- Abdu’l-Baha was the eldest son of Baha’u’llah. When Abdu’l-Baha passed away on 28 November 1921, He was eulogized as One who led humanity to the “Way of Truth,” as a “pillar of peace” and the embodiment of “glory and greatness.”
As someone for whom experiential learning has proven to be the most effective way to process new ideas, see things from alternative perspectives and adopt new ways of doing things, I am always looking for creative ways to reinforce what I am learning. Based on my experiences as both a tutor and participant, the Ruhi Institute study materials lend themselves well to the integration of creative projects developed with the purpose of further enriching individual and collective learning process. The use of the arts as an avenue to explore themes and ideas presented in the Writings is one mentioned repeatedly by the Universal House of Justice. In a message to the Baha’is of the World dated 21 April 1996, it says that we should:
… give greater attention to the use of the arts, not only for proclamation, but also for the work in expansion and consolidation. The graphic and performing arts and literature have played, and can play, a major role in extending the influence of the Cause. At the level of folk art, this possibility can be pursued in every part of the world, whether it be in villages, towns or cities. Shoghi Effendi held high hopes for the arts as a means for attracting attention to the Teachings. 1
Below are five group activities that I have used with a variety of Ruhi groups that were effective avenues for deepening understanding of the concepts involved and strengthening positive and mutually supportive group dynamics. I chose to integrate these activities to complement and reinforce the Ruhi materials and their practice components, not as an alternative to them. My choice of activities was based on my own creative background, the interests of those in the groups I was facilitating and the resources that were available to us. I share these here as a potential resource for other tutors, recognizing that they will likely need to be adapted to the strengths and interests of Ruhi group participants, as well as the resources available to the tutor:
- Vision Boards
I have found that vision boards work really well, and all they require is some card stock or poster board, a pile of magazines, scissors, glue sticks and markers. Here’s how I’ve facilitate this activity: Every individual in the group is given a piece of card stock and is asked to cut out images and words for a specific theme. This theme could be an idea from a particular quote, or one that reinforces spiritual values from the Ruhi book that the participant wants to strengthen, or one that serves as a reminder of practices that the person wants to integrate into their routine (like prayer or meditation, quality family time, or community service). Once participants have enough images and words to cover the surface of the card, they glue them onto the surface in a way that is visually pleasing to them. Any ideas or words they want on their boards that they couldn’t find in the magazines available can be written on using markers. I find the act of creating these alone but together builds group cohesiveness. Once everyone is done I invite the participants to share their board and describe why they chose particular images or words, which helps people to get to know each other better. Participants can take their vision board home and place it somewhere that they will see it regularly and be reminded of the goals they set in the group. This activity also works well if the participants want to create a single vision board representing their collective vision. In this case the group discusses and consults on the images they have cut out and how they contribute to the vision of the whole before they glue them to the card stock.
This is a relatively simple activity, but one that both reinforces ideas and provides an opportunity to connect with others on a deeper level. Participants take one or more of the quotes presented in the Ruhi book and develop small drawings or paintings that can be duplicated and affixed to the front of a greeting card. The quote can be printed inside the card if they so desire, but this is not essential. Finding visual ways to represent the quotes encourages participants to reflect deeply on the meaning of the ideas being presented, and provides members of the group with greetings cards that they can use to invite friends, colleagues and family members to a devotional gathering, commemorate a birthday or death, or simply to tell a loved one how much they are valued. When the card is given to the recipient it also provides an opportunity for the giver to share a little about the quote that inspired the image on the cover, which is guaranteed to elevate the conversation and deepen connections out beyond the confines of the study circle.
3. Photography Meditation
In this activity participants in the study circle reflect upon a particular quote. Once they have unravelled its meaning and significance they head out on a quiet, meditative walk to take photos of things that they feel express parts or all of the quote they have just studied together. This need not take longer than 20 or 30 minutes. After the group has had a chance to explore visual reflections of the concepts from the quote the participants come back together to share what they have captured and how they feel the photos articulate ideas in the quote. This activity also easily lends itself to further expansion in the form of a collective exhibit of the photographs taken by the group members alongside the quotes, which could serve as an invitation to the larger community to come together to reflect on the spiritual concepts explored in the quotations.
4. Sense of Place Writing
Perhaps because the natural world is a reflection of the beauty and perfection of God, I find it is an excellent place to process and meditate on the spiritual concepts presented in the Ruhi sequence. After an intense period of study, taking a group outside in a beautiful natural area with journals and a pens, and having them sit far enough apart so that they have the personal space to listen to the sounds, inhale the smells and take in the wild landscape visually, often generates new insights. Even 30 minutes gives individuals a chance to write about the ideas they have been studying, and how they might integrate them into their own lives. Coming back together after the exercise gives participants the opportunity to share what they have written if they should so desire.
I find that the ideas presented in the Ruhi materials naturally move participants to creative expression. Facilitating and encouraging this to happen can deepen group learning and the connection between participants. Some individuals may be more drawn to music, and could be encouraged to take a quote and put it to music or to write their own song inspired by the ideas being explored. Those who are more inclined to express themselves through movement could collaborate with the musicians, choreographing a dance to a song written by other members of the group. Those for whom drama is of greater interest can, likewise, take a particular story or spiritual virtue and find ways to bring it to life dramatically. The performance arts lend themselves particularly well to collaboration between group members who will all have different, but mutually supportive strengths and capacities.
I’m certain there are many more ways that the arts can be used to reinforce the ideas presented in the Ruhi materials than I have outlined above. I’d love to hear how you are integrating the arts into your study circles in the comments section below this post if you feel like sharing!
- Universal House of Justice to the Baha’is of the World, 21 April 1996
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