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Do What You Can

You may be interested to know that, within the limits of their capacity and the uncertain circumstances, Bahá’ís inside and outside Ukraine are responding directly to the crisis. The believers in the country are supporting their compatriots to the extent possible, and the friends in the neighboring countries have arisen to support Bahá’í and other refugees.  (Universal House of Justice, to an individual, 1 April 2022)

I have been looking at the effects that incest and childhood sexual, physical, emotional, and ritual abuse have had on me for awhile now.  I’m starting to experience a lot of feelings I’ve spent a lifetime trying to stuff down.  As a result, I haven’t been as active in my local cluster as I’d like to be, as I think a good Bahá’í “should” be.  I’ve been “shouldding” on my self, and this has caused me deep despair.

Somewhere recently I thought I’d remembered that when war broke out in Ukraine, the House of Justice had asked them to carry on with the Plan.  I know the Plan is the only salvation for the world, but when your world is being bombed and torn apart, and you’re afraid every day for your life, how on earth are you supposed to have energy to work the Plan?  If this wasn’t the advice given to the Ukraine, I’ve seen in given in times of other tragedies (the hurricane that devastated Vanuatu comes to mind).

When I looked at the standard expected of the Ukrainians in this war, I felt deeply ashamed that I wasn’t able to attain that same standard.  Bombs aren’t falling on me physically, but they sure are emotionally.  I know I have a tendency to beat myself up, and I’m working on reducing the times I do it, but I can only do it when I find Bahá’í Writings that tell me I’m OK.  So this letter, which came out last week, really helped.  In it, the House of Justice was responding to someone who asked about the events in Ukraine.  I was very comforted to read:  “within the limits of their capacity” and “to the extent possible”.  I can do that.

Knowing I have permission to recognize my capacity in any given day and that I can do what I can, to the extent possible, I am grateful!

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

 

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War – Heartbreaking and Terrible

The problem:

But war is made for the satisfaction of men’s ambition; for the sake of worldly gain to the few, terrible misery is brought to numberless homes, breaking the hearts of hundreds of men and women!  How many widows mourn their husbands, how many stories of savage cruelty do we hear! How many little orphaned children are crying for their dead fathers, how many women are weeping for their slain sons! There is nothing so heart-breaking and terrible as an outburst of human savagery!

The solution:

Do not despair! Work steadily. Sincerity and love will conquer hate. How many seemingly impossible events are coming to pass in these days! Set your faces steadily towards the Light of the World. Show love to all; “Love is the breath of the Holy Spirit in the heart of Man”. Take courage! God never forsakes His children who strive and work and pray! Let your hearts be filled with the strenuous desire that tranquility and harmony may encircle all this warring world. So will success crown your efforts, and with the universal brotherhood will come the Kingdom of God in peace and goodwill.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 28-30)

As the war in Ukraine deepens, threatening to pull in other countries and with the potential for World War 3, people everywhere are holding their collective breath, waiting, praying, suffering and anxious.  As much as I can get caught up in the terror of watching horrendous things unfold, I am so grateful that I have the Bahá’í Writings to remind me that ultimately, good will come out of it.

I like this quote because both the problem and the solution are embedded in it.  It reminds me to stay focused on the current plan and work steadily to build both community and society.  When I set my face to the Light, it’s easier to pray, and the more I pray, the more I find courage and the easier it is to show love to all.

Someone in our local Bahá’í community told me that she’d met with a representative to the United Nations recently.  They talked about Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a Supreme Tribunal, with representatives from every country, so that in times of war, the rest of the nations will rise up against the aggressor.  The very next day, we heard that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to the American Congress about that very thing, calling it U24.   Coincidence?  I think not!

Remembering that the world is definitely moving towards peace, my anxiety lessons and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

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The Relationship Between Suffering and Happiness

“Then it is impossible to attain happiness without suffering?”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá. — “To attain eternal happiness one must suffer. He who has reached the state of self-sacrifice has true joy. Temporal joy will vanish.”  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 178)

This week I was reading an article about toxic positivity, which reminded me that Bahá’ís often joke about having a “Feast face” that we wear to community events, masking our real feelings.  I wondered when being truly happy, serene and satisfied with all that is in our lives, crosses over the bounds of moderation and becomes toxic.  When does being chipper prevent us from being authentic?  What prevents us from being authentic in our Bahá’í communities?

When I was going through a really tough time, no one in the Bahá’í community wanted to hear of it, and I felt lonely and abandoned by my community.  There are lots of places in the Writings which told me to “be happy”, but I just couldn’t force myself into that emotion, and I learned to stuff it down.  I read that teaching and service was the path to happiness, so I made sure that this was the focus of each day, until I burned out from trying too hard.  I felt like a mouse in a maze, searching for this chimera called happiness.  The more I tried to will it into being, the more elusive it felt.

To me, suffering and joy seemed poles apart until I read this quote and realized I couldn’t have one without the other.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to deny or minimize the suffering arising from my traumatic childhood, and now that I’m starting to face what happened, allow the feelings to surface and recognize how unprocessed trauma effects my behavior, I’m starting to feel lighter and more peaceful.  Not happier, exactly, but I’m getting there.

Understanding there’s a link between suffering and happiness, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

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The Importance of Conquering Myself

 

I want to say a few words now about the Guardianship.  “And when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’ passed away, the whole world became dark for him (Shoghi Effendi). All light had gone out. And when he came to the Holy Land, he had in mind, from the things ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’ had said to him, and I am telling you what he said, that ‘I had in mind that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’ would give me the honor of calling the great conclave together which would elect the Universal House of Justice. And I thought in His Will and Testament that that was probably what He was instructing be done.’   ” ‘But,’ he said, ‘instead of that, I found that I was appointed the Guardian of the Cause of God.’ He said, ‘I didn’t want to be the Guardian of the Cause. In the first place, I didn’t think I was worthy. Next place, I didn’t want to face these responsibilities.’ ” ‘I didn’t want to be the Guardian. I knew what it meant. I knew that my life as a human being was over. I didn’t want it, and I didn’t want to face it. So as you’ll remember, I left the Holy Land. And I went up into the mountains of Switzerland, and I fought with myself until I conquered myself. Then I came back and I turned myself over to God, and I was the Guardian.’ ” ‘Now,’ he said, ‘Every Bahá’í in the world, every person in the world, has to do exactly that same thing. Whether you’re a Hand of the Cause, whether you’re a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh, whether you’re a member of a national Assembly, whether you’re a teacher, whether you’re a pioneer, whether you’re an administrator, regardless of what you are, with anything in the Cause, every Bahá’í must fight with himself and conquer himself. And when he has conquered himself, then he becomes a true instrument for the service of the Cause of God. And not until then! This is what every Bahá’í in the world should know.’  (A Talk by Hand of the Cause of God Leroy Ioas Transcribed from a recording made in Johannesburg, South Africa, October 31, 1958)

This is one of my favorite stories and the part that has always resonates with me is “I fought with myself until I conquered myself” and “every person in the world, has to do exactly that same thing”.

I’m sure I first heard this when I was a new Bahá’í, and God knows, I tried!  But here I am, 40 years later, with a much deeper appreciation of what exactly that means.  The older I get, the more I understand myself and my motives, and the better I see the veils between me and God; the more I have to “fight with myself till I conquer myself”.  As I set the bar higher and even higher with every Writing I read; and every letter from the House of Justice I strive to understand; and every Ruhi book I tutor, I often collapse under the weight of so mighty an effort.

Recently I watched the new movie the House of Justice commissioned on the occasion of the Centenary of the passing of `Abdu’l-Bahá (Glimpses of a Hundred Years of Endeavor),  and what stood out for me was that all the progress of the Faith stands on the shoulders of those who came before us, and as we die, the progress of the Faith will stand on our shoulders.

I get inspired by stories of the early believers, and long for my service to match theirs, but I’m not them.  As important as they were in their day, they alone were not responsible for establishing the Most Great Peace, nor am I.  I just need to keep conquering myself, one day, one decision at a time.

Knowing that the more I struggle to conquer myself, the more I become a true instrument for the service of the Cause of God, and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

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Waiting on God’s Direction

However, relying upon God, we conducted ourselves with the utmost patience and submission, resignation and calmness; so much that if one did not know anything about these matters, he would have thought that we were in perfect ease of soul, enjoying the tranquility of heart mind, and were engaged in happiness and felicity.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 45)

It’s hard for me to rely on God when I’m impatient for something to happen or a quick decision to be made and I’m learning that it’s at these times I need to hold tight to His cord even more.  Test number one!

It’s even harder to do it with patience, let alone “utmost patience”.  Test number two!

It’s harder still to submit to God’s will, especially if I have to be “utmost patient” for years, as I’ve had to do with several important issues that apparently, it’s not within my power to rush.  And even harder when God’s given me a disappointing NO!  Test number three!

It’s also hard to be resigned (or worse yet, radiantly acquiescent) in the face of so many tests.  Test number four!

And calm?  Really, God?  On top of everything else, you want me to be calm, when so many emotions are churning around inside me? Test number five!

And finally, to not let anyone know I’m struggling, to wear that “Feast face”, so that everyone around me would think that I’m “in perfect ease of soul, enjoying the tranquility of heart mind, and were engaged in happiness and felicity”.  Test number six!

So many tests embedded in that one quote.

Knowing that reliance on God comes with other things I have to consider, and that all He wants is for me to strive, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

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Have Hope. This Too Shall Pass

Thou wert created to bear and endure, O Patience of the worlds.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Fire Tablet, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 317)

Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Tablet of Ahmad, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 210)

Have hope. It will not always be so.  (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2015)

As we were entering into our 4th (this time semi) lockdown, with the rapid spread of the Omicron virus, I began to despair.  Not this again, I thought.  I can’t bear it.  But of course, I can, and I must and I will.

I was contemplating these three quotes and trying to elevate my thoughts and overcome my despair, when I came across the following perspective from a someone on Facebook.  I’m not sure how it popped up on my feed, as I don’t know him, and don’t have any mutual friends, so I can only believe it was the hand of God, trying to reassure me.

For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900. When you are 14, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday with 22 million people killed. Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until you are 20. Fifty million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million.

When you’re 29, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, global GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 33. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy. When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren’t even over the hill yet.

When you’re 41, the United States is fully pulled into WWII. Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war and the Holocaust kills six million. At 52, the Korean War starts and five million perish.

At 64 the Vietnam War begins, and it doesn’t end for many years. Four million people die in that conflict. Approaching your 62nd birthday you have the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War. Life on our planet, as we know it, could well have ended. Great leaders prevented that from happening.

As you turn 75, the Vietnam War finally ends. Think of everyone on the planet born in 1900. How do you survive all of that? A kid in 1985 didn’t think their 85 year old grandparent understood how hard school was. Yet those grandparents (and now great grandparents) survived through everything listed above.

Perspective is an amazing art. Let’s try and keep things in perspective. Let’s be smart, help each other out, and we will get through this. In the history of the world, there has never been a storm that lasted. This too, shall pass.

It gave me such hope, that I posted it on my own Facebook page, and my cousin reminded me that our grandmother had been born in 1900 and moved on a horse-drawn covered wagon from Nebraska to Edmonton, in western Canada with her family, for the free land grants.  Not only did she endure every one of the calamities above, but her entire world also changed in that move.  Could I withstand so many ordeals?  I really doubt it!  Leaving my “severe mental tests” from childhood trauma aside, all I have to deal with is “stay home to stay safe”.  It seems like such a small thing, in comparison with everything she suffered.

I have a hard time relating to Bahá’u’lláh’s suffering, but I can certainly understand my grandmother’s.  If she can do it, it’s in my DNA and I can too.

Knowing I have resilience built into my DNA, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

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

 

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