Baha’u'llah says that…
One hour’s reflection is preferable to seventy years of pious worship.1
Consider. If we define humanity as “life being aware of itself”, then “a life not examined is a life only half lived”… and unless we are aware that each and every moment is taking us on a journey, – not only towards death but towards the spiritual growth and understanding that is essential if we are to continue our travels beyond death – then we can never fully appreciate the significance of what we are doing here, right now. Nor can we stand back and evaluate what our whole existence means.
This is what a spiritual approach to life demands of us.
That is why Baha’u’llah asks us to…
Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.2
This was echoed very effectively by the Jewish teenager Anne Frank in the Diary she kept before she was tragically assigned to the gas chambers by the Nazis in World War II. She wrote…
How noble and good everyone could be, if every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider exactly what has been good and bad. Then, without realising it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day; of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time. Anyone can do this, it costs nothing and is certainly very helpful. Whoever doesn’t know it must learn and find by experience that: “A quiet conscience makes one strong!”3
The sort of events we may consider are:
Whenever we think about, evaluate, ruminate, wonder about, contemplate or mull over any of the events in our lives – even if they occurred years or even decades ago – then automatically, we begin to transform their impact on us. We can find new meanings, discover new depths of understanding and open up new insights that can reshape and remould our lives.
That is also why all the major figures of our Faith emphasised the power of the arts to enhance our spiritual growth. This is because the visual, musical and plastic arts all reflect back to us the depths of our raw experiences, and they can help us find our way through what may be, at first, insensible and subconscious, alerting us to how important it is so we can begin to unravel, interpret and sculpt the experience into coherence and meaning.
Abdu’l-Baha knew that this is particularly true of the power of language…
In the universe of creation all phenomenal beings are as letters [in an alphabet.] Letters in themselves are meaningless and express nothing… Likewise, all phenomenal beings are without independent meaning. But a word is composed of letters and has independent sense and meaning.4
Until we give an object a name or define an action as a verb, it is neither real nor makes sense. Similarly, unless we reflect upon and evaluate our fragmented experiences, they will mean little or nothing to us.
That is why it is good to talk them over with friends and family. This is why trained psychoanalysts and counsellors have used the power of reflection – through talking and listening – to help their patients understand and heal their pain and traumas.
Writing is an even more powerful means of reflection. That is why professional writers routinely keep personal journals and repeatedly advise other writers to do the same. They know it is essential for writers to write about their work. It is crucial that they reflect on how they feel about what they are creating while it is still being created. Initially, they may just be assembling fragmented scraps of information, receptacles of memory, quotes that may have impressed them or any manner of other things. But gradually, such journals can become a wellspring of inspiration and evaluation; a fountainhead of impressions, containing pearls of wisdom and utterance that matter more than anything else.
Like writers, those of us who choose to take the spiritual path are also professionals because what we profess is a Faith which is also a way of life. If that is to be real, then our actions really matter. We are not just walking a path, we are actually building it, and if we can do that effectively, then perhaps others will want to walk along that pathway too, because truly spiritual actions provide a blueprint for harmony and world order, a pattern for a future society and a coherent and clarified purpose for our lives.
Baha’u'llah was not merely stating the obvious when He said,
The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct…5
Putting our thoughts and emotions into words, while they are happening, automatically transforms those words into mirrors that reflect back on us. A powerful emotion, a confusion of ideas, a difficult experience, once it is put onto paper, begins to acquire shape and direction.
That is why, I would like to suggest, keeping a journal is the best way to reflect and reflection – as Baha’u'llah has told us – is so absolutely vital to our spiritual growth.