January 27, 2013

raising children..to be like Abdu'l-Baha

O Emigrants!
The tongue I have designed for the mention of Me, defile it not with detraction. 

If the fire of self overcome you, remember your own faults 
and not the faults of My creatures, 
inasmuch as every one of you knoweth his own self 
better than he knoweth others.
~ Baha'u'llah

our children have continuously been counseled to heed the principle of Baha'u'llah to focus on one's own faults rather than other people's faults.  it's a very challenging counsel for them to uphold as it is simply too easy for them to see someone else's faults and blame them for what happened instead of looking at their own behavior, attitude or lack of virtue in the situation.

this is what has been happening in our home:  one child comes to us to complain about the other sibling's misconduct; they feel justified in their anger and are very clear about how the other person was rude, or disrespectful, or hurtful, etc.  the other sibling interrupts and defends him/herself, eager to assert how the other sibling was actually wrong in some other misconduct.  the argument then escalates to a yelling match.  this is not the way we have counseled them to behave when they are upset, yet it has been occurring with such increasing frequency after a month home on holiday break from school that it was time for this dynamic to yet again be addressed and changed.

when the screaming ended recently, both siblings walked away very angrily.  they both felt wronged.  they both wanted the other person to admit their misbehavior instead of defend themselves.  i remained silent.  my heart and mind were grappling for a permanent solution to resolve what has reached an unacceptable level of disunity, arguing and mean-spiritedness with their hearts and tongues.

after a half hour of reflecting, i talked with my husband, who was working from home, and expressed my frustration.  as parents we have come together many times over the years to consult, find agreement and put a decision into unified action as to how to address an issue of behavior and misconduct with the children.  this is an ongoing pursuit along the journey of spiritually training them as souls who are upright with a high moral rectitude of conduct for themselves as a soul in this life.
in that moment together, we agreed to have a 'family meeting' with the purpose of upholding Abdu'l-Baha's advice for having a sin-covering eye:
  1. Look only at that which is worthy of praise in another human being
  2. Be silent concerning the faults of others
  3. Pray for them
  4. Lovingly help them to correct their faults
Abdu'l-Baha never shamed anyone.  He most lovingly helped them to see their imperfection, oftentimes without necessarily saying anything, as He poured His love into their hearts.  He taught us through His example that it is essential to see only the good in the other person, even when there may be many 'bad' things to see.  He then insists that silence and prayer will be the necessary tools to heal all the wounds and re-establish a feeling of love between souls as unity will be the force which is released through these two disciplines.  when there is love in the heart again, after silence and prayer, then it may be the time to talk about what happened, with each person acknowledging how they could have behaved better -- using the spiritual powers or virtues that God has given our souls to use in this life in order to grow spiritually stronger.

these 4 steps are lofty and noble.  they are conducive to preserving our dignity and honoring each other as a soul that is loved by God, no matter how aberrant the behavior.  they create space and solitude between people instead of defensiveness and anger.  they offer the peoples of world the highest spiritual standard from which to establish true unity.

as our children sat and listened to this counsel once again, i could sense their resistance to not being able to tell us what the other sibling had done which, in their view, was 'wrong'.  i explained that we were going to concentrate on the first 3 guidelines of Abdu'l-Baha, leaving the 4th one out for now, since the tongue had become a 'smoldering fire' and had repeatedly not been used in a loving way.  anytime they were upset, they could come to us and share what they could have done better, including how to respond to an injustice with a virtue like forbearance or understanding -- rather than getting so upset that someone had made a mistake.  we reminded them that we ALL have faults, we ALL make these mistakes, oftentimes without any intention to hurt the other person but merely because we are all on the path toward perfection and naturally have our own shortcomings to overcome along the way.

we ended the family meeting with the assurance that if there was a situation that was very difficult to accept, that we could listen to each person say what they should have or could have done better.  they knew at that point that this was going to be a serious shift in their old pattern of running to us to magnify the other person's faults.  we asked them to silently reflect on what had been said for a half hour and then to resume whatever they were doing with each other.

after 3 weeks of practicing this principle of having a sin-covering eye and focusing on one's own spiritual development, the yelling and arguing have been reduced to a rare occasion.  with the exception of one time, they have all focused on how they could respond to the situation with a virtue (or many virtues!).  they are still tempted to tell us details of what the other person did but they are resisting their natural tendency to blame the other person.  we have had to come together a few times to listen to what the other person could have done better and it immediately has helped the person who felt 'wronged' feel better without them having to complain about their sibling.

as Baha'i parents, we are on a continual journey of learning as we strive to put into practice the spiritual principles revealed in the Teachings of Baha'u'llah.  we are striving to better ourselves as we strive to nurture their spiritual development.  we make many mistakes but we continue to apologize humbly and try again to do better and be better.  raising children is like climbing a never-ending ladder toward nearness to God -- the only way to climb is through prayer, effort and consultation in a humble attitude toward the glory of God's presence in our lives.  the life and ways of Abdu'l-Baha always serve to direct our efforts toward the highest possible standard of conduct for how to live our lives.

January 25, 2013

Ayyam-i-Ha song & video by 'Enable Me to Grow'

This is such a precious song for children to learn during the time of Ayyam-i-Ha.  It includes adorable videos of children around the world being of service and full of joy.

January 18, 2013

the love of baking

i love baking.  it enables me to tap into my soul's expression of creativity.  whenever each of us has a love for doing something, it is best if we do it in the spirit of service so that it can be as an act of serving God.  this is the spirit in which i bake.  these days i can't bake anything without sharing it with others.  i walk down the dirt road with cut up slices of cake or cookie bars, or deliver them to our friends in the old neighborhood, or save them for visitors who pass by to see us..

at the moment, i am on a mission to learn how to make more cakes -- really good cakes, the kind that melt in your mouth when you take a bite, the kind that are sweet but rich in butter, cream and all the good ingredients that make them taste moist and homemade.  the kids might not know the difference, but parents and adults definitely do.

so many women have said to me that they would rather pay money for a cake that actually tastes good with an icing that is creamy rather than pay so much for a store-bought cake that is dry with an icing that is all sugar.  i am not a pastry chef and i haven't taken any courses on baking but over the years i have been developing an ability to bake through trial and error.  there are some 'secrets' to baking a delicious cake, but more than any tool, technique or skill, it's essential to have a passion for baking -- and whenever we develop a talent we have with passion or love, God enables us to create something beautiful.

a couple of years ago, my husband and i had a little carrot cake business in Cape Town it was called PJ Sweets.  i was able to bake an average of 8 cakes a week from my small oven at home.  it was sometimes stressful but mostly rewarding and amazing because customers were telling the restaurants and cafes that this was the best carrot cake they ever had!

we are now living in Accra and it is not easy to find a good cake.  a friend of mine has encouraged and inspired me to bake cakes to sell for the families at school because she likes everything i bake for her.  right now i am in the beginning stage of practicing new techniques and trying new kinds of cakes and icings.  having YouTube and other tutorials as resources are invaluable.  it's actually phenomenal that anyone in the world can learn just about anything from the internet if one persists with perseverance while trying to master the skill.  i recently watched a video about how to make 'royal icing'.  the step-by-step instructions with all of the fine details made what i read come alive in every important way in order to accomplish this kind of icing.  i'm easily impressed and amazed by so much!

this morning i made an icing using 'cream of tartar' -- an ingredient i have never used and which has intrigued me for years.  i added it to the lemon juice, cold water, sugar and egg whites over a double boiler.  it required beating for 10 minutes -- a very long time for my arms!  when the peaks were soft and the icing was thick, i had to remove it from the heat and keep beating it until the peaks were firmer and the icing was thick enough to spread.  when i tried removing the bowl from the heat, the steam escaped and almost burnt my wrists!  i had to figure out a way to hold the pot holders, the bowl AND the mixer without letting the steam touch me again.  somehow i managed to remove it quickly and toward me rather than straight up.  after the icing was thick, it was time to add a few drops of food coloring and blend them into the very white icing -- it was so beautiful to watch the swirls make continuous new patterns until it was all blended into a solid color.  this was when i felt satisfaction overcome the entire process.  what a learning experience it was, and i look forward to many more..

January 06, 2013

sampling my musical roots: 'Motherland-Africa'

"We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high; make it not, therefore, as wings to self and passion." 
~ Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas
back in the day, i used to love dancing to hip hop, house and reggae music.  i would be in my own world, transported by the rhythms to a state of inner joy and contentment.  i simply loved rhythms of the African experience.  i danced for myself, for my soul.  little did i realize then that my soul longed to be connected with the spirit, the energy, the history, the struggle, and the story of African peoples.  i had always felt connected with people of African descent but music was the medium whereby i could immerse myself in the vibe of it all.  music and dancing were synonymous with oneness of the human spirit for me..and nothing felt more like home to me than hip hop, house and reggae rhythms..

this particular song, 'Motherland-Africa, was the most significant song for me as a young Baha'i woman longing to make this world a better place. it spoke to my heart.  it made my soul cry freedom when i was unable to feel like i was making a difference.  i could dance to this song and feel like my soul was uplifted to that plane of oneness with all people, as i those words were my words and that yearning for freedom was my prayerful call for that freedom..

i have been looking for this song for years.  i didn't know the name of it or the group.  my online searches proved futile until now when i found it on YouTube trying different search words.  long gone are my days of dancing at the clubs but music lives within me just as it did more than 20 years ago.  i am now carrying this song in my heart like i do many other songs that continue to root my soul within the pure soil of love as it strives toward spiritual transformation while living in Africa.

January 05, 2013

spiritual discipline ~ for parents as well as children

as a mother of 3 children, ages 9-14, i am continually in a process of applying the principles of spiritual education to the never-ending circumstances which challenge them as young souls.  my husband and i have woven a language of virtues into our daily way of life, using these spiritual powers as the foundation of development upon which they must draw from in order to resolve the conflicts and disturbances that arise within their hearts each day.

despite our tireless efforts focused upon this aim, it is a journey of learning, of trial and error, and of continual consultation between us as parents as we work to resolve difficult situations that challenge us.  as a mother, i oftentimes fail to respond to a difficult situation with wisdom, patience, forgiveness or understanding, because i have not developed those qualities well enough within me from childhood to be equipped for the challenge at hand.  instead i may be frustrated, angry, overwhelmed or even hurt.  it is precisely in these moments, however, that i know i am to exercise my own spiritual discipline and grow in these qualities.  i retreat and become silent; i pray and reflect; i consult with my husband and then approach the situation again.  sometimes i need to apologize to our children.  most of the time i am able to speak to them with spiritual perception and convey the moral or virtue by which they are to live their lives.

as Baha'i parents, there is a vast reservoir of Writings to draw from to assist, inspire and guide us as to how to raise our children -- including insight as to how to handle unruly behavior:
"The child when born is far from being perfect. It is not only helpless, but actually is imperfect, and even is naturally inclined towards evil. He should be trained, his natural inclinations harmonized, adjusted and controlled, and if necessary suppressed or regulated, so as to insure his healthy physical and moral development. Bahá'í parents cannot simply adopt an attitude of non resistance towards their children, particularly those who are unruly and violent by nature. It is not even sufficient that they should pray on their behalf. Rather they should endeavour to inculcate, gently and patiently, into their youthful minds such principles of moral conduct and initiate them into the principles and teachings of the Cause with such tactful and loving care as would enable them to become 'true sons of God' and develop into loyal and intelligent citizens of His Kingdom. This is the high purpose which Bahá'u'lláh Himself has clearly defined as the chief goal of every education."
Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 152

the first duty for me as a parent is to strengthen my spirit through prayer and daily striving to overcome my weaknesses of character.  the more i can demonstrate the virtues -- such as forbearance, understanding, patience and compassion -- the better i will be able to handle the difficult moments of parenting.  this requires spiritual discipline on my part:  to always be consciously practicing the careful use of speech and attitude toward my children when they are misbehaving.  it requires me to work steadfastly at overcoming my natural tendencies which are of the lower nature, the part of us which is selfish instead of spiritual..

with gentleness and patience, with tact and loving care, i am then to endeavor to 'inculcate' into our children's minds the spiritual principle by which they may be enabled to lift themselves up to their true station and purpose as a child of God.  this is the crux of the work at hand -- to embody such qualities of the spirit as a parent to be able to help our children grow into their fullest spiritual potential, rather than succumb to being ruled by their inclination toward evil.

this is an ongoing, never-ending process.  this is the life of spiritual growth.  raising children to be spiritual human beings requires self-discipline, conscious awareness and tireless effort toward implementing and applying the virtues of God in everyday situations, most importantly when the moments are most challenging..
"Let the mothers consider that whatever concerneth the education of children is of the first importance. Let them put forth every effort in this regard, for when the bough is green and tender it will grow in whatever way ye train it. Therefore is it incumbent upon the mothers to rear their little ones even as a gardener tendeth his young plants. Let them strive by day and by night to establish within their children faith and certitude, the fear of God, the love of the Beloved of the worlds, and all good qualities and traits. Whensoever a mother seeth that her child hath done well, let her praise and applaud him and cheer his heart; and if the slightest undesirable trait should manifest itself, let her counsel the child and punish him, and use means based on reason, even a slight verbal chastisement should this be necessary. It is not, however, permissible to strike a child, or vilify him, for the child's character will be totally perverted if he be subjected to blows or verbal abuse."

~ Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 152