The wind blows. Clouds move across the sky. Winter leeches colours from the leaves. Life is movement and change! Or in the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “No man ever steps in the same river twice.”
When I wandered the lonely and confusing plain between atheism and theism as a spiritual seeker, I reached a stage where I felt bewildered with the transitory nature of the world. I stopped and questioned the very nature of life: change. “Why?” I asked myself, “is there movement and change at all?” It seems like a silly question but when you think about it, God could have created any type of universe, so why did He create one that was ever-changing and impermanent?
Only some years later did I receive my answer: change is progress. Abdu’l-Baha explains that “Change is a necessary quality and essential attribute of this world, of time and place.”1 The reason that change is necessary, He explains, is that “the world of existence is progressive”.2
Without the feature of flux, life would be static. Tied to the mystery of creation is the concept that God, from His exalted seat of perfection, created an imperfect universe that would gradually move further towards perfection. The ability of His creation to change is part of that purpose, and the dimension of time, its apparatus.
Though I have moved far beyond that place of confusion, I still have my grievances against time. My main complaint now is that feeling of being the main character in the movie Groundhog Day, who is stuck in the monotony of everyday life: getting up, going to work, coming home, having dinner, being too tired to do anything else but watching some TV and then going to bed, only to wake up and do the same thing again. Even the respite of the weekend is futile, for it is fleeting and will only, within a two day span, give way to the same day-to-day grind. And on it goes again, the vicious cycle. When I hear myself say that, I sound like such a grumpy pessimist. But actually, I think this type of dissatisfaction with life can be a response of the soul to meaninglessness. Life should not simply be about going through the same routine, in the same way. There needs to be some kind of upward advance.
One way that I have often sought to escape life’s monotony is through travelling. The exhilaration that comes from going to new places, without an itinerary, with plenty of time on your hands, gave me a sense of purpose. My first trip was to South America where I travelled for 5 months. Every few days I was in a new place, experiencing new adventures. I had escaped that suffocating grip of day-to-day life. I travelled from Argentina all the way up to Colombia and back but by the time I got to Chile, travelling too had become just as monotonous as life lived in one location.
So what then is the answer to this meaningless repetition? The answer again lies in the inherent nature of existence. As we know, we live in a transient world. The whole universe is expanding, is in a state of flux. To the materialist, this movement is arbitrary and direction-less: we are just floating through space with nowhere to go. But for one who sees with spiritual eyes, life is not just changing, it is progressing and moving towards a higher plain. Abdu’l-Baha explains the reason: “progress is the expression of spirit in the world of matter.”3 And so that is the cure to meaninglessness: striving to progress. That brings purpose to an otherwise purposeless life of eating, working, sleeping. This very routine is brought to life when it is done for a purpose. When we have goals and aims, and the will to achieve them, our day-to-day life is rich and joyous. When we understand that everything we do is tied to the purpose of knowing and worshipping God, every act is sacred and filled with meaning.
In the same sense, Baha’u’llah urges us to “Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday.”4 To do this we don’t need to seek some exotic location, or find some special endeavour. We can do it right here, right now, starting with the most basic things. For instance, the first Hidden Word says, “Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting.”5 If we just strove to embody and enact this teaching everyday, each day would be better than the last. Likewise, if we get involved in service to our communities, that too would instill a vitalising sense of purpose in us. And there are also more practical things to strive towards. For instance, for me it is to learn how to use the Microsoft Office package, so that I am more employable.
Progress is not an easy thing but it is achievable. I’ve realised that even though I don’t have the time or energy to do everything I would like to, if I chip away a little each day, then over time I will see progress. I have also realised that the members of the Baha’i community, as a whole, are fostering a culture of learning by accompanying each other to develop the tools of reflection and planning.
So now, I am trying to remind myself of the underlying purpose of God’s infinite creation: to change and progress. I too need to do my tiny part in participating in that progression.