June 30, 2012

powers of the soul, the mind and the spirit

i love reading the speeches of Abdu'l-Baha.  His many talks and letters written to people serve as an ocean of guidance and inspiration for how to live as a noble soul, free of prejudice, and sanctified from all of the defilements of this world.

here is an excerpt from one of His messages.  i like how He relates the soul to our physical reality, explaining how we can choose to apply our inner spiritual powers to this material world and create a spiritual reality that is free of the darkness of material traits -- traits which relate to our lower nature.  reading it stimulates my inner being to develop and embody the myriad of attributes pertaining to living life as a spiritual human being:

'When we speak of the soul we mean the motive power of this physical body which lives under its entire control in accordance with its dictates. If the soul identifies itself with the material world it remains dark, for in the natural world there is corruption, aggression, struggles for existence, greed, darkness, transgression and vice. If the soul remains in this station and moves along these paths it will be the recipient of this darkness; but if it becomes the recipient of the graces of the world of mind, its darkness will be transformed into light, its tyranny into justice, its ignorance into wisdom, its aggression into loving kindness; until it reach the apex. Then there will not remain any struggle for existence. Man will become free from egotism; he will be released from the material world; he will become the personification of justice and virtue, for a sanctified soul illumines humanity and is an honor to mankind, conferring life upon the children of men and suffering all nations to attain to the station of perfect unity. Therefore, we can apply the name "holy soul" to such a one.

'There is, however, a faculty in man which unfolds to his vision the secrets of existence. It gives him a power whereby he may investigate the reality of every object. It leads man on and on to the luminous station of divine sublimity and frees him from all the fetters of self, causing him to ascend to the pure heaven of sanctity. This is the power of the mind, for the soul is not, of itself, capable of unrolling the mysteries of phenomena; but the mind can accomplish this and therefore it is a power superior to the soul.

'There is still another power which is differentiated from that of the soul and mind. This third power is the spirit which is an emanation from the divine bestower; it is the effulgence of the sun of reality, the radiation of the celestial world, the spirit of faith, the spirit His Holiness the Christ refers to when he says, "Those that are born of the flesh are flesh, and those that are born of the spirit are spirit." The spirit is the axis round which the eternal life revolves. It is conducive to everlasting glory and is the cause of the exaltation of humanity.

'In another instance His Holiness the Christ says, "Whosoever has not received a portion of the spirit is as dead. Let the dead bury their dead." This means that although the souls of humanity are living, yet if they are deprived of contact with the spirit they are as dead. In another place Christ says, "You must be baptized with the spirit." This spirit of faith is the flame of reality, the life of humanity and the cause of eternal illumination. It inspires man to attain the virtues and perfections of the divine world.'

    ~Abdu'l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 120

June 26, 2012

education ~ human beings are inherently noble

"Throughout the world, the value of teaching as a profession has declined unchecked. Despite attempts to arrest this decline by such means as increased pay, a gathering malaise overshadows the task of educators, a task that often appears caught in a curious dichotomy. At the same time that the moral authority of teachers as respected members of the community is eroding, schools are being asked to address a growing list of moral and social concerns traditionally relegated to the family. What are the root causes of this contradiction? Might it be that our materialist ethos has led us to undervalue those professions which are not economically productive in the narrow sense? A fundamental reassessment of the nature of human reality and human society is needed.

"Bahá'ís believe that human beings are inherently noble, and that the purpose of life is to cultivate such attributes, skills, virtues and qualities as will enable them to contribute their share to the building of an ever-advancing civilization. True education releases capacities, develops analytical abilities, confidence, will, and goal-setting competencies, and instills the vision that will enable them to become self-motivating change agents, serving the best interests of the community.  Individuals should be skilled in the art of consultative decision-making and empowered with a sense of their own dignity and worth. They should understand their positions as members of both a local community and the world community, and they must believe their lives can make a difference.

"This notion of the student as inherently noble, yet in need of patient cultivation, implies that the teacher must be a model of nobility, self-actualization and discipline. In the Bahá'í view, sound character is ultimately more important than intellectual brilliance. The teacher must also see the nobility and capacity in each student, recognizing that a lack of opportunity is different from lack of capacity. A corollary is that the teacher must enjoy the support of the greater community, a respect that flows logically from recognizing the teacher's true station.

"Education needs an expanded definition that frees it from today's largely economic context and acknowledges its role in transforming both individual lives and entire societies. Basic education, literacy, and vocational education need to be redefined in a way that offers the majority more than the acquisition of a few skills and a few simple facts. The minimum requirements of education are the basic knowledge, qualities, skills, attitudes, and capacities that enable individuals to become conscious subjects of their own growth, and active, responsible participants in a systematic process of building a new world order.

"Implications for teacher-training would include the necessity of raising up qualified teachers from within the local community. The community will feel ownership and investment in the school if it empowers the community to transform itself. Entry into formal schooling should be seen as a continuing process begun even before birth, rather than as a sudden, disjunctive immersion into a alien institutional culture. Especially in disadvantaged communities, people deserve a sense of pride and ownership in the educational process. While standardized curricula and technical specialists might play a valuable role, respect for and sensitivity to locally evolved knowledge systems ought to be the cornerstone of any campaign of educational development.

"Children in disadvantaged populations often suffer from a poor self-concept, living without hope and being treated as second-class citizens. The leverage point in promoting a positive self-concept in these children is teacher training. Prospective teachers need a thorough understanding of the role self-concept plays in determining school success, and they need to practice patterns of behavior that create a climate of encouragement in the classroom. Teachers must relinquish the idea that they are fountains of all knowledge. Rather, they should form a partnership with their students in a shared learning process, demonstrating by their example that they, too, are learners. This can have a liberating effect on students in that it helps them see themselves as directors of their own learning and as individuals who can determine the course their lives will take.

"Teachers must give up all occupational prejudices. Education as envisioned in the Bahá'í Writings makes the child a collaborator both in his own growth and in the development of his community. He must acquire a balanced set of capacities that are at once academic, spiritual and vocational. Artisans, craftsman, agriculturalists and tradesmen are seen in the Bahá'í perspective as enjoying an intrinsic station of worth and value. Occupational prejudices that enable white collar workers and professionals to vaunt themselves over others drive youth into the cities.

"Therefore, the whole range of skills and experiences which a people possess are seen as valuable and worthy of transmission, not merely those which seem to have the stamp of modernity. Likewise, literacy, which empowers the individual to participate in affairs of the larger world and to articulate and defend his own interests, is seen as a key component of education for all. Education must be made compulsory and universal, building on local realities but building on universal principles; it must be relevant to the true needs of a community and contribute to the unification of mankind. It must enable people both to move in the direction of their own choosing and equip them with an appreciation of those universal qualities that distinguish the entire human race. The Bahá'í teachings indicate that in order to do this, teachers must be restored to their traditional role as the transmitters of morality, the builders of character and the custodians of culture."

    (Baha'i International Community, 1990 Mar 08, Teacher's Situation Determining Factor of Quality)

June 23, 2012

what psychologically hurts children

Dyami and his cousin, Nina
as a parent, i have always focused on the spiritual development of our children as unique souls who are full of inner capacity which needs nurturing in order for it to flourish.  despite all of my efforts and devotion as a mother, i have no doubt hurt my children's tender hearts many times due to my own inability and weakness as a soul..

each of us carries with us old patterns of behavior that we have learned growing up, or we lack the necessary spiritual capacity due to growing up in environments that did not provide us the example and training to equip us well enough as parents.  nevertheless, this is how humanity and a spiritual civilization advances: one generation at a time, learning and striving to put a spiritual approach to parenting into practice..

the other day i came across an article in the newspaper that describes 10 ways we as parents can psychologically hurt our children (written by Sidney Cohen).  a few of the items struck a cord within me.  i thought it was worth sharing:
  • take a perfectionist's approach whenever possible (ex. domestic upkeep, grades, activities)
  • focus a lot of attention on being strict with rules and regulations -- especially with pre-teens and teens -- or being mostly like a buddy with your child, rather than trying to strike a balance between being a fair and reasonable disciplinarian and friend
  • negate your kids' feelings whenever possible, especially with statements telling them how to feel or how they should not feel
  • almost never punish them even though you threaten to do so
  • almost never give them a chance to earn rewards, telling them basically they are to do what's expected and when they do, they deserve no special acknowledgement for it
  • almost never demonstrate any sincere affection in words or in actions
  • tell your kids as often as possible they owe you respect as an adult and parent, rather than going about earning their respect through your efforts and through being a worthwhile role model
  • as often as possible, compare your kids' performance with their siblings and peers so as to give them the message, "it doesn't matter how hard you tried.  even if i say it matters, what really matters to me is you do better or worse than whoever i'm comparing you to right now"
  • abuse your child, verbally or physically
  • as often as possible, be a hypocrit by telling your child, "do as i say, not as i do"

June 21, 2012

deeper meanings ~ the spirit of life

i've been reflecting a lot lately.  a crisis has touched my life and i no longer see things in life quite the same.  so many of the petty preoccupations and superficial attachments to my life have given way to a deeper connection with myself as a soul and the essence of what this life is really about.

the older i become, the more clear it becomes that no amount of education, money, possessions or status will ever satisfy our soul's need for love..

all of the material ways we form an identity -- race, nationality, age, culture and class -- and all of the ways we nurture our ego, lead ultimately, at some point, to disappointment, disillusion, emptiness, loneliness and discontent.  none of these nurture the innermost part of who we are, our soul, which is the essence of who we are.

many people grow up without unconditional love.  they feel abandoned or alone.  they feel expected to be someone they aren't or achieve something they don't truly want to do.  some haven't received enough affection, forgiveness, fair treatment, patience, or understanding.
~ Shrine of Baha'u'llah ~

our souls desire unconditional love -- love which transcends our identity.

nothing material sustains our soul.

nothing of this world leads to happiness or joy..

"Spiritual happiness is eternal and unfathomable. 
This kind of happiness appeareth in one's soul with the love of God
 and suffereth one to attain to the virtues and perfections of the world of humanity. 
Therefore, endeavor as much as thou art able
 in order to illuminate the lamp of thy heart by the light of love."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha v3, p. 673)

below are a few words in my life which have taken on a deeper meaning:

illness -- one of the many tests of this life in which we are given the opportunity to turn to God, our Maker, and rely on Him and trust in Him, no matter how grave or agonizing the condition.

darkness -- many, many moments throughout many days when one feels the pain and often unbearable struggles of suffering without knowing how or when one will come through it

faith -- beseeching the Almighty One throughout countless moments of helplessness and powerlessness as one clings to the power of divine assistance day after day without any apparent sign of confirmation

beauty -- the process and reality of transformation from a lower state of existence into a higher one that is reflected and sustained by many spiritual qualities such as radiant acquiescence, humility, purity, patience and servitude to God

success -- overcoming obstacles that accumulate and occur throughout life which serve as barriers to one's spiritual progress and well-being

this life is a spiritual journey.  if we desire peace in this world, surely it begins with love.  our innermost beings must be sustained by all of the elements of a spiritual life, beginning with unconditional love for one another.. the source of this love is the Love of God.

"O loving God! I am a young child, a suppliant, a captive. Be Thou my refuge, my support, my protector. I am in distress: give me the means of tranquillity. I am needy: bestow upon me the treasure of the Kingdom. I am dead: give me the Spirit of Life. I am weak: favor me with power and strength, so that I may be a maid-servant in Thy Threshold, with perfect purity and sanctity; sacrifice myself unto Thee, be quit of myself and seek Thee, walk in the path of Thy good pleasure, speak Thy secret and witness the signs of Thy Oneness wherever I look. O God! Make me ablaze, like unto the fire of Thy love, and make me free from attachment to this mortal world, until I find the peace of soul and the rest of conscience.

"Thou art the Powerful, the Mighty! Thou art the Hearer, the Seer!"

(Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha v1, p. 196)

June 14, 2012

BIS Ghana ~ saying goodbye to Dyami

our son Dyami is in grade 5 at the British International School in Ghana.  he has been there for 1 year and is regarded by all as a warm-hearted, friendly and kind person.  over a week ago he had to suddenly inform his friends that it was his last day and that he would not be able to finish out the school year with them because he had to return to America unexpectedly.  when i came to pick him up at the end of the day -- about 20 minutes after school let out -- there were crowds of students crying and full of sadness to say goodbye to him.  the groups of students tried consoling each other; most of the boys kept trying to be with him to express their sadness.  it continued like this for over 45 minutes until i finally said we had to leave.  i was so captivated by the love for him that i started taking photos to remember the moment..

Domani's friends were sad as well, but most had gone home by the time i had arrived

June 06, 2012

fabrics and friends ~ BIS Ghana: AU Day

Domani and Jiovanni
Dyami with Akwesi, Joel and John
Add caption

this pattern was my favorite that day
Adinkra symbol

Domani Biko Douglas

dancing to welcome everyone

Domani's Ghanaian shirt amongst a sea of patterns

Akwesi and Domani

Dyami Douglas represents South Africa at the panel discussion

June 01, 2012

jr. youth group: moments together

Akua discovering all of the nests and birds above her head
our Baha'i-inspired jr. youth group, Gems of Justice, 
recently experienced an outing.  we had little money and not much time, so we decided on visiting the University of Ghana's gardens.  with traffic and poor infrastructure, which is very typical everywhere, it took us 45 minutes to travel about 5 miles!  everyone was looking forward to leaving the neighborhood, taking a car ride, listening to music in the car, eating special snacks and exploring something new..

the University of Ghana gardens is not what one would typically consider as a 'garden'.  there are no flowering plants or paths full of interesting flora.  it is basically a natural area around a small lake with an island that is conserved from development.  a playground area is set up in an open area upon entering, with an eatery and bungalow area for entertaining.  beyond the playground is one path that immediately navigates you along a small lake with an island in the middle.  as you walk, you can observe dozens of nests of a unique type of bird that has built a little colony there -- it was quite interesting to see how they created this home for themselves.  the path takes you to open areas beyond the lake which are not manicured but are suitable for renting out and setting up tents and chairs to have events or activities.  we brought a blanket to sit on and eat snacks, but most of the time the kids explored the path which intersected a stream that had fish in it.  they also played soccer and ampeh.  they enjoyed taking a canoe ride around the lake, something they had never done before.
the girls playing 'ampeh', a traditional ghanaian game

what i liked most about the outing was seeing the kids be themselves together without the formality of the group session.  the girls hung out on their own while the boys wandered around a lot and kept themselves very active.  it was good for them to share Nature together, as well as interact with other kids who were there.

Giftie, laughing while hanging out

at one point an official came to scold the kids for being in the stream.  it was a typical military style approach to scaring the kids, warning them that they will be in trouble if they are seen by the stream again.  i approached the man when he was finished and informed him that it was my fault -- that i was the first to put my feet in the running water and that they followed me, which is true.  i allowed them to step into the edge and try to collect a fish in an empty water bottle.  this is how i grew up interacting with streams.  they are full of interesting ecological observances.  it was a moment whereby the kids felt safe and supported, rather than silenced and scolded.  i realize that my approach to life is different and that it's important to abide by authority, but in this instance, i felt justified in defending our acts and thankfully, the man said nothing more to us after i assured him that we would no longer touch the stream..

by the end of our time along the path and in the open fields, the kids enjoyed a very relaxing time in the playground area.  although some of them are 14 and 15 years old, they swang and see-sawed like they were young children in heaven.  i sat quietly observing them for an hour or so before everyone was hungry and came around to let me know they were ready to leave.

ready to leave the parking lot at the local shopping mall
with limited time and heavy traffic we decided to drive to the local shopping area near our neighborhoods and buy snacks to eat instead of an inexpensive, local meal on the side of the road somewhere.  the shopping area has a playground and entertainment area that people rent out for parties; we stood outside the fence and enjoyed ghanaian 'azonto' music while young children at a party danced.  our group meandered around the shopping area, perhaps dreaming of what they could buy, and happily contented themselves with ice cream treats before we drove home..together. :)

the next day we met for the first time at a new location.  it is in a neighborhood far down the street where 3 of the jr. youth members live.  the group consulted and decided it was most fair if we alternate locations every other week.  the 3 boys who live in this location felt happy to host us.  they brought chairs and a table, and served us sachets of cold water.  it was the first time in a long time that we were all together.  only one girl was missing the session this time.  they studied, answered questions, laughed, played a game, practiced their stepdance, and talked a lot together.

 it is challenging to keep a group together when they don't all associate together outside of the group sessions.  there are many different lifestyles, and opposing forces of community life, pulling at them.  they become absorbed and distracted by many temptations of the material world.  it takes continual effort as an animator to bring them together, to encourage them and provide a vision for a way to live that embodies striving for excellence -- both academically and spiritually.  most of my energy is directed toward their spiritual development, starting with basic manners and conduct.  it is very inspiring to see little signs of change and growth as they embrace the spirit of this program. :)
our first time having the session where 3 of the boys live
finishing up Breezes of Confirmation
lots of laughter while playing UNO
our table of UNO cards