In a training course I took recently, we were told that the modern conception of mindfulness is taking the psychotherapy world “by storm.”
I checked out my local bookstores and the books there certainly seemed to confirm this view. The self-help sections revealed numerous spiritual authors, with themes often involving the human ego, mindfulness, meditation and living in the present moment.
Many studies have demonstrated that these can be effective ways of dealing with the modern diseases of depression and anxiety, and perhaps some of the more traditional forms of psychotherapy are starting to lose their appeal. People seem to be connecting with something more spiritual in the world. Indeed, the so-called “fourth wave” of psychotherapies is said to include such ideas as compassion, kindness and more spiritually-based themes. Health organizations, including the World Health Organization, are increasingly discussing the fourth dimension of health as spiritual well-being.
But the rise of mindfulness can also be seen from another perspective—as a symptom of the all-too-prevalent anxiety and dysfunction in modern society. Many people are searching for a way to counter those negative forces, and surely if ever a divine elixir was needed, it’s now.
In the following passage, Baha’u’llah tells us that those who accept his message have nothing less than the “Divine Elixir” to heal the ills of humankind:
The Book of God is wide open, and His Word is summoning mankind unto Him. No more than a mere handful, however, hath been found willing to cleave to His Cause, or to become the instruments for its promotion. These few have been endued with the Divine Elixir that can, alone, transmute into purest gold the dross of the world, and have been empowered to administer the infallible remedy for all the ills that afflict the children of men. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 183.
So Baha’u’llah said that if only we would listen, “the Book of God is wide open”—that the answers to the world’s problems, and our individual ones, too, lie within the Baha’i message.
As a Baha’i I have often asked myself why some people, in the “developed” nations of the West at least, don’t connect more often to the message of Baha’u’llah, and instead turn to the world of mindfulness for spiritual sustenance.
I suspect that the primary reason most people still haven’t heard of the Baha’i Faith is because people like me haven’t told them. But from a wider perspective, why do “spiritual but not religious” ideas find such resonance with people at this time?
Clearly, self-help must work for many people on many levels. If this is true, can aspects of mindfulness be found in Baha’u’llah’s all-encompassing revelation? One key mindfulness idea is that of the egoic mind being the source of our problems, and “conscious awareness” of the ego being the route to enlightenment. In his best-selling classic The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle wrote “The good news is that you can free yourself from your mind. This is the only true liberation.” – p. 15.
This idea is not new, and is found in one way or another in many religious scriptures, notably those of Buddhism. Are they to be found in the Baha’i writings? The answer is yes—Abdu’l-Baha beautifully and simply explained the part that the ego plays in our lives, referring to it as the “material” or “lower nature:”
In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in men. In his material aspect he expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; all these are the outcome of his lower nature. The attributes of his Divine nature are shown forth in love, mercy, kindness, truth and justice, one and all being expressions of his higher nature. Every good habit, every noble quality belongs to man’s spiritual nature, whereas all his imperfections and sinful actions are born of his material nature. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 60.
The Baha’i teachings also give us some guidance as to how we may achieve a lasting victory over the ego and the self:
Today the confirmations … are with those who renounce themselves, forget their own opinions, cast aside personalities and are thinking of the welfare of others …. Whosoever is occupied with himself is wandering in the desert of heedlessness and regret. The ‘Master Key’ to self-mastery is self-forgetting. The road to the palace of life is through the path of renunciation. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 17, p. 348.
So could the Baha’i revelation be viewed as a mere bunch of rules, or another “self-help” philosophy that draws on scriptures of previous religious dispensations? Baha’u’llah gives us a clear answer:
Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 332.
It seems that we have a huge thirst for a deeper understanding of the human condition, which explains the current contribution of mindfulness to the emotional health of society. As a Baha’i I welcome this increasing recognition of the spiritual dimension in us, but it’s also my hope that in time people may ponder where these ideas originally came from. In the meantime I must play my own small part in making this dawning realization happen.