So many people in the world, especially young people, are looking for their calling and something to cling to, something that gives life context and a purpose, something that bathes everything else in meaning, magically making sense of life. For me, this yearning for a deeper meaning to life is a sign that humans have souls, and it is a reminder that we are not content with simply getting on with life. We seek connections and a path to channel our energies. This search for deeper meaning can lead to wonderful things: some examples that come to my mind are when people become very devoted to their field of work, which leads to much-needed discoveries and advancement, or when people dedicate their lives to the spiritual education of children and empowering junior youth.
But what is finding oneself really? And how does one find oneself?
I find these questions very philosophical and difficult to wrap my mind around and yet I also find it so vital to give them some thorough thought because how we seek the answers to these questions can set the tone for how we choose to spend our lives.
I came across a quotation many years back that made me think about finding myself in a whole new way:
The more we search for ourselves, the less likely we are to find ourselves; and the more we search for God, and to serve our fellow-men, the more profoundly will we become acquainted with ourselves, and the more inwardly assured. This is one of the great spiritual laws of life.1
What could it mean to search for God and to serve others? The former could mean striving to create unity and harmony around us, something that all the religions of God have championed through the ages, and searching for His truths in Holy Scriptures and in the world. The latter has just as wide a scope of possible meanings.
Serving others can probably mean anything from being honest and truly hardworking at university and in the workplace, to being good neighbours and friends. One of the most special and meaningful ways that comes to my mind when I think of serving humanity is in the context of the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program and children’s classes within small settings like neighbourhoods. In a junior youth group, an animator who is older and a group of 12-15 year olds work together to analyse the needs of the place they live in and learn as a group how to respond to them more and more effectively, striving towards both spiritual and material excellence. The group also studies a series of books together on topics like why it is important to have hope in life and how to look for God’s confirmations in one’s efforts. In a children’s class, a group of children together with an older teacher learn about similar spiritual topics like the importance of virtues like truthfulness, generosity, humility and justice through prayers, stories, games and other activities and learn about how these virtues find application in their life. They also learn about the importance of unity and about the different Manifestations of God and how they have all championed the same truths. Such a spiritual education seeks to lay the foundation for a life of service, as junior youth and beyond.
And how then does animating a junior youth group or teaching a children’s class help us on in our search to find ourselves? I am sure that the answers to this question are many and so I’ll mention only a few that come to my mind. As a junior youth group animator or a children’s class teacher, one tries to be a very good friend to the junior youth and children, to be truly concerned about their well-being and to create a space where they can voice all their hopes, fears and dreams. While one learns to be a better and better friend, one gets acquainted with oneself and one’s limitations. For example, you can learn where the limits of your patience lie and what being a true friend to someone not your own age and with a completely different set of interests means, or you might discover moments of paternalism in your behaviour. While you learn to elucidate spiritual principles, you can understand them better and the examples of children can also set new standards for you: how pure gestures of friendship by children can be, and how keen a 13-year old’s eye can be to the needs of the people around them and how instantly can they arise selflessly to make sure those needs are catered to. And of course, there is the added fun of figuring out the big and small questions of life, from how to become a successful YouTuber, to writing complex card-games from scratch or making a solar cooker to be independent of electricity shortages. Such a group, usually embedded in wider efforts of community building, sets finding yourself in the larger context of carrying forward an ever-advancing civilization that is both prosperous spiritually and materially.
By being embedded in a network of similar efforts, such groups then start off a process that is inevitably independent of individual people — so if a certain person were to move away, for example, the process would continue with other friends. This demonstrates to me a clue about our purpose: we are a part of the whole that is humanity. I think this can help keep one’s ego in check — and what a wonderful way to get acquainted with yourself — not by dwelling on yourself, but by being of selfless service to others and looking to the needs of others. Abdu’l-Baha says:
Man is he who forgets his own interests for the sake of others. His own comfort he forfeits for the well-being of all. Nay, rather, his own life must he be willing to forfeit for the life of mankind. Such a man is the honor of the world of humanity. Such a man is the glory of the world of mankind… Such a man is the very manifestation of eternal bliss.2
To me, this quotation embodies another lofty ideal and outlines what the identity of a true human being is; this quotation is like a lantern in the search for ourselves. Such inspiring quotations, studied and put into action in selfless service, bead together a string of fairy lights that can magically light up the way to finding ourselves.