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Early last year, I spent some time deep in the countryside of Canada without cell phone service or wifi. For many of us, this is a nightmare because we live in a time when our phones keep us connected with our work, our relationships, and current events in the world around us.
I experienced a small withdrawal from the easy contact with friends and family phones provided. I kept discovering myself on Instagram only to see the same photo post staring back at me, reminding me that I was habitually addicted to the app.
The lack of wifi pushed me to reflect more deeply on the benefits of being away from New York City. I began to think about the pattern of people from all corners of less densely populated areas of the world moving to cities. And I asked myself, what are the benefits of being more deeply immersed in nature?
It reminded me of an anecdote about Abdu’l-Baha — the son of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith and his designated successor — and his comments about nature. The book “Abdu’l-Baha in London,” about Abdu’l-Baha’s talks and experiences there in 1911, describes how:
On the first afternoon, while driving, he expressed much interest in rural England, marvelling at the century-old trees, and the vivid green of the woods and downs, so unlike the arid East. "Though it is autumn it seems like spring," he said. The houses with their little plots of ground, suggested a quotation which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave from Bahá’u’lláh's writings in which the latter alludes to each family having a house with a piece of land. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá likened the country to the soul and the city to the body of man, saying, "The body without the soul cannot live. It is good," he remarked, "to live under the sky, in the sunshine and fresh air." -
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I felt showered in this refreshing break from the city. Despite the initial irritability induced by the unfulfilled “need” to check my phone, the disconnectedness allowed me to be much more present in the moment. I was able to detach from unproductive distractions that drain my energy. As the Baha’i writings tell us:
Naturally, new spiritual thoughts and inclinations must also become manifest. If spirituality be not renewed, what fruits come from mere physical reformation? For instance, the body of man may improve, the quality of bone and sinew may advance, the hand may develop, other limbs and members may increase in excellence, but if the mind fails to develop, of what use is the rest? The important factor in human improvement is the mind. In the world of the mind there must needs be development and improvement. There must be reformation in the kingdom of the human spirit; otherwise, no result will be attained from betterment of the mere physical structure.
This much-needed distance from my phone buzzing and the city’s buzzing also created space for me to reground myself in who I really am. I have been thinking about how the constant presence of social media and the busyness of highly populated cities have an impact on my psyche. Now I try to do what Abdu’l-Baha recommended in “Star of the West, Volume 6”:
Every day, in the morning when arising you should compare today with yesterday and see in what condition you are. If you see your belief is stronger and your heart more occupied with God and your love increased and your freedom from the world greater, then thank God and ask for the increase of these qualities. You must begin to pray and repent for all that you have done which is wrong and you must implore and ask for help and assistance that you may become better than yesterday so that you may continue to make progress.
Redirecting my energy towards understanding art as a language and being secluded in spacious uninhabited land provided me the time to think about how crucial prayer and reflection is. I returned with a renewed focus on keeping space in each day dedicated to monitoring my personal progress despite the city’s noise and social media.