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“I want to meditate,” a friend once said, “but I try and nothing happens. What can I do to make my meditation actually work?”
Like any physical or spiritual discipline, effective meditation takes practice. To begin that regular practice, many meditation teachers recommend five basic ways to make these periods of inner contemplation function best:
- Turn off the cell phone, the television, and all other electronic devices.
- Wash your face and hands, if you like, to feel outwardly refreshed.
- Listen to a soothing piece of music.
- Sit in a place with no distractions, and get comfortable.
- Say a prayer to calm your soul.
Then, make an attempt to clear your mind of all extraneous thought, turn your vision inward and listen carefully to your spirit:
… if the faculty of meditation is bathed in the inner light and characterized with divine attributes, the results will be confirmed.
The meditative faculty is akin to the mirror; if you put it before earthly objects it will reflect them. Therefore if the spirit of man is contemplating earthly subjects he will be informed of these.
But if you turn the mirror of your spirits heavenwards, the heavenly constellations and the rays of the Sun of Reality will be reflected in your hearts, and the virtues of the Kingdom will be obtained. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 176.
Every spiritual practice or discipline asks us to become conversant in this way with our innermost reality. But in contemporary culture, with all of its noisy distractions, few people make the effort or expend the energy to make it happen. It takes time, diligence and dedication.
You could compare it to making a lifelong friend—when you first meet your own spirit, you may not be very familiar with it, in the same way that you wouldn’t be expected to know the personality and character of a future friend when you’re first introduced. Spending time with that friend, however, is the only way to become aware, to get to know the true inner person. In the same way, you must spend meditative time with your own inner spirit to truly advance spiritually.
When you do befriend that spirit, though, the splendors of that inner world will open themselves to you:
You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. – Franz Kafka
That’s what a consistent practice of meditation can accomplish. The Baha’i teachings ask us to pray and meditate every day, and to fast once a year, intensifying our prayer and meditation during that fasting period:
The wisdom of prayer is this: That it causeth a connection between the servant and the True One, because in that state (i.e., prayer) man with all heart and soul turneth his face towards His Highness the Almighty, seeking His association and desiring His love and compassion. The greatest happiness for a lover is to converse with his beloved, and the greatest gift for a seeker is to become familiar with the object of his longing; that is why with every soul who is attracted to the Kingdom of God, his greatest hope is to find an opportunity to entreat and supplicate before his Beloved, appeal for His mercy and grace and be immersed in the ocean of His utterance, goodness and generosity.
“… the greatest happiness for a lover is to converse with his beloved …” Abdu’l-Baha wrote. The Baha’i teachings say that “man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty.” – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 34.
So it stands to reason that the only way to truly know your own self is to have regular conversations with your inner reality.
You may discover, once you’re accustomed to a consistent practice of prayer, meditation and fasting, that you start to recognize others who regularly pray, meditate and fast, too. You’ll notice their peaceful, serene happiness, their clear-eyed spiritual calm—and they’ll notice yours.
Prayer, meditation and fasting together can help bring each of us to that transcendent state where we catch fire from the love of God.