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Just Visiting

This is the last of four poems triggered by visits to India. This is republished from early 2016.Just Visiting

 

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Panchgani

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A Mumbai pavement

The drive up the section of the Western Ghats from Mumbai towards Panchgani was much less scary than the last time we came. Instead of the single track, with two way traffic winding alongside vertiginous drops into the valleys below, we wound our way serenely up and down three-lane dual carriageways higher and higher into the mountains, past the same river and in sight of the same lakes as before.

Even so it was a longer drive than expected, more than five hours, because of the dense volume of traffic leaving Mumbai.

The closer we got the more peaceful it became. Unlike Mumbai, Panchgani had not changed all that much – slightly busier perhaps, but still much quieter, much slower, than Mumbai.

I’m publishing a couple of poems relating to this place, one that I love the most in India. One is the reposting last Monday of the story of the burial of my wife’s grandma and the next one tries to capture the emotional impact of this most recent visit.

This post has a different purpose.

Bougainvillea in Panchagani

The value of this visit did not just reside in revisiting old haunts, like grandma’s grave, Table Land or my wife’s old school, important as those experiences were.

This post is going to try and record something much harder to define. It is something that belongs among those strange coincidences and sudden leaps of faith that led to my becoming a psychologist and choosing the Bahá’í path. It didn’t involve anything so dramatically life changing but it had something of the same strange unsettling power.

Panchgani is much colder than Mumbai, though I did not really notice this until after sunset. We hadn’t thought to bring any warmer clothes than those we had been wearing at sea level.

As the sun was setting and we sat on the patio of the Prospect Hotel where we were staying, the conversation became an ever more intense exploration of spiritual issues with like-minded souls (I’ll not share their names for fear of embarrassing them). Two of them were as deeply interested in spiritual psychology as I am. Rarely have I ever had the chance to meet with psychologists with a spiritual bent, probably because such people are as almost as rare as the Phoenix, for reasons I have explored elsewhere on this blog. The sense of rising energy became stronger every moment as the exploration continued and I did not notice at first how much I was shivering.

At last I apologised for breaking the flow of the conversation saying that I had to go to my room to get my dressing gown, the only warm garment I had with me. Immediately, I was offered a warm sweater, which I gratefully accepted, and sat down again to immerse myself once more in the refreshing flow of conversation.

As we spoke many books were mentioned. I threw into the mix at various points the recent books I’d read about Shoghi Effendi through the eyes of the pilgrims who visited Haifa in his lifetime, and at least one book from long ago – Schweder’s Thinking Through Cultures – which I blogged about a long time back.

One of my companions mentioned a book I’d never heard of: The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. I wrote the title and the author down, but didn’t think much more of it at the time. I noticed that the sweater had not done much to diminish my underlying sense of shaking which clearly wasn’t to do with feeling cold anymore. It didn’t feel like shivering anymore: perhaps it had never been only that.

I had to entertain the possibility that some other seismic change was taking place at an altogether different level, something perhaps to do with the territory we were treading together or the connection that was active between us all or maybe both.

Anyway, once the intensity of the conversation died down, the rest of the visit, though memorable for the beauty of the place, the hospitality of our hosts and tranquility of the whole environment, lacked anything quite so dramatic.

We were very sad to leave the following day after so short a stay.

It was only later that a synchronicity occurred that suggested that the conversation in Panchgani might have had more to it than I thought.

I was lamenting to my wife that I should have brought more books. I had finished the two massive tomes I’d brought with me. I thought they’d last the whole trip and possibly beyond. Three weeks, with not much other work to do, can gobble up more pages than I realized.

A few hours later there was a knock on the door.

‘It’s a parcel for you,’ my sister shouted.

‘For me?’

‘Yes, for you.’

I went to the door and signed for the package the postman handed over.

I looked at the label. It was from the person who had recommended the book by Shafak. I could tell immediately the parcel contained a book.

You will have already guessed which book it contained. You’ve got it: The Forty Rules of Love.

As usual I checked out the reviews. One of them referred to it as a children’s book, not my usual diet. Other reviews and a quick glance inside the book itself quickly dispelled that delusion. I don’t know (m)any children who would read their way through this book.

Even more convincing was my web search of the topic and the discovery of the entire list of 40 rules in condensed form. Some of them were amazingly resonant. I’ll deal with the issue of whether they are expressed in this way by either Shams or Rumi later.

Take Rule 6 for example: ‘Loneliness and solitude are two different things. When you are lonely, it is easy to delude yourself into believing that you are on the right path. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely. But eventually it is the best to find a person who will be your mirror. Remember only in another person’s heart can you truly see yourself and the presence of God within you.’

One sentence in particular struck a chord with me: ‘Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely.’

Ever since childhood, with its experiences of stays in hospital for surgery before the days when parents could remain close, I have felt that in the end I cannot be absolutely sure that, in times of need, I will have someone there to support me. I learned the importance of self-reliance early and have practiced it often. This, combined with my introversion, means that loneliness is not a feeling I’m familiar with. I don’t generally feel lonely when alone. I invent, or perhaps naturally possess, purposes to pursue by myself. I love the company of like-minded hearts as the Panchgani episode illustrates, but I can use books, writing, art and nature as satisfactory substitutes for quite long periods of time if necessary. So, I relate to that point, though admittedly in my fashion. I’m not so clear about the mirror idea.

I also found I related pretty strongly to Rule 9 as well: ‘East, west, south, or north makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.’

Not only have my tendencies in this direction been reinforced by the spiritual path I travel, in that Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, both quotes ‘Alí, Muhammad’s successor in the Seven Valleys (34):

. . . . reflect upon the perfection of man’s creation, and that all these planes and states are folded up and hidden away within him.

“Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?”

and in the Hidden Words (from the Arabic 13) directly urges us to recognise that if we ‘turn our sight unto’ ourselves we may find God standing within us, ‘mighty powerful and self-subsisting.’ This same idea is echoed in the Quaker phrase used by George Fox who spoke of ‘that of God in every man.’

Poetry also has reinforced these tendencies within me. I’ll quote just two examples, the first from an Anglican priest.

The best journey to make
is inward. It is the interior
that calls. Eliot heard it.
Wordsworth turned from the great hills
of the north to the precipice
of his own mind, and let himself
down for the poetry stranded
on the bare ledges.

(R. S. Thomas: ‘Groping’ page 328, Collected Poems)

And the second from a Jesuit priest looking at the dark side of that immensity, something which puts many of us off such explorations:

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins: No worst, there is none)

I don’t think it’s something only priests tend to do, by the way, but maybe not all poets – only poets who are also priests perhaps. I must check out George Herbert and John Donne: I don’t remember anything of quite that kind in their work, though I’m fairly  sure Thomas Traherne came pretty close. I may just need to revisit every other poet on my shelves in case a find a black swan poet of the interior who isn’t a priest: my first ports of call will probably be Henry Vaughan, a 17th Century medic and mystical poet, David Gascoyne, whose later poetry became distinctly mystical, followed by Wordsworth and Eliot as Thomas points firmly in their direction. One of my favourite Wordsworth poems, – Ode on the Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood – according to some, owes a debt to Vaughan, something else to tease out if possible.

That’s enough for now. Next time I’ll close in on the question of the Rules’ origin.

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Shanghai skyline

Shanghai Night Skyline

I’m back home at my desk at last. Feeling slightly spaced out still. This is hardly surprising given the jetting across time zones I’ve been doing recently. UK to India. India to China. China to India. India to UK. All within a month. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so tired as I do now even days later – or do I mean daze?

It has been worth it. We’ve spent quality time with my wife’s mother in India, and with our son and his wife in China. That was all very rewarding.

What about the countries in themselves?

The Dark Side

Well, they provide a fascinating contrast in spite of certain similarities.

The core distinction I’d summarise by saying India is free but chaotic, while China is oppressed but organised. They’re both impatient cultures currently and both are struggling with corruption, though India probably more so. Also in both countries a rising tide of competitive materialism is threatening to drown other ancient and more holistic traditions.

A stark and distasteful example of the unhealthily excessive influence of money in China is the practice of scalping. Michael Sandel discusses this in his thought-provoking book What Money Can’t Buy (pages 24-25). This practice rides on the back of increasingly scarce hospital appointments for many rural patients whose hospitals have closed. They are forced now to attend at city hospitals in high demand.

They queue up overnight, sometimes for days, to get an appointment ticket to see the doctor.

. . . . . But it isn’t easy to get one. Rather than camp out for days and nights in the queue, some patients, desperate for an appointment, buy tickets from scalpers. [Scalpers] hire people to line up for appointment tickets and then resell the tickets for hundreds of dollars – more than a typical peasant makes in months.

In India there are even worse examples (see link):

For at least five years, thousands of young men and women had paid bribes worth millions of pounds in total to a network of fixers and political operatives to rig the official examinations run by the Madhya Pradesh Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal – known as Vyapam – a state body that conducted standardised tests for thousands of highly coveted government jobs and admissions to state-run medical colleges. When the scandal first came to light in 2013, it threatened to paralyse the entire machinery of the state administration: thousands of jobs appeared to have been obtained by fraudulent means, medical schools were tainted by the spectre of corrupt admissions, and dozens of officials were implicated in helping

The investigation into the scam lead to many deaths:

. . . . . as the investigation widened, people started dying. Some had perished before the taskforce had a chance to interrogate them – such as Anuj Uieke, a medical student accused of working as a middleman connecting exam aspirants and Vyapam officials. He died along with two friends also accused of involvement in the scam when a truck ploughed into their car in 2010. Others apparently took their own lives, like Dr Ramendra Singh Bhadouriya, who was accused of cheating his way to a medical college seat in 2008 and then helping others do the same. He was found hanging from the ceiling fan in his home in January 2015. (Five days later, his mother took her own life by drinking acid.) Another suspect, Narendra Tomar – a seemingly healthy 29-year-old veterinary doctor at a government hospital, who had been arrested for his role as a middleman in the scam – had a sudden heart attack in jail this June and died in hospital the next day.

Not that scalping is the worst of what China is alleged to be doing according to an Amnesty international report (see Guardian link):

Chinese security agents continue to employ a medieval array of torture methods against government opponents, activists, lawyers and petitioners, including spiked rods, iron torture chairs and electric batons, a report claims.

The Amnesty International report, called No End in Sight: Torture and Forced Confessions in China, is based on interviews with nearly 40 Chinese human rights lawyers and contains chilling details of alleged beatings and torture sessions endured by those taken into police custody.

Also Wild Grass by Ian Johnson contains disturbing though more routine abuses, for example (page 39):

[One] district had a population of 65,000, although 25,000 had found conditions so difficult that they’d left to find work in the city. Taxes for a family of five amounted to an astonishing $310 a year, virtually wiping out every family’s cash income. Despite that, the village governments that collect the taxes were under such pressure to keep channelling money to higher-ups that each village in the township owed on average a staggering $500,000 in back taxes.

I am always conscious at the back of my mind of such disturbing news stories when I am planning to visit either of these countries.

What is the experience of the visitor though – me in this case?

My Personal Experience 

Inevitably direct experience over a short period of time does not lead to a confrontation with the dark side of either culture. So here goes for my attempt to capture the impact of each culture during my one month’s shared exposure to both.

A junction in MumbaiMy recent poem on the traffic and the crowds in Mumbai captures perhaps the most striking impact of that city’s environment. You end up deafened and dazed by the din even before you risk the dangers of crossing to the other side of the street. The relative silence and order of the Shanghai traffic was a welcome relief, though the rapid weaving across all lanes on the motorways outside was a heart stopper.

A constant tickle in the throat signalled high levels of pollution in both cities. A taxi driver told us there are a million taxis in Mumbai alone. Admittedly, given that the cramped boundaries of the city hold the same population as Australia, only about one in every twenty people is a taxi driver, if that figure is correct. In China, at the same time as the growing economy has lifted millions out of poverty, it is killing roughly a million people each year with pollution-related diseases.

High Rise Shanghai

High Rise Shanghai-style

Landing in Shanghai once more reminded me of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s description as his ship approached New York harbour in 1912: on seeing the Wall Street skyscrapers ‘He had laughed and said, “Those are the minarets of the West.”’ (Diary of Juliet Thompson – page 233). Even since 2013, when we were last there, the number and height of these temples of materialism have increased massively. Not just towering office blocks and shopping malls now display their competitive geometry on almost every corner of every street, like gigantic peacocks of capitalism determined to impress: there’s more than a shade of Ballard’s High Rise here as well, I feel.

India has not yet joined this wasteful race. Yes, there are some skyscrapers but nowhere near so many. It is possible to move along at street level and not feel constantly dwarfed. Yes, the pavements are dirtier and far more uneven, and you need to watch where you tread all the time, and the roads are pockmarked with all-too-frequent potholes, but that felt somehow less intimidating, even though it probably indicated that significant amounts of money were going astray into someone’s pocket without reaching their intended target.

A bridge in Dafeng

A bridge in Dafeng

There was one way in which, on this trip at least, China had a distinct advantage over India in terms of the impression it made on us. We didn’t stay in Shanghai. And we didn’t move to another big city as we had done in the past. We drove to Dafeng. By UK standards, with a population of 750,000 it would qualify as large. By Chinese standards it’s a small town. Not only that but we drove out of Dafeng into the surrounding area to visit a family who had farmed there for three generations at least. And that was very dfferent from what we had ever experienced before.

The town of Dafeng was at one level a kind of miniaturised Shanghai, though with its own charm thrown in, being smaller in scale and boasting narrower bridges. The smog when it happened on one day we were there was just as thick though. But it was surrounded by countryside. Acres upon acres of flat farmland criss-crossed with canals and ditches, with no tower blocks, only single storey farm houses and barns. There was calm and quiet with sunsets and cloud-scapes of unassuming beauty.

Sunset in Dafeng

Sunset in Dafeng

In India, because our priority was to spend as much time as possible with my wife’s mother, now in her nineties, we were stuck in Mumbai, which had not been the case in the past when, even if starting there, we had escaped to the hills around Poona into villages such as Panchgani where the international Bahá’í school is located. On this trip, however, we were locked into the cacophonous pollution of the megacity.

Wood burning stove

A Sense of Common Humanity

What was interesting though was the way that even this contrasting experience reinforced a sense of common humanity. In Dafeng we visited a family where the grandmother and her two sons, who lived close by, were sharing the work of the farm. Signs of the scale of this, sacks of corn piled halfway to the ceiling, almost hid one whole wall of the dining room.

Inside her home we had a heart-warming surprise. My wife looked at the simple wood-burning stove on which the grandmother had cooked our food that evening and exclaimed, ‘That’s exactly the same kind of stove that my grandmother had in Yazd where my mum grew up!’

Suddenly, her mother living now in Mumbai and reared in Yazd, and this household in Dafeng, instead of being distant not just in miles but in kind, were intrinsically related at a basic level through a shared simplicity in their backgrounds. They had a common heritage hidden behind the differences. This somehow symbolised for me the often so invisible but fundamental bond of common humanity that binds us all together in spite of our insistence upon our differences.

This reinforced a sense I had experienced a couple of days earlier, as we sat eating round a different table in a different more modern house, and I was listening to the ebbs and flows of conversation in Chinese, a language I do not know at all. You would think I would have felt a stranger in a strange land, and in one way of course I did. But at another level I tuned into a powerful sense of our common humanity, how behind all the differences of language and cultural trappings, we were every one of us essentially the same. I could identify the teasing, the affection, and even the tensions, that the dance of their conversation expressed, even though I had no idea what they were saying specifically.

At the back of my mind the words at the core of Shylock’s speech in The Merchant of Venice (Act III, Scene 1, ll 40-45 – RSC Edition) murmured themselves quietly:

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?

This was one of the most important lessons I have brought back with me from this demanding but rewarding trip. What binds us together at this deep level is of far more importance than what tends to split us off from one another. We are indeed ‘leaves of one tree’ even though it has been all too easy in the past to pretend that we are not.

After the meal

After the meal – my coat and scarf indicates how cold it was even indoors

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Shahnaz Memorial

While we were in India, at the end of January we attended a Memorial Meeting for a lifelong devoted follower of our faith. The meeting, at the Bahá’í centre in Mumbai, consisted of prayers, readings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, and stories of how Shahnaz Furudi’s life had touched the hearts of those whose paths crossed with hers. At the request of the family the following address was also given. It seems worth sharing it on this blog to give some sense of the vision that inspired her life.  

This is a time of sorrow for all who love Shahnaz and our hearts go out to her family. At the same time it is important to remember and celebrate her life. To help us do this, it seems only right that I try to explain the vision that inspired her life.

As you all know, Shahnaz was a Bahá’í, a follower of Bahá’u’lláh.

What might that have meant to her?

The light that shone on the path she trod to guide her steps showed her that there is only one God, no matter how many names we use. The same Great Being has inspired all the great religions of the world.

We do not seem to understand this easily. It’s as if, when the sun rises in autumn, because it rose in a different place in spring, I say it cannot be the same sun. But it is the same sun, and when at different times and in different places God has sent His Messenger amongst us it is the same God who speaks to us through them.

Why then do the messages we hear seem so different? This is partly because different times need different social rules. But even more importantly, at different times and in different cultures we understand reality in different ways and in different words.

Messengers of God, wherever They may live, are like a one-eyed person in a country of the blind.

Let’s suppose They are trying to explain the colour red.

In the land of where people enjoy their food and cooking is important, They say red is like chilli. In the land of gardens filled with lovely flowers They say it’s like the perfume of the rose. And if They were in a frozen land of icy wastes where fires burn the whole year round They would say red is like fire.

It is the best They can do because someone blind from birth will never really know what colour is.

If this were so what purpose would be served if the cooks fought with the icelanders and the gardeners fought with the cooks because each was convinced the other was wrong, when in reality they are all talking about the same thing but do not realise it?

Red, like all colour, to those blind from birth is as hidden from them as spiritual reality is from us. We can only understand it indirectly. The words each religion uses to describe the spiritual realm may differ, because they have to match the understanding of that place and time, but what they are seeking to describe is the same spiritual reality.

It follows then that this guiding light also revealed to dear Shahnaz that all the great religions of the world have at their heart the same spiritual truths. They all tell us in one way or another that this material world is not all there is. It is not even the most important aspect of reality, in spite of all its vivid but deceptive richness. The realm of the spirit is the deepest reality and the greatest truth. We are fatally mistaken if we believe otherwise. We will be sleep walking. We will be in a dream.

Bahá’u’lláh writes: ‘If ye be seekers after this life and its vanities you should have sought them while you were still enclosed in your mother’s womb for at that time ye were continually approaching them, could ye but perceive it. You have, on the other hand, ever since you were born and attained maturity, been all the while receding from the world and drawing closer to dust. Why then exhibit such greed for amassing the treasures of the earth when your days are numbered and your chance is well-nigh lost? Will ye not then, O heedless ones, shake off your slumber?’

And her guiding light also showed her that, just as there only one God and the core of all the great religions is the same, humanity is also one. We are all brothers and sisters of the same divine parent, leaves of the same tree, flowers of the same garden.

As Bahá’u’lláh explains: ‘Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.’ We are all linked together spiritually so that this world, this whole planet, is in reality one country. This means that we are all required to take responsibility for the welfare of all humanity.

It follows then, as Bahá’u’lláh instructs us, that we must not lay ‘on any soul a load that [we] would not lay on [ourselves]’ and we must not desire for anyone the things that we would not desire for ourselves.

Even more than all this, Shahnaz’s steps were guided by the understanding that we cannot solve any of the problems the world is facing now if we do not deeply understand our spiritual connection with every other soul on earth, regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality.

To express this understanding in action requires more than being kind to our neighbours or performing individual acts of charity, important as these are. We also need the coordinated action of large numbers of people across the world from every different background.

We can only rise to the challenges now confronting us worldwide by working together, and this requires us to find a way of remembering at all times everywhere that we are one, and of remembering always wherever we are that we must be united in our efforts, regardless of our apparent differences, all of us joining hands in our service to all humanity. We will never create peace and prosperity without this kind of unity in diversity that transcends all differences and makes collective action possible across the whole world. The Bahá’í World Centre spelt it out in 2001 in no uncertain terms:

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  . . . . 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.

Only in that way, everyone joining hands together across all cultures, can we build a better world and create a secure future for our children even though this will be the work of centuries. I believe that this is what Shahnaz’s life can show us. This is what her life can inspire us to keep on working to achieve even if it takes us many generations.

And we should not think that she has done all that she can to help us. Bahá’u’lláh writes: ‘When it leaveth the body, however, [the soul] will evince such ascendancy, and reveal such influence as no force on earth can equal. Every pure, every refined and sanctified soul will be endowed with tremendous power, and shall rejoice with exceeding gladness.’ Bahá’ís believe that those who have passed on are still standing by to assist us. In that sense dear Shahnaz is at our side empowering us to follow in that same path of service which distinguished her in life.

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Just Visiting

Just Visiting

Mumbai Street

To get a sense of what the traffic sounded like click on the link to download a small m4a file (250 kbs). Ignore the Dropbox sales pitch and simply move on to download if you wish.

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Whatever the underlying cause, there’s a host of evidence that introverts are more sensitive than extroverts to various kinds of stimulation, from coffee to a loud bang to the dull roar of a networking event . . . .

(Susan Cain – Quiet – page 124)

I have just returned from an exacting test of temperament. Mumbai and introversion are not a good mix.

For me, I think the city would come close to number one in the top ten of worst destinations for an introvert like me to visit especially when it is getting so hot (36 degrees C). There is an unsettling frenzy about the place. To say its traffic roars would be an outrageous understatement. Three wheeler motorised rickshaws, pushbikes, taxis, motorbikes, cars and the occasional hand-drawn cart jostle with hands constantly on horns for ever so slight advantages through nerve-shreddingly narrow gaps on bumpy and broken roads that run alongside ramshackle huts and makeshift markets that spill into their edges. This ‘can’t wait’ mentality spawns and reinforces much of the endemic and extreme corruption as well the permanent cacophonous collective death wish of the streets, I think.

For various reasons we were stuck in Mumbai the whole time, something that hadn’t happened in any of my previous trips to India. I love the mountain district near Pune for example. We have often gone to Panchgani in the past where there is silence, greenery and open spaces for refreshing walks and time to simply ‘be’ with people and with nature. I don’t think I quite realised how discordant I would find fifteen days in the heart of Mumbai’s mania.

A thread that was woven into this pattern highlighted for me how far I have still to go on my spiritual path. I had taken with me, along with Susan Cain’s brilliant Quiet, Earl Redman’s moving and inspiring book ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst. At a similar age to me exactly one hundred years ago, once He was given his freedom to travel, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá undertook a gruelling three and a half year journey from what is present day Israel through Egypt to England then to North America and back again, including Scotland in his itinerary.

He travelled over vast distances the length and breadth of the United States, often on the hard seats of third class carriages rather than in a sleeper. He spoke tirelessly to innumerable gatherings of widely divergent people and patiently received an incessant stream of visitors in his rooms. The extreme contrast between the Eastern environment from which He came and the Western one through which he tirelessly  travelled could not possibly have been greater. His feats of uncomplaining endurance contrasted starkly with my own lack of stamina.

There were moments in the book though where the starkness of this contrast was softened with another way of responding (page 244 for example):

On [the] last night of [this long train] journey, none of the servants brought up the possibility of the sleeper compartment, but  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá suddenly told them to reserve six berths because ‘We slept in our seats last night and that is enough, Let us not suffer any more hardship.’

This was fortunate as I might have otherwise slipped into a state of despair over my own deplorable condition. Also, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained there were other forces at work in His case far more powerfully than in mine (page 19):

Before the meeting, the Master had a high fever and was in bed. Juliet Thompson tried to get Him to stay and rest but He laughed, ‘I work by the confirmations of the Holy Spirit. I do not work by hygienic laws. If I did, I would get nothing done.’

To recognise that difference is not a reason not to strive to do more but needs to mitigate our inevitable disappointment when we fail to emulate the perfect Example of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. There were moments when I wondered how long it would take for the frenzied impatience I was experiencing around me in Mumbai to be replaced by the peaceful compassion I was reading about and which can be found beautifully exemplified in India itself in the stillness of yoga, the quiet rapture of Buddhist meditation and the timeless rhythms of the ragas. I suppose, in the end, that depends upon us and how much effort we are prepared to make.

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