Last week, I learned you could trap those pesky, ever-multiplying fruit-flies with a bowl of vinegar and plastic wrap. It worked. But this is not your typical how-to guide, as matters of the spirit can sometimes seem much more complicated – but they don’t have to be.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we can work on becoming a better person in a very real and practical sense, and I keep thinking about the analogy of us being like a mirror, and how we need to constantly work on polishing it.
Dean Frasier said,
[we] see the world, not as it is, but exactly as we are. The whole world is our mirror, to the many renounced and rejected aspects of ourselves.
The German writer Goethe was a little more subtle when he wrote,
[a] man sees what he carries in his heart.1
Yeah, psychologists call this ‘projection’, and its embarrassing when someone points out that we may be doing just that. I don’t know about you, but what’s in my heart, on its less-than-pure days, is not always pretty. Luckily, Abdu’l-Baha tells us we can change this:
The most important thing is to polish the mirrors of the hearts in order that they may become illumined and receptive of the divine light…2
Now this all sounds awesome, but how do we actually do this?
So here are a six things that work for me and help me polish my mirror:
1. Help an old lady cross the street.
You know what I mean… Helping others requires compassion, and almost always comes from a pure place. It’s as easy as picking up something a stranger dropped, or lending an ear when someone needs to talk. And Abdu’l-Baha says it’s a quick cure for any bad mood!
Be not the slave of your moods, but their master. But if you are so angry, so depressed and so sore that your spirit cannot find deliverance and peace even in prayer, then quickly go and give some pleasure to someone lowly or sorrowful, or to a guilty or innocent sufferer! Sacrifice yourself, your talent, your time, your rest to another, to one who has to bear a heavier load than you – and your unhappy mood will dissolve into a blessed, contented submission to God.3
2. Hang out with happy people.
‘Misery’ is not the only one that loves company. Hanging out with people who are happy, who see the good in people, who try to do good things, who deepen on the writings and are constantly trying to improve themselves, influence the way you act and think. To me, this is one of the most important forces in my life, and inspires me to see God in others and keep my heart pure. My friends are like extra-strength Windex.
Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness.4
3. Stop backbiting in its tracks.
Seriously. We all know this is a tough one. Backbiting somehow turns from one small “opinion” into a fast-moving train that all of a sudden everyone seems to have hopped on for fear of being left behind. Hop off, and pull people off with you. Don’t be afraid to sound impolite or unsympathetic. It might sound that way at first, but keep practicing. You’ll eventually get good at it, and be able to stop those conversations that make you feel gross after, without offending anyone, present or not.
Beware lest ye offend any heart, lest ye speak against anyone in his absence, lest ye estrange yourselves from the servants of God.5
I had circled the block at least 6 times before I found a parking spot, and I was just about to pull into it when I let an elderly man coming out of the alley in his car turn in front of me. Well, lo and behold, he proceeded to roll right in and take the parking spot I was about to pull into before I gave him the right of way. Deliberately. I was shocked at how enraged I was. I had awful thoughts of things I would do and say, and I remember removing myself from my emotions for a moment and observing how angry I was and being intrigued at why I was so angry. I’m usually very calm on the road. But there was something about the deliberateness of it, the fact that I had ‘done good’ and let him in front of me, and the fact that he was elderly, made it unbearable. And I have a soft spot for old people.
Among the teachings of Baha’u’llah is one requiring man, under all conditions and circumstances, to be forgiving…and to consider an ill-wisher as a well-wisher.6
Eventually I decided not to leave a nasty note on his car.
5. Do the work. Even if you don’t want to.
I wake up in the mornings rushed for work and excited to start my day. Most days, I either look at the prayer book next to my bed and the thought of slowing myself down for prayer when I just barely got myself up seems counter-intuitive. Sometimes I force myself through a quick prayer, knowing how much better my day will be with it. But on my best of days, I sit down properly after my shower and give myself a few minutes with God. And it’s incredible.
Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide.7
There’s something about starting your day with the writings that just puts life into perspective, and keeps you mindful throughout the day.
6. Don’t just pray. Meditate.
I’m a city girl. I live in a fast, busy world. I don’t like yoga. I like my exercise rigorous and high energy. And I drink a lot of coffee. Meditation was torture.
That is, until someone told me, quite eloquently, that prayer is when you ask God for something, and meditation is when he answers.
It is an axiomatic fact that while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed.8
That was enough for me. I wanted answers, and I was determined to learn how to meditate.
It wasn’t easy. Turning my brain off was an uphill battle. But I forced myself to sit until the chatter went away. I let my mind go until it couldn’t go anymore. I thought about what I was going to do, how I wanted my life to go, about my ‘problems,’ or what I had prayed about, and really tried to listen for answers. Then I read this quote from a talk by Abdu’l-Baha:
The meditative faculty is akin to the mirror; if you put it before earthly objects it will reflect them. Therefore if the spirit of man is contemplating earthly subjects he will be informed of these. But if you turn the mirror of your spirits heavenwards, the heavenly constellations and the rays of the Sun of Reality will be reflected in your hearts, and the virtues of the Kingdom will be obtained.9
Ok, so I had to keep my mind on God and spiritual things. When I learned to do that, I started to hear my quiet, inner voice. My intuition developed. Answers became clear. Now, whenever I am annoying myself with my loud, disruptive voice that almost always gets it wrong, I can look inward rather quickly and listen.
May we indeed become mirrors reflecting the heavenly realities, and may we become so pure as to reflect the stars of heaven.10
- http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Johann_Wolfgang_von_Goethe [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.14 [↩]
- Abd’ul-Baha [Pilgrim Note, Source unknown] [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 109 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 469 [↩]
- From a talk given by Abdu’l-Baha in Oakland, California, at the home of Helen Goodall, October 3, 1912 [↩]
- Baha’u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p.73 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 175 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p.176 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p.176 [↩]