On joy - for the fast

Over the past few weeks, I've had glimpses of a groove that I've been aiming for for a long time, but which seemed to persistently elude me. Now that I've had a little success, I've learned some important things about my past failure. As expected, nothing of what I've learned isn't already set out by Baha'u'llah in the clearest possible terms. I've been reading his instructions about it for years. It's hard to put into words: Baha'u'llah says, for example, for us to rid ourselves of vain imaginings and idle fancies and to strip ourselves of all earthly affections, and to enter his paradise and experience eternal reunion with him. But it's all words until something inside gives it meaning.

It seems to be a deceptively simple thing. In a nutshell, we're to train ourselves to attain a state where our inner self is completely absorbed in God, and the proof that we've attained it is that we cannot be jolted out of it by happenings in the world.

I've found that one of the principal things that jolts me out of a state of bliss is my thoughts. All on their own, without any intervention from anyone, my thoughts have the power to rob me of happiness. One minute, I can be sitting reading the writings and being wholly absorbed in them and feel like Baha'u'llah is right there. Then, the next minute, a memory of something in my life - small or big - suddenly rushes in. Immediately the magic is gone. Sometimes, I can get it straight back and other times the thought won't leave me and I can't resist being absorbed in it. I'm like the bird whose wings have become sullied by the dust and, as a result, can't resume its flight (Gleanings CLIII). And I think to myself: take Baha'u'llah at his word, Alison. Purity of thought is everything.

With this in mind, I think the concept of backbiting should be extended to include negative thoughts about people, not just negative speech. That doesn't mean disregarding truthful information or experience about a person that proves them to be unpleasant. It means to put that information in the scales of justice only, so that we can respond to the person appropriately, but not to get into a beat-up thought session. I know I can't avoid beat-up thought sessions when I am first stung by someone. But I work hard to get beyond it so that I can put it out of my mind entirely. I give myself time to process what's happened and then try to stop my thoughts focusing on it. It takes real effort. If I've been affected deeply and find I can't shake it, I ask Baha'u'llah to take it away. (In the end, states of inner freedom are the result of grace and not will.)

And so, I've tried to be ruthless about eradicating from my life and thoughts anything with the potential to invade me on the inside. Interestingly, this process lead me to better appreciate Baha'u'llah's concept of moderation. For ages, I have struggled to establish a work routine that doesn't leave me stressed, or so consumed by it that I no longer have any mental space for prayer and meditation. This issue has been a biggie for me. Much of the problem has been my socialisation in the Protestent Work Ethic. And, unfortunately, this has combined with images of Abdu'l-Baha sleeping only four hours a day and burning himself out. And so, for a while there, I ran myself ragged, thinking this was the way to serve the Cause. But what I found, when I did this, was that I drifted further and further away from Baha'u'llah. Gradually, it dawned on me that the effort was self-defeating. I went back to the things that nourish me spiritually and get me to the place where I feel I'm in Baha'u'llah's presence. I thought about work and realised that I needed to do it in moderation, otherwise - as the Boss wisely warns - it'll stop being beneficial. With this experience behind me, I'm more able to withstand the Protestent Work Ethic conditioning.

And so, what I'm building up to saying is that by trying to free myself of any thought or thing that threatens to invade me on the inside, I've been able to focus on the Boss more. And, just as Baha'u'llah promises repeatedly, by focusing on Him and his Word, and not being sabotaged by self, I've been able to get more glimpses of where Baha'u'llah calls me from. That's why this message is about joy. "Rejoice in the gladness of thine heart, that thou mayest be worthy to meet Me and to mirror forth My beauty." (AHW 36)

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