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
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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:
I have found that the joy of being a Baha’i is that, irrespective of your age or depth of understanding in the Baha’i Writings, you are constantly challenged with new ideas. The concept of “moral beauty” threw itself at me when attending a devotional meeting centred around the theme of our attraction to beauty. Continue reading
In my work as an image coach, I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on what modesty might mean. It seems to me that societal standards are degrading, almost on a daily basis. I have witnessed how things that would have been distressing or offensive even a few years ago are now acceptable in the society in which I live – I have seen changes in the way we speak, the way we interact with others, the way we dress, and so on. Pushing limits and boundaries is understood by some to be a sign of liberation from outdated and restrictive habits and it seems that the more daring and outrageous one can be in challenging traditional conventions, the better.
While there are many traditional and cultural concepts and practices that are outworn and obsolete, there are also some that I believe need to be respected and maintained, or even elevated and appreciated in a whole new way. One of these is the concept of modesty. Continue reading
Baha’u’llah has charged us with creating unity everywhere in our lives. Sometimes, though, our inner wounds get in the way.
A very young me internalized “I don’t belong” from relatively simple experiences like being excluded from friend’s birthday parties and being sent to my room as a punishment. More deeply I internalized it was better to not belong as closely to my family after my mother almost died and her attention was focused on my younger baby brother. It seems to be a common human experience to have an inner child voice born from reacting to early challenges, especially those that involve rejection, severe criticism, or disconnection.
Our inner-child voice operates, often unconsciously, and interferes with connection with others when we are adults, especially if we seem to be experiencing rejection or disrespect from someone. I see it in my work as a relationship educator and coach based in the United States, in friends, and in myself. For some, the inner operating phrase is different: “I’m not good enough”, “I’m invisible”, or “I don’t matter”. But the outcome is the same: disconnection and disunity with people that we really want to be close to. There is hope:
The bright rays of union will obliterate the darkness of limitations, and the splendors of heaven will make the human heart to be even as a mine veined richly with the love of God.
Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.
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? Continue reading
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.
Best known for his fantasy Narnia series, famed author C.S. Lewis was also a scholar, broadcaster, and devout Christian. Never one to compromise his values and convictions (and following repeated challenges to his commitment to faithful daily prayer) Lewis presented a careful and calculated perspective:
I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.
I often revisit this quotation and contemplate its true meaning. Through the years, the words have always resonated with me — offering insight and clarity during moments of pure joy, as well as solace and succor while mired in the depths of despair.
Like all Baha’is, I am, of course, bound by guidance of the Blessed Beauty to engage in daily prayer and meditation. Beyond merely reciting one of the Obligatory Prayers, I’ve come to realize that further daily reflection is both essential and intensely beneficial. This understanding, however (as with many other aspects of my spiritual life) is and has been a work in progress that will never be entirely completed. Continue reading