Every spiritual seeker lives for those transcendent moments we occasionally experience—those deep, powerful insights into the mystical aspects of life that go beyond our material existence.
Those spiritual moments, the Baha’i teachings say, allow us to transcend this physical existence and access the spiritual plane:
It is evident, therefore, that man is dual in aspect: as an animal he is subject to nature, but in his spiritual or conscious being he transcends the world of material existence. His spiritual powers, being nobler and higher, possess virtues of which nature intrinsically has no evidence; therefore, they triumph over natural conditions. These ideal virtues or powers in man surpass or surround nature, comprehend natural laws and phenomena, penetrate the mysteries of the unknown and invisible and bring them forth into the realm of the known and visible. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 81.
People spend their entire lives searching for that transformative spiritual experience, hoping to “penetrate the mysteries of the unknown.” Every seeker desires to swim in that invisible sea, and develop a sense of unity, oneness and connection with a greater consciousness. As the Baha’i teachings put it:
May you attain supreme capacity and magnetic attraction in this realm of might and power — manifesting new energy and wonderful accomplishment, for God is your Assister and Helper. The breath of the Holy Spirit is your comforter, and the angels of heaven surround you. – Ibid., p. 20.
So, seekers have asked for millennia, how do we find that transformation and transcendence—and once we find it, how do we sustain it? The Baha’i teachings have three clear recommendations for those who seek transcendent spiritual experience: adopting a regular practice of meditation, prayer and fasting.
Meditation and Fasting
These ancient techniques for fueling our inner light all start with the distinctly human capacity for self-reflection and contemplation. Baha’u’llah said:
… 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. – quoted by Abdu’l-Baha in Paris Talks, p. 174.
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 Baha’i Fast.
In a public talk in Paris a hundred years ago, Abdu’l-Baha 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. – Ibid.
Interestingly, though, the Baha’i teachings contain no recommended techniques, times or tenets for meditation. Baha’is are free to meditate in any way that works for them. However, 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 annual Baha’i 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. – Directives from the Guardian, pp. 28-29.
During the Fast, Baha’is go without food and drink during the daylight hours—but this 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 truly make it complete.
These contemplative aspects of the Fast have a singular goal—attaining the 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 bestowal of the Spirit is given in 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, through it he receives heavenly food. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 175.
Just about anyone who takes some time every day and sits down where nothing will disturb their inward concentration can meditate. Silent meditation becomes especially easy during the period of the Baha’i Fast, when meditation can suffuse the early hours around sunrise or the normal time set aside for preparing and eating a mid-day meal.
If you try this enhanced meditative practice during the season of the Baha’i Fast—whether you’re going without food or drink during the daylight hours or not—you might find that you can learn an enormous amount while speaking with your own spirit.