I have always wanted to be a writer. But despite writing through childhood and high school, and completing a bachelor’s degree in creative writing with a focus in poetry, until recently I had never wholeheartedly committed myself to my art. The reason was that I was, and sometimes still am, scared. I was scared because I didn’t know what I would do if I fully devoted myself to the reason I think I was put on this planet, and then found out that my writing did not make a meaningful contribution to society. Sound like a cop-out? I’m pretty sure it was. I lacked the courage to pursue writing because I was afraid of failing. Instead, I pursued many other things—some of which I really loved, and a few of which I was actually very good at—but the whole time I was doing those other things I was carrying a silent awareness that if whatever I was doing didn’t work out it didn’t really matter because what I really wanted to do was write. The result, of course, was that I was always second-guessing myself and never entirely fulfilled by what I was doing: always wondering what it would be like to be truly committed to my chosen line of work, but afraid to give up on the certainty of reliable and even enjoyable work for the possibility of embracing my true calling. Continue reading
If there ever was a word that carried enough emotional baggage to sink a boat, “ego” would be it. We all have one, but it is far easier to both see and criticize in others than it is to identify and get to know better in ourselves. Recently I’ve been wondering: What is ego? And given that we all have one, what purpose does it serve in our lives? Continue reading
The independent investigation of truth is one of the fundamental teachings of the Baha’i Faith. On the surface the idea that each of us should investigate the truth for ourselves instead of blindly adopting a belief simply because it is held by those around us sounds logical and fairly self-explanatory. It is hard to make one’s faith one’s own without researching the truths upon which it is founded and assessing whether these resonate with who we are and the values that are most important to us. Instead of attempting to explain my elementary understanding of this topic, which I am coming to realize is constantly evolving, I thought perhaps the best approach might be to share my personal process of investigation, and what I have gleaned from my effort to find answers in the Baha’i Writings.
I began with the following six questions:
- What is truth and where do we find it?
- What tools and methods can we use to investigate truth?
- How do we know when we’ve reached the truth?
- What if there are contradictions in what we know to be true?
- Is independent investigation of truth a single event or a life-long process?
- Where can we look to find out more about this teaching?
My first job after finishing my master’s degree in sustainable agriculture was on an organic farm on Prince Edward Island, Canada. One day my boss Raymond handed me a tray and asked me to go harvest the cusa – a small, pale green zucchini-like squash popular in the Middle-East. I headed out into the field and walked up and down each row, carefully harvesting all the cusa I could see, surprised that Raymond had sent me out to harvest such a small quantity of squash. I returned to the barn and presented him with a measly 15 cusa rolling around in the bottom of the tray. Raymond was a generous optimist who always chose to focus on my strengths rather than my weaknesses. He scooped what I had harvested out of the tray, handed it back to me, and repeated his request that I go harvest the cusa. I wondered if I had misheard him, and politely explained that it was highly unlikely that there would be any left on the plants, since I had just picked the plants clean. He smiled at me good naturedly and asked me to indulge his request. I agreed reluctantly, and possibly with a slight roll of the eyes that he was generous enough to ignore. Back out in the field, I walked in a full circle around each plant, squatting down to peer under the dense canopy of leaves and stalks, searching for any that were hiding there, but eager to be able to return to him triumphantly empty-handed. To my surprise, by the time I had repeated this process on every plant, I had harvested twice as many cusa on this second attempt as I had on my first pass through the field. I returned to him with a nearly full tray, feeling more than a little embarrassed. He was kind enough not to say, “I told you so,” his generous silence giving me the space I needed to learn an important lesson. Continue reading
One day a young man was composing jazz tunes on a rented piano in his apartment in Boston when the doorbell rang. He opened the door to find himself face-to-face with his blue-eyed neighbour, a classically trained singer who had heard his music through the floor and needed someone to accompany her while she rehearsed. Two years later this singer gave birth to me at home, accompanied by jazz played by my father and the doctor, who was (naturally) also a musician.
Our house was always full of live music and artwork from all over the world. The arts were a way of life. Creating and appreciating art was how we related to each other, and how we built community. So the first time someone asked me what I saw as the purpose of the arts I was thrown off guard. They seem as essential as food and water. There are an endless number of ways that the arts enrich our lives and shape our reality. Here are five that I keep coming back to: Continue reading
As I write this rain is pattering against the window above my desk. Outside, a tree that has been covered in brilliant yellow leaves for the past couple of weeks is in transition—the topmost branches are already bare. A slow but steady release is happening lower down, and the bottom is still blazing colour against the slate grey sky. Around me the world is in a season of radical transformation. We’ve come to a point where none of us can avoid the truth that individual wellbeing is inseparably connected to the wellbeing of all. Personally, the physical separation from those I love, coupled with a heightened awareness of the brevity of this earthly life is making me ask myself bigger questions than I had been previously. Three that come up for me a lot are: What is God’s Will for humanity? How do I align my life’s purpose with the Will of God? And what specific capacities can I strengthen in myself right now that will help me to better serve the needs of humanity at this pivotal time? Continue reading
I recently finished studying Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, the first book in a series of materials that have been developed to “assist individuals to deepen their understanding of the Baha’i teachings, and to gain the spiritual insights and practical skills they need to carry out the work of the community.” I have participated in many Ruhi study circles, but this one has been particularly life-changing for me. Our tutor, Fanya, lost her grandmother earlier this year to COVID-19, and in searching for creative ways to process her own grief, decided to invite a few other people who have lost close family members to study Ruhi Book 1 with her.
The first book in the Ruhi sequence explores what it means to be spiritual beings; the purpose of prayer; and how living a life of service can help us strengthen our spiritual capacity and grow closer to God. In retrospect, the usefulness of this book as a tool to create a supportive environment in which a group of people can move through grief in community seems obvious, but I had never heard of it being used in this way before. Our weekly study circle has been so helpful to me in my own journey through grief that it got me thinking that sharing my experience might inspire tutors in other places to consider using Ruhi Book 1 to support those who are grieving. In the spirit of finding new ways that we can utilize the Ruhi materials to build stronger communities, here are six ways that using Ruhi Book 1 to process grief has helped me:
The sixteenth month of the Baha’i calendar is the month of Sharaf. The word ‘sharaf’ is Arabic for ‘honour.’ In his A Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson defined ‘honor’ as the ‘nobility of the soul.’ When I am trying to get a better grasp on a spiritual principle I look out into the world around me for reflections of it. For some reason looking outwards for concrete examples of otherwise abstract concepts ultimately helps me to reach a deeper internal understanding, and to find ways to integrate new ways of being into my own life. Often I find instruction in the natural world. But sometimes human beings most clearly exemplify a quality I’m trying to better comprehend.
Looking through a list of the names of the 19 months in the Baha’i calendar, I notice that 16 are attributes of God: splendor, glory, beauty, grandeur, and so on. Then we come to the months of words, speech and questions. You might be interested to explore this Baha’i Blog article about words, or this one about speech, but for now I’d like to explore the 15th month: questions. There may be a reference somewhere in which questions is referred to as an attribute of God (I have yet to find one, so if you do, please let me know), but to me this month has always been a bit of a curiosity. I have a friend whose first Nineteen Day Feast was the Feast of Questions. When he arrived at the gathering chairs had been arranged in a circle around a large piece of fabric which lay on the floor in the centre of the room. The host had spray painted a giant question mark across it. My friend found himself questioning what he had gotten himself into, but in addition to being an amusing introduction to the Nineteen Day Feast, the host clearly also had questions about the month of Questions, and it made my friend stop and ask himself a question or two! The fact that an entire month has been dedicated to questions suggests to me that questioning has an important role to play in the Baha’i Faith. The deeper I delve into the purpose of questions, the more questions I have. So, in the spirit of the month, below are my top four questions about the month of Questions: Continue reading
When I was a child my parents taught me that Baha’is believe that there are innumerable worlds of God; that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience, and that spiritual existence extends beyond the womb, this world and the next, so our souls will continue to develop long after our bodies have returned to dust. Death, within this conception of reality, is seen as a messenger of joy because once released from the physical afflictions of the body, the soul just enters a new chapter in its’ journey towards its’ Beloved, God. Continue reading