A few recent airline crashes have reminded me that life itself means taking risks. You get on a plane, thinking about what you’ll do when you arrive—but instead, you get to see what comes next.
You don’t have to go skydiving to know that life involves risk. You don’t have to start your car’s engine and drive away to know there is risk involved, or even take a shower and know you risk falling and injuring yourself.
Life is fragile, and simply being alive means risking not being alive.
In countries of violent civil unrest and war, people live in constant fear that they or a loved one will be hurt or killed, or their home destroyed. Just living your daily life becomes a constant risk to health, welfare and well-being. Death can seem imminent, closer, more real. In some ways, that knowledge is helpful, because it can focus the mind on the life of spirit, on what remains after the body departs and the soul lives on.
So our life circumstances can change in a blink of an eye. As the Baha’i teachings affirm, no one knows how soon or suddenly that momentous transition from life to death will occur:
… none knoweth what his own end shall be. … regard all else beside God as transient, and count all things save Him, Who is the Object of all adoration, as utter nothingness.
These are among the attributes of the exalted, and constitute the hall-mark of the spiritually-minded. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 265.
In this statement Baha’u’llah reminded us that we are not only always at risk of losing our lives, but also of losing our souls.
Most of us, though, are concerned with two basic things: our health and our wealth. Both help us do the things we want to do in this physical world. But lest we forget, the spiritual world awaits us all—and just like being mindful at all times of what we are doing or planning to do in this world, we should be mindful and aware of that next world, too.
Baha’u’llah explained how close that next world is to us:
Consider, moreover, how frequently doth man become forgetful of his own self, whilst God remaineth, through His all-encompassing knowledge, aware of His creature, and continueth to shed upon him the manifest radiance of His glory. It is evident, therefore, that, in such circumstances, He is closer to him than his own self. He will, indeed, so remain for ever, for, whereas the one true God knoweth all things, perceiveth all things, and comprehendeth all things, mortal man is prone to err, and is ignorant of the mysteries that lie enfolded within him … – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 186.
If we put physical things first, we will end up with mere things, every one of them transient, impermanent, ephemeral:
Of what avail are the things which are yours today and which tomorrow others shall possess? Choose for thyself that which God hath chosen for His elect, and God shall grant thee a mighty sovereignty in His Kingdom. – Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, pp. 102-103.
Yet if we put spirit first—if we choose that everlasting sovereignty—we will end up with both physical things and the life of the spirit. Which path do you choose?
Every time we do anything, we have to be mindful of all the unintended consequences, the risks of failure or success. Most of us go blithely on our way, unaware that what we do or don’t do, and how we do it, affects others. That’s the spiritual choice we’re challenged by every day—whether to focus on our own gain or, through love and caring, focus on making the altruistic choice.
Once we begin to see that caring for others is truly our best policy, then actions that promote our physical and spiritual well-being will accompany us at all times:
O Offspring of Dust! Be not content with the ease of a passing day, and deprive not thyself of everlasting rest. Barter not the garden of eternal delight for the dust heap of a mortal world. Up from thy prison ascend unto the glorious meads above, and from thy mortal cage wing thy flight unto the paradise of the Placeless. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 36.
When we seek to reduce the risk of harm to ourselves and others by caring for people as much as we care for ourselves, we open a path to God and the worlds of eternity and contentment. This may seem difficult, but if we put our minds, hearts and souls into it through mindfulness and awareness of all things around us, we can attain it.