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Many years ago, I was invited to give a lecture at a prominent European university. As a professor, I had stood before graduate students giving lectures at prestigious universities. But this was different.
Why? In this case, the audience would include a number of internationally-recognized professors of the highest order.
The night before my presentation I was suddenly, and overwhelming overcome with my own incompetence. All my self confidence drained away. I realized that I felt like the living embodiment of “the Peter Principle” – the idea that people in any structured hierarchy tend to rise to a level of failure and incompetence, because they’re promoted based on their success in previous jobs. Finally, though, that last promotion means they’ve reached a level where they are no longer any good at what they do.
“That’s me,” I despaired, “the classic example of the Peter Principle.”
I had come from humble circumstances, raised in the county poor house for my first eight years. On my first day at school I discovered I was really poor. My classmates mocked my ragged high top shoes with their broken laces and my tattered overcoat with its missing buttons.
I now felt the same shame and unworthiness I had felt then.
In that moment I no longer wished to be – I felt like nothing, and literally wanted to die. But as I knelt in prayer beside my bed something came from outside my consciousness and draped over me like a snow-white blanket of pure love – a love I had never experienced before, complete and unconditional!
In that moment a mantra came to me: “I am nothing. I have nothing. I will be nothing, save Thou assist me. I accept myself. I accept others. I accept Baha’u’llah.”
As I repeated this new mantra tears of pure joy flowed down my cheeks. I was loved! Loved!
At that moment I grasped the meaning of the mystical passage I had once read and pondered over in the Baha’i writings: “Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.” Written by Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, that passage uses the capitalized word “Me” to represent God Himself. It refers to the holy essence of our inner spirits, and as I contemplated it I felt lifted up to a new sense of my true being.
It was no longer necessary for me to be something I felt I could not measure up to or attain. Instead, I could be a channel for a Higher Power that would speak through me. As soon as I accepted this, a passage from a prayer written by a Baha’i named George Townshend flooded into my mind and heart: “Oh, God, make me a hollow reed, from which the pith of self hath been blown so that I may become as a clear channel through which Thy Love may flow to others.”
Late into the night I prayed: “… a prayer that shall rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds — that all things may be merged into nothingness before the revelation of Thy splendor.”
The next morning I stood before my audience filled with a confidence not born of ego but of complete reliance upon that Higher Power. I now knew God loved me beyond all understanding; and would support me.
I looked into the faces of my audience. I projected love to everyone there – I truly did love them all.
My talk was very well-received. But I claim no ownership. I don’t even recall all I said. Perhaps in those moments I had been that hollow reed.
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