Archive for February, 2011

. . . the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family. Commitment to this revolutionising principle will increasingly empower individuals and Bahá’í institutions alike in awakening others to . . . the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.

(Universal House of Justice: 24 May 2001 in Turning Point page 164)

One of the most useful insights I gleaned from Hayes et al’s book on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy concerned their clear definition of a trap you can fall into when you firmly believe you are enacting your values. It’s when you confuse values with goals (page 231).

A value is a direction, a quality of action. By definition, values cannot be achieved and maintained in a static state, they must be lived out.

This was completely coherent with my own experience in my field of clinical work.

It is important therefore not to confuse values (why we do things) with the steps we have decided to take to enact them (the what) or even the outcomes that we hope to achieve as a result of those steps. We have to be open to the possibility that this step or that outcome, as we experience working in that way, comes to seem at odds with the value we are seeking to give expression to or with a value we come to realise is more fundamentally important to us than the one we thought we wanted to express.

It would be easier perhaps to give a concrete example.

A value that is central to the work of the Bahá’í Faith at the moment is making the world a better place by striving to empower others to help themselves. This is why we do much of what we do. Because Bahá’ís believe that this is a process that depends for its success upon spiritual power first and foremost, we are encouraged to hold devotional meetings. This is a key step (what) in our process of helping heal the world.

There is a third aspect to this though. Simply to invite people to our homes, sit down and say a few prayers, uplifting though that may be, is not enough. It might make some small contribution to improving the world, at least while it is happening. Prayers are powerful after all. But it is not in itself empowering others either to hold similar meetings of their own, or by the nature of what is happening to feel inspired to work for the well-being of their neighbours more than they do already. It needs to be spelt out that this is what such meetings are for. That will help. Even better is to see it create an opportunity for us all to link in with other experiences that will be more likely to change the way we behave towards others in the future. This relates to how we hold devotional meetings.

If we find that the way we host such meetings does not bring about such changes in us at least (and hopefully in other people who attend of course, but in the end they are free to choose what use they make of the experience) we may have to check out whether we have truly understood why we are holding them and the implications that has for how it should be done.

If we have failed to fully grasp the why of it (i.e. the value underpinning the activity) then we will fail fully to understand the how of it (i.e. the manner and spirit in which it should be carried out) and to that degree the action involved (i.e. the what) will not achieve its full potential. If we do not add into the mix of what we are doing a sense of its underlying value, what we do will fall seriously short of what needs to be done at this juncture in the world’s affairs. While you may not agree with the way I have defined the how and the why, the underlying concepts are what matter and hopefully the illustration has conveyed them clearly.

What is required of us if we are to succeed in doing that?

There is a key passage in the message from the Universal House of Justice of 28 December 2010. I believe it is so important that I am quoting paragraph 38 in full:

It is heartening to note that the friends are approaching the study of the messages of the Universal House of Justice related to the Plan with such diligence. The level of discussion generated as they strive to put into practice the guidance received, and to learn from experience, is impressive. We cannot help noticing, however, that achievements tend to be more enduring in those regions where the friends strive to understand the totality of the vision conveyed in the messages, while difficulties often arise when phrases and sentences are taken out of context and viewed as isolated fragments. The institutions and agencies of the Faith should help the believers to analyse but not reduce, to ponder meaning but not dwell on words, to identify distinct areas of action but not compartmentalize. We realize that this is no small task. Society speaks more and more in slogans. We hope that the habits the friends are forming in study circles to work with full and complex thoughts and to achieve understanding will be extended to various spheres of activity.

It is useful to note in passing that the Plan referred to is one designed to lift our attempts at community-building to a level where the healing of society becomes increasingly within the reach of those who are empowered by the processes we are piloting. It is also worth picking up on the need to apply our understanding, and learn from the results, if our understanding is to improve. The value of this is unpacked very clearly by Peter Reason when he says:

. . . [T]he practice of co-operative inquiry requires skills which are in short supply in our world today – particularly the skills of working in genuine collaboration on a complex task with a group of peers; of managing the anxiety which arises as we genuinely examine our world and our practice; of paying critical attention to our experience as we act in our world. All these skills are important; the last calls for a subtle rigour of consciousness which is particularly unusual. . . . These skills can only be learned through doing.

(From The Co-operative Inquiry Group in Human Inquiry in Action, page 19)

In terms of our theme of the moment though it is crucial to be clear that the study of the messages of the House of Justice (the what in this case), if we are to be true to the purposes for which we are studying them (the why, i.e. to learn how to build a better world), then we must be careful how we approach the task (i.e. we need to do it in a way that helps us to ‘understand the totality of the vision.’)

This interaction between why, how and what underpins almost everything we do. The three aspects are not always so conveniently located in one place, as in this example, but making sure we pull them together in our minds is one way of ensuring that we do not take things out of context or treat them as isolated fragments. You cannot get a better grasp of the picture in a tapestry by unravelling the different coloured threads. You have to find a way of holding their relationships more vividly in mind.

It is a valuable exercise for any of us to try to pick up on how these three ways of thinking about what we are doing sometimes have to be pulled together from different places, not only from within one message from the Universal House of Justice but also on occasions from across several messages written at different points in time.

In the next post all we will have time to do is look at another small set of key ideas from ACT and how they might illuminate the path we are seeking to tread. The focus will be partly on language and its weaknesses and potential dangers.

An interesting slant on how slogans can be unhelpful when we come to act in the real world was pointed up in a recent BBC exploration of fairness and the ‘big society” with Professor Michael Sandell and an audience in the lecture theatre at the London School of Economics (I cannot find it on iPlayer now though there is a series still there which is cast in the same format but at Harvard).

The vast majority of the LSE audience considered the big society to be a slogan with little practical meaning in the real world. Further exploration revealed though that the audience as whole, regardless of position on the slogan issue, had some highly significant common ground. There is ‘an important public space,’ Sandell summed up by saying, for ‘civic activism and engagement,’ which, in the words of one of the audience, is the ‘third leg of the stool’ to complement the state and the market.

This space is clearly where cultural creatives operate. Certainly it is where the Bahá’ís are working in the Western world, where states and markets are strong. The slogan, for this audience at least, seemed to have failed to grasp and convey this complex reality.

The debate, though, still missed what Karlbeg points up, which makes describable reality even more complicated than the slogan: the modern state and the modern market are rooted in a competitive model of the social and political world, whereas the LSE debate highlighted that civic activism has to work with dialogue and co-operation. If the modus operandi of this third leg spreads to the other two, in the market place and in politics, there would be very interesting consequences for the way the world develops. But that is another story, and one this blog has explored already from many different angles (see the Karlberg link above for a good example).


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Barney Leith has just published the first of two posts on the subject of Chaplaincy from an intriguing angle. It is not just of interest to those engaged in chaplaincy but to anyone concerned about how we define and explore reality. See link for full post.

Chaplaincy: a meeting point for religion and science

Can the efficacy of a profession that focuses on spiritual care be measured in any way?

I have a particular interest in one such profession, that of healthcare chaplain. I should say at this point that I am not, and never have been, a chaplain. However, I have represented the UK Bahá’í community’s governing body, the National Spiritual Assembly, on one of the UK’s healthcare chaplaincy bodies, the Multi Faith Group for Healthcare Chaplaincy (MFGHC), since its establishment in 2002 – and before that, from 1998, on the Multi Faith Joint National Working Party, the MFGHC’s predecessor body.

I am also one of the two members of the  National Spiritual Assembly’s Chaplaincy Team, which is responsible for recruiting and training Bahá’ís who wish to serve as healthcare chaplains in the National Health Service – but not as chaplains in the Bahá’í community itself, since the responsibility for pastoral care resides with the community’s local and national elected Assemblies.

Evidence-based treatment

Hospitals in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) offer chaplaincy as one of their services for patients. The salaries of chaplains employed whole- or part-time by NHS Trusts are paid from the Trusts’ publicly provided funds, as are the costs of administering chaplaincy and spiritual care departments in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

The NHS, like other health services and providers, requires that the treatments it offers areevidence-based. This requirement also increasingly applies to the work of healthcare chaplains.

This raises questions about the relationship between religion and science in this particular context. Chaplaincy has been seen as a quintessentially religious exercise, and the impact of chaplaincy interventions are often intangible and immeasurable, as I shall show. However, no NHS service can be exempt from the requirement to produce evidence of its efficacy, so chaplains and chaplaincy researchers are having to ask themselves such questions as: What kind of evidence can be adduced to show that patients and staff benefit from interventions by chaplains? What kind of interventions should chaplains be offering if their work is to be effective. To put it bluntly, does the work of chaplains help patients get better? And does it help NHS clinical and other staff function better?

It also raises a question about what would count as evidence in this context.

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In order to fully understand the power and range of ACT‘s ideas, which are pulled together from a number of traditions, it helps to look at what other thinkers have shared. I feel this seeming digression is needed if some of the fog around their language is to lift.

We have met Koestenbaum, the existential philosopher, in the context of reflection, and his ideas also relate to translating values into higher realities in the personal world, an issue close to the heart of ACT. Much of what they borrowed from existentialism can be found in his book, far more clearly expressed.

When I lived in London more than twenty years ago, at least once a month, sometimes more often, I  would set out from my house in Hendon and either turn left, heading for the library nearby on foot, or step into my car and drive down the North Circular to Hendon Way, then onto the Finchley Road to the library at Swiss Cottage. Upstairs there they housed a wealth of books on philosophy and psychology.  I borrowed his book, The New Image of the Person from Swiss Cottage library in early September 1982. It is the only book of that period in my life from which I have kept such hugely detailed notes. I finished my encounter with it in October the same year, shortly before I became aware I was a Bahá’í. It had a huge impact on me as a person and as a therapist. Maybe I shall blog about that some day. For now one small quote will do. He writes:

. . . the retreat of consciousness from lower identifications enables it to realise (understand and bring into being) increasingly higher levels of being.

The notes form part of the journal I kept in those days. Jottings about the day’s events are mixed with long quotes from whatever book I was reading at the time. Revisiting the journal entries around these quotes from Koestenbaum’s book gave me at least one mild surprise.

Half my notes from his book are in a rust red notebook that ends in September 1982. I started a new notebook on 3rd October stating:

I think I am at the beginning of a very long climb upwards. . . . . Perhaps the best thing I can do is read that book on clinical philosophy for some hints about how to give a banal life some meaning.

It had become clear, in some work I did with a Jungian therapist, that I had a bit of a problem with commitment. We discussed this and concluded that my epitaph would read: ‘He died with his options open.’

The issues were clarified but remained unresolved until,I think, the ideas in Koestenbaum’s book helped me move beyond that problem and also gave me a strong steer towards an acceptance of the Bahá’í Faith when I finally read a book about it in late November that same year. It could go some way to explaining my extreme excitement when I came across the identical ideas nearly 25 years later in the ACT book without at that time having any awareness of the link the journal supplied. I thought I’d read the book much earlier than 1982.

This indicates to me how powerfully the application of what I read to the way I live lifts my life sometimes to higher levels. Reading can have the opposite effect, of course, and my early taste for escapist fiction may have seriously arrested my development well into my twenties.

In previous posts I have dealt with two issues that relate to what I am about to explore. The first concerns the proven power of the mind, when deliberately focused, to change the brain. The second concerns the power that reflection has for individuals and consultation for groups to unhook us from unhelpful habits of thinking, feeling, behaviour and self-image. Much of that thinking underpins the ideas this post explores but it would be impossible to rehearse them all over again.

In an earlier post on motivation I looked at certain basic ideas in the ACT approach that might begin to help us enact our values more effectively and over sufficiently long periods to make a real difference to our world. An unusually clear statement of their position comes on page 238:

Applying willingness to support action consistent with chosen values is a central goal of act.

They also explain that ‘willingness is not wanting. It is an act of choice.’ They use the example of a marriage to illustrate exactly what they mean. Their explanation repays careful reading and re-reading (pages 218-219).

Marriage is a commitment, yet half of all marriages end in divorce. How could this be? In part it occurs because people do not know how to make commitments. They try to make them on the basis of judgements, decisions, and reasons, not choices. In so doing they put their commitments greatly at risk. Suppose, for example, that a man marries a woman “because she is beautiful.” If his spouse then has a horribly disfiguring accident, that implies that the reason for marriage has left. . . . . This kind of thing happens all the time when people marry and later find that they no longer have the same feelings of love towards their spouses. Marrying because of love is considered quite reasonable in our culture, and love is dominantly thought to be a feeling, not a kind of choice. But feelings of love are extremely unpredictable. . . . . [W]e say that we fall into and fall out of this emotional state . . . It should not then be a surprise when we fall into and fall out of marriages in much the same way.

If the client can learn to make choices in these areas, things work differently. Consider how much easier it is to keep a marriage vow if marriage is based on a choice to marry and if love is considered to be a choice to value the other and hold the other special.

This idea of commitment may go some way towards helping us understand more fully what the Universal  House of Justice is requiring of us when they ask (Turning Point page 164) for a ‘[c]ommitment to [the] revolutionising principle’ of accepting ‘responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family.’

These concepts and practices, so close to those of Koestenbaum, gel with similar ideas in many other thinkers I have been exposed to, both at the time and later. It is worth quoting from some other writers to demonstrate how important this group of ideas is and how prevalent they are. They help clarify the core point.

Psychosynthesis Star Diagram, formulated by Ro...

Aspects of Consciousness in Psychosynthesis

Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis, is one person who shares a similar perspective. His view is that we are being raised by a higher force ‘into order, harmony and beauty,’ and this force is ‘uniting all beings . . . . with each other through links of love’ (Psychosynthesis: page 31). He explores what we might do to assist that process, and what he says resonates with Schwartz’s idea that persistent willed action changes brain structure. He writes (The Act of Will: page 57):

Repetition of actions intensifies the urge to further reiteration and renders their execution easier and better, until they come to be performed unconsciously.

And he is not just talking about the kind of physical skills we met with in Bounce. He goes on to say (page 80):

Thus we can, to a large extent, act, behave, and really be in practice as we would be if we possessed the qualities and enjoyed the positive mental states which we would like to have. More important, the use of this technique will actually change our emotional state.

This is what, in the realm of psychology, underpins the power of determination that the Universal House of Justice refers to in paragraph 5 of their 28 December 2010 message:

Calm determination will be vital as [people] strive to demonstrate how stumbling blocks can be made stepping stones for progress.

And this determination will need to be collectively sustained over generations because building a new world is

. . . an enterprise of infinite complexity and scale, one that will demand centuries of exertion by humanity to bring to fruition. There are no shortcuts, no formulas. Only as effort is made to draw on insights from His Revelation, to tap into the accumulating knowledge of the human race, to apply His teachings intelligently to the life of humanity, and to consult on the questions that arise will the necessary learning occur and capacity be developed.

(Universal House of Justice: 21 April 2010 – para 25)

As an intriguing note to end this post on, it is interesting to see that even from well beyond the edge of widely accepted thought, where you might expect to find a laissez faire laid-back do-your-own-thing approach extolled, this kind of discipline is sometimes recommended. Jim Leonardand Phil Laut wrote in their book on Rebirthing (page 224):

Discipline means staying with your plan and integrating the cross-current desire. Discipline is the virtue that is cultivated with repetition and is one of the greatest privileges of being a free human being. Indeed it is impossible to be free without it. Some people think that freedom means freedom to satisfy their desires, but that is just slavery to desires. Real freedom means being able to choose where you are going with your life and then going there. Discipline means knowing what your goal is and then doing what it takes to action it.

Of course, there is a catch to that last point.  What goals you set, and whether they will be ultimately self-serving or altruistic, depend upon the values you have.

And that brings us back to ACT once more and the way it is helping me understand many of the implications of the latest complex and demanding message of the Universal House of Justice. Because each point the authors make is so rich in possibilities we will only be able to focus on one or two key issues in their approach in this sequence of posts. If I ever get round to doing a review of Koestenbaum’s book there will be an opportunity to unravel more.

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May Akale



There is an interesting piece on the following link (Baha’i International Community message delivered at this year’s United Nations Commission on Social Development) which provides a more satisfying perspective on poverty than can be found in the usual slogans: for the full story see link.

Initiatives to address poverty should give attention to strengthening the moral, ethical and spiritual capacities of individuals and communities.

That was among the messages delivered by the Baha’i International Community and other non-governmental organizations at this year’s United Nations Commission on Social Development.

“Efforts to eradicate poverty must be guided by a vision of human prosperity in the fullest sense of the term – a dynamic coherence between the material and spiritual dimensions of human life,” said May Akale, a representative of the Baha’i International Community, in an oral statement to the Commission on Monday 14 February.

“Poverty, as has often been stated, is not merely the lack of material resources, but also the absence of those ethical and social resources that create an environment in which individuals, through social institutions and communities, can develop to their fullest capacity,” said Ms. Akale.

Such efforts at capacity building should stress helping individuals “cultivate the capacities to become protagonists of their development.”

This is especially so where it concerns the next generation, she said. “Of particular concern in seeking to develop these capacities are the many influences at work on the hearts and minds of children and youth.”

“It is important to appreciate the extent to which young minds are affected by the choices of their families and communities. No matter how unintentional, choices which condone deficient ethical norms, such as the admiration for power, the seeking of status, the glorification of violence and pre-occupation with self-gratification, exercise a profound influence on young minds.”

Read the full oral statement delivered at the UN Commission on Social Development (PDF).

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. . . [T]he civilisation that beckons humanity will not be attained through the efforts of the Bahá’í community alone.  Numerous groups and organisations, animated by the spirit of world solidarity that is an indirect manifestation of Bahá’u’lláh’s conception of the principle of the oneness of humankind, will contribute to the civilisation destined to emerge out of the welter and chaos of present-day society.

(Universal House of Justice: 21 April 2010 – para 26)

It must have been a couple of years before I retired. We were interviewing for people to take up the post of Clinical Psychologist in a Community Mental Health Service. I specialised in the rehabilitation and recovery of people with severe and enduring mental health problems but was also Head of the Psychology Service at the time and therefore part of this interview panel.

She was, I think, the last candidate of the afternoon – small, dark-haired and softly spoken. We were sitting in an upstairs room flooded with honey-coloured sunlight and uncomfortably warm as a result. I was beginning to wilt. In fact, I had probably wilted and was just hoping nobody had noticed.

She was about to say something that would wake me up in more senses than one.

We went through the usual polite formalities. We weren’t sure whether she would be suitable for so generic a post as she also had chosen, some time previously, to specialise, as it happened in my own area of expertise – rehabilitation and recovery. I asked her some formulaic question about her orientation, sleepily convinced in advance that I would have heard it all before. She’d only been specialised for three years or so after all. She mentioned ACT in the course of a long answer about something else.

During the time we got the something else out of the way, I debated with myself whether to show my ignorance and ask her what ACT was or whether to forget about it as it was not really important, probably, from the point of view of the post currently in question. It would have been so easy to look smart and learn nothing, but something wouldn’t let me. I just had to ask.

‘What’s A.C.T. exactly?’ I enquired as casually as I could, trying to sound as though I really knew but just wanted her to explain. She didn’t look fooled for a minute.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy,’ she replied helpfully. She knew what I was doing all right.


‘Could you say a bit more about it?’ My follow up after quite a long pause triggered a flurry of foot and paper shuffling among my fellow panellists who were clearly not at all sure where this was going. They’d obviously expected a swift ‘I thought so’ kind of response, followed by some searching expert question.

She gave me a thumbnail sketch which blew me away. How could I not have heard of this before? –  a therapy that combined some of my pet obsessions – existentialism, meditation, metaphor, the nature and effects of suffering, to name but the most obvious that burst like Exocets into my brain as she explained.

She spoke very briefly on each aspect, just enough to press the button that fired the Exocet. The key point for the work we both had in common was the focus of this therapy on getting people unstuck from disabling patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour that were keeping them paralysed.

I couldn’t wait for the interview to get over and check it out on the net and find a book to buy about it. (She didn’t get the job, by the way, but I owe her a lot and she almost certainly doesn’t know that.)

The book I bought was ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: an experiential approach to behaviour change’ by Hayes, Strohsahl and Wilson. I can’t give the writers a prize for clarity, and they chose to start the book in the thick of a conceptual fog which would have caused anyone less motivated than I was to slip into a coma. However, the ideas I did understand were life-changing and I read the book twice within a week, bored anyone who would listen with its wonders, and bemoaned the fact that it was too late in my career to train in this form of therapy myself.

Why does this book matter now when I have been retired for nearly three years?

Well, for a start it’s a gateway to some very powerful insights that help me understand my own spiritual tradition more deeply, particularly when we are contemplating the daunting task of community-, society– and civilisationbuilding to which we, as Bahá’ís, are committed in our way along with every other like-minded person on the planet in his or hers. It deals head on with the problems of how to get started and how to keep going in any long-term enactment of values. It’s both wise and practical, draws on both left-brain and right-brain processes, and shows us how we might combine ‘efficiency and love’ in the way our Bahá’í mode of operation requires us to. What it says is rooted in experience and confirms age-old insights from the East that Westerners have found it hard to see as credible. It marries ‘science and soul,’ to adapt Ken Wilber‘s phrasing. Need I go on?

One concept in the book was spot on for the people I worked with. ‘I’ll tackle this stuff when I’m feeling better,’ was a frequent justification for doing nothing. The book makes it very clear that most of the time we won’t feel better until we do something.

How do they arrive at that conclusion and how do they justify the idea that action is in itself transformative and that waiting to transform before you act is not an option?

To answer that we need to look separately at the three components of the name the authors have given to their approach: acceptance, and commitment and the acronym ‘act.’ They decode it as accept, choose and take action (page 81). If I am also going to relate what they say to the processes of community-building I have referred to I will need to save much of this for another post or three.

Hopefully by the time I tackle those posts I will have moved forward even further in my understanding of the most recent message from our central body, from which I quote below in the Commitment section. It is a complex and richly interconnected exposition of what is required of the Bahá’í community at this point. I have, in addition to my own reading and some informal discussion, spent three whole days over two weekends consulting in depth over what it implies about what we should be doing now. I need all the help I can get at unpacking its riches.



What I will do for now is briefly describe the three central aspects, which won’t even begin to address the major questions adequately.


What exactly is it that has to be accepted?

They summarise their view as follows on page 78-79:

Reflecting the Serenity Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous, ACT aims to teach clients how to accept the things that cannot or need not change, and how to change the things that can be changed. Unlike this prayer, ACT provides specific guidance on how to know the difference. . . . . ACT therapists recognise that in the context of making choices and taking actions, automatic reactions will appear. The client who must avoid these reactions must also avoid change. What dignifies acceptance is that it is done in the service of valued change in the client’s external world, not in the world of private experiences.

There will be more to say about the hows, whys and wherefores of that when we look at the specifics in later posts.


Commitment, their model states, determines the choices we make. It is inseparable from our values (page 210):

In the area of values, . . . we must learn to value even if we don’t feel like it. We must learn to love even when we are angry, to care even when we are exasperated.

Helping people become clearer about their values is a key component of their therapeutic process. Helping people understand that the enacting of what they value is more conducive to their feeling fulfilled than the achievement of any specific goal is another: this emphasis on process is one that is becoming evermore explicit in the Bahá’í approach.

. . . . a significant advance in culture, one which we have followed with particular interest, is marked by the rise in capacity to think in terms of process. That, from the outset, the believers have been asked to be ever conscious of the broad processes that define their work is apparent from a careful reading of even the earliest communications of the Guardian related to the first national plans of the Faith. However, in a world focused increasingly on the promotion of events, or at best projects, with a mindset that derives satisfaction from the sense of expectation and excitement they generate, maintaining the level of dedication required for long-term action demands considerable effort.

(Universal House of Justice: 28 December 2010)

This leads to a willingness to accept, rather than fight or flee from, the challenging, uncomfortable and often protracted experiences that lead to enduring and significant change – an all-important skill in their view.


Even making strong commitments to action does not guarantee action (page 245). The values you have decided to commit to may not be truly yours but ones imposed from outside by society. You may be holding onto and rationalising a block that needs to be worked through.  Maybe it’s too big a step at this point and you need to practice the skills you need on something smaller. In the end, though, there has to be a willingness to overcome obstacles (page 247):

Many clients have long-standing and strongly reinforced avoidance repertoires that can be expected to reappear. . . . . . [T]he client’s job is not just to determine a direction but to reaffirm that direction when obstacles appear. . . . . [W]hen we are travelling in a particular direction, the journey can take us across difficult ground. . . . [W]e don’t walk into pain because we like pain. We walk through the pain in the service of taking a valued direction.


Before we leave this lightning overview it’s perhaps worth mentioning how ACT sees spirituality (page 275):

Spirituality as a mode of intervention is highly valued in ACT. Spirituality does not necessarily imply the use of organised religion or even theistic beliefs, but rather a view of the world that recognises a transcendent quality to human experience, acknowledges the universal aspects of the human condition, and respects the client’s values and choices.

The rest will have to wait.

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We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high; make it not, therefore, as wings to self and passion.

(Bahá’u’lláh – Kitáb-i-Aqdas: Paragraph 51)

Angus Batey, in the Guardian article from which the quote just before the video is taken, describes Emmanuel Jal‘s background:

At the age of 12, Emmanuel Jal was one of 400 children who managed to escape from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which had turned them into soldiers. They fled through minefields, dodging helicopter attacks. “A distance that should have taken one month to walk took us three,” says the Sudanese rapper, now 28. “We ran out of food. Some turned to cannibalism. I was tempted to eat my best friend. Many times I tried to shoot myself.” Why didn’t he? “Sometimes the bullet did not work,” he says. “Sometimes something just stopped me.”

Today, he’s performing in a corridor in a London council estate, filming the video to his new single, Warchild. “I believe I’ve survived for a reason,” he raps, “to tell my story, to touch lives.” . . . . .

“My mum and my grandmother were beaten by government troops and my auntie was raped in front of me,” he says. “It’s only now that I can describe hating the people that did these things. Before, I didn’t know what name to give that feeling – I just wanted to kill as many of them as possible.”

It is difficult to reconcile the softly spoken Jal of today with the murderous figure he describes. His music and forthcoming autobiography are inspired by a desire to end the horrific abuse to which he was subjected.

I came across a YouTube video of his song for peace on the Charter for Compassion website. It had been tagged as inspirational and I agree. I thought it would be good to share it not least because his life is itself an inspiring example of a great change.

What he said of music, quoted by Angus Batey, is a brilliant insight and explains in part the power of what he does:

“Music is powerful. It is the only thing that can speak into your mind, your heart and your soul without your permission.”

(The Guardian)

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I said at the end of an earlier post that I might, in addition to quoting from Karen Armstrong, risk revealing some of my own strange ways of holding onto the few spiritual insights I’ve acquired recently, hence the rough and ready cartoonish graphic at the head of this post (more of that in a moment).

So here goes on both counts.

The roots of what I am going to describe go back a long way but it would make for a very long post indeed to go into them as well. For present purposes what is important is a play on three words that were forced on my attention in some dreamwork I did and in my study of the Bahá’í Writings: heart, earth and hearth. Removing the ‘h’ from one or the other end of ‘hearth’ creates the other two words. This word play only works in English but its effect is powerful for me.

This is for several mutually reinforcing reasons.

Bahá’u’lláh reminds us of the value of the earth:

If true glory were to consist in the possession of such perishable things, then the earth on which ye walk must needs vaunt itself over you, because it supplieth you, and bestoweth upon you, these very things, by the decree of the Almighty. In its bowels are contained, according to what God hath ordained, all that ye possess. From it, as a sign of His mercy, ye derive your riches.

(Gleanings: CXVIII)

And He warns us of the dangers of taking it for granted, especially for those who profess wisdom but fail to practice it:

[Of those who profess belief but do not practice) . . . . . ye walk on My earth complacent and self-satisfied, heedless that My earth is weary of you and everything within it shunneth you.

(Persian Hidden Words: No. 20)

He refers to the earth in terms that remind us of how we should feel if we are true to our spiritual natures. He points out that acquiring the qualities of earth will make our being fertile for wisdom:

O My servants! Be as resigned and submissive as the earth, that from the soil of your being there may blossom the fragrant, the holy and multicolored hyacinths of My knowledge.

(Gleanings: CLII)

The same quotation goes on to make reference to fire. Both fire and earth are strongly related to the human heart in Bahá’í Scripture.

Bahá’u’lláh compares our hearts to a garden which needs seeding and tending:

Sow the seeds of My divine wisdom in the pure soil of thy heart, and water them with the water of certitude, that the hyacinths of My knowledge and wisdom may spring up fresh and green in the sacred city of thy heart.

(Persian Hidden Words: No. 33)

And He gives us more guidance still as to what else to plant there:

In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love, . . . . . . . . .

(Persian Hidden WordsNo: 3)

Given that Buddhism regards wisdom and compassion as two sides of the same coin, there may be no difference between them at the spiritual level.

Also in the Hidden Words are references to the fire in the heart:

The candle of thine heart is lighted by the hand of My power, quench it not with the contrary winds of self and passion.

(Persian Hidden WordsNo. 32)

So for me the idea that earth and heart are one is close to the surface and a dream gave me a potent symbol of that in the hearth, which is a symbol also evoked by the presence of fire in our hearts.

When I first became aware of all these links I dwelt more on the idea of fire than flowers and the earth. That was partly because a punning connection with my first name, Pete, suggested fuel (peat to burn) in the dream I had about a hearth, rather than peat as compost to grow flowers.

There was a lot more mileage in the hearth image than that, of course. For example, it combined the ‘soft’ right-brain qualities of peat with the ‘hard’ left-brain qualities of the iron grate in a way that resonated with what Iain McGilchrist suggests is the need to give both aspects of our being their proper role and function if we are to be balanced human beings creating a balanced civilisation. But I won’t dwell on that just now: I’ve probably said more than enough in previous posts.

Later the other associations with ‘peat’ came more strongly to the surface, particularly as my second name, Hulme, is so close to ‘humus’. They came through so strongly, in fact, that I have come to use the heart-shaped photo of the earth (see the top of the post) as my current reminder of all this. There were no hyacinths or roses handy in the clipart gallery I used, so I made do with tulips, but the point is clear enough. The earth-heart photo also calls to mind very usefully that the ‘earth,’ the dwelling place of all humanity, ‘is but one country.’

Because the earth has a magnetic field that helps us find our right direction it wasn’t hard to see that a compass, already more than half-way to compassion in its spelling, was a good way of remembering the key value that underpins every other spiritual value in all faiths, and which in Bahá’í terms emanates from the three unities of the essential oneness of God, religion and humanity, blurred as our perception of those may sometimes be. The other meaning of the word ‘compass’ is also a reminder, as is the image of our world from space, to widen the embrace of my compassion to include all life and perhaps even the earth itself, an imperative need as Robert Wright describes it.

Bahá’u’lláh also has a most interesting way of linking a compass with kindness that suggests I might be on the right lines here.

A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It leadeth the way and guideth.

(Gleanings: CXXXII)

Exposing this personal approach to helping myself internalise and remember what I think I have learnt did seem a bit risky, hence my earlier hesitation. I was encouraged to persist by a moving and amusing TED talk by Brené Brown that my good friend, Barney Leith, shared with me (see the YouTube at the end of this post).

She speaks amongst other things about how our way of dealing with our vulnerability affects our relationships with others, even our whole attitude to life. Those who embrace their vulnerability, her research demonstrates, are more empathic, more authentic and better connected to others. Vulnerability is indispensable to a ‘whole-hearted’ life. So how could I continue to cop out in the light of that? (‘I can think of a few ways,’ said my craven part but I managed to ignore it.)

Well, I’ve left very little room for Karen Armstrong after all. I’ll need to come back to some of the things she says in a later post. Just one quick thought for now.

In her discussion of mindfulness Karen Armstrong, in her book on the twelve steps to a compassionate life, is strongly implying a link between compassion, mindfulness and creativity (page 97):

When you are engrossed in thoughts of anger, hatred, envy, resentment or disgust, notice the way your horizons shrink and your creativity diminishes. I find it impossible to write well when I am churning with resentment.

It would be easy to leap in and say, ‘But what about satire?’ The response there might well be, ‘What is fuelling the anger that drives the satire?’ If it is petty spite arising from wounded vanity, for example, I doubt we would be talking about great satire and this, I think, is what lets down some of Alexander Pope‘s less effective moments. If it is outrage at some monstrous injustice or malpractice, such as led to the writing of ‘Animal Farm‘, ‘1984‘ and  Swift’s ‘Modest Proposal,’ then there’s every chance the satire, rooted as it will be in a deep compassion for and identification with our fellow human beings, will be great satire, standing the test of changing times and changing tastes. Such works all have the capacity to demonstrate a control over difficult material which would be impossible in a state of intemperate rage.

This link she hints at between compassion and creativity has helped me make conscious an inner process that has determined which works of art I keep going back to, such as the plays of Shakespeare, and those I leave behind unrevisited. It is Shakespeare’s compassion that is the flame that brings my moth-mind back to him over and over again.

Take these lines from ‘Measure for Measure‘ (Act 1, Scene 3, lines 85-88):

The sense of death is most in apprehension,
And the poor beetle, that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
As when a giant dies.

This surely is the spirit that should permeate our entire lives.

My simple unskilled diagram is just the beginnings of my latest attempt to bring that about and realise its full potential in my life as a Bahá’í. It works for me but I can quite see that it might not do the trick for anyone else. I have put it as the home screen in my mobile phone, so every time I open it I’m reminded of how I wish to be. Preparing my mind in this way seems to attract opportunities to be helpful in small ways. Or maybe it just makes me more able to spot them and respond when they happen. Whatever the reason it has made my few small kindnesses that bit more likely.

Enjoy the talk on vulnerability.

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