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Have you ever made mistakes in life—mistakes that affected your future and other people’s futures, too? I know I have. Those mistakes have now become part of my baggage for life.
Some people rejected me for my mistakes, while others accepted me along with them. Some said, “you should be ashamed,” as though I was supposed to live with the guilt for the rest of my life, just so they could keep reminding me of it.
Perhaps, if I didn’t learn from my mistakes and just accepted the consequences, then I could understand how they would say those things to me. In their world, I haven’t grown. In my world, I wouldn’t have grown either.
This may surprise you, though: I chose a long time ago to quickly let go of regret—but not by pretending nothing happened or thinking I didn’t do anything wrong. Rather, I’ve realized that regret serves a purpose. It tells you, Go fix the situation! Make it right the best way you can!
Instead of living in regret, I chose to try and learn a valuable lesson from my mistakes. I apologized, accepted the consequences and then tried to forgive myself. If I didn’t do this, my baggage would have weighed me down and I would have probably made the same mistake again, hurting even more people along the way.
Our Two Lives: Physical and Spiritual
This approach to mistakes—which all of us inevitably make—simply means we need to choose wisely in life. Wisdom is developed through making various decisions and accepting the consequences, then learning how to choose more wisely in the future. Every wise person has made many, many mistakes—and learned from them.
I believe we humans have two co-existing lives within us. One is the animal or the physical, and one of the spirit. Let’s call the former the lower nature and the later, the higher nature. These have such a significant role in our lives that they impact every one of our decisions. The lower nature appears in deceit, injustice, sinful actions and tyranny, while the higher nature deals with our good habits, noble qualities, virtues and love. The Baha’i teachings make this dual nature of our human reality clear:
It is evident, therefore, that man is dual in aspect: as an animal he is subject to nature, but in his spiritual or conscious being he transcends the world of material existence. His spiritual powers, being nobler and higher, possess virtues of which nature intrinsically has no evidence; therefore, they triumph over natural conditions. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 81.
Every time you have a choice to make, you have to choose which of these two natures will lead you to a decision. If you’re not even aware of their existence, you are likely to react based on your material, lower nature. A hammer goes from being a tool to being a weapon. Chemistry once used to treat illness, is now used as nerve gas in warfare.
The Highway of Possibilities
Imagine that your life is like being on a highway. There are many highways parallel to yours, all are headed to a unique end to your life, somewhere down the road. They all take you on a journey through a variety of landscapes, which are your life’s circumstances—where you live, who you marry, what career you have, what sports you participate in, what you believe.
Now imagine this highway has many exits ahead. If you take one, it will lead you down a side road that will then connect to one of the other parallel highways, and will forever alter the course of your life. From this new highway, new exits emerge ahead.
Is there a “right” way—or are all the ways you could go equally valid? Well that’s a mystery. Exits come and go, sometimes you take one, other times you stay on the path. So, what does our brain do? It imagines what it would be like if you were on a different highway. Maybe another similar one is coming up again, will you take it? What would life be like over there?
If you’re in a bad situation, like an abusive relationship, then the healthy response might be to take one of the nearest exits, and use your spiritual mindfulness, your higher nature to choose wisely which exit you will take. Being unhappy doesn’t mean you should take any and all exits out.
For example, an emotionally abused wife shouldn’t go and cheat on her husband as a way out. Because, that exit, the cheating one, takes you across rough, broken road. En route to the next highway there are lots of rocks and potholes. These create dents in your car and leave a cloud of dust behind you. This dust soils not only your car, but also the other vehicles that were near you on the previous highway.
So now she’s driving on a new highway, but with an unclean car. What she failed to see were the other exits coming up right after the one she took, that would have led her on a safe and clean road—a road commensurate with the spiritual life and not only the physical one. Instead of succumbing to her lower nature, she would’ve found a truthful, just way to end the broken relationship.
Living in the Higher Nature
The Baha’i teachings advise us, gently and kindly, to live in our higher nature. That state of being produces our truest and most lasting happiness:
Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness. But when sadness visits us we become weak, our strength leaves us, our comprehension is dim and our intelligence veiled. The actualities of life seem to elude our grasp, the eyes of our spirits fail to discover the sacred mysteries, and we become even as dead beings.
There is no human being untouched by these two influences; but all the sorrow and the grief that exist come from the world of matter—the spiritual world bestows only the joy! – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 109-110.
When we live in that higher nature, when we dwell in the spiritual world, we transcend the things of this world and live into our destiny:
The aim of the prophet of God is to raise man to the degree of knowledge of his potentiality and to illumine him through the light of the kingdom, to transform ignorance into wisdom, injustice into justice, error into knowledge, cruelty into affection and incapability into progress. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 111.
So, let’s strive to listen to and develop our higher natures. Because, as the saying goes, “Be the bigger man.” Let’s clean up our cars, and our souls, if we mess them up. Let’s learn to accept and live with the consequences of having taken the wrong exit.
Peace, trust, justice and love to all who strive to drive on clean roads.