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Think back: have you ever had a transcendent spiritual experience, and felt carried away by the love of the breath of heaven?
Know thou of a certainty that Love is the secret of God’s holy Dispensation, the manifestation of the All-Merciful, the fountain of spiritual outpourings. Love is heaven’s kindly light, the Holy Spirit’s eternal breath that vivifieth the human soul. Love is the cause of God’s revelation unto man, the vital bond inherent, in accordance with the divine creation, in the realities of things. Love is the one means that ensureth true felicity both in this world and the next. Love is the light that guideth in darkness, the living link that uniteth God with man, that assureth the progress of every illumined soul. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 27.
If you answered yes, wasn’t that experience wonderful? Every spiritual seeker lives for those deep, powerful insights into the mystical aspects of life. We all want to feel that numinous love, to transcend this physical existence and abide for a moment on the spiritual plane. People spend their entire lives searching for that transformative spiritual experience. Every seeker desires to swim in the sea of mysteries, 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. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 20.
So 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 seekers of transcendent spiritual experience: meditation, prayer 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.
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 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 the early hours around sunrise or the normal time set aside for preparing and eating a mid-day meal can be used to meditate.
Try it during this season of the Baha’i Fast, whether you’re going without food or drink during the daylight hours or not. You’ll find that you can learn an enormous amount while speaking with your own spirit.
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(Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation)