November 25, 2012

conduct ~ stretching spiritual muscles

"O ye friends of God! Show ye an endeavor that all the nations and communities of the world, even the enemies, put their trust, assurance and hope in you; that if a person falls into errors for a hundred-thousand times he may yet turn his face to you, hopeful that you will forgive his sins; for he must not become hopeless, neither grieved nor despondent. This is the conduct and the manner of the people of Baha'..."

    ~ Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha v2, p. 436
trash piling up while waiting for the owner to supply the bin

i have studied this quote and always thought of it as something quite extraordinary.  i could not imagine one person i know falling into errors 100,000 times let alone being able to forgive that person and bring hope and consolation to his heart..

i have been facing continuous 'errors' for three weeks by the owner and contractors of the house we recently moved into.  their blatant and repeated lack of honesty and trustworthiness, unreliability and poor workmanship have combined to create a situation in which i started thinking and speaking negatively toward them.

i couldn't accept their lack of morals graciously.  i couldn't embrace the incompetency of work or craftsmanship.  the virtues of God felt far from my reach -- patience and understanding were not springing up within my heart.  internally i felt contempt and a bit of rage.  worst of all, i couldn't rely on or trust anyone..

after a week of being bombarded by accumulated 'errors', i was no longer able to cooperate peacefully with them at all.  i had started raising my voice and speaking impolitely.  i recognized that it was time to center myself spiritually.  i started asking my husband to work with them when he was home.  i retreated or kept my distance as much as possible.  whatever prayerful state i was in when i awoke in the morning was gone by noon.  too many compounded, insidious occurrences that brought all of my spiritual weaknesses to the surface..

i had to look at myself and honestly assess what qualities of God i needed to grow in.  this situation was beyond the normal sense of bringing myself to account each day.  i had developed an all-consuming attitude of irritability and complaint that needed serious attention.  i had lost that radiant, pure-hearted joy which depicts my way of life.  i typically live each day consciously mindful of the suffering of the peoples of the world, so how could i be so frustrated and not able to willingly accept the hardships that come along with material life (like an oven we bought within our budget, not knowing it has to be lit with a match or that the metal rack is so flimsy i cannot put a heavy glass dish on it)?  how could i complain about the repeated inability of the plumber to fix the leaks when my neighbors don't even have indoor plumbing?  how could i feel contempt for the owner of the house who has broken his word every time while we are fortunate to even live in a spacious, new house?  it made me feel deeply conflicted and frozen with shame because i could not empty my heart or mind of these negative feelings..

i shared how i was feeling with my husband and listened to his observations.  he pointed out first that my excessive complaining about the material aspects of the house (broken faucets, newly installed cabinets covered with contact paper, a washing machine that moves violently no matter what we've tried, poor drainage and lack of sealant around the windows) was conveying to our children that it's acceptable to complain.  he then explained how we chose to live in Africa -- how we must accept the good and the bad, so to speak.  he also shared how it helps him to not get upset by what other people do because everyone answers to God; it's our duty to be detached from the conditions and circumstances of this life and material world.

i was moved to see how my behavior was making a negative imprint on the children's life experience.  i felt like all of my husband's points were true and valid -- i love being on this continent  and deeply know that i must focus on my own spiritual deficiencies while facing every test or challenge in this life as God's way of perfecting my soul.  it made me realize that my inability to overcome being irritated was not just a combination of having high expectations of moral conduct along with the expectation that goods and services will be of the best quality.  i also have an attachment to not wanting to lower my standard of living.  i feel like i have already chosen a life outside of America that is less comfortable with less conveniences -- this situation of compounded 'errors' toward me, however, revealed that i am still holding on to a good quality kitchen, washing machine, wardrobe, plumbing, etc.

now it was up to me to put forth a mighty effort, with full determination, to change my perspective and actually practice the virtue of detachment (ie., not being negatively affected by any situation).  everything in my life that is beyond my control is God's Will.  the key for me is to attain that inner power of detachment from this world, through my love for Him, which enables me to cling to God and surrender to His Will.

i started this process by observing silence and offering a prayer whenever feeling the urge to complain about anything negative situation.  i am still reminding myself to use these 'errors' as perfect opportunities to grow in the qualities of God.  this has always been how i view my struggles and suffering, but this situation was new territory for my soul, a new challenge that was stretching my spiritual muscles.  i'm still very far from the spiritual standard that someone 'must not become hopeless, neither grieved nor despondent' after many errors, but it feels better no longer being consumed by negative emotions..

for the first time in my life, this counsel of Abdu'l-Baha has touched my life in a practical way by helping me begin to try and apply it.  these words have served as the source of inspiration and guidance for me to overcome my lower nature and tap into my spiritually potential.  i continue to recite and reflect on it each day.  i am still striving to have a pure heart when faced with this ongoing situation, but am now able to bring to mind the high standard of offering hope and forgiveness to those who have wronged me.  i am also consciously trying to accept every material hardship as a means for my spirit to grow as well.  as the creative spirit in the Word of God mysteriously works on our souls, the frustration and anger can be transformed into wisdom and sincerity if i make constant exertions to exercise these qualities of God within my soul..

as my never-ending spiritual journey evolves, i rely on the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha:
"The root cause of wrongdoing is ignorance, and we must therefore hold fast to the tools of perception and knowledge. Good character must be taught. Light must be spread afar, so that, in the school of humanity, all may acquire the heavenly characteristics of the spirit, and see for themselves beyond any doubt that there is no fiercer hell, no more fiery abyss, than to possess a character that is evil and unsound; no more darksome pit nor loathsome torment than to show forth qualities which deserve to be condemned.

The individual must be educated to such a high degree that he would rather have his throat cut than tell a lie, and would think it easier to be slashed with a sword or pierced with a spear than to utter calumny or be carried away by wrath.

Thus will be kindled the sense of human dignity and pride, to burn away the reapings of lustful appetites. Then will each one of God's beloved shine out as a bright moon with qualities of the spirit, and the relationship of each to the Sacred Threshold of his Lord will be not illusory but sound and real, will be as the very foundation of the building, not some embellishment on its facade."
~ Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 136

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