Learning to Be Still: A Personal Reflection on Meditation in the Baha’i Faith

37 seconds. I have been sitting still for 37 seconds now. I am not kidding. And with my eyes closed all this time. Well, nearly all this time. I had to open them to see how many hours minutes seconds (sigh) had passed. I close them again. Focus, I tell myself. Concentrate. I am aware that my foot is itching. Now I am aware that I am focusing on my foot instead of…? What am I supposed to be focusing on? Now I am just feeling irritated. I open my eyes again. 52 seconds.

Clearly this is not working.

Meditation: something that I have been struggling to learn for years. I call to mind the simple and direct plea from TS Eliot’s ‘Ash Wednesday’: “Teach us to sit still.”1

The words resonated deeply with me those many years ago in my high school poetry class, just as they do today. How do we learn to ‘sit still’, to truly be still, particularly in the midst of the mayhem and madness of life?

What does it mean to meditate?

Baha’u’llah tells us that:

One hour’s reflection is preferable to seventy years of pious worship.2

Being raised in a Baha’i family, prayer was an integral part of everyday life. As a child I learned how to pray by watching my parents pray. Whilst I admit that in my adult years my morning prayers are often said as I run out the door, and my evening devotions are at times the recitation of familiar childhood prayers as my head sinks into my pillow, in more times than I can recall, prayer has been my refuge, my solace and my ultimate place of peace.

However, this injunction that has been given to us to pray is not one that comes in isolation.

Indeed, we are told explicitly in the Writings to “pray and meditate”, to “reflect”, to “ponder awhile”, and to “contemplate” upon the Creative Word.

Abdu’l-Baha tells us that:

You cannot apply the name ‘man’ to any being void of this faculty of meditation; without it he would be a mere animal, lower than the beasts.3

But what exactly is meditation?

Abdu’l-Baha expounds:

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 reality is revealed.4

Shoghi Effendi says that “…there are no set forms of meditation prescribed in the teachings”, and that the manner in which we meditate, “is left entirely to the individual”.5

Moreover, he says,

…it would be wiser for the Baha’is to use the meditations given by Baha’u’llah, and not any set forms of meditation recommended by someone else; but the believers must be left free in these details and allowed to have the personal latitude in finding their own level of communion with God.6

In my own journey of trying to incorporate meditation into my every day life so that it feels as natural as prayer, I have explored many different forms of meditation. A simple Google search will bring up hundreds of thousands of articles, examples, shared experiences and suggestions as to how to go about this practice. And this, perhaps, is something that I have learned most: meditation (in whatever form we choose) is something that needs to be practised. It will (for me at least) not just happen. Just as I have spent decades ‘practising’ prayer – so that it has now become an indispensable part of my life – meditation too needs to be practised. And especially in the busyness of today’s world, ‘sitting still’ is something that does not always come easily. But, it is something that is indispensable.

Sovaida Ma’ani Ewing suggests that meditation, like prayer, can be taught in childhood:

To teach your children about meditation, demonstrate to them how you meditate. Walk them through the process. So, for example, after your morning prayers, read a verse from the Writings out loud. Then take one of the sentences and ask yourself what it means and how you can apply it in your day-to-day life. Share out loud the thoughts that come to mind as you put questions to your spirit. Your child will witness the unfolding of your understanding. Encourage your child to do the same.7

Baha’u’llah tells us:

Meditate profoundly, that the secret of things unseen may be revealed unto you, that you may inhale the sweetness of a spiritual and imperishable fragrance, and that you may acknowledge the truth…so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, guidance from error, happiness from misery, and roses from thorns.8

Abdu’l-Baha says:

In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in an ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves. To illustrate this, think of man as endowed with two kinds of sight; when the power of insight is being used the outward power of vision does not see.9

And:

Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries.10

Shoghi Effendi elucidates:

The inspiration received through meditation is of a nature that one cannot measure or determine. God can inspire into our minds things we had no previous knowledge of, if He desires to do so.11

Perhaps one of the most common questions that arises is: “But what should I be thinking about when I am meditating?” Whilst some practices of meditation focus on ‘emptying the mind’, and others encourage focusing on a particular object or thought, it is significant to remember the words of Abdu’l-Baha:

The meditative faculty is akin to the mirror; if you put it before earthy 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. Therefore, let us keep this faculty rightly directed…12

These words make me reflect deeply, not only on what I choose to turn my heart and thoughts towards during meditative moments, but, more mundanely, on what my general, every-day thoughts are. What do I spend most of my time thinking about? Are these (very often limited and repetitive) thoughts ones that reflect heavenly objects? Or are they those of the material world?

Abdu’l-Baha goes on to tell us that,

…some thoughts are useless to man; they are like waves moving in the sea without result. But if the faculty of meditation is bathed in the inner light and characterized with divine attributes, the results will be confirmed.13

In my quest to learn how to ‘sit still’, whilst I have realized that stillness and particularly silence are essential, as: “…the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time – he cannot both speak and meditate”,14 I have also learned that meditation is not an end in itself.

In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, he states:

Prayer and meditation are very important factors in deepening the spiritual life of the individual, but with them must go also action and example, as these are the tangible result of the former. Both are essential.15

And,

It is not sufficient to pray diligently for guidance, but these prayers must be followed by meditation as to the best methods of action and then action itself.16

Baha’u’llah, finally, tells us that,

The source of crafts, sciences and arts is the power of reflection. Make ye every effort that out of these ideal mind there may gleam forth such pearls of wisdom and utterance as will promote the well-being and harmony of all the kindreds of the earth.17

Thus, meditation, despite being one of the most personal, private and intimate communions between us and our Creator, is also, inextricably, a part of what allows for the growth and development of the social fabric of humankind itself.

And so, as I close my eyes and allow myself to be still, it is no longer about the seconds, minutes or hours, instead, it is the desire to truly connect with “that mystic feeling which unites man with God”18, to turn my ‘mirror’ heavenwards, and to strive to become “empty and pure from every mention and thought…[to] forget all besides God”19, so that through this faculty of meditation, “the light breaks forth and reality is revealed”20.


  1. Ash Wednesday, by T.S. Eliot, 1930 []
  2. The Kitab-i-Iqan, Baha’u’llah, p237 []
  3. Paris Talks, Abdu’l-Baha, p175 []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, January 25, 1943: Spiritual Foundations: Prayer, Meditation and the Devotional Attitude []
  6. Shoghi Effendi, quoted in a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, June 7, 1974 []
  7. Creating a Baha’i Identity in our Children, by Sovaida Ma’ani Ewing []
  8. The Kitab-i-Iqan, Baha’u’llah, p8 []
  9. Paris Talks, p175 []
  10. Ibid. []
  11. Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p456 []
  12. Paris Talks, Abdu’l-Baha, p175 []
  13. Ibid. []
  14. Paris Talks, Abdu’l-Baha, p174 []
  15. Lights of Guidance, Shoghi Effendi, p455 []
  16. Guidelines for Teaching, Shoghi Effendi p. 325 []
  17. Tablets of Baha’u’llah, Baha’u’llah, p72 []
  18. Directives from the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, p87 []
  19. Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha, p706 []
  20. Paris Talks, Abdu’l-Baha, p175 []

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Yas

Yas is happiest when the sun is shining. After country-hopping across the globe for the last ten years, she lives (for now) in the most beautiful (and windiest) city in the world. She loves the power of the creative word and teaches literature and creative writing to teenagers. She also loves strawberries.

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Discussion 6 Comments

  1. I am a member of the Baha’i Faith and I have found that through my practice of a natural technique known as Transcendental Meditation (TM), I have been able to experience the stillness at the core of my being. I have found that I have been able to “sit still” because I am experiencing the peace of pure Being. Without this experience, it is very difficult to sit still because the mind and heart are not permeated by the peace and contentment that comes from this experience of Being.
    * * * * *
    I have found that reflection and contemplation on the scriptures of Truth are very meaningful and useful, but meditation is for the purpose of going beyond the limitations of mere intellectual understanding. Its real purpose is for having the direct experience of the divine Source of all scriptures. I have found that through having this experience regularly through TM, I was able to have a much deeper understanding and appreciation of Baha’u’llah’s writings. This was very meaningful to me to gain these deeper insights based on my experiences with this meditation.
    * * * * *
    I have often experienced this “ultimate place of peace” during practice of TM. Lately, I have felt this peace underlying all of my active and creative life.
    * * * * *

    From my own experience, I can say that TM does not involve any form of contemplation, control of the mind, or any practice of concentration. In TM, one learns two simple things: 1. A sound, and 2. How to use this sound mentally in a most effortless way. The mind just enjoys the spontaneous softening of the sound until the sound disappears completely and one is left wide awake in the state of peace and stillness. It is a most beautiful experience!
    * * * * *
    Since there is no injunction against any set form of meditation, I would recommend your own independent investigation of this simple and effortless technique to decide for yourself whether TM is a practice you would choose to learn. I have found for myself that after my individual practice of TM, as a result and benefit of this practice, I have had direct experience of “speaking with my own spirit” and thus many previously obscure Writings have been revealed to me in a clearer reality of thinking. Also the answers to questions I have had about my personal journey in life have come to me.
    * * * * *
    My own experience and that of others who practice TM is that “sitting still” is automatic and effortless during meditation.
    * * * * *
    Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the East Indian teacher and founder of the TM technique, also likens the mind itself to be a mirror. His explanation of this is simple and easy to comprehend. He says that when the mind is fatigued or only partially awake it is like a dusty mirror and it is the technique of TM that provides the mechanics of “cleaning” the dust from the mirror of consciousness. The process of transcending to experience our unbounded nature spontaneously lifts our very nervous system to appreciate “the virtues of the Kingdom [within],” lifting our spirits. I have experienced this awe-inspiring uplifting during and after TM. This experience of mine has encouraged me to have the discipline to practice TM as instructed for approximately 20 minutes twice a day for more than 40 years of my 63 years on this planet.
    * * * * *
    I have found that when I meditate at the Baha’i House of Worship and silently recite Abdu’l-Baha’s prayer, “O God, O Thou Who hast cast Thy splendor . . .” (Baha’i Prayers, 2013, p. 115), I experience a renewal of a sense of purpose to study the arts and sciences such as the Humanities and Maharishi Vedic Science. I have received very high grades in my studies and continue to excel while studying the various academic disciplines in a Master’s program.
    * * * * *
    In the Introductory Lecture on TM, one area of concern is World Peace. There have been scientific research studies of large groups of TM and TM-Sidhis practitioners coming together and doing these practices. Like a super magnet which repels any other force with which it comes in contact, these groups have “repelled” any negative forces and brought peace and prosperity to their neighboring environment. Through the David Lynch Foundation, TM teachers have made themselves available to teach, free of charge, populations such as the homeless, victims of domestic violence, elementary school staff and students in dangerous neighborhoods, soldiers suffering from PTSD and refugees in foreign countries, among others less fortunate than the general population. This program is bringing peace to many souls around the world.
    * * * * *
    May I suggest you read the passage in Baha’u’llah’s Kitab-i-Iqan on pp. 197-200 and determine for yourself if His words don’t describe, as they did for me, in grand metaphor the process of transcending which is intimate to me and instructive of my deep gratitude for this gift of God (in my opinion) that can only come from Him, the Creator.

  2. I do experience sometime precious moments of meditation in my life. My experience tells me meditation can be experienced in any form and any time of the day no doubt about it. But one can feel union with God while reading or reciting daily prayers while exercising, meditation and reflection. In fact these very moments of peaks out of our troughs or turmoils keeps us going. However it is profoundly felt when one is fresh, light, relaxed and all around environment is peaceful only then mind is able to focus. Our mind most of the time is focused on outward objects/straying or engage itself either in past or future vain imaginations. In this way one wastes lots of its energy of the body and bring both grief not only to itself but to its host body and spirit as well. The exercise of meditation or stilling of the mind is basically by focusing in the present. Stilling of mind helps our immune system and body in full alignment with our inner conscious or spirit. Modern science is also in agreement that meditation and deep breathing has lasting effect on one’s mind, body, and spirit if practiced over a longer period of time as it brings some positive chemical changes in our brains. It is said that man’s mind / body is bundle of thoughts / earthly elements accumulated over a period of time or after birth as we grow older. Meditation along with breath control certainly helps control of mind over body or vice versa. This is helpful in uplifting spirit or increasing the capacity of soul to achieve any higher level goals or for others it is also a tool for self-realisation.
    In order to be in deep meditation initially I have experienced deep breathing helps to calm the body and mind. As a matter of fact life is going on by default by continuous exhale and inhale of life sustaining oxygen but we as human being need to make it a conscious efforts to energise it by deep breathing to bring a positive change and positive charge as well. No doubt initially It require all out conscious efforts i.e. purity of thoughts, prayerful attitude, clear mind, self and environment in our daily routine especially after having a shower, few stretches of exercise when deep breathing becomes inevitable. However when one tastes its sweet result then it not only becomes second nature but also a kind of spiritual intoxication not to be missed any day.
    Deep breathing is a wonderful gift of God passed on to us from time immemorial and very helpful to overcome any difficult or tense situation. The science of Yoga or recently TM are very much related to meditation and deep breathing goes hand in hand. It was developed by watching and observing animal kingdom over many years by mankind/sages and saints to see how various species were able to sustain themselves in not only hostile environment but also in their respective habitat and then relax, survive and take care of themselves. It is an evolutionary thing and we ought to bring it to daily life’s practice to make use of its fullest. Meditation with daily prayers, exercise routine is immensely beneficial in this modern life of distraction and stress to bring peace to individuals to start with. I am sure with the teachings of Baha’u’llah practiced with prayerful mind and meditation can bring about long overdue peace an earliest reality. Also meditation and prayerful attitude makes one aware of the oneness of mankind in its truest form as sages and saints of all faiths have experienced this that they are not able to see duality but One in all that Ultimate Reality. This way one is able to tranascnds all barriers.
    That is why most of the Yoga postures are named after particular names of animals/birds. It is also now a day’s called by thinker like Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, ‘the science of inner engineering’. According to him we have gained mastery over others like machine, tools, devices, gadgets, high mountains, vast and deep oceans, high in space etc. but unfortunately we are lagging behind exploring our inward capacities i.e. the mind, body and spirit which is the most valuable gadget. He is making worldwide waives on international forum like UNO, World Economic Forum, Universities through his talks etc. and also through his Isha Foundation.
    This is not related to any particular religion or faith. It is my belief that many great thinkers including politicians are now using the teachings of Baha’u’llah without knowing about Him and His Station. As they are still attached to the old order but nevertheless we should feel encouraged at least they are doing their bit for His unstoppable work. It is a matter of time only that they will realise that there is no way to achieve sustainable peace without His teachings i.e. all previous manifestations prophesied to this final unity and were but stepping stones to this progressive revelations.
    I feel very encouraged that Baha’i Faith is bringing meditation practices on forefront through media. Meditation along with prayer must result into service of mankind as Shoghi Effendi states:
    “Prayer and meditation are very important factors in deepening the spiritual life of the individual, but with them must go also action and example, as these are the tangible result of the former. Both are essential.”
    These are the sorts of cultural and religious concept if practices with devotional essence, will diffuse sooner than later into one fusion/harmony for the betterment of the world. The book of Seven Vallies by Baha’u’llah are good pathways to achieve that end.

  3. My husband Gordon and myself began meditating with simple breathing and visualisation techniques taught at yoga lessons. Then we went on to attend a few Mindfulness classes and then began reading Eknath Easwaran’s books on how to meditate. A member of the NSA here in Britain recommended his writings. I think he is closest to the Baha’i teachings on HOW to meditate, which means that nothing is set in stone. Sadly he has passed away now, but he has left a rich legacy of literature and all his books on meditation are very easy reading. We now run a regular interfaith meditation group in our home.

    1. Hi Margaret!

      Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your experiences and the resources you have turned to!

      -Sonjel

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