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In my experience as an artist, developing the perspective that life is truly a spiritual journey offers us a key to genuine empowerment.
When we learn to see the circumstances of life as benevolent aids to our spiritual development it can strengthen fortitude, as well as inspire peace and enthusiasm.
This overarching perspective is one of the myriad gifts of The Seven Valleys of Baha’u’llah, which calls us all to the life of the spirit:
… O friend, wert thou to taste of these fruits, from the green garden of these blossoms which grow in the lands of knowledge, beside the orient lights of the Essence in the mirrors of names and attributes—yearning would seize the reins of patience and reserve from out thy hand, and make thy soul to shake with the flashing light, and draw thee from the earthly homeland to the first, heavenly abode in the Center of Realities, and lift thee to a plane wherein thou wouldst soar in the air even as thou walkest upon the earth, and move over the water as thou runnest on the land. - Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 3-4.
Baha’u’llah’s short mystical book describes the journey of the soul; through seven specific stages, or “valleys” traversed along a spiritual quest. Each valley is rich with wisdom and layered in meaning. I would like to share four aspects of The Seven Valleys that have emerged through audience discussions, which I’ve found particularly helpful in offering a framework for a creative spiritual life:
- Defines the Goal. The quest The Seven Valleys describes ultimately leads us to attain the presence of God. This beautiful and lofty aim is not one I suspect many people would articulate for themselves. I believe it is more common for people to aspire to “happiness” or “peace” or even “security” or “success.” As a Baha’i, my understanding of Baha’u’llah’s writings is that they are always personal and relevant. Therefore, with The Seven Valleys, I feel it is worth considering that our true purpose and spiritual goal has been identified for us, without the limiting veils and assumptions that might otherwise obscure it.
- Acknowledges ups and downs. The spiritual journey described in The Seven Valleys eliminates the myths of “arrival” or “smooth sailing” in life. In my opinion, the seven “valleys”, imply peaks and low points—a spiritual journey that goes up and down. Sometimes the horizon is vast and clear. Other times, we just have to keep moving forward despite the obstacles in our path. But profound encouragement comes in observing that the low points (the “valleys”) can bestow many profound gifts and develop empowering inner qualities. There is no plateau to our spiritual growth, and that is a good thing.
- Inspires Wonder. The Seven Valleys can spark wonder at life and at our own selves. It proposes that as we discern the mystical aspects of existence we will experience astonishment after astonishment. As an example, Baha’u’llah encourages reflection on the phenomena of our dreams at night—how we literally experience other worlds at night in our sleep that are folded up within us. One of my favorite comments from a participant at one of my events was that we are at once “tiny and cosmic.” Quite a thought to ponder!
- Shifts Priorities. Lastly, The Seven Valleys suggests a 180-degree move from the values of the material world, to the values of the spiritual path. In the process of becoming less identified with the physical world, less rigid in our opinions, less determined to hold outer status, we can grow more spiritually.
Now that you have this framework, and perhaps have read some of the other BahaiTeachings.org articles about The Seven Valleys, would you like to virtually participate in the icebreaker?
Below you will find one quote from each of the Seven Valleys, followed by the seven paintings in my series. Your invitation (should you choose to accept!) simply asks you to correlate one or all of the quotes with a painting. There are no right or wrong answers, only your perceptions! Also, please note I am in no way comparing my paintings with Baha’u’llah’s lofty words. This is just a fun, creative exercise that can inspire personal associations and new insights. Please leave your responses in the comments below!
In this city the heaven of ecstasy is upraised and the world-illuming sun of yearning shineth, and the fire of love is ablaze; and when the fire of love is ablaze, it burneth to ashes the harvest of reason. – “The Valley of Love,” Ibid., p. 8.
Yet those who journey in the garden land of knowledge, because they see the end in the beginning, see peace in war and friendliness in anger. – “The Valley of Knowledge,” Ibid., p. 15.
... when thou strippest the wrappings of illusion from off thine heart, the lights of oneness will be made manifest. – “The Valley of Unity,” Ibid., p. 24.
Although to outward view, the wayfarers in this Valley may dwell upon the dust, yet inwardly they are throned in the heights of mystic meaning; they eat of the endless bounties of inner significances, and drink of the delicate wines of the spirit. – “The Valley of Contentment,” – Ibid., p. 30.
Dost though reckon thyself only a puny form when within thee the universe is folded? – “The Valley of Wonderment,” the Imam Ali, quoted by Baha’u’llah, Ibid., p. 34.
... when the true lover and devoted friend reacheth to the presence of the Beloved, the sparkling beauty of the Loved One and the fire of the lover’s heart will kindle a blaze and burn away all veils and wrappings. – “The Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness,” Ibid., p. 36.
Now it’s your turn to virtually participate. Choose one or all seven. Correlate quotes with a painting from this series and leave your answers in the comments!