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Reddit forums, podcasts and twitter feeds offer all kinds of hacks and short cuts to living well. Video gamers exchange cheat codes that allow a player to jump past obstacles. But can a few simple tricks pave the way to a life of nobility and genuine accomplishment?
Well, yes and no. “Life is suffering,” the Buddha reminds us. (All the Buddhas have, in one language or another.) Looking for shortcuts and easy ways out doesn’t make for great leaders, inspiring artists, brilliant chemists or superb athletes. Yet, although a life of ease isn’t so EASY, it also doesn’t have to be super-complicated. There are actions we can take, habits we can build over time, that really do lead to delicious outcomes! Inspired by an off-hand comment by Rainn Wilson on one of his Baha’i Blogcast episodes, my wife and I brainstormed nine spiritual life hacks, inspired by the Baha’i teachings and confirmed both by age-old practice and by cutting-edge thought…
1. Choose Pain & Difficulty.
Life will challenge us anyway, so why not toughen ourselves up by our own choices? It’s not really so strange: artists, athletes, and scientists willingly take on tough challenges in order to grow in their work. It builds character! Tests help us to grow! (No, really!)
Bring [children] up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship. Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great import… 1
The more difficulties one sees in the world the more perfect one becomes. The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes….The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts… 2
2. Speak to the Universe. Yell “Help!” Before You Need It. (Yup, It’s Prayer.)
I believe it’s worthwhile to pray every day whether you think you need it or not. Whether we are basically saying Thanks! or Help! or Wow! there is real value to voicing our innermost thoughts to our best selves, the Universe, our ancestors, the Creator. We get out of our own heads. We consult powers higher than our own.
The wisdom of prayer is this: that it causes a connection between the servant and the True One….Besides all this, prayer…is the cause of awakening and mindfulness and is conducive to protection… 3
3. Spread Compost on Your Mind. Leaven Thy Brain.
As is manure to a field, or as yeast is to bread, so is the input of Words of Power to our hearts and minds. It lifts us, nourishes us. I’ve found it helpful to allow myself to think and rehearse the greatest thoughts of the greatest Minds. Apply. Rinse. Repeat—especially the Word of God for TODAY from the Bab and Baha’u’llah.
Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths…. Say: Through it the poor have been enriched, the learned enlightened, and the seekers enabled to ascend unto the presence of God. 4
Read the Sacred Writings each morning and evening with reverence, attention and thought… 5
4. “Be Still and Know”. Meditate.
I think our hyperactive minds, our pinball attention, need to be stilled. (Regularly.) There are many forms of meditation: from the active pondering of a problem, asking ourselves questions, to the emptying or quieting of the mind. Sometimes it’s a long look back, or imagining our way into a future.
The wine of renunciation must needs be quaffed, the lofty heights of detachment must needs be attained, and the meditation referred to in the words ‘One hour’s reflection is preferable to seventy years of pious worship’ must needs be observed… 6
The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view….Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries… 7
5. Study Accounting! (Keep Score, but Be Kind.)
We can learn. We believe. We plan. We are doers. We are HUMANS being. But if we don’t examine all these things for ourselves, we’re barely half alive. We need to pause for reflection and know the score, but as an Indigenous prayer says, “not to be superior to my brothers, but to be able to fight my greatest enemy, myself”. Reflect according to whatever schedule works, but the foundation is some brief DAILY accounting.
O Son of Being! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds. 8
6. Thanksgiving is Every Day.
Maintaining an “attitude of gratitude” breeds humility, respect, openness, and love. We might ask, What am I grateful for today? The mirror image of thankfulness is generosity. So we Thank. And we Give. Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is a CHOICE. Many prayers help us to express this.
Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face… 9
…and so begins a long & wonderfully challenging list!
7. Divorce Your Stuff.
At least get a firm pre-nuptial agreement, so you don’t get to the point where your stuff owns YOU. (you can’t take it with you…!!) MATERIALISM IS A BEAST, and it doesn’t take days off. We need to tame it. The Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, referred to it as one of the modern “false gods” that we unconsciously substitute for true religious worship.
The forces of materialism [say to us]…: that happiness comes from constant acquisition, that the more one has the better, that worry for the environment is for another day. These seductive messages fuel an increasingly entrenched sense of personal entitlement… Indifference to the hardship experienced by others becomes commonplace while entertainment and distracting amusements are voraciously consumed. The enervating influence of materialism seeps into every culture… 10
8. Hunt Goodness! Be a Hope Detective.
My best buddy and his wife have long worked hard to value one another, an antidote to the relationship-killing tendency to find fault with and backbite about others. Does “seeing the good” make us wilfully blind? Not really; it actually clarifies our vision. I think chronically seeing the negative is NOT “reality”, but just a bad mental habit. Instead, work to find what is best about spouses, or colleagues, or situations. Apply Abdu’l-Baha’s simple foundation of psychological health: to overlook the 10 qualities and appreciate the 1 good one. (Simple, but not easy!!)
If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one, and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten. 11
9. Turn Human Nature on Its Head.
When people shrug and say, “It’s only human nature”? it’s always after someone gives in to temptation, or steals, or cheats on a friend, or erupts in violence. But that may be focusing on our lower nature, and we’ve ALL seen it: people help one another, mostly; they’re friendly, if given half a chance; they build, they make art, they love children, and they aspire to goodness even when they’re far from it. This is also human nature!
O SON OF SPIRIT! Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created. 8
Man is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess….Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom. 9
No doubt you can come up with other “spiritual hacks” from the Teachings of Baha’u’llah. These things WORK! However, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking any of this will be easy. As the Master said, “Little by little. Day by day…” 12
A longer version of this article can be found on James Howden’s blog here: http://jameshowden.com/2020/03/can-you-hack-it-living-as-if-spirit-was-yknow-a-thing/
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha
- Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West
- Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith
- Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas
- Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance,From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, September 1, 1983
- Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks
- Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words
- Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah
- The Universal House of Justice, 1 March 2017 letter regarding economic life
- Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah and the New Era
- Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World, 12: 704
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