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

(Bahá’u’lláh: Gleanings: CXXXII)

Picking up from where the last post left off, I need to explain how I am learning to balance the competing priorities of my life.

As I explained earlier, not only is there sometimes a conflict between my introverted preferences, such as for reading and writing, and my need to operate in the world outside my head, but there can also be a clash between my desire to read and my desire to write. The symbol I’m developing to express a way of balancing these needs is of the wheel I want my life to run on.

There is no way I can avoid an action of some kind. Even doing nothing is a form of action. So, action has to be the rim of the wheel, the surface in constant contact with the road my life is taking.

However, I have to recognise that constantly, unremittingly, huge swathes of time are being taken up with experiences of various kinds, whether internally generated or externally triggered. The bulk of them are processed unconsciously, and in addition most of what is conscious will be rapidly forgotten, possibly almost undigested.

However, as I see it, if I do not ruminate on the most precious parts of it I will fail to learn the crucially important lessons they can teach me. So, I must build firmly into the structure of my life’s wheel the reinforcing elements of reading, writing, meditation and consultation (I have dealt elsewhere with the mutually reinforcing power of consultation and meditation, so I won’t repeat it all here). The conclusion I arrived it was this:

It seems possible, at least in principle, to use meditation to improve our consultation skills and consultation perhaps to practise and refine our meditation. It also raises the question whether consultation, at least in the West, would benefit from more silence.

We know it requires detachment. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains in Paris Talks (page 174):

This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God.

One possible way of conceptualising detachment, or at least a result of it, is freedom from our animal nature as described here. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote (Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: page 207):

Regarding the statement in ‘The Hidden Words’, that man must renounce his own self, the meaning, is that he must renounce his inordinate desires, his selfish purposes and the promptings of his human self, and seek out the holy breathings of the spirit . . . . ..

Meditation, then, might help us achieve the detachment necessary for consultation. Consultation will almost certainly strengthen our ability to be detached and thereby facilitate our meditation. They are clearly not unrelated disciplines sharing as they do this same outcome.

We also have to be open to the views of other people when we consult and, in my case, to the Bahá’í Scriptures when I meditate upon them or to the promptings of our higher self when we commune with it in meditation. So these two skills are not all that different either: they both enhance our understanding of reality.

In the end, it’s hard to resist the conclusion that meditation will help us consult and consulting will help us meditate.

Last but by no means least, the strong axle to which the spokes of this wheel are attached, and around which it revolves, is reflection, in all the various senses I have explored in detail on this blog, including its meditative aspect and its way of enhancing our detachment. With this in its proper place not only will I be able to balance my various priorities better, but I will also be able to deal more wisely with what happens when my scripts are triggered.

The forces that impelled me to formulate this particular recipe were: first of all in the present the need to escape from the still active counterproductive patterns I’ve described in the first post of this sequence; next, came what I have learned from the various approaches that helped me step back enough from them to think hard about them in the past, including the years of therapy and Buddhist meditation; and last of all, what still sets the seal on my current perspective is the combination of insights from existentialism and my life-changing encounter with the Bahá’í Faith, which has set my overall direction in life every since.

I have described my reasons for making this leap of faith in a sequence of posts. The short answer to the question, ‘Why did I make that choice?’ is this. I was bowled over by how closely everything I had understood in my exploration of the Bahá’í Faith mapped onto what I already believed. It was what I felt I had been searching for almost all my adult life: an egalitarian meaning system that combined activism with spirituality in a way that absolutely prohibited the use of force, or any other dubious means, to persuade others of its truth. When I was asked if I wanted to join the Bahá’í community, unless all I had protested that I believed was pure hypocrisy, I surely had to put my money where my mouth had been all those years. So I did. My closest friends predicted I’d be out again in six months. It was just another of my fads. Yet here I still am 35 years later.

So, I am aware that to complete the context in which the wheel operates, I need a compass and a map. In a previous post I explained my model of the compass of compassion. This was my conclusion:

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 (Gleanings: CXXXII):

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

I am not going to pretend that the compass we have chosen will always make it easy to decide what is the right thing to do and provide us with a strong enough motivation to do it. We are human and sometimes our moral energy flags. Also a moral compass built on a system of values is more complex than a material compass. Values are arranged in a hierarchy. On occasions we need to decide that a higher value trumps a lower one. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gives a simple example of this (Bahá’í World Faith, page 320):

If a doctor consoles a sick man by saying: “Thank God you are better, and there is hope of your recovery,” though these words are contrary to the truth, yet they may become the consolation of the patient and the turning-point of the illness. This is not blameworthy.

He says this even though lying is condemned outright by Him in other quotes to be found at the same link.

Now for the map.

It should also be obvious that the map I have chosen is that drawn up by the Divine Cartographer, Bahá’u’lláh, whose organising principle is unity. One of the most challenging statements relating to the need to live the principle of oneness comes in a message of the Universal House of Justice to all those gathered on Mount Carmel to mark the completion of the Arc project there on 24th May 2001:

Humanity’s crying need will not be met by a struggle among competing ambitions or by protest against one or another of the countless wrongs afflicting a desperate age. It calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Bahá’u’lláh’s teaching that 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 revolutionizing principle will increasingly empower individual believers and Bahá’í institutions alike in awakening others to the Day of God and to the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.

I have faith that this compass and that map will lead me to generate enough wisdom by the processes I describe to help me climb as high as I am able up the mountain of truth so that, God willing, I can more fully recognise our interconnectedness and act accordingly, helping to build a better world in the process, I trust.

Good luck to you all in your search for your compass and your map. Don’t forget to use a trustworthy wheel for the wagon of your life as you journey on.

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William Golding (for source of image see link)

William Golding (for source of image see link)

Yesterday we looked at revelation.

In John Carey’s biography of William Golding we find a description of the writer’s task that might seem to put him or her at odds with any kind of religious revelation (page 210-211). It describes Golding’s view of the matter:

The task of a writer, he insists, is to free the mind from the shackles of habit and creed. Belief systems such as Christianity and Marxism impose ‘rigid patterns’ on reality which deaden the mind. ‘The difference between being alive and being an inorganic substance is just this proliferation of experience, this absence of pattern.’ Accordingly, a writer must have ‘an intransigence in the face of accepted beliefs – – political, religious, moral – any accepted belief.’ If he takes an accepted belief for granted then ‘he ceases to have any use in society at all.’ In effect his job is to ‘scrape the labels off things,’ exposing the reality beneath.

It is worth reminding ourselves here of the distinction Paul Lample makes in his book ‘Revelation & Social Reality.’ He explains (page 10) that for Bahá’ís ‘[r]evelation creates consensus around new truths so that we, the co-creators of reality, can begin to transform the existing social order.’ Language is a key component in this process in that it both shapes and is shaped by social reality. There is a crucial distinction, he feels (page 21), between Revelation as the undiluted Word of God and religion as the way the Word is applied.

This means that the descriptions we evolve of what the revelation means to us may not be the same as the revelation itself. In fact our descriptions of any kind are pretty treacherous as the last two posts in the list at the end explain.This leaves room for an artist of integrity to dissent from any of the orthodoxies he finds around him. However, no one ordinary person’s idea of the truth, no matter how great an artist (s)he may, is likely to capture the whole of reality undistorted, so we would be wise not to swallow what they write, paint or film uncritically.

Giving up the GhostHilary Mantel deals with this in her typical drily humorous way in her excellent memoir (Giving up the Ghost – page 4):

Remember what Orwell says, that good prose is like a window-pane. Concentrate on sharpening your memory and peeling your sensibility. Cut every page you write by at least one-third. Stop constructing those piffling little similes of yours. Work out what it is you want to say. Then say it in the most direct and vigorous way you can.

(Not that she follows her own advice, by the way, as she goes on to admit.)

What she says next provides the crucial undercutting of her argument (ibid):

Besides, window-pane prose is no guarantee of truthfulness. Some deceptive sights are seen through glass, and the best liars tell lies in plain words.

She is resolutely sceptical of any facile notion that the truth is easy to access. She was interviewed recently on the Culture Show (only a few clips are available still) and had this to say about history and fiction that is as good an example as any of her take on things:

As soon as we learn any history we should learn to be suspicious of the history. we should learn to question the historical record all the time.

“I think I know this, but why do I think I know it? Who’s telling me this and who wants me to believe it? Who starts the riots that lead to the fall of the Bastille? Why him? Why then? Why that particular moment? Could it have been someone else? And if it could’ve been why wasn’t it? These questions perplex me and intrigue me and I come back to them time and time again.”

In the end we have to accept that ‘reality’ is not easily accessible – not through language but not even through the senses either.

A recent book on the nature of the universe we inhabit demolishes any feeling that we might have that what we sense reliably conveys exactly what’s out there. Take hearing for example (Page 20):

Air that puffs 15 times a second is not intrinsically different from air that pulses 30 times, yet the former will never result in a human perception of sound because of the design of our neural architecture

What is true for hearing is true for all the senses. We’ll be returning in another post to further implications of their position.

And they conclude (ibid.):

In short, an observer, an ear, and a brain are every bit as necessary for the experience of sound as are the air pulses. The external world and consciousness are correlative. And a tree that falls in an empty forest creates only silent air pulses—tiny puffs of wind.

So we’ll look tomorrow at where that apparent impasse might leave us.

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