large number of supporters, advocates, and fellow bringers of peace.
Opportunities to participate in this on-going project (financially or otherwise) are emerging and more information can be reached by contacting Rachel at rperry1863 @gmail.com.
By Rachel Perry
Storms blowing from all sides,
Winds so strong breath is stolen,
Left gasping for air,
Hanging on to life with a hope,
Emerging Happiness from Despair.
Fierce storms with ancient winds,
Tearing down the land,
Not bike, nor tree, nor house does stand,
People cower, afraid, afraid, afraid
When will it end.
On my bare arms winds beat,
Hair strewn across face and eyes
Whipping like the ancient whips
Which have whipped slaves and
Prisoners for ages and ages and ages.
I love you and accept you storm
Without fear or pain or worry.
I thank you storm for clearing away the
Illusions and ghosts that I have danced with in the night.
I take you storm, whether wrong or right
And know you are mine, you are me, you are all in me.
I take you storm and dance with your wind,
Free me from the ancient night
With your Eternal Gaze of Serenity.
Here, now, and always,
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Divine Creator let me live
In this storm with peace.
Make of me a Divine Storm Chaser then
Make of me an instrument that
Transforms mighty winds of night
Into powerful streams of light.
I’ll stand here, on this broken ground,
With blood and broken homes around,
I’ll stand here smiling with arms outstretched
Free from harm and pain and hex
I’ll stand here a mighty Tree
Giving thanks to the Almighty.
By Rachel Perry with research by Susan Gammage
This greatness within me, an awareness of Divine Light, a whisper and a knocking within me, asking me, pleading with me to overcome these feelings of inadequacy so that I may Shine with the Light of God – this greatness within me, greets me each morning and tempts me to smile despite the sense of confusion which dominates every cell in my being. I pray:
O Lord! Have pity on my weakness and strengthen me with Thy power. O Lord! Have pity on my impotence and assist me with Thy might and majesty. O Lord! Should the breath of the Holy Spirit confirm the weakest of creatures, he would attain all to which he aspireth and would possess anything he desireth. Indeed, Thou host assisted Thy servants in the past and, though they were the weakest of Thy creatures, the lowliest of Thy servants and the most insignificant of those who lived upon the earth, through Thy sanction and potency they took precedence over the most glorious of Thy people and the most noble of mankind. Whereas formerly they were as moths, they became as royal falcons, and whereas before they were as brooks, they became as seas, through Thy bestowal and Thy mercy. They became, through Thy most great favor, stars shining on the horizon of guidance, birds singing in the rose-gardens of immortality, lions roaring in the forests of knowledge and wisdom, and whales swimming in the oceans of life. Verily, Thou art the Clement, the Powerful, the Mighty, and the Most Merciful of the merciful. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 95)
When a someone writes from their hearts, there is Power in those words that reaches into the crevasses of people’s Minds and Hearts and it takes hold of a thought they thought was private and says “I see you!” and once seen it cannot hide and once seen it becomes part of the Universal Mind and once seen it transforms from a ghost to a spirit and once transformed it becomes alive with the fragrance of Divine Light – bounding from obscurity into the endless meadow of recognition, the boundless field of True Life.
What a power is love! It is the most wonderful, the greatest of all living powers. Love gives life to the lifeless. Love lights a flame in the heart that is cold. Love brings hope to the hopeless and gladdens the hearts of the sorrowful. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 179)
The space between my Divinity and my Poverty was so great a divide it seemed I was two people, torn apart by the cutting of violent words and disillusioned purposelessness.
As reality is one and cannot admit of multiplicity, therefore different opinions must ultimately become fused into one. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 285)
It was Divine Love Who held me in Her Angel Arms and said “You are One” and gave me the hope to try just one more day. Just one more day, just one more day, just one more day, just one more day.
Florence Khanum relates two sayings she heard from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. On one occasion He said to her ‘”Sabr kun; mithl-i-Man bash” – be patient, be as I am. The other was when someone expressed discouragement to Him, saying they could not possibly acquire all the qualities and virtues that Baha’is are directed to possess, and the Master replied, “Kam Kam. Ruz bih ruz” – little by little; day by day.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
Then I arrived here. In this moment, where there is union now between my Divinity and my Poverty. Where I am both Rich and Poor at the same time, both Exalted and Humble, both Powerful and Weak, both Mighty and Minute, both Great and Insignificant.
[Life] brings each one of us crises as well as victories. Our own lives and even the lives of the central Figures of the Faith have been fraught with agony as well as blessing, with failure and frustration and grief, as frequently as with progress. This is the nature of life. (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 117)
This union was the path for me to freedom, freedom from the trappings of a world that will have me think I am in a race to have a great house-a great car-a great family-and a great reputation in the community.
Some men’s lives are solely occupied with the things of this world; their minds are so circumscribed by exterior manners and traditional interests that they are blind to any other realm of existence, to the spiritual significance of all things! They think and dream of earthly fame, of material progress. Sensuous delights and comfortable surroundings bound their horizon, their highest ambitions centre in successes of worldly conditions and circumstances! They curb not their lower propensities; they eat, drink, and sleep! Like the animal, they have no thought beyond their own physical well-being. It is true that these necessities must be despatched. Life is a load which must be carried on while we are on earth, but the cares of the lower things of life should not be allowed to monopolize all the thoughts and aspirations of a human being. The heart’s ambitions should ascend to a more glorious goal, mental activity should rise to higher levels! Men should hold in their souls the vision of celestial perfection, and there prepare a dwelling-place for the inexhaustible bounty of the Divine Spirit. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 98)
But all that is being torn down now. Without the American Dream what will the world set its sights on?
You see all round you proofs of the inadequacy of material things — how joy, comfort, peace and consolation are not to be found in the transitory things of the world. Is it not then foolishness to refuse to seek these treasures where they may be found? The doors of the spiritual Kingdom are open to all, and without is absolute darkness. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 110)
I wish it would ascend above these selfish aims and reach into its own Soul and find Divine Generosity and with that begin to share everything, without hesitation with everyone in the world.
He, verily, shall recompense the charitable, and doubly repay them for what they have bestowed. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, CXXVIII)
Imagine we just did that? Imagine we walked away from our jobs, or even better, that our jobs paid us to make resolving these issues of poverty, of education, of violence and made it so important that we could just devote our EVERYTHING to this Divine Cause? What would that look like?
Consider a pearl which shineth by virtue of its inherent nature. If it be covered with silk, its luster and beauty will be concealed. Likewise, man’s distinction lieth in the excellence of his conduct and in the pursuit of that which beseemeth his station, not in childish play and pastimes. Know that thy true adornment consisteth in the love of God and in thy detachment from all save Him, and not in the luxuries thou dost possess. Abandon them unto those who seek after them and turn unto God, He Who causeth the rivers to flow. (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 62)
Everyone turned towards One Goal? Feed the children, Educate the Mothers, Stop the Violence! What would that look like? Putting egos aside, putting the race towards wealth at the bottom of the list of priorities and making the end goal accomplished only when we are all no longer hungry.
How many kings have flourished in luxury and in a brief moment all has disappeared! Their glory and their honor are forgotten. Where are all these sovereigns now? But those who have been servants of the divine beauty are never forgotten. The result of their works is everywhere visible. What king is there of two thousand years ago whose kingdom has lived in the hearts? But those disciples who were devoted to God – poor people who had neither fortune nor position – are to-day trees bearing fruit. Their banner is raised higher every day. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 137)
These children, their hunger is my hunger. Their pain is my pain. Their suffering is my suffering. How can I eat a good dinner, watch TV, and tuck myself into a warm bed without thinking of the children who do not have enough to eat, who are cold, who sleep in beds that are neither comfortable or dignified? How can I awake to my world, filled with the luxuries of the engine of Canada’s economy and how can I not think of those who are waking up without the basic necessities of life?
Fear the sighs of the poor and of the upright in heart who, at every break of day, bewail their plight, and be unto them a benignant sovereign. They, verily, are thy treasures on earth. It behoveth thee, therefore, to safeguard thy treasures from the assaults of them who wish to rob thee. Inquire into their affairs, and ascertain, every year, nay every month, their condition, and be not of them that are careless of their duty. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 236)
So imagine if everyone, all at once, realized it was over – the gig was up – and the purpose of life was not to collect the most “stuff” but that the meaning we find in life is in the meaning we give life . . .
One must remember that the purpose of this life is to prepare the soul for the next. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 359)
. . . and it is when we are Compassionate and Loving to others that we truly begin to discover who we REALLY are.
You must have infinite love for each other, each preferring the other before himself. The people must be so attracted to you that they will exclaim, “What happiness exists among you!” and will see in your faces the lights of the Kingdom; …You must love your friend better than yourself; yes, be willing to sacrifice yourself . . . I desire that you be ready to sacrifice everything for each other, even life itself. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 218)
We must focus all our energies on uplifting the human condition.
They must concentrate every ounce of their energy, and focus their entire attention, on the tasks immediately ahead, resolved to work unremittingly and unflinchingly until the goals of the present Plan are achieved. (Shoghi Effendi, Letters from the Guardian to Australia and New Zealand, p. 72)
Humanity is asleep and we must awake our friends and our families and our loved ones and the strangers and our friends.
The people in general are all asleep; they are all inadvertent; they are all slumbering, because their thoughts are confined to materialism; they are not at all thoughtful of God’s thoughts. (Compilations, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 372-373)
We must give a thought not to what we can do for our own comfort and entertainment but what we can do to transform the lives of someone who is disadvantaged by the physical conditions of their worldly experience.
The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words, 54)
We are given a choice in this life. Our choice is to focus on the betterment of ourselves (by which we accumulate greater wealth or power) or to work towards the betterment of the world. This is really at the core of all of our other choices. From this core, all other choices will stem.
Aim high, choose noble ends . . . (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 104-105)
If we choose to focus on the betterment of the world, then we have an important task ahead of us that will seem daunting and terrible and will challenge the very fibre of our being.
These are the immutable laws of God, from which there is no escape: ‘For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.’ (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 135)
If you experience this horrible excruciating pain then you are doing the right thing!
[Life] brings each one of us crises as well as victories. Our own lives and even the lives of the central Figures of the Faith have been fraught with agony as well as blessing, with failure and frustration and grief, as frequently as with progress. This is the nature of life. (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 117)
That is because those who are NOT feeling pain are trapped in the old institutions of “numbing” – we numb with prescription drugs, we numb with TV, we numb with alcohol, we numb with an obsession for self-gratification, we numb with work-a-holic approach to life, etc.
Food, drink, shelter and a degree of material comfort are essential, but human beings cannot and never will find fulfillment in these necessities. Nor is contentment to be found in the somewhat more intangible material attainments such as social recognition or political power. Ultimately, not even intellectual achievement satisfies our deepest needs. (Baha’i International Community, 1995 Oct, Turning Point For All Nations)
If you are feeling pain, then you are NOT numb and that in itself is worth celebrating! Feeling the pain will show you a light on a path free from all pain. But we must travel through the pain to experience True Painlessness – It is the only way to truly discover who we are.
Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 50)
Suffering is both a reminder and a guide. It stimulates us better to adapt ourselves to our environmental conditions, and thus leads the way to self improvement. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 434)
Once we know Who We Are – Truly – then we will know exactly the right way for us to be the most Compassionate and Loving towards others.
He hath known God who hath known himself. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 178)
Once we know exactly the best way for us to be Compassionate and Loving towards others we will discover that fulfilling this deep craving of our heart will bring us more Joy than we ever thought possible.
If you wish the joy, happiness and the composure of the spirit and the peace of the conscience of Abdul Bahá, strengthen the bonds of union and harmony amongst yourselves so that all of you may become the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the flowers of one garden, the links of one cuirass, soaring in the atmosphere and breaking forth into one glad song. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 379)
We cannot choose how to be Loving and Compassionate until we know who we are really, and once we know who we are really, all other choices become very easy. When all other choices become easy we will be Giving of ourselves in every moment, exactly the way we should be, in a constant stream of Divine Life that improves the condition of humanity moment by moment.
… for any movement animated by love moveth from the periphery to the centre, from space to the Day-Star of the universe. Perchance thou deemest this to be difficult, but I tell thee that such cannot be the case, for when the motivating and guiding power is the divine force of magnetism it is possible, by its aid, to traverse time and space easily and swiftly. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 197)
that is because I shared with you, from my heart, from the Divine Light that shines in me, some reflections that the spirit asked me to share. And if you feel inspired, then that is your spirit asking you to do the same in this new moment that brings us to the end of this letter. With your inspiration, smile, from your lips to your heart to all the cells of your body, smile through the pain, smile through any illness, smile through any fear, smile through any discord and anxiety. Smile in gratitude that you are awake and aware.
A bright and happy face cheers people on their way. If you are sad, and pass a child who is laughing, the child, seeing your sad face, will cease to laugh, not knowing why. If the day be dark, how much a gleam of sunshine is prized; so let believers wear smiling happy faces, gleaming like sunshine in the darkness. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 124-125)
Believe that you are better in this moment than you were a moment ago and will continue to experience increased conditions of being better in every moment that follows.
Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 138)
The path to painless is only found through pain.
If adversity befall thee not in My path, how canst thou walk in the ways of them that are content with My pleasure? If trials afflict thee not in thy longing to meet Me, how wilt thou attain the light in thy love for My beauty? (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 50)
The path to courage is only found through excruciating fear.
Whatever decreaseth fear increaseth courage. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 32)
The path to joy is only found through horrific depression.
From the beginning of time sorrow and anxiety, regret and tribulation, have always been the lot of every loyal servant of God. Ponder this in thine heart and consider how very true it is. Wherefore, set thine heart on the tender mercies of the Ancient Beauty and be thou filled with abiding joy and intense gladness. (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 5)
The path to enlightenment is only found through mind-boggling confusion.
Let not the clamour of a confused and distracted world deter you from contributing your uttermost to this spiritual enterprise. (Universal House of Justice, 10 Jan 2009, to the Friends gathered at the two Regional Conferences in Canada)
So if you feel these things, at any time, somewhere in you, you may begin to be aware of a Divine Light that says it is okay.
I ask God to strengthen thee in comprehending the mysteries deposited in the reality of existence, to lift up the veil from before thee and thy sister, so that the concealed mystery and the hidden reality become manifest as the sun at noon, and to confirm thy sister and thy husband in entering the Kingdom of God, and heal thee from all physical and spiritual disease in the world of creation. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 56)
And when you believe it is okay you will begin to be able to Celebrate through your personal suffering.
Buddha had disciples and he wished to send them out into the world to teach, so he asked them questions to see if they were prepared as he would have them be. “When you go to the East and to the West,” said the Buddha, “and the people shut their doors to you and refuse to speak to you, what will you do?” — The disciples answered and said: “We shall be very thankful that they do us no harm.” — “Then if they do you harm and mock, what will you do?” — “We shall be very thankful that they do not give us worse treatment.” — “If they throw you into prison?” — “We shall still be grateful that they do not kill us.” — “What if they were to kill you?” the Master asked for the last time. “Still,” answered the disciples, “we will be thankful, for they cause us to be martyrs. What more glorious fate is there than this, to die for the glory of God?” And the Buddha said: “Well done!” (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 63-64)
When you hold suffering and celebrating in your heart at once, you discover Divine Grace.
Only he who is severed from the world shall achieve this ultimate grace, he who is a captive of divine love, empty of passion and self, from every aspect true unto his God, humble, lowly, supplicating, in tears, submissive in the presence of the Lord. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 242)
And when you discover Divine Grace, your destiny to being a deeply Compassionate and Loving human being will be the most easy thing for you to do and you will find yourself completely free from all suffering. Is this not the deepest longing of every heart? Is this not the goal which we all seek to achieve? The good news is, moment by moment, we are indeed achieving it.
by Rachel Perry
In doing some research into the topic of veils that come between us and God, I found the following quote:
“Love is a veil betwixt the lover and the beloved.” (Baha’u’llah, The Four Valleys, p. 60)
Since I’d been thinking about love between men and women lately, this struck me as an odd statement, and I sent it to my wise friend, Rachel Perry, to see what her take on it was. What follows is her email to me. I thought it was too good to let go, so I wanted to share it with you too.
To best understand the meanings in The Fourth Valley it is best to have read through all 7 of the Seven Valleys. To understand this phrase we have to do 3 things:
- Consider this phrase in the context of the paragraph: At the beginning of the paragraph it says “This is the realm of full awareness, of utter self-effacement.” And “…longing hath no dwelling here.” So it is possible that one part of “love” that veils us is the feeling of longing. Let’s consider this idea of love and longing in more detail. To do that, we look back at The Valley of Love and Knowledge.
2. Consider this reference to “Love” in light of what we know about Love from the study of The Valley of Love and the Valley of Knowledge. In the first paragraph of the Valley of Love we find that “In this city the heaven of ecstasy is upraised and the world-illuming sun of yearning shineth”….you see the reference here to “yearning” and that is a synonym for “longing” which was mentioned in the paragraph in the Fourth Valley. So one part of “love” that is a veil is the “longing”….when the lover longs for his beloved this in fact becomes a veil.
Interestingly enough, in The Valley of Knowledge it refers to this “Love is a veil” idea again where is says “Love is a veil betwixt the lover and the loved one; More than this I am not permitted to tell.”
God knows that we are filled with longing, love, and desire – God knows we want to know more and that to tell us that Baha’u’llah is not permitted to tell us more would make our hearts cry out in frustration…so what does the next paragraph tell us that eases our sorrow? It tells us that “If thou be a man of communion and prayer, soar up on the wings of assistance from Holy Souls, that thou may best behold the mysteries of the Friend and attain to the lights of the Beloved.”
3. So that brings us to the third thing we must do – commune/meditate and pray but before we do that we are going to consider “what shall we pray and meditate about?” and the answer to that is in the next sentence which reads…”After passing through the Valley of Knowledge, which is the last plane of limitation, the wayfarer cometh to The Valley of Unity and drinketh from the cup of the Absolute, and gazeth on the Manifestations of Oneness.”
The reason this statement is important is because if we consider back in The 4th Valley the paragraph we are exploring said “This is the realm of full awareness” and here again now we learn that when one passes through the Valley of Love, and then the Valley of Knowledge, then the wayfarer comes to the Valley of Unity where there is UNION with the beloved. I can’t write all the wonderful, wonderful things that are written about in the Valley of Union but you can read it and see it there and let the divine words fill your heart with pleasure and joy because of the possibilities that God guides our souls to consider.
When I consider how is love/longing a veil between me and my beloved in light of these valleys what I conclude is that when as there is longing there is a feeling of separation. And this becomes the very limitation which we seek to remove. In prayer and meditation we can feel ourselves become One with God and we can “gaze on the Manifestations of Oneness” that are all around us and in us. (Once we find it in meditation which is where God tells us we will find it…then we can enjoy it in the rest of our active lives as well.)
To reflect in our own hearts to what the meaning of longing/yearning has for us and how removing this veil can bring us into full awareness of the Unity of God.
On a separate but related note – something so funny happened while I was writing this! I had been in my room typing with the light on but it woke my 5 year old daughter Grace up and she asked me to turn it off. So I say “sure” and go out to the hall and there is one of my house-mates on her hands and knees looking at the floor. I ask her if everything is okay (it’s 1am in the morning!) and she tells me she has lost a part of her tongue ring. I hear the word “RING” and immediately think of that story in the Valley of Search when the woman is found on the other side of the wall just looking for a ring. I smiled at her and joined right in on the search for that ring. All the while smiling at the coincidence of the scenerio. (By the way – I did find it for her 🙂 and could tell by the look on her face she was astonished as I think she was just about to give up when I had come out)
So I wanted to mention that scenario because maybe it happened for a reason and there is something in that story that I am supposed to share with you that may be a further light along the path.
Lastly, something that Abdu’l-Bahá has said has come to mind while I was writing this. He once said that at any given time God gives Him all the knowledge He needs for what is required at that moment. That statement has been something I consider often. I’m sorry I can’t even remember if it was something I read or someone told me. It’s been a part of me for so long I forget its origin. Are you familiar with it? Anyway, to me, in the light of what we are talking about here it seems relevant in that Abdu’l-Bahá was in the condition of not “searching” for answers or searching for anything. It seems He was at One with God…and this appears to be the condition that we are aiming for here. The statements in The Valley of Unity say more about this way of “seeing through the eyes of God, hearing through the ears of God, etc” and I believe this is the goal we are seeking.
I encourage you to reflect on these ideas during your meditation and not in journaling so that you can use your heart as your guide and not your head. This is a Valley to be felt and experienced and not written about…as it says “The tongue faileth in describing these three Valleys and speech falleth short.” (From the Valley of Contentment)
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to return to one of my favourite books, Susan.
by Rachel Perry
Recently I was considering the possibility of short term pioneering, but was unable to fulfill my intent. I was consulting with my dear friend and life coach Rachel Perry (yes, even life coaches need to be coached!). She sent me the following email and it was so wise and filled with a perspective on pioneering I hadn’t considered before, that I wanted to share it with my readers. Here is her email:
As you know from having met me, my desire to physically dwell in a location that is a benefit to the Cause is strong as well. So you can imagine that when I was given the opportunity recently to move across the country I thought it would be good to re-locate as a pioneer. In my prayers and meditations around this topic, my soul continued to prompt me to not travel as a pioneer. Instead, I was guided to focus on my health and well-being, to put my focus on being an effective parent, to put my attention on developing a strong co-parenting partnership with my ex-husband, and even…to enjoy the companionship of a new relationship. It didn’t make sense to me at the time. But I followed the “song of my heart” and gave up the role as pioneer in order to give my attention to my little divided family, and my health.
What I found when I got here was that everything was tested! In every way I was tested! My skills and character as a mother were tested because my daughter went into crisis that lasted several months and I had to be there for her as a parent in a way I had never done before. My skills and character as a co-parent were tested because I was forced to live temporarily with my ex-husband and I challenged myself to do so in a way that was peaceful and nourishing for my daughter. I was also tested as a Baha’i since I found that I was falling deeply, deeply in love with a person who was not a Baha’i and finding balance in this relationship was like trying to navigate a ship in a storm. Baha’u’llah’s plan for me, which I clearly see now, was internal spiritual development, and not community development – which is what I would have achieved if I would have been “pioneering.”
Having gone through these momentous tests, I find myself a new person. I find myself completely transformed. I find myself healthier, stronger, more balanced than I have ever been in my life. I find myself being the person I had always hoped I would be. This could not have been achieved if I had pioneered because when we pioneer externally, our focus is on sacrificing ourselves for the sake of our new community. In my situation, I see now that what was needed was careful consideration of myself because there were some very significant things about myself that I needed to learn about and develop. My sacrifice was that I surrendered the bounties that come to pioneers; however, I found that I was rewarded with tremendous insight into myself and my life path.
That being said, still there is this deep calling in my soul and it says to me “You are a pioneer. You are a pioneer. You are a pioneer.” How am I a pioneer? I know the answer now. I share this because maybe it will be meaningful for you too.
It starts with a dream I had when I got here – briefly, the dream was that I had a bone-deep wound on my left hand that went across the base of my middle finger and my ring finger. It was horrifically painful. At first no one would take me to the hospital, but finally I got there and then no doctor would help me. Finally a character from my favourite TV show approached me and he said he could help. He took me into a room and began applying a balm that eased the pain. Richard’s interpretation of this dream (which had more details which I have omitted for brevity’s sake) was that the wound represented the issue with my marriage – on the on one hand I have to cooperate with a man who I’m not married to anymore for the sake of raising our daughter well, and on the other hand I want to say “back off” because of the difficulties that we have. The dream is telling me that I am healed and healing is no longer needed, so now the next stage of development is actually in my character (thus an actor relieving the pain and not a doctor).
This makes so much sense to me! Yes, and it has given me a guiding light throughout the tests that I had in the 4 months after the dream.
So, how does all this relate to pioneering? It relates because:
1. Not everyone is willing to sacrifice pleasure in order for character development (which is what happens when we choose to follow the Writings and the Law of God – we know it is good for our character development even though it may be difficult or hurt)
2. Not everyone that tries is successful
3. Not everyone that is successful is conscious of the whole process and why it is significant to the spiritual advancement of the human race
4. Not everyone who is conscious of it’s significance to the human race has the passion and skills for talking and writing about it
5. Not everyone who has the writing and speaking skills wants to use them in the promotion of character development or knows how to use them (for example, how the Internet can be of assistance in teaching the Faith)
THEREFORE…….It is my life path to keep making these sacrifices in order to develop my character so that I can continue writing about it and continue to teach other people how to do it too…and this is pioneering into the land of my inner self which is just as important as pioneering into the land of the earth because with the treasures that I find and bring to the surface I can empower an entire generation….
WHICH BRINGS ME TO MY SECOND POINT ….the question becomes this….”why is it so important to develop my character and tell people about it?” the answer is this…..not everyone knows that developing our character brings us closer to God, and not everyone knows that the closer we get to God the more receptive we become to discovering Baha’u’llah,…..so this is a very important message to share…..but not only that….now we have the tools to use to share a message to a more far reaching demographic than ever, ever, ever before.
With the Internet, an entire generation is being transformed. We can share a message, easily, and within seconds it can be delivered to ANY ANY ANY place on the globe! That is just amazing. And when we share our message, via the Internet, we are “traveling” to that place and spreading our message. So, when we send our words to China, to Australia, to Japan, to India, to France, to Africa, via the Internet we are doing what Abud’l-Baha longed to do when He said He wanted to travel to every place on the globe to share the Message of the Baha’i Faith and when we do it for Him then we are fulfilling His wish.
In this time, Susan, everywhere we live on the globe matters. Being a Baha’i and living anywhere matters because we live in a time when the whole world is connected.
So to summarize – I am pioneering when:
- I chose to develop my character by following the Writings of Baha’u’llah and the promptings of my soul guiding me to manifesting my greatness – my True Self.
- I observe the process and write about it for sharing.
- I use the Internet to promote the experience for the benefit of others so that they too may become aware of the process and continue to make positive changes in themselves and their lives towards inner and outer peace.
So few have ever done this before because the Internet is just brand new and the opportunities before us are brand new too, as a woman, as a single mother, as a Baha’i. Never before in the history of the world have there ever been the opportunities available to Baha’is. We are on the forefront of a huge transformation and the Internet is an integral part of this evolution. Not the only part, but a big part.
When I accepted that this form of pioneering is just as important as physically moving somewhere I found a deeper level of acceptance with myself and my life path. And the thought occurred to me that if my writing is successful, and if my speaking becomes as motivational as I feel it can be, then I will indeed find opportunities to travel all over the globe and I can perform service when in these areas and I can choose to have short or long term pioneer posts at any time of my choice. But first, I have to develop my character, and write about it, and promote it…and then when I pioneer physically my message and my teaching efforts will be much more effective in transforming the hearts of men.
When the most recent Ridván message is read with this in mind, it becomes a very inspiring message to keep doing what we are doing.
How have you pioneered to the land of your inner self? Post your comments here: