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Abuse Happens when We Come From our Lower Nature 

As a devoted believer you are urged to strive to develop forgiveness in your heart toward your parents who have abused you in so disgraceful a manner, and to attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature, whose actions can only lead them deeper into unhappiness and separation from God. By this means, you can liberate yourself from the anger to which you refer in your letter, and foster your own spiritual development.   (Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, to this author, 9 September 1992)

The first time my heart was broken was when I was first sexually abused by my father, and hearing my mother say in response: “I wish she’d never been born.”  With this criticism, I believed it was my fault.  Neither the abuse, nor her hurtful comment had anything to do with me, though I believed it did.

For over 50 years, I told myself things like “you’re unlovable”; “you deserve to be used for sex”; “life will always be like this” etc.  As a small child, these statements made sense as I was trying to make sense of the world the only way I knew how.  As an adult, though, the House of Justice taught me that I had to learn to separate their actions from the meaning I gave to them.  I came to realize that these beliefs (and more) were just lies coming from my lower nature, and I would be just as responsible to God for the “abuse” I was heaping on myself; as my parents would be for the abuse they heaped on me!   The scale of the sin might be different, but we were all acting from our lower natures.

Once I realized that my parent’s abusive actions arose from their lower natures, which hooked into my lower nature (when I believed the abuse had anything to do with me), I was able to get free of both my anger and my self-pity.

Learning that when I can attain this level of insight, I free myself from criticism and anger; and foster my spiritual development, I am grateful!

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

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

 

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How Bad is Lying? 

If the sum of all sins were to be weighed in the balance, falsehood would, on its own, countervail them; nay its evils would even outweigh them and its detriment prove greater.  It were better for thee that thou shouldst be a blasphemer and tell the truth than that thou shouldst mouth the formulas of faith and yet be a liar.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Trustworthiness, p. 12)

I love the visual imagery in this quote.  There are certain sins which weigh heavily on my mind long after I’ve asked God to forgive them, and yet, compared to lying, they weren’t that important.  I like to think of myself as fairly honest and trustworthy, yet recently it’s come to my mind that I do a lot of lying to myself.  I don’t think that’s unusual – lots of people are in denial about something.  I’ve covered a lot of these in my previous article:  The Lies We Tell Ourselves  and We are Not Our Thoughts

But what about white lies?  A white lie is typically about a small or seemingly unimportant matter told to avoid hurting another person.  Our culture accepts white lies and even condones them.  Some studies have shown that Americans tell (on average) 1-2 lies a day.  We might tell lies to flatter (no you don’t look fat) or to avoid conflict (it was on sale).  No matter our motives, we lie to protect ourselves and, in the end, lies only harm us.  One lie could lead to another, creating a slippery slope that erodes trust leading to suspicion and eroding unity.  Since everything Bahá’u’lláh came for was to promote unity, and all His laws lead us there, it makes sense that lying would outweigh all other sins.  When we strive to be authentic, fighting through the awkwardness of potentially hurting, disappointing or frustrating people, we learn how to deliver the truth with words as mild as milk, which brings people together and strengthens the bonds of affection and trust.

Knowing that with God’s help, I can find the courage to be truthful, 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 Making Friends with Sin and Temptation

 

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The Two Meanings of Self

. . . self has really two meanings, or is used in two senses, in the Bahá’í Writings; one is self, the identity of the individual created by God. This is the self mentioned in such passages as “he hath known God who hath known himself”, etc. The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can de­velop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against . . . in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.  (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 18)

This was the quote that helped me to understand the Baha’i concept of a personified “devil”.  The devil isn’t a being outside me.  He’s built into my very nature as the ego or the shadow side of me that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on.  There’s nothing wrong with me because of it.  It’s how God designed us.  We’re all sinners.  We all have lower natures.  We all need to become awakened to our dual natures so we know how to move from one to the other.

If our purpose in life is to know God and acquire the virtues we need for the next world, how can we acquire them if there is nothing to “struggle against” so we can “strengthen and free the spirit within us”?  It’s all part of our very identity and part of God’s great design and plan for our lives, nothing to fear.

Knowing my dark side was given to me for a purpose, 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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Beyond Forgiveness

We ought to show something more than forgiveness in meeting with the cruelties and strictures of our own lives. To be hurt and to forgive is saintly, but far beyond that is the power to comprehend and not be hurt. This power we may have ‑ acceptance without complaint, and it should become associated with our name ‑ we ought never be known to complain or lament. It is not that we would “make the best of things” but that we may find in everything, even in calamity itself, the germ of enduring wisdom.  (Bahiyyih Khánum, Bahá’í World, vol. 5, p.185)

While this quote is not authoritative, it comes from a source I admire and respect, as Bahiyyih Khánum exemplified every standard she asks us to reach.   For many years I couldn’t even forgive.  The best I could do is to ask God to forgive those who hurt me.  Later, I was able to forgive and let go of all the resentment and hurt I was carrying.  I made a practice of becoming conscious of every resentment and deal with it as it came up and I thought that was good, but in this quote we see that there are several additional things she wants us to consider:

  • to comprehend and not be hurt
  • to be known as someone who accepts without complaint
  • to never be known to complain or lament
  • to find in everything, even in calamity itself, the germ of enduring wisdom

The first and the last have to do with inward adjustments that have to be made.  When I remember that we all have a lower nature and are all sinners, struggling to rise above whatever life has given us, then it’s easier to remember that we are all one.  When I am spiritually strong and remember these things, I can achieve the first and fourth.  The middle two are how we behave in the world.  It seems that it might be possible to complain and lament privately, admitting it to ourselves and taking our complaints to God, asking for Him to transform them so that we can find the germ of enduring wisdom and not be hurt, so that we can face the world with the same radiant acquiescence she was known to have.

Knowing I can strive for something that goes beyond forgiveness, 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 Forgive

 

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Choices and Failures 

 And yet, behold how, when He did bring the truth, ye refused to turn your faces towards Him, and persisted in disporting yourselves with your pastimes and fancies. Ye welcomed Him not, neither did ye seek His Presence, that ye might hear the verses of God from His own mouth, and partake of the manifold wisdom of the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the All-Wise. Ye have, by reason of your failure,  hindered the breath of God from being wafted over you, and have withheld from your souls the sweetness of its fragrance. Ye continue roving with delight in the valley of your corrupt desires. Ye, and all ye possess, shall pass away. Ye shall, most certainly, return to God, and shall be called to account for your doings in the presence of Him Who shall gather together the entire creation.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 246)

We need the fear of God just as much as we need to know about the love of God and in this passage we see both.  We see a warning that when we refuse to turn our faces towards Him, and persist in disporting ourselves with our pastimes and fancies, continuing to rove with delight in the valley of our corrupt desires, we deprive ourselves of many things.  When we welcome Him and seek His Presence, we might hear the verses of God from His own mouth, and partake of His manifold wisdom.  We will feel the breath of God being wafted over us and inhale the sweetness of its fragrance.  Then He ends with a warning and a reminder:  We, and all we possess, will pass away, return to God, and shall be called to account for our doings.

The choice is always ours, every minute of every day.  Will we turn to God or to our own lower natures?  Will we reach for the choice wine or accept the things our own minds devise?  Do we want what’s best for us for eternity or are we content with short term pleasures?  Do we believe the promises of God or consider the ideas of our own minds?  The choice is ours.

Understanding I have choices and can reach for what’s best, 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 Making Friends with Sin and Temptation

 

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Why I Don’t Want to Fall Prey to the Kingdom of Names

I noticed that in many of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh exhorts His followers not to become the bond-slaves of the “Kingdom of Names”. I found this phrase puzzling and didn’t know what it meant or how it might apply to me.  In the following quote, Baha’u’llah seems to use this term to refer to those who have busied themselves in the things of this world and forgotten to turn to God in all their affairs:

The Pen of the Most High is unceasingly calling; and yet, how few are those that have inclined their ear to its voice! The dwellers of the kingdom of names have busied themselves with the gay livery of the world, forgetful that every man that hath eyes to perceive and ears to hear cannot but readily recognize how evanescent are its colors.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 195)

In my quest to understand the roots of my workaholism, and find ways to overcome it, this made sense.  When I seek fame and popularity; when I make my “to do” lists and systematically attempt to cross each item off as more keep popping up, I exert my focus and willpower to get it all done, forgetting to ask God to guide me in all my affairs.  I forget to ask Him what His priorities are for my day, and in doing so, I fail to achieve my purpose in life, which is to know and worship Him.

So what exactly is the “kingdom of names” and how do I sever myself from it?  Adib Taherzadeh seems to have the best insights.  Although his writings are not authoritative, they are based on a greater understanding of the Writings than I have, so I pass them along, in case you find them helpful too.

He uses a very clear example here:

In this world every one of God’s attributes is clad with a name, and every such name reveals the characteristics of that attribute. For instance, generosity is an attribute of God, and it manifests itself in human beings. However, a person who has this attribute often becomes proud of it and loves to be referred to as generous. When his generosity is acknowledged by other people, he becomes happy, and when it is ignored, he is unhappy. This is one form of attachment to the Kingdom of Names. Although this example concerns the name ‘generosity’, the same is true of all the names and attributes of God manifested within the individual. Usually man ascribes these attributes to his own person rather than to God and employs them to boost his own ego. For instance, a learned man uses the attribute of knowledge to become famous and feels gratified and uplifted when his name is publicized far and wide. Or there is the individual whose heart leaps with feelings of pride and satisfaction when he hears his name mentioned and finds himself admired. These are examples of attachment to the Kingdom of Names.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 25)

So all of the things I’m praised for (being organized, respectful, courteous, diligent, hard-working etc) I claim for myself:

  • I am organized.
  • I am respectful.
  • I am hard-working. Etc

And every time I do that, I’ve fallen into the trap of attaching myself to the “kingdom of names”, and at risk of building up my ego.  In order to sever myself and become humble, I need to see these things as the signs of God in me, rather than something I’ve achieved for myself.

I need to change these thoughts into something like “God has given me the ability to organize; to be hard working, to be respectful, etc.”

To the extent I’m able to do this, I’ll be able to bestow divine perfections on the world and fulfill my part in the Covenant:

Such a man will bestow divine perfections upon the world of humanity. This is the loftiest station that God has destined for man. To the extent that a believer succeeds in severing himself from these three forms of attachment, will he be fulfilling his part in the Covenant of God.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 28)

That makes sense, because I will be continually praising God and giving Him the credit for all the work and service I do, which will stand out as “different” from those around me, and will be a way to teach the Faith and help others draw closer to God.

The key to severing myself seems to be to realize that my virtues aren’t my own, but are manifestations of the attributes of God:

If a man can only realize that his virtues are not intrinsically his own, but rather are manifestations of the attributes of God, then he is freed from the Kingdom of Names and becomes truly humble. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 28)

Apparently it’s not as easy to do as we might think, however.  Adib tells us this might be our most difficult task and to do so might last a lifetime:

To sever oneself from the Kingdom of Names may prove to be the most difficult task for a Bahá’í, and the struggle may indeed last a lifetime. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 28)

When I am driven to achieve more, to please more people, to make a name for myself in the world, Baha’u’llah reminds me that this won’t profit me in the slightest.

Would it profit you in the least if, as ye fondly imagine, your names were to endure? Nay, by the Lord of all worlds! … Should your names fade from every mortal mind, and yet God be well pleased with you, ye will indeed be numbered among the treasures of His name, the Most Hidden.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 47)

Adib reminds us:

There are many people who have rendered notable services to the Faith and their names are recorded in its annals, yet when the winds of tests blew they were unable to subdue their self and ego. These individuals not only lost their faith, but also their goodness and virtues. They fell from the heights of glory into the abyss of degradation and ignominy.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 264)

I’ve been striving towards the wrong things, and I certainly don’t want to be counted among those who’ve fallen into the abyss of degradation and ignominy.  Please God, protect me from that test!

Instead, I need to make sure that God is pleased with me.  We’ve all grown up being taught first to please our parents, then our teachers, then our bosses.  But how many of us have been taught how to please God before all else?  This may be why it will take a lifetime to undo this conditioning.

Fortunately we don’t have to do it all ourselves.  We have the transformative effect of the Revelation of Baha’ullah to help reverse this process:

The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh aims to reverse this process. The soul of man needs to be adorned with the virtues of humility and self-effacement so that it may become detached from the Kingdom of Names.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)

How has this helped your understanding?  Post your comments below.