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Finding our Way

 

We must not be content with simply following a certain course because we find our fathers pursued that course. It is the duty of everyone to investigate reality, and investigation of reality by another will not do for us.

In the movie “Fiddler on the Roof”, we hear clearly the longing for the security of tradition, and the prison it locks us into.

Who, day and night, must scramble for a living,
Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers?
And who has the right, as master of the house,
To have the final word at home?

The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.
The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.

[GOLDE & MAMAS]
Who must know the way to make a proper home,
A quiet home, a kosher home?
Who must raise the family and run the home,
So Papa’s free to read the holy books?

The Mama, the Mama! Tradition!
The Mama, the Mama! Tradition!

[SONS]
At three, I started Hebrew school. At ten, I learned a trade.
I hear they’ve picked a bride for me. I hope she’s pretty.

The son, the son! Tradition!
The son, the son! Tradition!

[DAUGHTERS]
And who does Mama teach to mend and tend and fix,
Preparing me to marry whoever Papa picks?

The daughter, the daughter! Tradition!
The daughter, the daughter! Tradition!

As teens we chafe against it.  If we’ve been abused, we determine to do the opposite of what we’ve been taught, but in the end, many of us sink back into what we know.  It takes a lot of effort to truly break the chains of what we’ve been taught.  Sometimes they’re so enmeshed we think we’re thinking for ourselves, when in reality we’re just repeating what our culture teaches.

So if it’s “our duty to investigate reality”, without following what’s familiar and without looking to see how our neighbor is living, how then can we find our way?

I think we need to look to our hearts to give us the answer.  It’s the place where God resides and He certainly knows what’s best for us.  But it’s not always easy to hear our hearts, especially if it’s veiled with natural impurities such as: anger, lust, worldliness, pride, lying, hypocrisy, fraud, self-love, etc.

The first step is to ask God to take these impurities, and transmute them into something else – in this case, focus, direction, certainty, faith and trust.

The second step is to use the 5 Steps of Prayer:

1st Step: Pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifesta¬tions as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of contemplation for a few minutes.

Many of us fail to wait and listen for God’s answer, after we say our prayers, forgetting that prayer is a 2-way conversation.  It’s like consulting with someone, where you lay out your problem before them and then go home, without waiting to hear their perspective or guidance.  We’ll never know how to change our lives if we don’t wait and listen for the answer.

Shoghi Effendi tells a story about building the gardens around the shrine of the Báb.  He said he didn’t have a clue what the end product would look like.  He would pray, get direction, act on it and then repeat the process the next day.  This is what we need to do too, if we want to forge a life different from our forefathers.

2nd Step: Arrive at a decision and hold this. This decision is usually born during the contemplation. It may seem almost impossible of ac¬complishment but if it seems to be as answer to a prayer or a way of solving the problem, then immediately take the next step.

It’s easy to make a decision but much harder to hold on to it.  Our hearts give us an answer and our minds second guess it.  The minute we move from our hearts to our minds, we can be sure we’re destined to continue to do things the same way we’ve always done them.   We know that God has our best interests at heart, so to let our minds disregard the answers we’re given is truly to turn away from God in pride, thinking we know better than He does.

3rd Step:  Have determination to carry the decision through. Many fail here. The decision, budding into determination, is blighted and in¬stead becomes a wish or a vague longing. When determination is born, immediately take the next step.

Determination is the virtue which will help you carry your decision through.  With determination comes the courage to act and the focus to take the steps necessary to move us forward.  So if we’re wavering here, we can give our uncertainty to God and ask Him to transmute it to determination.  We don’t have to do this alone.  God wants us to succeed!

4th Step: Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle, or the right book will be given to you. Have confidence and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise from prayer, take at once the 5th step.

Sometimes we take a step and then feel a little foolish.  Nothing seems to have changed.  You can’t see how this action will lead to the result you’ve been praying for.  This is where faith and confidence will help.  You know you’ve done what God suggested, so you can leave it up to Him to give you what you need next.  Watch for it!  It feels like magic when the right things appear!

5th Step: Act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a mag¬net, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you.

I read a story once of a woman who was going on pilgrimage.  She had a date and the desire to go, but she didn’t have the money or the ticket.  She used this process, and as the days grew closer to her deadline, she made arrangements for someone to take care of her cat.  She packed her suitcase, watered her plants, arranged for the mail to be taken care of, and cancelled the newspaper delivery.  People told her she was crazy!  But she continued to take the steps in faith, trusting that the ticket would appear and just hours before she was to leave, it did, and she was able to go.  That’s the level of faith and action we’re called to do.

Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step. Some who meditate arrive at a decision, but fail to hold it. Few have the determination to carry the decision through, still fewer have the confidence that the right thing will come to their need.

But how many remember to act as though it had all been answered? How true are these words “Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered” and greater than the way it is uttered is the spirit in which it is carried out.  (Shoghi Effendi, Remembrance of God, pp.  207-208).

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Battling and Overcoming Stress During Ayyam-i-Ha

 

Baha’is celebrate the festival of Ayyam-i-Ha each year from sunset on Feb. 25 to sunset of March 1 as a preparation for the Fast (March 2 – 20). During this time, Bahá’ís perform acts of charity, give gifts to friends and family, and attend social gatherings.

Baha’u’llah has said of Ayyam-i-Ha:

It behoveth the people of Baha, throughout these days, to provide good cheer for themselves, their kindred and, beyond them, the poor and needy, and with joy and exultation to hail and glorify their Lord, to sing His praise and magnify His Name. (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 25)

Because the Faith is so new (165 years old), and many of weren’t born Bahá’ís, each person must decide how to accomplish this lofty goal.Some people find this very stressful.

Battling and overcoming stress during the holidays can be a challenge to anyone. There are a number of things that can lead to this type of stress:

  • Having to establish new traditions instead of relying on old ones
  • Finding time and inspiration to perform acts of charity
  • Lack of other Bahá’ís to celebrate with – so the four days are just like every other day
  • Planning menus and grocery shopping for the fast

And typical of non-Bahá’í holiday stress comes:

  •  Family gatherings
  • Gift buying
  • Conflicts
  • And more

You may also have high expectations of what you want the holidays to look like, which also adds to the stress of your holiday season.

Here are some methods you can use to battle and overcome stress during the holidays:

Are you overcommitted? Even though the rest of the world doesn’t slow down at this time of year, it’s important to make time to both host and attend social gatherings.

Saying “no thank you” to some less important obligations will help people understand and appreciate the unique rhythm of our Faith, and will free up more time for socializing and being of service.

 It’s important to honour and enjoy the spirit of the holidays. If it takes saying “no” to preserve some of your sanity, go for it! Others will be more understanding than you give them credit for.

Don’t become so burdened that you secretly wish for Ayyam-i-Ha to pass quickly. Take time to be by yourself. Whether you take a walk in nature, retreat into the Writings, journal or have a bubble bath, allow yourself to do something enjoyable to prepare for the Fast.

Carrying on traditions. Growing up, we may have preconceived ideas of what “should” be done. Maybe we watched our mothers cook a full course Christmas dinner. Perhaps it was routine to host a lavish holiday party. Maybe your family baked hundreds of Christmas cookies to give to friends and relatives.You don’t have to re-create Christmas!

Rather than living up to the expectations of years past, start your own, easy-going traditions. Instead of throwing a lavish party, have fewer friends over for tea and cookies. Allow other family members to bring side dishes to the holiday meal rather than cooking it all yourself.

If you find that the routine you normally follow for the pure and simple sake of tradition is weighing on you and resulting in more stress than you can deal with, break away from it! You will be happier when you’re free from this stress.

Finding the perfect gift. There’s so much pressure to purchase the perfect gift for each person that it takes all the fun out of shopping. Remember, people are generally appreciative for whatever gift they receive. They don’t expect you to go to every corner of the Earth to find them a spectacular gift.

Save time and money by skipping the wrapping! Creativity is the main focus. You can even give gifts that can be used throughout the year. For example, you may give a coupon in a card for a free night of babysitting, one day of yard work, or other special things.

Shopping online has made searching for gifts much easier. It might also be more cost effective to buy online because many stores offer special sales or free shipping near the holidays.

Be grateful!  Hailey Tallman, a Bahá’í from the London (Canada) Community reminds us:

During this happy time of Ayyam-i-ha, let us celebrate an astounding fact:   We as Baha’is know the meaning of this life! It has been revealed to us by Baha’u’llah and we repeat it everyday in our obligatory prayer:

“I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.”

AND, because of Baha’u’llah, we have a hopeful vision of the future:

“These fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most great Peace’ shall come…” (Bahá’u’lláh, Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh, p. viii)

This is more than the average person alive today knows in their hearts. What an amazing bounty and joy we have in this knowledge!And what a gift we have to share with others! Let us not delay or shy away from any opportunity to spread this love and knowledge of the meaning of life!

As you can see, there are several effective ways to battle and overcome stress during the holidays. The key is to determine what’s causing your stress so you can eliminate it. In the end, you’ll see that most of the stress you experience is a result of the expectations you pose on yourself.

Happy Ayyam-i-Ha, everybody!

What do you do to make this holiday special and stress-free?  Post your comments here: