The Fire and The Rose

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December 10, 2019-

The full of night can suffuse one’s mind with a darkness that is equal to, or surpassing of, the dearth of sunlight outside.  The mind, unlike the body, does not cease to move, at a time of physical rest.  For many of us, far more than should be the case, the movement is in a downward location.  Especially, but not exclusively, for those who live alone, the mind is more susceptible to the depredations of inner demons- at least until prayer, meditation and a few drops of therapeutic grade lavender bring on a healing slumber.

I live a fairly comfortable life, with no ailments at present, and a caring, if arm’s-length, circle of family and friends.  I was told, long ago, that a little of me goes a very long way. So be it.  As long as I’m doing right by those around me, that’s hardly the worst of circumstances.  When inner demons, stoked at times by fatigue, hit me in the darkness, my mantra of late has been to self-talk into sleep, sometimes aided by the lavender oil I mentioned above.

I look, though, at those whose demons lead them to continuing depredations of their own. The oppressed who, as I remarked to a reader of my previous  post, learn to become oppressors.  Here, I think, the scene arises from a failure to take self to account, to learn to place all blame for one’s lot externally, and to thus become a violator of others’ rights, property and persons.

We did not learn the right lessons, it seems, from the French Revolution, and thus came the Maoist Cultural Revolution.  The Holocaust of 1915 was, as Hitler predicted, a flickering ember of the mid-Twentieth Century imagination and the Fuehrer’s minions accomplished a genocide that would have made Ataturk blanche.  The Turks felt wronged, hemmed in, and so they lashed out, their targets lashed back and there was a bloodbath.  Post- World War I Germany, and several other Central European nations, were given short shrift by the Treaty of Versailles, clever demagogues found their Others to use as scapegoats, and the horror played out, on the grandest scale since, arguably, the Hundred Years’ War.

Today, there are all manner of others.  Demagogues, having tasted power and wanting it all the more, find target Others, across the world.  Stories of rape and pillaging give rise to hyper-generalization, far beyond the punishment of those actually responsible. One size must fit all.  Thus, we have Twitter storms, back and forth, attacking anyone suspected of taking a pin to one’s balloon. We have the macabre spectacle of a Nobel Peace Laureate, justifying her government’s deadly attacks on people whose primary offense is to adhere to a Faith that is different from her own.  She is, she says, acting on the advice of a “man of peace”, who is after all a Buddhist monk.  Thoughts of Nicholas II and Rasputin come to mind, but  I digress.  We have coteries of sectarian radicals,from India and Iran, to Yemen and Nigeria, stoking their own acts of opprobrium, against those of other Faiths.

T.S. Eliot’s scenario of the fire and the rose becoming one, in his Four Quartets,  is practiced over and over in our world, though not in the way he envisioned.  The Hollow Men, of one of his other great verses, will not endure a world ending with a whimper, but the series of bangs that have been our lot, since at least 1912, could bring it to an alarming precipice.

Bringing oneself to account each day would seem to be advisable, for high and low, alike.

A Bit About Happiness

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December 4, 2019-

Yesterday, whilst enjoying a bowl of soup and slice of avocado toast, I was amused by a little girl running gingerly back and forth, from her father’s table to a small shelf that had toys and books.  Her happiness flowed outward-and was contagious.

There is some “back and forth”, on sites like Quora and other online places, as to the part that happiness plays in one’s life.  There are those who maintain that happiness is a goal, or rather, THE goal, of a person’s life.  Others say “No, it is triumph over suffering, that is THE goal of this life.”

I maintain that happiness is a baseline, not a goal, of life.  ‘Abdu’l-Baha would ask people “Are you happy?  If you are not happy today, for what day do you wait?”  Think of the dreariest of mornings-perhaps in the dark of winter, or on an early spring day, with cold drizzle and snow remnants, blackened by soot.  Chances are, you won’t know of this state of affairs until you get out of bed.   So, it is the mood that accompanies a person, when she or he awakes and gets up, which sets the tone.  The outward dreariness does not have to define one’s life.

Of course, physical ailments have much to do with the mood of the day, as well.  So do social circumstances.  These, however, do not have to circumvent basic happiness.  I think of my late wife, bedridden for most of her final year in this life.  Even when she was conveying her thoughts about her condition, her decline, there was an air of  contentment, that she felt caring and love coming her way-this, from a base of happiness.

There is a common theme, in many of the world’s Constitutions, that the pursuit of happiness is an inherent right of  every human being.  Happiness, though, is already latent within us.  It is obvious, in the eyes of an infant, or the joyful run of a toddler, that the state of being happy exists from the inside out.  It is much like love-and actually flows out from the love that also is basic to our existence.

Love brought us into being, sustains us through ordeals and is with us, in the end.  Happiness, whether from quotidian events or from grand experiences, is also enduringly present, if one chooses to recognize its presence.

The goal of life?  To me, that is developing one’s strengths, positive attributes, to the greatest of  one’s ability.

My Gratitudes

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November 28, 2019-

A year ago, my shoulder was getting better and my left knee, injured by what seemed to be a psychic attack, as I walked down a short, routine set of stairs, was also well on the mend. The “woo-woo” aside, my health has been fabulous this year.  I am grateful to do Terra essential oils, hemp-based CBD cream, a team of physical therapists, my dental team in Phoenix, Planet Fitness and my chiropractor for helping me maintain that fabulous.

My family has been extraordinarily gracious and generous this year, as always.  Being with Aram, Yunhee and the Shin family, on the occasion of their Baha’i wedding, and the travels around southern South Korea that followed, remains the greatest of blessings.

My Baha’i community and other dear friends, around Prescott, continue to keep me grounded.  Those whose aim was to bring me down also had a role to play. Rearranging my priorities this year, has only made my life richer and more satisfying.

Prescott, and Arizona as a whole, continue to be inspiring, good hosts.  I never tire of the view of Thumb Butte, from my front window or of any of the exquisite scenes that unfold, no matter which direction I go.

My many friends and family, across the United States, and beyond, are ever present and encouraging, even if we rarely, or never, see one another in person.  I am grateful to have spent time with some, from California to Massachusetts and in-between, over the past twelve months.

Being ever expansive in my view of the world, visiting new places and making new friends is always a plus.  I found new perspectives on Albuquerque, Memphis, Charleston, Raleigh, the Eastern Shore and Delaware, West Point, Pittsburgh, Chicago/Wilmette, Kansas City and Los Angeles, over the past twelve months. Youth hostels, Airbnb and the comfort of friends’ and family homes made all the difference.

Time in nature is always huge, in my life.  The Centenary of Grand Canyon National Park saw me visit both North and South Rims.  The Navajo Nation’s Coal Mine Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Window Rock  and Monument Valley ever warm my heart.  Being in New Mexico’s El Malpais was a comfort, after a case of food poisoning upended my Father’s Day.  There were meanders along the banks of the Mississippi and above the Goosenecks of the San Juan River; focused exploration of  Utah’s Natural Bridges and Hovenweep National Monuments, Lake Powell’s Wahweap area and the urban solace of Los Angeles’ Venice Canals re-affirmed who I am,at my core.

The greatest gratitudes are reserved for what is ongoing:  My mother’s continued presence in our lives, my little family returning to the United States, having three of the finest people as my siblings, my Faith in God being reaffirmed, each day, and my physical, financial and mental health remaining optimal.

Thank you, 2019, for having been, and remaining, a space of strength and comfort.

The Conscious Step Away From An Abyss

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November 20, 2019-

So, it now happens that, if I want to truly understand what Jordan Peterson is trying to say, in his Twelve Rules for Life, I will have to actually read his book.    The reason is the depth of Rule 9.  A simple synopsis is: Understand Your Dark Side. Know exactly that of which you are capable, and resolve not to do it.

Each of us has a dual nature, which is exactly why Christ endured 40 days of temptation and His Crucifixion.  He wanted us to know that the path away from self-destruction lay totally in following the Teachings of the Divine, which derive, essentially, from the Golden Rule.  Not only acts of goodness, but consciousness and dismissal of, the darkness within.  Baha’u’llah endured the indignity of His tormentors, who included many within His own family, that we may see the two paths down which we might each go, and that we may choose  the Path of Light.

I have had struggles, all throughout this life, and only after enduring Penny’s disease, vicariously- and as her caretaker; only after wrestling with left-over baggage, following her passing, and making a conscious decision to turn aside from the darkness, have I ended up in a place of Light.  So, I get the gist of what Dr. Peterson speaks here.  Seeing the dark, and teetering on the edge of it, is debilitating. Seeing the goodness, and nurturing it, sends the spirit soaring.

 

Blamecasting

6

November 10, 2019-

In examining Jordan Peterson’s remarks on what he sees as the Eighth Rule for Life, essentially “avoid vengeance”, it occurs to me that the basic issue stems from being other-focused, with regard to the  quality of one’s life.

This is a recipe for disempowerment, in the sense that  giving people, even those we love most, responsibility for what is good and bad in our lives.  Christ used the construct He called “Satan”, or “the devil”, to illuminate the lower nature which leads people to act in ways that are of a disservice to self and others.  People have taken that construct and used it as a scapegoat, as an actual being outside themselves, on whom to blame when they make bad choices.  God, Himself, also gets blamed, when there is misfortune in the lives of many people.

The choice, that those who give others control over their affairs often make, following a misfortune that is laid at the feet of another, is taking revenge.  This, of course, prolongs and most often deepens the agony.  I can think of no problem that I ever faced, which was solved by blamecasting or looking outside myself for resolution.  Indeed, when Jesus was tempted by His own human lower nature at Gethsemane, He gave us a road map for overcoming such weakness, with the words, “Get thou behind me, Satan!”

It is, simply put, up to each person to put the lower nature behind them-not often an easy task, but one which must be done.

She Ever Walks Tall

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November 8, 2019-

Coming into the world,

with the Twenty-First Century,

the glowing infant was a source of joy

that her mother had not been expecting.

A family was virtually raised,

almost single-handedly,

by the most indomitable

of women.

Now, came another,

again, with no one,

except her mother,

on whom to depend.

The job was done,

and done well.

The child grew,

knowing nothing but love,

and support,

from her mother,

and a loosely-connected

network.

of aunts, one or two uncles

and man friends,

who happened along,

now and then.

The girl had  purpose, though,

and kept her eyes on those goals.

Her keen mind and loving heart,

found their way to the base

of a solid network,

and strong mentors.

That heart also captivated

a well-grounded young man.

Today, they will wed.

I am honoured to be

among those who will

witness this wondrous

beginning.

She walks tall today,

as always.

The Spiral

4

November 2, 2019-

The day wound around, on a gradual upswing.  There being no Farmers’ Market today, I found my way to a special event:  Highland Nature Center’s Holiday Bazaar.  There, I found a booth where two young boys were selling some interesting, and well-made craft items, whilst being cheerfully coached by their father.  I bought a lavender cold pack, which is good for 30-40 uses.  Another booth had knit caps, for women and girls, so I bought one for a friend’s 3-year -old daughter.  Finally, some graphic artists had a booth, where I found a lovely “Welcome to Our Home” placard, as an advance gift for a couple who’ll be married next weekend.

With that, it was off to the preparation for our public observance of al-Bab’s Bicentenary.  A goodly crew of us set up an exquisite setting, at Prescott’s Senior Center, and all told, we had 65 people who attended all, or part, of the festivities.  It was a quality program, and I was glad to help several people feel at home, from a skittish woman who could barely relax, to a visitor, who was a friend of the hymn singer, and was happy to visit with the singer and his wife, if only for a short time.  The spiral continued upward.

We were done with clean-up by 5 p.m., but where is my cell phone?  I retraced my steps, found no phone, let the janitor of the hall know to look out for it, and left to take care of a couple, more urgent errands.  The errands done, a friend tipped me off that the event hall was still open, for an evening event.  So, back to the Center I went, and with the night janitor leading the way, I went to the back stage area, where I’d eaten a snack, out of sight of my satiated friends, towards the end of the set-up.

It was the night janitor who spotted my phone, neatly camouflaged, as it was monochromatic with the stereo speaker on which I’d set it, during said snack.  The day thus ended with yet another upward spiral.

 

The Greatest Gift

4

October 30, 2019-

As I mentioned yesterday, these two days mark the consecutive birth anniversaries of Baha’u’llah and His Forerunner/Herald, al-Bab.  I have recounted the story of Baha’u’llah in previous posts, over the years.

In this post, I wish to note why His life and those of other Divine Messengers, are important to people of all faiths, or of no faith.   Rather than see these Great Beings as merely Founders of competing religions, it is beneficial to view Them as guides to the continuous process of the unfolding of human spirituality-as it pertains to both the life of the individual and the life of society.

We have progressed, in fits and starts, from the relationship of the individual to the Divine (the Revelations of Adam, Abraham and Noah); through the spirituality of the human family and clans (Krishna and Zoroaster); the spiritual focus of tribes (Moses and countless Teachers of Indigenous Peoples, across the world); detachment from fortune and misfortune, alike (Gautama Siddhartha); unconditional love, across boundaries (Jesus the Christ) and spiritual guidance of nations (Muhammad).  The Twin Messengers, al-Bab and Baha’u’llah, have extended the knowledge available to us, that the common people of the Earth may both determine their own spiritual destiny and organize the spiritual unification of the entire planet.

Baha’u’llah’s Revelation, far from being yet another means to sectarian division, is a road map away from  human-caused cataclysm and strife.  This is the underpinning of my belief that all people possess the means to seek and find Truth, both independently and in groups.

Two Centuries Ago

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October 29, 2019-

Two hundred years ago,

Europe was pulling itself out of the wreckage of  the Napoleonic Wars.

The young United States of America was also healing from the wounds of  its second major war.

Asia was finding that Europeans, and some Americans, were interested in far more than trading goods. British outposts in Australia and India were established, towards the goal of domination of Asia. Spain had done likewise, in the Philippines.  France, Portugal and the Netherlands were not far behind.

Africa was seeing its enslavement declining, but a bigger problem-European ownership of land, would soon become the order of the age.  The Dutch had already established a settlement near the Cape of Good Hope.

In Persia (now Iran), a land that was seeing its own slow decline, two children were born, one in 1817, the other in 1819- with their birthdays coming a day apart. These boys would grow into men who would realize high spiritual stations.   These Messengers would stand out from Their peers, require little or no formal education and stand up, however respectfully, to the increasingly corrupt and wayward clergy and royalty of the Persian Empire.

The first of the two to declare His Mission was Mirza Ali Muhammad, known to posterity as al-Bab (  “Bab” being Arabic for “gate”.  He is commonly called The Bab, in English-speaking countries.) He was born in 1819, thus being honoured in the Bicentenary of His Birth, during this week.

Al-Bab was the Herald, or Forerunner, of Baha’u’llah, and declared His Mission in May, 1844, in the southern Persian city of Shiraz.  He appealed to thousands who were disillusioned by the state of Persian society.  Corruption and decadent behaviour were rife, across the country.  It was to this scene that Al-Bab spread His message that the human race should prepare itself for a Messenger, Who would bring Teachings that would unite humanity-not by force or by deception, but by independent investigation of truth and gradual bringing together of the hearts and minds of men.  This, of course, alarmed the powers that were, who, fearing the loss of their status, imprisoned al-Bab in three separate locations.  None of the three served to squelch His appeal to the masses.  Thus, in July, 1850, al-Bab was executed by firing squad, in the main square of Tabriz, in northwest Persia.  This, likewise, failed to destroy the Faith He had established.

Baha’u’llah, likewise, would endure His own series of persecutions,  to which I will refer tomorrow, on the 202nd anniversary of His birth.

Growing My Vision, Part II

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October 24, 2019-

I’ve had a fair amount of time to reflect on how life has been, and where it’s going.  An online purveyor of life coaching is claiming I will “stagnate”, if I don’t pay for his coaching method, as opposed to The Law of Attraction and its 11 corollary laws, which he says “fail”.

Well, so far, since I studied and implemented these twelve laws, my life has, for the most part, worked out in a satisfying way.  He sees me as stagnating, because my nest egg is modest, I don’t have one special significant other, and my travel plans don’t involve expensive resorts.  Sound familiar?

I live in a small apartment-true, but it’s comfortable.  I live in a town where I am, for the most part, loved and respected.  I would only move, if it seemed like my family needed me to be closer.  So far, I have seen no indication of that.  I do plan on a more fluid schedule,  even more of being on the move, after next year-but that’s also contingent on whether I am needed by anyone.  Family will always trump journeys of discovery.

There is also the slim possibility of serving at the Baha’i World Centre, in Israel, for 12-18 months, in a couple of years.  It would be strictly dependent on that institution’s needs.

My vision, regardless, will continue to grow.  There are always new things to learn about the nature of the soul, about quantum physics and the vastness of the Universe, both macro and micro.  There are always new friends to make and new things to learn about those in my life at present.

The old dog is up for learning new tricks.  Just don’t ask me to jump out of a plane, unless the thing is going down.