In this physical world, change is inevitable, but transformation is conditional upon our conscious understanding.
Transformation depends upon and incorporates adversity—a central component of socially prescribed transitions like traditional rites of passage—because this creates the opposition necessary for deep change. The goal of the transformation process is not the uncertainty or chaos that initially arises from the adversity, but the synthesis and union of seemingly separate parts when they are recognized as a whole.
On a personal level, opposition and adversity serve as catalysts for our continued growth and transformation, as tests to move us closer to our spiritual nature and potential. The Baha’i teachings make clear that:
It is well known in mystic literature that the journey of the soul includes these kinds of tests, a crucial and transformative “dark night” leading to the goal of union.
This same pattern is seen on the global level; we might say that we are in the midst of a “dark night of the collective soul.” The world is in a muddle, looking for a fitting resolution:
Far from signalizing the end of civilization, the convulsive changes towards which humanity is being ever more rapidly impelled will serve to release the ‘potentialities inherent in the station of man’ and reveal ‘the full measure of his destiny on earth, the innate excellence of his reality.’ – The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, p. 3.
A two-fold process of universal fermentation in every continent and every sphere of life—religious, social, economic or political—is, according to the Baha’i writings:
… purging and reshaping humanity in anticipation of the Day when the wholeness of the human race will have been recognized and its unity established. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 169.
This dual process is part of a collective pattern of growth characterized by “a series of pulsations, of alternating crises and triumphs,” forming “a dialectic of victory and crisis.” One aspect of the process is essentially integrative, striving to unify world systems; while the other is fundamentally disruptive, tending to oftentimes violently maintain the barriers that separate humanity, keeping it from its destined goal.
We all live in the time of humanity’s greatest transformation. Our world is defined by the dramatic collapse of the old forms of society. This disintegrating force has made chaos the norm for the generations of the 20th and 21st centuries. Though this societal fermentation is a painful process, Baha’is believe that all of the broken elements will gradually be reorganized and reformed into something entirely new.
Humanity’s story has taken this turn toward chaos and disintegration because it refuses to acknowledge and embrace the spiritually-based principles meant to guide its own evolution into a new global era that demands cooperation and integration—the principle of the oneness of humanity itself. A shortsighted and limited vision holds humanity hostage.
At the same time, a vast process of renewal is underway throughout the world. Our suffering serves to purify and bring together the entire human race. Our dark night changes us from one state of being to another, an inescapable part of our healing and rebirth.
The way forward may be through further pain and destruction. Yet this is what will finally bring the differences into sharper focus, and help us learn to distinguish more clearly between poison and honey, dark and light, illusion and reality.
In fact, as the recurring crises increase and intensify all around us, it is most important to maintain a focus on the whole overarching, unfolding process. The Baha’i writings provide this big picture, long-term perspective:
The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divides and afflicts the human race is daily increasing … adversities unimaginably appalling, undreamed of crises and upheavals … might well combine to engrave in the soul of an unheeding generation those truths and principles which it has disdained to recognize and follow… Whether peace is to be reached only after unimaginable horrors precipitated by humanity’s stubborn clinging to old patterns of behavior, or is to be embraced now by an act of consultative will, is the choice before all who inhabit the earth… – The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, pp. 1-2.
The current world confusion and calamitous condition in human affairs [is a] natural phase in an organic process leading ultimately and irresistibly to the unification of the human race in a single social order whose boundaries are those of the planet. – Ibid., p. 1.
We are at the end of one cycle and the beginning of another, witnessing the death of the old and the birth of the new. We are the midwives not of a physical birth, but a profound spiritual birth. As Carl Jung noted some eighty years ago, “It seems to me that we are only at the threshold of a new spiritual epoch.” – Modern Man in Search of a Soul, p. 217.
As a glimmer of the light at the end of the dark night begins to rise above the horizon, we must keep our eyes on this coming dawn, and on the signs of hope and progress we now witness. It is up to us to make the promise of world peace a reality.