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For this material fast is an outer token of the spiritual fast; it is a symbol of self-restraint, the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God. – Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 69.
Have you ever had a transcendent moment, and felt just a glimpse of the infinite? Wasn’t it wonderful?
Every spiritual seeker lives for those powerful, fleeting, numinous insights into the deep mystical aspects of life. People spend their entire lives searching for that transformative experience. Every seeker wants to swim in the sea of mysteries, and develop a sense of unity, oneness and connection with a greater consciousness than their own.
But how do we find that transcendence? And once we find it, how do we sustain it?
The Baha’i teachings have three clear recommendations for seekers of transcendent spiritual experience: meditation, prayer and fasting. These techniques for fueling our inner light all start with the distinctly human capacity for self-reflection and contemplation. Baha’u’llah said that
“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.”
This meditative contemplation – the act of sitting silently in deep thought, of communing with your inner consciousness, that regular spiritual practice the Zen masters call zazen – can be particularly effective and powerful during the period of the Fast.
Abdu’l-Baha, in a public talk in Paris a hundred years ago, encouraged everyone who seeks an understanding of life’s mystical dimension to meditate:
Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the 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. This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God. (Paris Talks, p. 174)
For Baha’is, there are no recommended techniques, times or tenets for meditation. Baha’is are free to meditate in any way that works for them. But the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, did recommend that Baha’is increase and intensify their meditative efforts during the nineteen days of the Fast:
The Fast is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul.
For Baha’is, simply going without food and drink during the daylight hours – a merely physical act of self-denial – doesn’t really constitute a true fast. Instead, as the Baha’i teachings suggest, meditation and prayer act as an integral part of fasting, and make it complete. These contemplative aspects of the Fast have a singular goal -- attaining those transcendent moments our souls long for, and finding the spiritual nourishment we need:
Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spirit -- the bestowals of the Spirit are given during reflection and meditation. The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives divine inspiration, and through it he partakes of heavenly food. –Abdu’l-Baha
Meditation is simple. Just about anyone who takes ten, fifteen or twenty minutes every day and sits down where nothing will disturb their inward concentration can meditate. It’s especially easy during the Fast, when the early hours around sunrise or the normal time set aside for lunch can be used to meditate. Meditation teachers urge a few basic ways to make it work: turn off the cell phone, the television, and any other electronic device that might interfere. Wash your face and hands, if you like, to feel outwardly refreshed. Listen to music. Sit in a place where there are no distractions. Get comfortable. Say a prayer. Then, make an attempt to clear your mind of all extraneous thought, and listen to your spirit.
You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. -Franz Kafka
You may discover, once you begin a consistent practice of meditation, that you start to recognize others who regularly meditate. You’ll notice their peaceful, serene happiness, their clear-eyed spiritual calm – and they’ll notice yours.