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Thoughts on ... "Happiness Is!"

A while back I lost my father to cancer. My mother passed on one short year later. Not that too long ago a very, very close and very dear family member was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She was operated on but sadly, she last only a short time and she was gone. A year later I was diagnosed with cancer and we feared the worse. But for some reason I managed to beat the odds with the excellent help of the doctors and much support from family and friends. The last few years has offered many test and difficulties and has proven to be a very sad time for our family in our efforts to overcome life's less attractive aspects. But many believe that to understand contentment and happiness we must experience its opposite ... sadness. During these times of sorrow and uncertainty we know and are very aware of what makes us sad and what's causing grief in our lives. But do we know what makes us happy? I'm not refering to those fleeting happy moments we all have that last only a short while. No! I'm refering to that contentment deep down in your soul that we all long for, but, somehow, don't believe possible. If we sit down and think about it, the cause of this type of happiness is really very difficult to pin down. Is it the ability to remain healthy and run a marathon? Is it the ability to be able to discover a cure for cancer and be responsibile for saving many people from needless suffering? Is it finding a way to prolong our lives? Or is it to have a really keen and quick mind? Is it as simple as having the ability to get alone with our neighbours, or to be in tune with and able to fulfill our human wants and needs? Or Is it a combination of all of these differing aspects of life?
It seems to me that what makes us happy is a very legitimate and worthwhile question to ask because it's a common condition in life that we all strive to achieve. We all want to be happy. I believe that this question is fundamental to life and at the very core of spirituality and spirituality's importance to our very existance! "Spirituality is the greatest of God's gifts....('Abdu'l-Baha, PT p112) With this thought in mind we will soon realize that it is imperative that we make the effort to develop spirituality.

Most often people sense a mystique surrounding spirituality. We look at spirituality as something out there, something other people have. It's not for me, it's for those special people. You know! Those people involved with ... that "God-Stuff". Well! I've got some good news! We are all spiritual beings living a physical life and we all have spiritual qualities. But because of people's attitudes towards this part of their nature our spiritual qualities generally lay domant, - latent within us - waiting and wanting to be discovered and developed. Many people are afraid to talk about or recognize the spiritual qualities they possess. It is our choice to either develop our spiritual nature or allow these spiritual qualities to remain dormant and useless!

All we have to do is look at ourselves, and we'll soon realize that we're not blessed with one nature but human beings are blessed with three distinct natures, all designed to create an all rounded and well-balanced person. When these three natures are not developed equally, that's when we begin to experience problems. But what are these natures? Well! they are the physical, the intellectual as well as spiritual side of our personalities. I believe that, in this busy world our physical nature can be developed with little effort as long as we are consistent with daily exercise and proper diet. I also believe that the same can be said about developing our intellectual nature, as long as we are willing to think and reason out daily problems, again on a consistent basis. Now! these two areas of our lives are generally looked after by most people. However, we also need a daily program to develop that much neglected spiritual side of our nature; also with commitment and consistency. Here-in lies a problem! In today's society, our spiritual nature, while being the least evolved of the three, may be the most important to develop in order for us to experience any degree of satisfaction from life. This is something few of us truly realize unless we sit down and take a long, hard look at reality, look at the way life really is! We need a balance in life and to achieve that balance attention must be paid to our spiritual side. To go one step further I believe the imbalance in our nature is the cause of most of the troubles experienced by society, whether that be crime, suicides, or other social problems like alcoholism, drug addiction as well as a vast array of the other addiction from which people suffer. All of these problems stems directly from an undeveloped spiritual nature. The bottom line is this: we know that all of us have problems and suffer from defects of character. But to overcome these problems we must develop our spiritual nature to its fullest - and effort is involved. To date that has not been done, in part, because people don't have the will or inclination to overcome these defects. We don't view them as defect ... who me? Defective!...Ya!... Sure! We don't realize the harm it does to society, to ourselves, to our friends, to our family.

Although I must confess that I am not an expert on the topic, I have researched spiritual writings of various faiths and have formulated some general thoughts on what spirituality is and how we can best acquire spiritual qualities in our somewhat busy lives. For example, did you know that if we work at a job and do it to the very best of our ability it is considered, by God, to be on the same level as worship and will result in spiritual development. Think about how you feel when you know you've done a really good job; how you are uplifted. This is spiritual energy being released and will result in spiritual progress.

The first thing I'd like to do is to show the importance of acquiring spiritual qualities. To begin with, most people believe that man has a soul. The soul is a gift from the Creator which contains the essence of God's attributes. As we develop our soul it reflects God's qualities! We are told that man is made in the image and likeness of God. It is not the body but the soul that gives man that likeness. Everyone has a soul, but not everyone is not aware of it, in tune with it, or knows how it operates. Because of the soul, humanity has the eternal desire (not really within our control) to become more God-like; to develop kindness, love, compassion, as well as other divine virtues. The mind can be compared to a computer. It wants to operate the way it's program, or its soul, is designed to operate, without gliches or defects. Being human, we have the obligation to become aware of our latent capacities hidden within our soul and to develop these qualities, much like the way we are developing the potential of the computer. In other words, to get rid of our gliches or defects of character, develop it to its full potential and become more God-like in the way we deal with life situations!

The development of our spiritual nature is begun through a process called a spiritual awakening - I'm sure we've all heard of this term! So how can it be defined or described? For me it's a condition which is, in part, no more than a basic moving away from our old, materialistic selves, to a more spiritual self. Depending on the individual, this spiritual awakening can be a very slow process or it can be profoundly rapid. The Writings of the Bahá'i Faith tells us that the individual, as well as mankind on the whole, has the potential to be both the greatest, or the most degrading and debased of God's creatures. Which way we develop depends entirely upon our willingness to acquire spiritual qualities, and then to use these qualities for the betterment of ourselves and of mankind. To put it another way, through spiritual development we will be able to bring about peace and contentment within our own lives and within the lives of others. Although difficult, we are told we have the tools to achieve this goal.

To know and love God is the primary purpose of creation, and because of this purpose, God has given to each individual HIS qualities, ready to be developed within our lives. It is in developing these qualities that we begin to know ourselves. In truly knowing ourselves we begin to know God, our Creator. For this to happen all we really have to do is make the effort! So! What effort is required? How do we develop these qualities? How do we live the spiritual life? Let's briefly say now that to spiritualize one's life we must feel the presence and the nearness of God. This is of primary importance although not difficult to understand. The spiritual journey of man and the acquiring of spiritual qualities as already mentioned helps us realize God's presence is of the utmost importance. We are told that: "Man is in the highest degree of materiality, and at the beginning of spirituality ..." - 'Abdu'l-Baha, SAQ p. 235.

If we really ponder in our hearts and minds the real significants of the inner man we will see the true potential that humanity really possesses. But let's stop here for a moment to explore a basic concepts which will be helpful in understanding spiritual growth and acquiring that nearness to God. Modern science teaches that there are three life forms upon this planet which can generally be divided into kingdoms - they are: first, the mineral kingdom, which would be the rocks and which has a limited degree of life; secondly, the vegetable kingdom, which would be the trees and plants and which has a higher degree of life with some limited mobility; and thirdly, the animal kingdom, consisting of man and lower animal forms which has a higher form of life plus even more mobility. Although this is accepted by the general public, there is an indication that there are not three levels of existence but, rather, four - the mineral, vegetable and animal world as well as the human world. It is explained that man, although he has come from the animal kingdom is not really a part of the animal world, in much the same way as the vegetable kingdom has ingredients from the mineral world but does not belong to the mineral kingdon. Humanity, because of its ability to reason and gain spiritual qualities through free choice, makes it as different from the animal world as the vegetable world is from the mineral world. It all has to do with the quality and degree of life. The human world has a much higher degree of life and mobility than the mere animal, and much more freedom to explore and change the environment. The mere animal has no such ability and generally reacts on instinct! However, we are told that mankind has to use his abilities to acquire God given qualities, then apply them in helping our fellow man. If this is done we will be taken away from our self-centeredness. We will, then, become the greatest life form upon the planet; however, if it is not, we will be worse than the animal and more degrading in our actions as we can see. The idea that humanity is separate from the animal kingdom is very important to remember when discussing spirituality. Only human beings have the ability to experience spiritual growth and it is the animal qualities possessed by man that prevents humanity from reaching full potential. Spirituality has the power to defeat materialism if we allow it to.

So! Why do we act like the animal, why do we degrade ourselves using animal reactions when dealing with life? Look at all the personal problems which face mankind; the morality question, marriage problems, suicide among our youth, teen pregnancy, fixation on sexual matters, addiction, addiction, and more addictions and any of the many other problems or symptom of problems which face humanity. No matter what the problem, all of these people are looking for only one basic thing; to find out, "How can I become all that I can be? How can I develop to my true potential?" In essence, I believe that this question is central to spirituality. We can develop to our true potential easier, if we realize that, as a human being we don't have to act like the animal, that we do not belong to the animal world, that we can deal with life's problems in a different way. For most people, if we are faced with a real crises or severe problem, if we are down and out and don't know what to do, we turn to the spiritual, to God for help. Think about it! When trying to deal with life's problems and to effect personal change it is then that we realize we are above the animal world; it is then that we see the need for change and that we can find help, not from animalistic reactions, but from a higher power, from God, to effect change. It eventually becomes evident that we no longer need to use animalistic methods for solving problems; that we must make the spiritual part of our nature as important to us as our physical and intellectual natures have been in our development. We already know that the knowledge of God is acquired through spiritual progress and it is through this process that we receive the strength and wisdom to make further change. What we may not realize is that through this change - this spiritual development - we gain true spiritual happiness and contentment in life. The gaining of these spiritual qualities and developing them is the essence for mankind's feelings of peace, contentment and worthiness as a human being. We are told: "Exert thyself night and day until spiritual powers may penetrate thy heart and soul." 'Abdu'l-Baha, BWF, p. 362.

Now that we have looked at the essence for human fulfilment let's look, specifically, at spiritual growth. There are actually three, simple, but not so easy, steps for improving our spiritual condition which are absolutely essential. They are: true recognition, conscious effort and consistent practice. Let me explain! First, we must develop the ability to recognize where we can find spiritual qualities then see how others manifest them in their lives. For example, how do people show love and compassion towards each other? How do they exercise humility in their relationships? Does this correspond with divine teachings? "Aid me, O my Lord, to surrender myself wholly to Thy Will, and to serve Thee..." (Gl. p. 311.) We should strive to follow this suggestion when developing our spiritual nature. Secondly, once we recognize the qualities we are interested in we must make an effort to acquire these qualities by personally experiencing it. We must try to incorporate the qualities into our lives through conscious effort. And thirdly, once we have experienced these qualities one must practice it consistently, until the experience becomes a part of our lives and when possible, begin to improve upon that life. This method can be easily applied to marriage. Do for your spouse out of love, without expecting anything in return. It is only when exercised and applied that the spiritual quality becomes an intergrated part of our lives. But remember spiritual growth is usually gradual and for many people is often painstaking and difficult because of personal habits we must change or get rid of. But also remember, anything worth having is well worth the pain of acquiring!

It should be emphasized at this point that I believe that it is not sufficient to just follow a pattern of behaviour in acquiring spiritual qualities. It is very easy to imitate what others do and how they do it. But it all depends upon why we strive to act in a certain manner. We could ask the question: "If others were not kind would we still be kind to them? Would we want to put an effort forward if we didn't get something in return - a thanks or even a smile? "See no one as your enemy, or as wishing them ill, but think of all humankind as your friend." (SAB. p 1-2.) So! Now the question may also arise: "Do we really want to be kind to an enemy, someone who doesn't like us, who doesn't care a thing about us?" Don't give a darn about us! Well of course not! It's not in the best interest of our materialistic nature, that animal part that tell us how to survive. This is where organized religion, a religion that you can agree with, play a major role. The realization of where the suggestion comes from validates the importance of acquiring the attributes and helps us decide to make it a part of our lives. In other words, if we believe God ask us to acquire certain qualities we strive to acquire them, not for our own benefits, even though it does help us, but because it's a command from God and we know that it will, somehow, help us as well as humanity. Who knows? Maybe someday our enemies will eventually become friends and on many occasions that's just what happens! In the recognition of a Messenger, a Manifestation of God, a Christ or in this day Bahá'u'lláh, we realize that He is more than a great teacher, for there has been many great teachers in the world, all with great ideas on how mankind should live, but we know that He is THEE Teacher, sent by God to teach mankind how to progress and become more human and more alive. We don't have to second guess whether He is right. He's not just a philosopher! We know He's right because His words come from One who sees the BIG PICTURE, it comes directly from God. So! what He asks of us is not only worth the effort but it is also our duty to follow His commands, even when it's difficult. We must "...strive to become more spiritual..." PT. p. 87.

So! How can we train our spiritual selves to acquire growth, especially, when we know that it can be a difficult challenge? One ingredient that is essential in this spiritual training for me is a daily conditioning by deepening into the Holy Writings of my Faith. The more we deepen and develop our understanding of God's revelation the more knowledgeable we become in how we should behave. This will eventually develop into a personal discipline for living. But finding the time to deepen is a very difficult task for most people. However, if we realize that we are basically spiritual beings, and if we are looking for fulfilment and happiness and to be the best we can be, then this can only be attained through the spiritual path. Keeping this in mind will help us decide to take the time for spiritual growth. We need to recognize our spiritual nature because we are faced with the challenge of developing it. The more we grow spiritually, the more committed we are to our involvement in that growth process. But for most people, getting started is difficult! One way to start is to recognize that most of the development man experiences is accomplished systematically. Let me give an example! We usually eat at certain times during the day, every day of the year. Deviating from it is rare but when it happens we become irritable or uncomfortable. So we make sure we maintain this system for our own peace of mind. This is the way we should approach developing our spiritual nature. We must make it such a part of our lifestyle that we would miss it if we deviate from our schedule. One thing we can do is devise specific methods for growing spiritually healthy using the same methods that we do for growing physically healthy, that of exercise. Let's call it spiritual arobics or, as someone coined it, "spirobics"! We know the importance of developing our spiritual muscles. To accomplish this we must exercise, using spiritual methods, daily! Think about it! I'm sure from what's being said we can see the real importance for developing our spiritual muscles, developing our spirobics.

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"When a man is born into the world of phenomena he finds the universe; when he is born from this world to the world of the spirit, he finds the Kingdom." - PT, p. 178.

That's what spirituality does! It helps us find the Kingdom. But before we explore such a method as our spirobics, let's look briefly, and I mean very briefly, at a few of the qualities we should consider adopting in order to feel that nearness to God that we all strive for. Generally when we think of spiritual qualities we think of attributes such as humility, kindness, patience, selflessness, courage and love. These qualities are all very important and we must strive to develop them in our daily lives. But we would like to look at other important, but less discussed qualities. The first quality that comes to mind is devotion to God which is a prerequisite for spiritual growth. Without this state of mind spiritual growth really is very limited. Before man can attain to and become aware of the nearness of God and to the spiritual life in all its fullness, conscious and direct relations with God's Messenger or Prophet is as necessary as is sunshine for the unfolding of a rose. Another quality sought by those desiring spiritual growth is obedience to the Laws of God which shows devotion to God. This involves following all of God's commands even when the reason behind them is not understood. For example, a sailor obeys the orders of his captain, even when he does not know the reason, but his acceptance of authority is not blind. He knows full well that the captain is capable of running the ship and has given ample proofs of competence. So too must we follow the commands of God's Messenger for today. For we know who He is! He has given us ample proof of His prophethood and His trustworthiness. And we know that it is through His direction that we, and the world at large, gain spiritual progress and spiritual direction. Following His laws, we will find, gives us a freedom, as all laws are designed to do. Just as the rules of the road gives us the freedom to travel safely from one point to another, spiritual laws gives us the freedom to mature as a human being, from one state or condition to another.

Another prerequisite for spiritual growth is service to humanity. Briefly put, to be of service to God and acquire spiritual qualities, we must be of service to humanity, to our fellow man, and in no other way. Two qualities which go hand in hand with service to mankind is courtesy and kindness.
"Beware! Beware! Lest ye hurt any soul!
Beware! Beware! Lest ye deal unkindly towards any person! ...Should one become the cause of grief to anyone heart, or of despondency to any one soul, it were better to hide oneself in the lowest depths of the earth than to walk upon it." (BNE p.94)

In order to understand the importance of each person and this is what courtesy and kindness is designed to illustrate, than we are taught that as the flower is hidden in the bud, so a spirit - a soul - a gift from God, dwells in the heart of every single individual, no matter how hard or unloving the exterior may seem to be. Therefore, treat every person as if you were a gardener tending a rare and beautiful plant. Know that no impatient interference can force open the bud to produce the flower, only God's sunshine, given through courtesy and kindness, can do that. Therefore, it's the job of every spiritually minded person to bring that life-giving sunshine to all people.

It would be remiss of us if we didn't mention the real importance of prayer, however briefly, keeping in mind that a whole book can be written on the subject. However, prayer is a central theme running throughout the spiritual life. In essence, prayer is a lifting up, a surrendering of one's will in favor of the submission to the Will of God. Developing a prayerful life is extremely important, partly because we are told that by prayer the Manifestation or Messenger of God continues to hold conversations with His faithful followers after His departure from the material world. Prayer is also essential for understanding life and how we should live it. Higher spiritual truths, essential for spiritual growth, can be communicated only by means of this spiritual language called prayer. Therefore, it is evident that prayer is essential for spiritual growth.

"We must strive unceasingly and without rest to accomplish the development of the spiritual nature in man, and endeavor with tireless energy to advance humanity toward the nobility of its true and intended station." -PUP, p. 60. Now that we have looked at the qualities we should develop in our lives, let's look at a method for achieving these goals. We are given a method of spiritual development through religion. We are told to say an obligatory prayers, with feeling and commitment, daily. Some religions require the daily reading of the Creative Word in the morning and in the evening, and to meditate upon its meaning and how it applies to us as individuals within the spiritual community and within society. We are also asked to bring ourselves into account daily and try to improve upon our accomplishments. Nathan Rutstein, a Bahá'i author from the U.S., tells of a Baha'i who took these directions to heart and devised a personal system of spiritual development. Let me describe this method! When he gets up in the morning, he has his spiritual breakfast first, where he would go to a special spot in the house undisturbed by others. This would serve as his spiritual hideout.

After praying, he would deepen himself by reading a passage from the Writings and meditate upon what it contains. The prayer and deepening would usually take 20 minutes; rarely much longer, because Bahá'u'lláh's teachings tells us not to tire the soul. If all you can read comfortably is one line and meditate upon its meaning, then that is sufficient. After eating breakfast, fortified to face a world that doesn't operate on a spiritual level, he goes to work. During the morning he meets many people with different personalities and he is presented with different situations. He may be exposed to backbiting, gossip, lying, cheating, office politics, discourtesy, insensitivity and rudeness. So by break time, not only does he have a donut and coffee, but he spiritually refortifies himself by reciting, in private, some appropriate prayers to keep him on the right track. At lunch time he is ready for the same spiritual treatment as well as in the middle of the afternoon. By the time he's ready to go to sleep, he again, retreats to his special spot in his house where he brings himself to account, evaluating his day, thinking of how he could have been a more effective human being. At times he will look into the Writings for guidance on how to correct his mistakes or improve his attitude. Then he'll pray and deepen, going to sleep with his mind focused on the soul-purifying ideas he has read.

Although this system may be very difficult in the beginning, once it's totally integrated into our lives it can become much easier. In the example just mentioned, this Bahá'is' spiritual growth became as necessary as his daily food requirements and he learned that it took less time to nurture his spiritual nature every day then it took to eat his meals. But more importantly, he has made progress towards attaining that sublime condition that Bahá'u'lláh describes in His Writings.
"... as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value." (Gl. p. 260)

There are many other qualities than those already mentioned which are of great benefit for spiritual development. What we eventual find out is that all of humanity is interconnected through these spiritual qualities. I don't know where the information came from, but it has been said that every human being on the face of the earth is at least 50th cousins. Whether we are speaking about the Pigmies of Africa, the lost tribe of the Amazon or Canadians living in Canada, our ancestral roots can be traced back to each other. We truly are, as the Baha'i Faith tells us, "One Planet, One People"! What we do relates to, and truly has an effect on others. However, on a daily basis, if we pray and if we deepen on the qualities mentioned, if we grow in our understanding of what God requires of us in this day, and if we set a definite course of action for incorporating these qualities and spiritual laws into our daily lives, if we start to use these qualities for the benefit of ourselves and of mankind, then we will begin to experience spiritual progress and grow to a fuller potential. We will realize a spiritual awakening or spiritual experience. We will be reborn. Our existence will change forever. We will realize that, in developing our spiritual nature, not only do we fulfill our potential as a human being and become a new race of people as described by the Baha'i Faith, but we also help our fellow man reach new heights, as God's Divine Plan has always been designed to promote. But remember to approach the spiritual path with our feet firmly planted upon the ground. Fanaticism and excess of any kind is greatly frowned upon in the Bahá'i Writings. Remember, we are spiritual beings living in a physical world. Deal, on a daily bases, with the physical world while at the same time live the spiritual life, a life which makes us fully human, fully alive. Happiness Is ... developing our spiritual nature to its fullest!