Archive for June, 2011

Copy of the Book of Chilam Balam of Ixil displ...

The Book of Chilam Balam

A local group, The Wrekin Fellowship, recently sent round some interesting material that corrects prevalent misconceptions concerning the Mayan teachings and prophecies about the year 2012. I couldn’t resist sharing those parts which resonate to some degree with certain Bahá’í concepts and with the widespread desire for a more compassionate civilisation (see links for a fuller context on this):

Carlos Barrios, Mayan elder and Ajq’ij is a ceremonial priest and spiritual guide of the Eagle Clan. Carlos initiated an investigation into the different Mayan calendars circulating. Carlos along with his brother Gerardo studied with many teachers and interviewed nearly 600 traditional Mayan elders to widen their scope of knowledge.

Carlos found out quickly there were several conflicting interpretations of Mayan hieroglyphs, petroglyphs, Sacred Books of ‘Chilam Balam’ and various ancient texts. Carlos found some strong words for those who may have contributed to the confusion:

Anthropologists visit the temple sites and read the inscriptions and make up stories about the Maya, but they do not read the signs correctly. It’s just their imagination. Other people write about prophecy in the name of the Maya. They say that the world will end in December 2012. The Mayan elders are angry with this. The world will not end. It will be transformed. . . . .

Right now each person and group is going his or her own way. The elder of the mountains said there is hope if the people of the light can come together and unite in some way. We live in a world of polarity — day and night, man and woman, positive and negative. Light and darkness need each other. They are a balance.

Just now the dark side is very strong, and very clear about what they want. They have their vision and their priorities clearly held, and also their hierarchy. They are working in many ways so that we will be unable to connect with the spiral Fifth World in 2012.

On the light side everyone thinks they are the most important, that their own understandings, or their group’s understandings, are the key. There’s a diversity of cultures and opinions, so there is competition, diffusion, and no single focus.

Carlos believes the dark side works to block unity through denial and materialism. It also works to destroy those who are working with the light to get the Earth to a higher level.

[Those working for the dark] like the energy of the old, declining Fourth World, the materialism. They do not want it to change. They do not want unity. They want to stay at this level, and are afraid of the next level.

The dark power of the declining Fourth World cannot be destroyed or overpowered. It’s too strong and clear for that, and that is the wrong strategy. The dark can only be transformed when confronted with simplicity and open-heartedness. This is what leads to unity, a key concept for the World of the Fifth Sun. . . .

Carlos reminds us this is a crucially important moment for humanity and for Earth. Each person is important.

The Maya have long appreciated and respected that there are other colors, other races, and other spiritual systems. They know that the destiny of the Mayan world is related to the destiny of the whole world.

The greatest wisdom is in simplicity. Love, respect, tolerance, sharing, gratitude, forgiveness. It’s not complex or elaborate. The real knowledge is free. It’s encoded in your DNA. All you need is within you. Great teachers have said that from the beginning. Find your heart, and you will find your way.

Mayan Ceremony for Blessing a Child

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Broadway (1936) Mark Tobey

Tobey is a humanist, a traditionalist, a lover of the body as a subject and humanity as a theme. Nevertheless – under the influence of modern existence rather than modern art – he was led to fragment, obscure, and ultimately to dematerialise the human form and image entirely, in search of a valid expression of the human spirit.

(William C. Seitz Themes and Subjects in Mark Tobey/Art and Belief page 25)

The latest issue of the National Trust’s magazine dropped through the letter box the other day. It has an article about William MorrisRed House, about which a book has just been published. What I didn’t expect was that reading the article, in the context of my ponderings on giftedness, would set my mind wandering down an intriguing trail through memories of Morris to Dartington Hall and a book on Mark Tobey that I have had since 1998 but never read till now.

The book on giftedness had unsettled me in any case, reminding me of my Cambridge days when I was immersed in literature, film and folk song, when the arts were at the heart of much of what I did and thought.

The William Morris hint brought other intimations back to mind. When I was teaching English Literature in the days of the 60s protest movement, Morris’ spirit drew me like a magnet. He combined craftsmanship, artistry, ethical integrity, poetry, story, and social action into a seamless whole.

I had forgotten, until these memories were unlocked just a few short days ago, how much he had influenced me then and was almost certainly shaping my sensibility still. His way of integrating the diverse aspects of his character, interests and skills into a world reshaping pattern of being in action is still a valid model for how that can be done. That he was born in 1836 and died in 1896, his life’s trajectory overlapping the period in which a world changing spirit of unity, as Bahá’ís see it, was being released into the world, makes his example all the more compelling for those of us within the Bahá’í community who yearn for a powerful model of how the arts can fuel the transformation of a culture and society rather than simply be the expression of a prevailing norm. Ai Weiwei‘s activities in China seem imbued with something of the same spirit.

Fiona MacCarthy explains his relevance well in the introduction to her biography, William Morris: a life for our times (page vii):

. . . his highly original, painfully heroic progress through life impinges on us still, from old Socialists to new conservationists and ecologists. . . . Most of all he was concerned with proper human occupation, whether going under the name of work or play. In the early twenty-first century throughout the West this is our urgent problem. Technological advance and globalisation has made ordinary skill and modest pride in work redundant. But redundancy of people brings the threat of disconnection from real life.

And he was passionate about the need to link all manual work with genuine creativity and how this would form the foundation of a better society.

Not that the Bahá’í community lacks the beginnings of a sense of how this might be done. I have already published a post that includes a description of one Bahá’í poet’s career in brief.

The Dartington Collection

Thinking of Morris reminded me of Stedall’s book, Where on Earth is Heaven?, and its passages on Cecil Collins and Dartington  Hall. As my good friend Rob commented at the time, Dartington Hall has strong links with some Bahá’í artists. I’ve culled the next few paragraphs from their website.

A Bahá’í, Bernard Leach CBE, was regarded by some as the “Father of British studio pottery.” He set up the Leach Pottery at St. Ives, Cornwall in 1920. He was instrumental in organizing the only International Conference of Potters and Weavers in July 1952 at Dartington Hall, where he had been working and teaching.

Cecil Collins was an English artist originally associated with the Surrealist movement. In 1936 he moved to Devon, attending Mark Tobey’s classes at Dartington Hall. Collins held an exhibition in the Barn Studio (1937) and, after Tobey’s departure in 1938, he taught here (1939-43) alongside Bernard Leach, Hein Heckroth and Willi Soukop.

Mark Tobey, also a Bahá’í, was an American abstract expressionist painter. He sailed to England in 1931 to teach at Dartington Hall, in Devon. There, he was resident artist of the school. In addition to teaching, he painted frescoes for the school and became a close friend of Bernard Leach. It is intriguing that modern existence seemed to have forced him, as someone acutely conscious of the spiritual dimension, down the road towards the kind abstraction in painting that McGilchrist finds so symptomatic of over-logical left-brain zealotry.

Wightwick Manor

The Thursday before last my wife and I managed to squeeze in a visit to Wightwick (pronounced Wittick for the uninitiated) Manor near Wolverhampton. I was expecting a small-scale experience with maybe, if we were lucky, a couple of interesting artefacts. We were more than lucky. The whole place was crammed with beauty. Mander, the manufacturer who had built it, was a devotee of Morris’ work and every wall hanging and piece of furniture, just about, was in that style. As a bonus the Oak Room was devoted to the exhibition of rare archival pattern books, wallpaper designs and printing blocks, a feast for the eyes indeed. In fact, the only frustrating aspect of the whole experience was that we were not allowed to touch anything and as someone who experiences the world more vividly through touch than sight this is the major drawback for me of almost all museums, historic houses and exhibitions. This would not have been so much of a problem for Morris from what I am reading in Fiona MacCarthy’s excellent biography which emphasises how strongly visual he was in his relationship with the world.

The whole of the manor house demonstrates how fortunate Morris was, at this stage in the unfoldment of the modern era, to be able to be so modern in such an organic fashion. This whole experience has set me thinking afresh about the arts and their relationship to society. I’ll need a bit more time to mull all this over before I am able to put more of it into words. In fact, it’ll probably take a lot more time.

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A news item was posted today reporting on a seminar held at the House of Commons. Below are some extracts: for the full report see link. See also Bahá’í News UK

London, 15 July 2011 – In a seminar at the House of Commons on the human rights crisis in Iran, called by the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of the Bahá’ís, Members of Parliament, human rights experts and activists as well as a famous comedian and actor met to discuss issues of freedom of religion and belief and the rights of women in Iran.

Marking the three-year anniversary of the imprisonment of the seven Iranian Bahá’í leaders, the panel of speakers made clear that the aim of such exposure is not to trump other human rights issues, but for Iran to get the attention it deserves.

Rich yet troubling presentations from Dr Nazila Ghanea, Dr Khataza Gondwe, Mike Gapes MP, Shadi Sadr and Omid Djalili, chaired by All-Party Group member Louise Ellman MP, highlighted the severity of the ongoing abuse of human rights in Iran. The need to be “guarded, sensitive and tactical” infused the concern expressed by Mr Gapes, who emphasised the great potential of Iran as a participant in an ever-advancing global community. The overwhelming concern at present is not that this potential is being wasted, he said, but that the systematic oppression, torture, and execution of Iranian minorities are being instigated and perpetuated by the government itself.

Shadi Sadr, an Iranian lawyer and women’s rights activist, drew upon her personal experience as she outlined the shocking conditions of the imprisonment of women. Disorientation methods, interrogation and sexual abuse are norms that precede incarceration in filthy and restricted cells, often in solitary confinement. Currently 30 Bahá’í women are imprisoned, including the two female members of the seven Bahá’í leaders, purely because of their religious belief. Christian Solidarity Worldwide representative Dr Khataza Gondwe presented facts on the comparable treatment of Protestant and Evangelical Christians, stating that there have been 285 documented arrests of innocent believers since 2010, the majority of whom were released following physical and psychological torture and sleep deprivation. . . .

Dr Kishan Manocha, Director of the Office of Public Affairs of the UK Bahá’í community, noted that the panellists encouraged the audience to take action in support of human rights, and that they spoke of “the value of writing to Members of Parliament, posting news on social networking sites, and writing to the media” to intervene on behalf of Iranian citizens. Dr Manocha also said that the seminar “underlines the extent of the human rights crisis in Iran, and it reminds us that not only Bahá’ís but other religious minorities, women, journalists and others are subject to ongoing human rights violations”.

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One of the themes that comes up a number of times in Freeman’s book, Gifted Lives, is morality. I’ve picked on this one to discuss, in preference to the others I haven’t so far touched on, because I have a quibble with her treatment of it.

Her white robes flowing: Kannon, the Bodhisatt...

The Bodhissatva of Compassion

For example, she picks up on the issue of moral character in her chapter on The Good Samaritan which tells Suzanne’s story. On the back of this story, she goes on to analyse the relationship between giftedness and empathy (pages 140-141):

The gifted, I suggest, have no greater claims to morality than anyone else, but what they do have is the capacity to intellectually understand moral conundrums in life and to perceive arguments for what they are, set in their social contexts. Suzanne practises a very high degree of Western morality, caring for others without obliging them to believe as she does.

She then makes a distinction that does not make complete sense to me (page 135):

Morality is as much a part of Suzanne as her gift of empathy. That is to say, she has principles by which she works, and at the same time a feeling for others with different views.

I need to unpick my unease with this distinction between morality and empathy. For a start, it seems more intuitively reasonable to see empathy as intertwined with morality rather than as something completely distinct, and this, for me, is not undermined by empathy – and its sister, compassion – being a feeling whereas morality is more language-locked, spelling out the ‘oughts’ which are underpinned by such fuzzy intimations as ‘fairness’ or ‘kindness.’

I’d like to take this further though. It will help if we start with Susan Neiman‘s discussion of Kant in her brilliant book, Moral Clarity (page 95):

Truth is a matter of the way the world is; morality is a matter of the way the world ought to be.

She is as aware an anyone, including Jonathan Haidt, that the idealism that stems from our sense of what ought to be can often be partially, and sometimes totally, lacking in empathy. He writes, in his humane and compassionate book ‘The Happiness Hypothesis‘, that, in his view, idealism, which he links with morality, has caused more violence in human history than almost any other single thing (page 75).

The two biggest causes of evil are two that we think are good, and that we try to encourage in our children: high self-esteem and moral idealism. . . . Threatened self-esteem accounts for a large portion of violence at the individual level, but to really get a mass atrocity going you need idealism — the belief that your violence is a means to a moral end.

Neiman tempers this with what for her is the other side of the coin (page 112):

. . . . contemporary suicide terrorists . . . are determined to kill others in the pursuit of their ideals. . . . . . But while focusing on the fundamentalist terrorists’ willingness to kill for ideals, we have paid to little attention to their willlingness to die for them.

The latter impulse she links to the desire for transcendence quoting Jessica Stern in support (page 113):

As odd as it sounds, a sense of transcendence is one of many attractions of religious violence for terrorists, beyond the appeal of achieving their goals.

So, there are clearly ways in which principles and values, abstractly conceived, can be antithetical to empathy and compassion. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy acknowledges that sometimes a client’s values are so different from the therapist’s that therapeutic work becomes impossible. This would presumably be the case in the unlikely event of a Western Liberal therapist treating a fundamentalist terrorist. It presumably does occur with the extremes of intractable narcissism and psychopathy.

In any case, I have come to prefer the word compassion because it has been pointed out that an effective torturer can use his ability to enter another person’s feeling state to enhance the pain.

Even when we see compassion at work, if the compass of the moral imagination is too narrow our compassion for one individual or group can cause us to inflict great cruelty on another.  The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, the book more effectively than the ITV drama, spoke to this kind of complexity in human motivation and the entangled moral maze that can result.

contemporary portrait of child-murderess Const...

Constance Kent

It is probable, in the version of the story in Kate Summerscale’s book, that Constance Kent, the girl who finally confessed to the killing of her three-year old half-brother and who was aged 16 at the time of the murder, was motivated more by feelings of pity for what her younger brother, aged 14, had gone through than by some hatred of her own. Mr Kent had married again after the death of his first wife, and the children of his first marriage had apparently not fared well in the household of the second. William, the 14 year old, suffered the worst perhaps and Constance was very protective of him. It seemed almost certain that both Constance and William committed the crime together. Constance could never have done it alone.

At the original court hearing the case against her was thrown out, but six years later she confessed, insisting that she alone was responsible. Summerscale explains the likely reason for this delayed confession (page 301-302):

Though she had complained to her schoolfriends about how [William] was treated by Samuel and Mary [his father and stepmother] – the humiliating comparisons to Saville, the way he was made to push a perambulator around the village – she made no reference to this in 1865. She said of her father and stepmother, ‘I have never had any ill will towards either of them on account of their behaviour to me,’ carefully avoiding the ill will she might bear them on anyone else’s account. The answer to the mystery of Saville’s murder might lie in Constance’s silence after all; specifically, her silence about the brother she loved.

Constance gave herself up in the year before William’s twenty-first birthday, when he was due to inherit a £1,000 bequest from their mother. He hoped to use the money to fund a career in science, but was still hampered by the uncertainty and suspicion surrounding the family. Rather than both of them live under the cloud of murder, Constance chose to gather the darkness to herself. Her act of atonement liberated William, made his future possible.

So, it is obvious why empathy, and even compassion, in themselves, when divorced from some clear and wider standard, are not enough to ensure that cruel actions will not be committed and are therefore not the basis for a secure and adequate morality. But it is also true that all values are not good. How else would it be possible to say, ‘Evil be thou my Good’? Some compassion is far better than none, and some values are better than others. The question is how to ensure that receiving compassion is not conditional upon membership of an in-group and that values are not conducive to wrong-doing?

My own understanding, derived from Bahá’í scripture and supported by my reading of such searching thinkers as Robert Wright and Iain McGilchrist, is that only upon an unshakable sense of humanity as being one indivisible entity at the deepest level and upon our inextricable connection with all life, can a world enhancing morality be built. The best summary of all this entails comes probably in the statement from the Bahá’í International Community, The Prosperity of Humankind:

The task of creating a global development strategy that will accelerate humanity’s coming-of-age constitutes a challenge to reshape fundamentally all the institutions of society. The protagonists to whom the challenge addresses itself are all of the inhabitants of the planet: the generality of humankind, members of governing institutions at all levels, persons serving in agencies of international coordination, scientists and social thinkers, all those endowed with artistic talents or with access to the media of communication, and leaders of non-governmental organizations. The response called for must base itself on an unconditioned recognition of the oneness of humankind, a commitment to the establishment of justice as the organizing principle of society, and a determination to exploit to their utmost the possibilities that a systematic dialogue between the scientific and religious genius of the race can bring to the building of human capacity. The enterprise requires a radical rethinking of most of the concepts and assumptions currently governing social and economic life. It must be wedded, as well, to a conviction that, however long the process and whatever setbacks may be encountered, the governance of human affairs can be conducted along lines that serve humanity’s real needs.

We have come rather a long way from considering whether the gifted are more likely to be moral than the rest of us, and where empathy comes into the equation. Even though Freeman was not centrally concerned with morality she did press an electrode somewhere in my brain when she made that comment about morality and empathy. I hope the tangled paths of thought it led me down have been of some interest to more people than just myself. Either way I feel a bit clearer on the issue, till the next time some button in my mind gets pressed.

There are other themes in her book that contribute to its interest. I summarised them in the first post in this series. I may come back to them at a much later stage. I have written quite enough already on this book, I think

Good Samaritan (russian icon)

Russian Icon of the Good Samaritan

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A chain like the one in the Siyah Chal

At the end of the previous post on this topic there is the following challenging quote from Bahá’u’lláh’s Hidden Words:

51. O SON OF MAN! My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy. Hasten thereunto that thou mayest become an eternal light and an immortal spirit. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it.

No one can argue convincingly that Bahá’u’lláh did not know what suffering was like. That alone would give His words tremendous credibility. He was incarcerated in the Siyah Chal, a traumatic ordeal. His experience there was special in an altogether different and more positive way as well:

In the middle of the 19th century, one of the most notorious dungeons in the Near East was Tehran’s “Black Pit.” Once the underground reservoir for a public bath, its only outlet was a single passage down three steep flights of stone steps. Prisoners huddled in their own bodily wastes, languishing in the pit’s inky gloom, subterranean cold and stench-ridden atmosphere.

In this grim setting, the rarest and most cherished of religious events was once again played out: a mortal man, outwardly human in other respects, was summoned by God to bring to humanity a new religious revelation.

The year was 1852, and the man was a Persian nobleman, known today as Bahá’u’lláh. During His imprisonment, as He sat with his feet in stocks and a 100-pound iron chain around his neck, Bahá’u’lláh received a vision of God’s will for humanity.

For Bahá’ís therefore His words have an authority over and above the credence everyone would undoubtedly agree His sufferings accorded Him. I recognise that many do not see His Words as originating with God so it is necessary to pursue this exploration of the meaning of suffering much further and in more prosaic terms.

The Siyah Chal was not the end of His sufferings. Exile and further imprisonment followed, and in the prison in Acre he lost His youngest son, Mirza Mihdi:

He was pacing the roof of the barracks in the twilight, one evening, wrapped in his customary devotions, when he fell through the unguarded skylight onto a wooden crate, standing on the floor beneath, which pierced his ribs, and caused, twenty-two hours later, his death, on . . . . June 23, 1870.

(God Passes By: page 188)

Mirza Mihdi

So, He clearly knew from close personal experience what he was talking about. Also, if we have accepted that the improbability of the universe entails the existence of a God capable of creating it, and now that we have begun to comprehend the vastness, wonder and complexity of the universe, with its quantum foam and simultaneous interactions over vast distances that light would need decades to traverse, the idea of the spiritual reality of which He speaks begins to seem a little less preposterous.

This is fortunate because, as we have already seen in the previous post on this subject, there is no way we can get out of the impasse without making a further extrapolation from the existence of a God to the existence of a reality beyond the one accessible to our senses.

Eric Reitan, in his exemplary treatment of the whole question of the existence of God, takes a long look at the questions we are scrutinising now. His discussion is thorough and complex and I can only include the bare bones of it here. His concern in the passages I quote is the problem of evil, but it is easy to see how his comments apply to the closely related issue of suffering. On pages 196-197 he writes:

For any and all of these evils, the question of why God would permit them requires us to suppose that there are vistas of reality that transcend our understanding – vistas that may not just put evil into perspective but also the fact that it can seem so overwhelming. . . . .

If, within His vast ocean of understanding, God discerns a justifying reason for allowing evil to exist, the probability that this reason would also fall within our puddle of understanding is very low.

So, we can neither know the mind of God nor grasp the full nature of the spiritual reality which surrounds us, though it surely exists in some form. He draws on the cosmological argument, a variation of which I have already referred to briefly in the earlier post and mention again above, to conclude that (page 197) ‘it is reasonable to believe in a transcendent and essentially mysterious reality.’

It is perhaps important to mention that Reitan is not seeking to provide conclusive proof that would persuade everyone that God exists. That would be impossible for reasons I have explored elsewhere. He is simply demonstrating that it is as reasonable to believe in God as not, a truth that Darwinian reductionists find hard to swallow. (See Olinga Tahzib’s Ch4 broadcast for a clear explanation of the Baha’i viewpoint.)

Once you accept the possibility of a transcendent realm, aspects of that mysterious reality can be seen to have, potentially at least, a massively compensating function that provides a radically different context against which to measure both evil and suffering, a context which would make it possible to accept that the pain entailed in making moral choices, for example, and the agony incurred in unforeseen calamities are not inordinate and maybe even serve some higher purpose. Reitan himself points towards this very clearly (page 189):

Not long ago, the distracted negligence of a home daycare provider combined with plain bad luck to take the life of my friend’s 18-month-old son, a gentle boy fiercely loved by his parents. In the face of this tragedy, my friend and his wife have been sustained by a religious faith which promises that everything good and beautiful about their child has been embraced by the deepest reality in the universe.

Something else has helped me come to terms with even uninvited suffering, and helped me also get a more immediate sense of how the idea of a spiritual reality, over and above the purely physical world our senses are restricted to, can be of great help. This was the message that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to bereaved parents who had contacted him in their despair, his keen awareness of the pain of their grief perhaps enhanced by the strong light cast by his own feelings from when his brother, Mirza Mihdi, died in the prison citadel of Acre. He uses a very homely and concrete image to embody the intuition Reitan describes, imagery which makes the possibility of a spiritual realm more vivid and brings it that much closer:

The death of that beloved youth and his separation from you have caused the utmost sorrow and grief; for he winged his flight in the flower of his age and the bloom of his youth to the heavenly nest. But he hath been freed from this sorrow-stricken shelter and hath turned his face toward the everlasting nest of the Kingdom, and, being delivered from a dark and narrow world, hath hastened to the sanctified realm of light; therein lieth the consolation of our hearts.

The inscrutable divine wisdom underlieth such heart-rending occurrences. It is as if a kind gardener transferreth a fresh and tender shrub from a confined place to a wide open area. This transfer is not the cause of the withering, the lessening or the destruction of that shrub; nay, on the contrary, it maketh it to grow and thrive, acquire freshness and delicacy, become green and bear fruit. This hidden secret is well known to the gardener, but those souls who are unaware of this bounty suppose that the gardener, in his anger and wrath, hath uprooted the shrub. Yet to those who are aware, this concealed fact is manifest, and this predestined decree is considered a bounty. Do not feel grieved or disconsolate, therefore, at the ascension of that bird of faithfulness; nay, under all circumstances pray for that youth, supplicating for him forgiveness and the elevation of his station.

(Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá169)

Even though this loving and lovely metaphor of the gardener contributed to a resolution of my quandary, there was still an aspect that troubled me. All this has not only been ordained by God, but it also requires our acquiescence in some way. Bahá’u’lláh’s own expression of it in the Hidden Words is:

18. O SON OF SPIRIT! Ask not of Me that which We desire not for thee, then be content with what We have ordained for thy sake, for this is that which profiteth thee, if therewith thou dost content thyself.

I needed to make sense of this in terms of what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá described. Why might it be so important that I content myself with this state of reality?

An obvious partial answer is that, if we can accept the suffering, we will suffer less. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy regards suffering as what we add to the inevitable pain of existence, in part by our resistance to it and also by the language we use to ourselves to describe it. Which is not to say that we should not take practical steps to alleviate our own pain in other ways and to give solace to others, as well as, where possible, making sure that avoidable accidents do not add to the catalogue of human misery.

To go beyond that and probe more deeply into possible ways of learning to accept the apparently unacceptable is something each of us has to do in our own way, by prayer, reading, reflection and ‘right action,’ to use the Buddhist phrase. So, as a way of bringing these reflections to a close, I’d like to share in short hand form my own way of internalising this depiction of reality and of coming to terms with this injunction that we be content with whatever sorrow comes our way.

When we suffer it’s as though we have been robbed of the comforts we have locked away in our hearts to keep them safe, convinced that they were the gold that would buy us our protection from the slings and arrows of ill-fortune, and have been left in their stead with bundles of flimsy paper covered in strange writing.

We simply do not understand the true nature of this paper and rage against our loss, not appreciating that the rage, which is making our heart a furnace, will turn the paper into ashes all too soon, wiping out its incalculable value before we can realise its worth. If we could only come to see our pain and loss as providing us, as a gift, with the currency we will need when we travel, as we all must at some unknown point in the future, to settle in the undiscovered land from whose borders no traveller returns, it would become possible to accept it gratefully rather than resist it pointlessly. We would not then unwittingly destroy it, much to our disadvantage later. Without this currency, when we die we will be like refugees, ill-equipped at first to deal with the challenges of our new homeland. If we were to realise this, not just with our heads but with our hearts as well, we could then do as Bahá’u’lláh advises us and greet calamity with the same peace of mind as we welcome all good fortune. That would be true wisdom and real wealth.

That, of course, is far easier said than done and will take most of us more than a lifetime to accomplish. That should not be a reason to give up, it seems to me. We will, after all, have the whole of eternity to finish off what we have begun locked in time down here, and the better the start we get, the less we’ll have to do later on. Another example of the compensating effect of taking the broader view offered by a spiritual perspective.

Perhaps there is no better way to close this pair of posts than by concluding with the most beautiful piece of music that I know of relating to this theme. (For more about Handel’s Messiah click the link.)

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