How To Center Your Thoughts in God

Center your thoughts in the well-beloved, rather than in your own selves. (Baha’u’llah)

I’ve kept the above Baha’i quote pinned to my bulletin board and taped to my dresser mirror for over ten years.  Sometimes I think I understand what it means, and sometimes I’m not sure.

A few months ago, I lost my job in a layoff and while unemployed I often grow weary of contemplating myself and my situation.  So I’ve decided to use my increased free time and my heightened anxiety as an opportunity to turn more towards God, the well-beloved, to see if I can gain a better understanding of this verse and how it can help me cope with this uncertain time.

When I contemplate myself, my thoughts are often scattered, disjointed.  Sometimes I wonder when I will work again and panic floods my mind.  At other times, I feel giddy with freedom after more than 30 years of continuous employment, and I revel in the possibilities of each day.   Yet at other times, I feel angry with disbelief as I relive the events that brought me to this painful state.

Obviously, my mood is unstable when I think about myself and my future.  This is understandable, as I have limited control over my destiny, as we all do.

However, when I contemplate the well-beloved, my creator, I feel more relaxed and grounded.  I begin to appreciate this fixed point that I can focus upon, something sure and unshifting that reduces my anxiety.

So, how exactly does one go about focusing her thoughts on God?  For a Baha’i, this involves prayer and meditation.  The Baha’i teachings recommend that we read and recite the word of God every morning and evening, and I do find that these special times of focused attention lift my spirit and ease my suffering.

Yet after a period of soulful reflection, I often return to a more conventional state in which my thoughts wander over painful territory again.

My goal, of course, is to stay in this prayerful condition as much as possible.

The question that returns to me is this:  How can I center myself in God when I can’t really know God?

The Baha’i teachings state that God is unknowable to humankind, and that we must know him through his divine teachers, the prophets that he sends to enlighten us in every age.  Yet the prophets are beings above our ken and unknown to us personally.  In truth, even our friends and family members – the people we know best – are largely mysterious to us in their inmost reality.

The irony is that while we are seemingly locked inside our own minds, inside our separate beings, we are also intimately connected to God because he has placed within us the image of his own spiritual radiance.  We can turn to this higher aspect of our nature and find him dwelling within us.

Turn your faces away from the contemplation of your own finite selves and fix your eyes upon the everlasting radiance  (Abdu’l-Baha)

I believe that the first step to accessing our higher nature is to read and study the word of God.  This can be the scripture of any of the world religions.  Then the second step is to remain open to its transformative, healing influence.

For me, a very effective tool in this process is present moment living.  In the present moment, it is easier for me to open my heart to love and healing.   If I leave the moment, my mind begins to wander into thoughts about the past and the future and I start to worry and fret about all kinds of things.

Focusing on my body and breath as I move through my day helps me stay in the moment.  This is a common form of meditation and can be practiced any time, whether we are washing dishes, working, or talking with a loved one.

Body awareness keeps you present.  It anchors you in the now. (Eckhart Tolle)

Body awareness opens the spirit to the placeless.  The body is God’s gift to us that links our physical and spiritual natures.  If we listen quietly and feel the body from within, we can tap into a wisdom beyond our own finite concerns and limitations.  Then we can feel the rush of spirit that takes us beyond our selves and lets us feel the influence of God’s holy presence in each moment of our lives.

This is my goal:  to study the word of God, to recite the prayers and contemplate the teachings of the holy messengers, and then to stay in the present, grounded in the reality of each moment as spirit moves within me.

As I increase this practice, I watch the storms of tests and uncertainties move over the surface of my life, yet my spiritual core remains undisturbed as I make God the center of my world.

Peace of mind is gained by the centering of the spiritual consciousness on the prophet of God.  (Lights of Guidance)

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Sweet Body: Anchor of the Soul

img_83464637943705As a teenager, I found mindfulness a little insulting.  One book on the subject instructed me to take a shower as if it were the only activity in the world, to feel all the lather and the hot water and to focus on every swipe of the washcloth; to breathe in the steam and to “be” the shower. Frankly, it seemed limiting and kind of sad.

How could I pretend that a shower is everything, I thought, when there is so much more in the world, when I have a complex mind and emotions and my life is so complicated?  Why, it makes me sound like nothing more than an animal!  It reduces me to less than a human being, and denies my spirit and puts me in a box that reads “this is all life is”. Is this all we can hope to attain: the enjoyment of a good shower?  It seemed small and silly.

But years later, I often find myself caught up in tiring, circling thoughts that lead nowhere.  I feel resentment about my past and anxiety about my future.  I feel like I’m floating aimlessly, with nothing to anchor me to  life, nothing to make me solid and whole.

Yet I find that I am happy when I slip into nature.  The warm breezes and shimmering leaves speak to me and settle my spirit in wordless silence.  And I have moments of conversation with friends when we stand side by side, breathing together, laughing, and I feel a deep connection that I can’t explain.  We are like trees in the sun, warmed and rooted to the earth, as we sink into each other’s physical presence; lost in the moment, and found there, as well.

I begin to see that these moments felt deep in my body anchor me to life, give me a place from which to connect and know.  God gave me a physical body for a reason.  I am not a formless, floating spirit.  Well, maybe I actually am, on some level, but this spirit has its current home in a physical body; a body crafted to experience one moment at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time.

The irony, I am learning, is that the more deeply I go into my body — my physical presence right here, right now — the more I connect to my spirit and its shining joy.  I feel the solidness of my back and stomach as I sit in this chair, I feel the openness of my beating heart and the light that pours into it and moves into my eyes and ears, and I relish all the sights and sounds that flow through me and feed my spirit and move back out into the world.  I am spirit tethered to a body that is a world of wonders, a gateway into all connection within and without.   And I am awed and comforted.

The journey continues…

Breath

Misplaced Longing: What Should We Be Striving For?

Hello, my name is Jennifer, and I am a constant striver.  If there were a 12-step program for people who strive too much, I would certainly join.  In fact, I would want to make it a better program, fix anything that was wrong with it, and if there wasn’t anything wrong with it – by gum – I would find something, and fix it pronto.

I’ve often read that children subjected to instability from a young age will often grow up to be strivers and fixers.  My parents divorced when I was five, and from that time, I have been trying to get them back together.   Not literally – at least not for long – but inside me, in an attempt to mend my brokenness.   In the sudden whirlwind of changing homes and changing schools and absent parents (I was sent to live with my grandparents for a time) I felt I was at the center of a raging storm, and must have somehow caused it.  But nothing I did made it any better.  I got angry and scared and cried, but that didn’t change anything.

Eventually, I settled into a new life with my mom and sister, and regained some stability.  Yet, I retained the feeling that things could go wrong at any moment, and no one around me could prevent it.  So I learned to make things right myself, to make disaster prevention my lifelong project.

It began with striving for perfect grades in school.  If I got less than an A, I was very upset with myself.  And I had to keep the house clean when Mom didn’t feel well enough to do it.  If everything was tidy and in order, chaos could be kept at bay.   Mom – while loving and protective – was always the wildcard.  Sometimes she was happy, and sometimes miserable.    So I had to learn to keep an even keel, to be steady and strong for the three of us.

One safety net was my dreams for the future: for a time when I would be an adult and could have a different life, a more ordered life of my own where I was in charge and everything made sense.  Another was the many books that I read to learn how to live, how to behave, how to escape when the world was too scary.  I could be the heroine of a novel, a completely different person; I could try on different roles until one felt complete and real.

I have carried these defenses into adulthood, the belief that with enough striving I could make any situation better.  It has served me well in some instances, but hampered me in others.

It has made me want to shape life in a way that it can’t be shaped, to organize my life into submission.   It has made me believe, on some level, that because my life was painful and chaotic in childhood that God and the universe owe me an ever-improving future, with all the things I missed out on growing up.

But I know that’s not how it works; that no one gets to create their own life.  Sure, we do to a certain degree, but life always throws us curve balls.  The unexpected presents itself regularly; it is part of the plan.

Many wise people have said that all we can control is our attitude.  I don’t really care for this reality, because I want to control all events as well.  Somehow I got the idea that I know what is best for me: that I need certain friends, or I need to live in a certain house, or have a certain job.  That God wants me to have the full, brimming life of “normalcy” that I have been trying to recover since I was five.   But what God really wants, I believe, is for me to love him, and he wants my spirit to grow, and he wants me to let go of everything but him.

And he has his own mysterious ways of making these things happen.  Maybe he put me in an unsettled family so that I would learn – eventually – that he is my only safety net.

Maybe he takes things away from us, and turns our lives upside down, so that we will learn that he is our one true reality.  We are the living, breathing images of God walking upon the earth; each of us a sign of his love and beauty.

Nothing else matters.  Sure, it’s good to have goals and hopes and dreams.  And, I believe, ultimately, that God will help us make this earthly world a reflection of heavenly virtue and beauty.  But I believe that our souls are the main thing: the only real thing.  And he will do whatever it takes to wake us up, to remind us again and again to strive for the only thing that matters.

Our hopes may be dashed; we may not get what we think we need; but in the ruins of the life we wanted, we can see a glimpse of the life we need.  A life where we look in the eyes of others and see God’s loving spark within.  Where we look at the rivers that flow and the sun and moon overhead and we know that God is father and mother and sister and brother.  And we know him by knowing each other and loving each other.  We are each an eternal reflection of his loving, heavenly light.

Misplaced

Can I Accept Myself As a Baha’i?

I am a Baha’i, a lover of mankind, but it’s not always easy, because I am an introvert. My faith is about world peace and world unity, yet I don’t want to leave my house sometimes. I love my fluffy red robe a little too much on the weekends. Is this a contradiction?  I’m not sure.

Yet when I do go out, I have a friendly word for everyone I meet. And when I pray, I wish love and compassion for all, and feel myself connected to all things.

I think the real issue is whether I accept my introverted nature as a valid temperament created by God, or whether I feel the need to be someone different than who I am.

I chose the former.  Why?  Because it is very difficult to change ourselves, and because I chose the belief that I am a unique flower in God’s garden of humanity.   Every flower is different and adds to the beauty and diversity of the whole.  I will live as a self-affirming person and glory in my individuality, a unique part, connected to all in love.

And I will vow to change out of my robe by noon.

Un/Faithful