For Baha’is, and increasingly from the perspective of science, reality is one, and all things are connected:
The law of God is one; the evolution of existence is one; the divine order is one. All beings great and small are subject to one law and one order. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 229.
Most of us, though, still ceaselessly dichotomize life, splitting it up into smaller and smaller bits, chunks, columns and categories. Of course, in order to function in the material world, we do need to use the power of categorization. This power not only helps us live in the material world, but also to understand it on a deeper level. Aristotle knew this well, because he set about trying to classify things in the natural world—the reason some hail him as the father of science.
But as the Baha’i teachings say, while differences exist between the many aspects of reality, all things are nonetheless intricately connected. This is true of our lives. If we want to live authentically, we need to try to live a cohesive and integrated life. We need to see the various dimensions of our lives, not as separate and distinct, but as part of one organic whole.
I thought I had grasped this concept, but then I noticed how I’ve organized my files in my email inbox and computer—and realized that I’ve drawn false distinctions between things that may have affected how I live. So now, in the hope of living a more integrated existence, I am setting out to reclassify my folders in a more cohesive way. I know—it’s a tiny step—but maybe it will help bring it all together.
To start with, let me tell you the way I have currently organized my computer folders: BAHAI, HEALTH, PRACTICAL, READING, STUDY, WORK, WRITING. There are, of course, others as well.
One of the false dichotomies I noticed is my separate folder for “work.” Within the BAHAI folder are other folders, such as, CHILDREN’S CLASSES and DEVOTIONAL MEETINGS, the particular service endeavors that I have been involved in. But work, too, is a form of service.
Abdu’l-Baha said “Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship.” – Divine Philosophy, p. 83. But for some reason I’ve created a separate folder for my work life, as opposed to other areas of my existence. I wonder whether in doing this, I have created a clear distinction between work and service. I know that at times I have struggled to find purpose in my work—so maybe my mindset has been the problem.
Another contradiction could be that I have created a separate folder for Baha’i things. To me, my identity as a Baha’i should pervade every other aspect of my life. I am not just a Baha’i after working hours; I am a Baha’i 24/7. This has nothing to do with fundamentalism, about being fanatical about being a Baha’i. Abdul-Baha explained what it means to be a Baha’i:
To be a Baha’i simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood. – quoted by J. E. Esslemont in Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 71.
Clearly, I want to strive to embody and enact these qualities all the time in whatever I am doing. So, perhaps in one way, I should have one BAHAI folder with all the other folders nested in it.
Realizing the lack of cohesion in my filing system and the conceptual and practical ramifications of this has inspired me to reorganize my folders. This could be a tedious task, and there is certainly not one way to do it. So I’ve decided to give myself some time to contemplate some different categories.
While on a hike the other day, I came up with my first system. I was thinking about the purpose of life as a Baha’i—to love God and draw closer to Him, as expressed in this powerful Baha’i prayer:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth.
There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. – Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 314.
One of the main ways Baha’is express their Faith is through service to humanity:
That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 249.
This made me remember how central service is in Baha’i life—and hence how central it should be to my filing system. So, my first decision was to have “service” as one of my main folders. Nested in that folder will be things like children’s classes, devotionals and work.
But then I remembered all the other folders I have, such as READING and HEALTH, and realized that I could see these things as aspects of my life that prepare me for service to others. Baha’i life includes a number of these spiritual preparation tools: reading the Word of God on a daily basis, praying and meditating. These practices all help us draw closer to God, but they also help to prepare us to dedicate ourselves to others through service. This a big part of what I think Baha’u’llah was saying when he said, “Whoso ariseth among you to teach the Cause of his Lord, let him, before all else, teach his own self.” – Ibid., p. 277. In order to give to others, we have to purify and develop ourselves. Of course, service in itself has a spiritualizing effect on our soul, but this also has to be strengthened by these other daily spiritual practices.
In terms of our physical health, Abdu’l-Baha explained that we should take care of our body so that we can serve God and others:
If the health and well-being of the body be expended in the path of the Kingdom, this is very acceptable and praiseworthy; and if it be expended to the benefit of the human world in general—even though it be to their material (or bodily) benefit—and be a means of doing good, that is also acceptable. – quoted by J. E. Esslemont in Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 114.
This really changes the way I see my health. When I think of health as a preparation for service, I feel more motivated to eat well and exercise. For much of my life, I felt like exercise was a trivial pursuit. More and more I have come to see that it is a way of respecting our most precious God-given tool: the body.
But what about those other things that don’t seem to fit into the categories of “service” and “preparation for service”? Perhaps you have a file of movies that seem to be in no way related to a life of service. Without deceiving ourselves into thinking that everything we spend our time doing is worthwhile, it may be useful to have a folder called “relaxation” or “enjoyment” which would be located in SERVICE PREPARATION. I personally find it helpful to have the time to relax so that I am more ready to exert myself out in the world. The main thing is that these pastimes don’t make us swerve off course.
In the same vein, what about my finances? To me this would be part of SERVICE PREPARATION. If we don’t have enough money to function in life, it can be hard to devote ourselves to the various pursuits of a life of selfless service.
That’s as far as I have gotten with my new filing system. I’ve also toyed with the idea of making it even more metaphysical, by making it reflect the Baha’i worldview of life itself—which might mean having one main folder called DRAWING CLOSER TO GOD with everything else in it.
But that might be overdoing it. Part of me questions whether changing my filing system might just add an extra burden on me. When I have to save something onto my computer, I will have to click on folders within folders. This is the case with the shared files at work. Some files are located within such a complex maze of nesting folders that once you actually find the file you’re looking for, you don’t know how to find your way out again!
But then another part of me thinks that by having to navigate through these folders each time I have to save or locate a file, I am reinforcing a more authentic view of life. As this view is deepened, hopefully my actions will align more closely to it.