How do we know when transformation is about to happen to us?
The Writings of Baha’u’llah state that,
Adversity is the oil that feedeth the flame of this Lamp! Such is God’s transforming power.1
Psychologist C.G Jung also wrote that,
There is no balance, no system of self-regulation, without opposition.2
It would seem, from the above, that it is when we consciously experience the adversity that comes from opposites clashing in our lives. But being aware of these life-changing moments is one of our greatest challenges. We do, however, have some very useful tools to help us recognize and welcome such changes.
Transformation is the means by which we stay on the life trajectory that we are intended to be on. We know from biology that our physical development maintains a balance between opposing forces in our lives through the process of homeostasis. We also know that through homeorhesis we persist along the pathway we are meant to be on despite complications encountered. Our biological development is pre-set to unfold according to an innate blueprint; we have an inborn tendency that keeps us on this biological path.
Is there is a parallel principle governing our psycho-spiritual development that is similarly designed to keep us on a certain trajectory? Little acknowledged is that over 100 years ago anthropologist Arnold van Gennep found, through his extensive cross-cultural studies of rites of passage, that life cycle ceremonies all over the world share a three-phase pattern consisting of separation from the familiar; transition to some new learning; and incorporation, in which the person returns to the group with a new status or role. Indigenous peoples were very accustomed to living within this archetypal framework. This pattern of quest, challenge, and renewal, or birth, death, and rebirth, is the standard process by which we undergo every life transition.
What is even more interesting is that this pattern is also central to the world’s spiritual and mystical traditions; it is especially evident in The Seven Valleys and the other writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha.
Baha’u’llah links transformation to experiencing opposing forces:
Know ye that trials and tribulations have, from time immemorial, been the lot of the chosen Ones of God… Such is God’s method carried into effect of old, and such will it remain in the future. Blessed are the steadfastly enduring, that they are patient under ills and hardships.3
Or, as Abdu’l-Baha explains,
The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering… Just as the plow furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment.4
The Baha’i writings offer a number of core oppositions that get to the essence of the pattern of transformation: crisis and victory, affliction and advancement, tests and bestowals, criticism and confirmation, opposition and triumph,5 each one representing an ever-recurring dialectic in our lives between two halves of a whole, both of which are necessary for the blueprint of transformation to be completed.
This “archetype” of transformation is a timeless, universal pattern designed to facilitate our spiritual development. It tells us there is a dynamic give and take, or push and pull, to life that is with us every day of our lives, and that we have a natural tendency to find our way to those experiences in life that will lead us to and through our own transformation.
Dealing with the inherent oppositions of life is how we discover our blueprint for soul-making. It is the way we access the higher levels of human existence and fulfil our potential. It is what helps us become comfortable with the uncomfortable, and to see the whole from its parts.
Transformation is no accident; it is necessary to keep us progressing in the physical world. Abdu’l-Baha makes this clear:
All things are subject to transformation and change, save only the essence of existence itself – since it is constant and immutable.6
As opposites clash in our own lives, our core moments of overcoming adversity facilitate spiritual growth and transformation. Psychologist C.G. Jung says that opposition is inherent in human nature:
Nothing so promotes the growth of consciousness as this inner confrontation of opposites.
Consciousness and confrontation of opposites are linked in one of life’s primary purposes:
Only here, in life on earth, where opposites clash together, can the general level of consciousness be raised. [The] tension of opposites which in their turn seek compensation in unity…7
…brings about the all-important expansion of consciousness.
This principle of opposites colliding and merging to create opportunities for greater growth should be recognized as a spiritual principle that applies equally and universally to all human beings, just as the biological principle of homeorhesis does. The first principle is a blueprint for our spiritual development and the second is a blueprint for our biological development.
Identifying this pattern of transformation in our own lives and incorporating its structure, significance, and meaning into the stories we tell about our lives is an important task for our time. This three-part process of transformation, a juxtaposition of dualities driving and directing our growth, leads to a new and greater form of unity and integration in our lives – and in the world – because this is a journey that leads ultimately to personal and collective transformation.
Now, more than ever, when the well being of the whole is so tied to the well being of the parts, when the parts are indistinguishable, even inseparable, from the whole, each influencing the other, the personal is the collective. What benefits one benefits us all.
- Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah p.72. [↩]
- J. Jacobi, The Psychology of C.G. Jung, p.53. [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah p.129. [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p.178. [↩]
- The Universal House of Justice, Crisis and Victory, p.4, 6, 33. [↩]
- Abdu’l-BahaSelections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha p.157. [↩]
- J. Jacobi, ibid, p.55; C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.345, 311, 335. [↩]