Alison Marshall's Column

Alison is an unenrolled Baha'i, a business writer and a mystic. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Love and detachment

In any discussion about detachment, one of the big issues is love. I haven't spoken about this before, but I will now. I'll tell you a bit about my struggle with it and how I resolved it. You'll appreciate that it's very personal and so I won't get into too much detail.

When I first married Steve, he was the centre of my world. Sure, I was a Baha'i, but Steve was where it was at for me. I loved him and everything in my world revolved around him. I guess that worked out fine initially—we were pretty soppy together. But gradually things changed as Steve's irrepressible addiction for computers manifested itself and I began to feel the effects of 'widowhood'. I became a computer and Internet widow. Steve still loved me, of course, but his world began to stop revolving around me. This caused friction because he was still the centre of my universe.

There is nothing new in any of this. I believe I wouldn't be overstating the matter to say it's a near universal complaint amongst women. Couples marry and then, gradually, the woman complains that her partner is showing more interest in his work (or some such) than in her. She complains that he isn't as romantic as he used to be, and the truth is that he isn't. Something has changed.

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The reasoning behind detachment

One of the reasons I took to the concept of detachment like a duck to water was that I was compelled by the argument Baha'u'llah puts in its favour. I guess people associate being detached with being moral or a goody-two-shoes. But the concept is based on reason and it is not that Baha'u'llah wants to take the fun out of life or avoid the serious issues of life.

I said earlier that perhaps the best way to see detachment is as a state of being in love with God/Baha'u'llah. What happens when we are in love—with a person or a thing—is that it becomes the centre of our inner universe. And that's where the problem lies. Baha'u'llah points out that everything in this world is contingent—in other words, it's going to die or fall apart or disappear or be taken from us or something. In some way or other, it will change. Over and over again, Baha'u'llah points to the fact that the things in the contingent world are unreliable and not worthy of our trust. The following is one of the clearest statements on this that I know of. It certainly had an enormous influence on me and my outlook on life, the faith and the Baha'i community.

"Say: People of the earth, do you not see the transformations occurring in the land, and the changes the earth is undergoing, such that no second goes by without most affairs therein suffering an alteration? Therefore, what sign reassures your hearts and souls? Woe unto you! Upon what basis have you acted in this vain life? For you have advanced toward your base selves, and turned away from the one who created you, nourished you, and showed greater compassion to you than has any other. Say: By God, you are only as a wayfarer resting in the shade of a tree. But that shade is of necessity ephemeral, and you must not repose your confidence in it or in anything that will pass away. Put your trust in what does not perish, in what endures in the immortality of God, the everlasting, the eternal, the glorious." Baha'u'llah: City of Radiant Acquiescence

I hear Baha'u'llah saying that to put our trust in anything but God is not logical and is vain. Everything apart from God/Baha'u'llah is ephemeral, just like the shade of a tree. How long will that last? It is just a way station, not our home. Why not take refuge in the thing that provides permanent shelter?

The trouble is that the things of the world that we rely on are immediately available to our senses; that is, the people in our everyday life, the society in which we life, even the Internet and the realities people create there. We become immersed in these things because we have ready access to them. The everlasting things that Baha'u'llah is referring to cannot be accessed in that immediate way with the senses. They are unseen realities. Baha'u'llah tells us that God has deliberately set the worlds up this way so that the foolish would be tricked.

"O son of my handmaid! Didst thou behold immortal sovereignty, thou wouldst strive to pass from this fleeting world. But to conceal the one from thee and to reveal the other is a mystery which none but the pure in heart can comprehend." PHW 41

If people really thought about what Baha'u'llah is saying here, a tremendous light would go on and they would see that they have been duped all their lives. You can see this kind of realisation in those who come back from a near-death experience. Such people have actually died and been forced to witness everything that constituted their physical existence vanish into thin air.

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12th Day of Ridvan

Here we are on the last day of Ridvan. On this day back in 1863, Baha'u'llah and his family and friends left the Garden of Ridvan for their long trek to the Ottoman capital of Istanbul (Constantinople).

One of the tablets Baha'u'llah wrote at this time was Nightingale of Separation. It is a lament at Baha'u'llah's parting and separation from the believers in Baghdad. Only a selected few could travel with him; the rest were instructed to stay in Baghdad or go elsewhere to teach the Faith.

The tablet begins with a poem of lament, which I've quoted below.

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9th Day of Ridvan celebration podcast

I've done a special podcast to celebrate the 9th Day of Ridvan. It's a 12-minute devotional podcast, with readings and sounds. The theme of the programme is the Spirit.

I have obtained the audios of the sounds from the amazing site, the Freesound Project: It allows you to download sounds for free so long as you attribute them.

The principal sound I have used is of the nightingale but I have also used electronic sounds of birds. Baha'u'llah often used the image of the nightingale singing in the rose garden to refer to his own voice calling in the spiritual realm. This is the image I have tried to capture.

Download the 12-minute MP3 audio of the 9th Day of Ridvan podcast

Or play it here:
{sstreamtalk}|250|9th Day of Ridvan|#5192CA{/sstreamtalk}

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Being in love with God

The conclusion from the last post gives us the following description of detachment: "Detachment is about the soul leaving everything behind and 'journeying' to its Lord. In doing so, it finds a place that is eternal, and in that place it isn't concerned with anything else but God - nothing gets between the soul and God or the Absolute Truth. That soul is busied with mentioning God and isn't in love with anything else or immersed in anything else. In that eternal place, the soul is in the presence of God, sees God and bears witness to God."

I said that I would try to find the essential experience of detachment and, from the above description, I would say that it is about being in love with God. Let's explore what that means. What are the many experiences a person has when they are in love with God?

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