It’s just me and
dinner with the ghosts tonight.
Sahil’s asleep, Sapana and Layli out
getting a milkshake.

The demons and I sit,
watching flowers rock in the breeze
outside the kitchen window.
We’ve been together for so many years.
It’s nice to have
this quiet moment together.

It’s funny how pain is a gift.
Funny in a cruel, divine way
that, in the end, opens up the heart.

Soon it will be time to wash the dishes.
So we take these last few quiet moments
to say a prayer of thanksgiving.

The sunlight in the trees above
is especially beautiful.

I am the stranger
walking through the out door
the moment you walk in;
a pigeon fluttering about
in the corner of your eye;
that lone cloud above
you never notice.

I am a piece from another puzzle
dropped into this box,
familiar yet strange,
not a part of the picture.

I am an overgrown side path,
leading from nowhere to nowhere;
tire marks on the beach
half washed away by the tide;
a rusty sign cursed with amnesia.

Moments try hopelessly
to string themselves together
like shuffled words that almost make a sentence.
Some profound truth perpetually rests
on the tip of my tongue,
never quite revealing itself.

Over and over, I cling tightly to the mirage
until it vanishes with the shifting light.

I want to see what is real,
but then again, sometimes
I want to be fooled.

Inspiration and Love, Not Pressure and Guilt

Whatever you do, there is always something you could be doing better. This is my problem. I graduated PT school, but I am not in an advanced fellowship. I am a Bahá’í, and strive to do some good in the world. I do manage to teach a children’s class on most weekends, but I have resigned from two different institutions I was a part of. This was in part due to other life challenges I am facing and possibly in part to my own weakness and inability to manage all of the affairs of my life in an efficient enough manner. At times, part unconsciously, I have criticized myself for not being able to do a PT fellowship and serve on the LSA and ATC (the Bahá’í institutions) while also doing my full part as a husband and father. I can see people who have families while managing multiple other major responsibilities and of course I compare my weaknesses to their strengths.

At least that’s what I have done. I’m working on letting go of all that pressure, self-criticism and guilt. For some reason this is very difficult for me. There’s always the nagging feeling of, “you know you really could do those things if you worked harder and didn’t waste so much time.” There’s also the fact that 1) in the world of PT there is a tremendous amount of stuff to learn and I want to learn as much as I can and 2) the world has incomprehensible amounts of human suffering and I want to make some meaningful contribution to help that situation. But I can’t do everything, and heaping guilt and pressure on myself isn’t constructive.

There’s a great expression one of my patients told me a few weeks ago. “Don’t ‘should’ all over yourself.” (Say it out loud if you don’t get the pun.) I love that. It’s so true. You can fill your life with countless “shoulds”, feeling worse with each one you dump on yourself. And it doesn’t do any good. It doesn’t make you a better person. On the contrary, it robs you of willpower and kills motivation.

In the time when I was new to the Bahá’í Faith, I had so much inspiration. Reading, meditation, prayer and service just came naturally. I didn’t question or rate myself as a Bahá’í because I was new and had no expectations for myself. But as time when on, I gradually adopted the mindset of, “okay now you’ve been a Bahá’í for a while, you should be more effective in your service and more knowledgeable about the Faith”. Over time, the expectations rose along with the pressure and guilt. I was no longer an idealistic kid who was enamored with these teachings about the oneness of mankind and the search for truth. Maybe it was a necessary transition to get out of my “honeymoon phase” and become more mature as a Bahá’í and as a person. But the pressure and guilt didn’t need to become part of the mix.

So I’m working on letting them go. Just accepting the fact that right now I am not a perfect Bahá’í. I can find plenty of examples of other Bahá’ís who are doing more service than me, who are more knowledgeable than me, are more kind and less judgmental, and so on. But that’s okay. I’m glad the world has those people. I will just do my best and trust the God is merciful. I will do what I can to be propelled by inspiration and love rather than guilt and pressure.

A Summary of the Qualities of the True Seeker

The Tablet of the True Seeker is a passage from the Bahá’í Writings that provides a list of qualities one may strive to embody in order to be a true seeker of spiritual truth. Since I find it easier to digest concepts in the form of lists, I have paraphrased a list of the qualities detailed in that tablet and put them in the categories below. I would encourage anyone who is interested in this to first read the original passage, which I have posted here.

Please keep in mind that the categories below are my own ideas and the list items are my own paraphrasing. Another thing to keep in mind is that many of the concepts outlined in this tablet are to be taken within the greater context of the Bahá’í Writings as a whole and should be interpreted in conjunction with all other Bahá’í principles. When looked at in isolation, some aspects of this tablet may appear extreme. As with any religious or spiritual text, all passages must be looked at in a broader context in order to be properly balanced.

Without further ado, here is my list of spiritual attributes based upon the Tablet of the True Seeker.

Practice Detachment

  • Cleanse and purify your heart of all acquired knowledge
  • Sanctify your soul from all ephemeral attachments
  • Cleanse your heart so that no remnant of love or hate lingers within
  • Renounce the peoples of the earth
  • Detach yourself from the world of dust
  • Be content with little
  • Pass by all save God with the swiftness of lightning
  • Do not allow censure of the people to turn you away from the Truth
  • Regard all else beside God as transient and count all things save Him as utter nothingness

Trust

  • Put your trust in God
  • Cleave unto Him Who is the Lord of Lords
  • Cling unto patience and resignation

Purify

  • Purge your breast from every defilement
  • Be freed from all inordinate desire

Be Humble

  • Never seek to exalt yourself above anyone
  • Wash away from your heart every trace of pride and vainglory

Speak Wisely

  • Observe silence
  • Refrain from idle talk
  • Avoid backbiting; regard it as grievous error

Be Mindful of Who You Associate With

  • Treasure the companionship of those that have renounced the world
  • Regard avoidance of boastful and worldly people a precious benefit
  • With all your heart, avoid fellowship with evil doers

Don’t Look Down on Others

  • Pray for the remission of the evil doer’s sins
  • Forgive the sinful and never despise his low estate (nobody, including you, knows how they will end up)

Cultivate Spiritual Practice

  • Commune with God at the dawn of every day
  • Persevere with all your soul in the quest of the Beloved (God)
  • Consume every wayward thought with the loving mention of God

Be Kind and Generous

  • Succor the dispossessed
  • Never withhold your favor from the destitute
  • Show kindness to animals, how much more to your fellow man
  • Never wish for others that which you do not wish for yourself

Sacrifice

  • Offer up your life for the Beloved (God) without hesitation

Have Integrity

  • Never promise that which you do not fulfill

 

Parting Thoughts

This list is certainly a lofty set of attributes. I personally can’t say I am anywhere near living up to this standard, but I feel it does give me a set of ideals for which to strive. I am hoping to write a series of posts taking a closer look at some of these concepts. If you have any thoughts or insights you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them.

I Suck at Mindfulness

I thought I would try writing a few blog posts about my personal struggle with trying to live according to spiritual ideals in everyday life. This struggle is a big part of my life, but is something I don’t talk about much because it doesn’t tend to come up in most everyday conversation. Perhaps there are one or two of you out there who may relate or have some ideas or insights to share. Then again, perhaps not. I guess we’ll see about that.

The following is a quote from the Bahá’í Writings that has always been, in my mind, one of the most pithy and fundamental pieces of the Writings. I used to be inspired by it. Now, I am just challenged by it and sometimes feel sad that I don’t have the same kind of inspiration I had in my early 20s when I became a Bahá’í. Hopefully my youthful idealism has been exchanged for a bit of wisdom. Anyway, here’s the passage:

The true seeker hunteth naught but the object of his quest, and the lover hath no desire save union with his beloved. Nor shall the seeker reach his goal unless he sacrifice all things. That is, whatever he hath seen, and heard, and understood, all must he set at naught, that he may enter the realm of the spirit, which is the City of God. Labor is needed, if we are to seek Him; ardor is needed, if we are to drink of the honey of reunion with Him; and if we taste of this cup, we shall cast away the world.

One could write a sizeable book on just this passage because there’s so much to it. I’m not going to attempt to expound upon the full meaning of it, but just share one part of this it has been on my mind lately:

whatever he hath seen, and heard, and understood, all must he set at naught…

This one is huge for me. One of the pitfalls I often come across when trying to meditate is that I get engrossed in my analytical thoughts. I have a thousand explanations for all of the difficult thoughts and feelings that arise in my head when I clear away all outside distractions. I have spent a lot of time picking apart my own thoughts, reviewing in detail difficult periods of my past, writing poems to process painful memories and experiences, and lots of other stuff like that. Doing all of these things has been beneficial and therapeutic for me, but at the same time I can get stuck on some of these old thoughts

So when I have some inner turmoil arise as I’m sitting there attempting to pray or meditate, I instantly have some explanation as to why I’m feeling that way. Then, in my head, I go off on some long tangent that often has nothing to do with what’s really going on in the present moment. The more I look closely at my thoughts and feelings, the more I realize that, in reality, I have no idea why I think and feel the way I do. The mind is way too complex to truly understand and I trap myself with this rambling pseudo self psychoanalysis.

Over and over again, I have to let go of all this excess baggage, all of these thoughts that in the end, aren’t really true. While there may be some truth to the fact that, for example, my mother’s death when I was 12 had a big impact on how I turned out as a person, any specific conclusion I come to about how it affects me now is an oversimplification. I can’t go around telling myself some story about how I’m broken inside because this and other difficult things happened to me in my youth. Well, I could, but 1) it would not be accurate and 2) I would be stuck in a state of learned helplessness.

Basically my mind and soul are far too profound and complex for me to understand. It’s better to let go and clear my head of all of these analytical thoughts that cloud my reality. Just like if you watch a beautiful sunset, it would ruin the experience if you tried to give a detailed, analytical commentary on the visual aspects of the sunset and their possible meanings. It would be better just to shut up and take it all in.

This, of course, is the most basic idea behind mindfulness meditation. Nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. I don’t know how many books and podcasts I’ve read or listened to on the topic over the past 15 years or so, but I still suck at it. I went to a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat. I give Buddhist books to people to encourage them to meditate. I organized a meditation group while I was in PT school. Yet I still totally suck at meditation. But it’s okay, I guess. Just have to go back to that nonjudgmental part and come back to the breath.

Okay, there’s a lot more I could write on this topic, but I would not to belabor any of my readers (if there are any) and I need to get to bed. Maybe I’ll continue another day. If you are reading this, I wish you peace and happiness, and I appreciate you taking the time. May all beings be happy and free from suffering.

Blinding light pierces
luminous black clouds.

Towering waves,
cruel, magnificent,
swallow, then release.

Momentarily released
from the salty abyss,
eyes rise up to behold
the meaning of existence.

Natural mind and inherent nobility

I’ve been reading a Buddhist book titled The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and particularly liked the following passage:

Imagine you’re a treasure hunter. One day you discover a chunk of metal in the ground. You dig a hole, pull out the metal, take it home, and start to clean it. At first, one corner of the nugget reveals itself, bright and shining. Gradually, as you wash away the accumulated dirt and mud, the whole chunk is revealed as gold. So let me ask: Which is more valuable-the chunk of gold buried in the mud, or the one you cleaned? Actually, the value is equal. Any difference between the dirty nugget and the clean is superficial.

The same can be said of natural mind. The neuronal gossip that keeps you from seeing your mind in its fullness doesn’t really change the fundamental nature of your mind. Thoughts like “I’m ugly,” “I’m stupid,” or “I’m boring” are nothing more than a kind of biological mud, temporarily obscuring the brilliant qualities of Buddha nature, or natural mind.

Interestingly, soon after I read this, I came across the passage from The Seven Valleys, one of my favorite books from the Bahá’í Writings.

Yea, these mentionings that have been made of the grades of knowledge relate to the knowledge of the Manifestations of that Sun of Reality, which casteth Its light upon the Mirrors. And the splendor of that light is in the hearts, yet it is hidden under the veilings of sense and the conditions of this earth, even as a candle within a lantern of iron, and only when the lantern is removed doth the light of the candle shine out.

In like manner, when thou strippest the wrappings of illusion from off thine heart, the lights of oneness will be made manifest.

(If you happen to be interested in that book, it can be found online here. )

It’s interesting that the first passage is talking about the concept of Buddha nature, that we all possess the potential to have the noble qualities of the Buddha, while the second passage is talking about the knowledge of the Manifestations, or the divine Messengers, of God. To me, it appears they are actually speaking of the same thing. We are born with inherent nobility, but we are unaware of the inherent wealth we possess. Ironically, it takes a lot of work to uncover this nobility within, but it’s always there.

A few other passages from Bahá’í Writings that I feel are along the same lines.

O SON OF BEING!
Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee. Get thou from it thy radiance and seek none other than Me. For I have created thee rich and have bountifully shed My favor upon thee.

O SON OF SPIRIT!
Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.

O MY SERVANT!
Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world.

Earth trembles, walls collapse.
Rivers of light pour forth
from places unseen.

Beauty, despair, love and pain
are a single melody.

The heart threatens to collapse
until it sees its true dimensions.

I step into the night
look into the burning stars above
and say, “yes”.


O friend, the heart is the dwelling of eternal mysteries, make it not the home of fleeting fancies; waste not the treasure of thy precious life in employment with this swiftly passing world. Thou comest from the world of holiness—bind not thine heart to the earth; thou art a dweller in the court of nearness—choose not the homeland of the dust.

-Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys

What is this curse, this farce?
To have a head with a heart?

A brick suffers no turmoil.
A stone lives free of pain.
Flightless birds are content
if they haven’t seen the sky.

Plato’s prisoner was freed
through pain and struggle
only to become an outcast.
Every prophet drinks from a cup
of bitter poison.

Better then to never
gaze at the endless sky
or open the doors of the heart.

Better to stay content
with the shadows on the wall.

A single rose perseveres
amidst the drab
of late autumn.

Hope has triumphed,
only to be plucked
and handed to Layli-
a gift for her to bring to Nani.

The rose bush rests, now colorless,
its final bestowal sitting in a glass
on a distant kitchen counter.

With this year’s
final act of self-sacrifice complete,
the bush awaits quietly
for the coming Spring.