This series of essays has dealt with the connections between matter and spirit, and we’ve observed together the dynamic coherence between the spiritual and material aspects of life. Matter affects spirit; spirit shapes matter. We’ve learned that the pathway of consciousness leads through the material to the spiritual and that our minds can, through the use of metaphor, grasp invisible realities through reference to the visible world. Just as metaphor connects matter with spirit, a bridge exists within us between those two worlds.

Let’s ponder that bridge for a moment.

SwitchboardAbdul-Baha terms this bridge within us “the common faculty.” This faculty conveys what the outward senses discern to our inner reality. We all possess that element of the human reality, which interacts with both worlds: sensible and intelligible, material and spiritual. As I try to picture it, an old-fashioned telephone switchboard operator comes to mind.

An antique analog switchboard functioned by manually connecting the signal from the caller to the call recipient through a wire. In the old days, a switchboard operator plugged and unplugged the wires to receive and send the signals to the right people. Imagine that similar connections exist in the human body through the common faculty. You can visualize it by seeing pathways in the nervous system as wires, and the incoming calls as sensory data turned into an electrical signal, linking the outside world of the senses with the internal world of perception.

The body goes through stages of development, constituted by relations between sensation and perception, or a flow of energy in the body. An infant puts everything in its mouth before it knows how to distinguish between food and other forms of matter. Over time the infant learns, neural pathways are forged to meet needs and satiate desires, and capacities emerge like eating, walking, and reading. Some of these pathways emerge naturally, others only as the result of education.

Spiritually, we may gain conscious command of this faculty, much like a child gradually gains command of his legs and walks. We do that best through the use of symbols, metaphors and figurative language. Metaphors train us to make connections between matter and spirit. Perhaps Baha’u’llah’s metaphors about energy can help us understand our proper relation to it, and distinguish the light of consciousness from the darkness of materialism.

Prayer and meditation serve as sources of illumination, through them we can develop the capacities of the soul, and “transmute earthly inclinations into heavenly attributes.” One Baha’i prayer says:

O Thou Who art the Lord of all names and the Maker of the heavens! I beseech Thee by them Who are the Daysprings of Thine invisible Essence, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, to make of my prayer a fire that will burn away the veils which have shut me out from Thy beauty, and a light that will lead me unto the ocean of Thy Presence. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, pp. 6-7.

I want to better understand these metaphors: fire, light, heat, electricity, and vibration. I trust that understanding them will help restructure my inner reality and call forth new capacities in my soul. Scientific studies cohere with spiritual insights and demonstrate that love is inner illumination. Abdul-Baha asks us to focus our thoughts and desires on this:

I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love… If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men… Love is the breath of the Holy Spirit in the heart of Man. – Paris Talks, pp. 29-30.

This quote implies a connection between my inner reality and your inner reality. Somehow our thoughts and desires spread, and those focused on love destroy those focused on hate. Research about the human heart may explain this phenomenon, in part, but it seems like an aspect of invisible reality that we have only begun to perceive. I hope that the thoughts I’ve shared are a source of insight, and that my desire for understanding resonates with the same desire in you. Let’s keep sharing insights with one another as we tread this path through the material world toward greater illumination!

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.


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  • Sheila Guttman
    Oct 20, 2017
    Beautiful article.. Thank you.
  • Oct 31, 2015
    Thank you for 6 wonderful essays. Looking forward to more. I was particularly struck by :" I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. " I find it interesting that Abdu'l-Baha says "concentrate all the thoughts of your heart...." I'm going to have to meditate on what it means for the heart to have a thought. Any ideas?
    • Nov 02, 2015
      Thanks Amelia! Thoughts of the heart may be intuition, perhaps there is an electromagnetic conversation between and among hearts (like HeartMath seems to be documenting). "Thought" seems to imply focused attention. It'd be interesting to research this, and like you say, meditate on it.
  • Lauren Herrmann
    Oct 28, 2015
    I’m very curious to learn what scientific study alludes to love being viewed as “inner illumination”. That sounds very intriguing. I always equated the force of love as being synonymous to the force of gravity, as is mentioned in the Faith. It is probably many things, inner illumination included. What I find most interesting about this is the relationship between the physical and spiritual aspects of the self as it pertains to the subject of their communication. I sort of view it more through the analogy of a baby in the womb. The baby receives it’s nutrients from the outside via the umbilical cord, but after it’s passing into the next world, no longer needs that bridge to receive the nutrients from the world it was preparing to live in. As spiritual fetuses in a physical vessel, we too are in need of this physical world to get what we need from the spiritual world. However, it is translated into a distilled version which does no justice to the true nature of the spiritual nutrients/virtues we are receiving (via the limitation of the womb/this physical world).
    To assume that such a bridge/switchboard is not needed is to almost overlook the importance of our dual natured being. In fact, to take it one step further out, one can imagine that the Manifestations of God, themselves, act as a bridge/umbilical cord/switchboard connecting our physical world to that spiritual energy in a way we can understand it. To postulate that our physical bodies operate on a micro level of that, in relation to the spiritual world, is entirely possible and, in fact, resonant with the unseen laws and forces that effect both physical and spiritual planes. The natural order of both planes and their relationship to each other.
    • Nov 02, 2015
      Interesting ideas and metaphors--especially the role of the Manifestation as a bridge between the worlds. I think of "energy" as the resonance of the Manifestation, like a wake in a pond. Click on the link with "inner illumination" and it will take you to a study publicized by NPR. You'll see an outline of a body and different areas that "light up" when experiencing different emotions.
    Oct 27, 2015
    really insightful and valuable inquiry, Tim! HeartMath Institute does such amazing research, bringing science to bear on phenomena previously considered "new age" or dismissed. coherence in the context of the heart-mind connection is a small glimpse into the power of our thoughts.
    • Nov 02, 2015
      Agreed! David Langness is doing a very interesting series right now on the "new age" movement, based on this comment, I think you may enjoy it.