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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Beyond the World We Know

In the little Baha’i book called The Hidden Words, there is a passage that I often recite on my afternoon walks.  It attracts me endlessly because it highlights a spiritual paradox.  The words nudge me out of my limited sense of self.  Yet they also pull me into a deeper reality that is more “me”, more intimate, than anything I’ve known.  I believe these words offer a glimpse into the soul’s true potential, as endowed by our creator:

O Son of Man! If thou lovest Me, turn away from thyself; and if thou seekest My pleasure, regard not thine own; that thou mayest die in Me and I may eternally live in thee.  (The Hidden Words, No. 7)

This verse opens me to all the possibilities beyond my own cares and desires.  And I feel a profound peace, a spiritual expansion.  Yet it is also a challenging experience, because there is a part of me that wants to hold on to what I know, that resists letting go and following God wherever he wants to take me.

This is true for many of us, I believe, especially in a world where we are taught to relentlessly pursue a narrow, materialistic version of personal happiness and success that disregards our spiritual nature and growth.

The goal of The Hidden Words is to bring us back to the profound spiritual truths of our inner nature, truths that many of us have forgotten.  The book was written by Baha’u’llah, the Prophet and Founder of the Baha’i Faith, and is a  distillation of the spiritual teachings common to all the world’s great religions.

One of these spiritual truths is the concept of turning our inner life over to our creator, letting him remake us in his spiritual image, as in the Christian New Testament verse, Ephesians 3:17:

That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

“The fullness of God” calls our spirits back home.  We feel the joy of being saturated with love and goodness, leaving no space for our lower human qualities, such as fear or selfishness.

It sounds simple — to let God in and to be released from all the small, limiting parts of ourselves that we would rather be without anyway.

But what about releasing our pleasures?  The Hidden Words state that if we desire God’s pleasure, that we should “regard not” our own.  This is much more difficult, because we naturally seek pleasure and avoid pain.   So how do we take this step in our spiritual development?

I believe it comes down to a matter of knowledge and trust.  Can we trust that the pleasures of God are greater than the pleasures of man?   Can we become like a caterpillar and give up our limited experience to become a glorious butterfly?   I believe the answer is yes, and that God helps us with this transformation if we ardently seek him, and gives us the knowledge and courage to become our true selves, the reflection of his divine being.

He assures us that he created us out of infinite love.  The Hidden Words say:

I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love me, that I may name they name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.   (The Hidden Words, No. 4)

When we love God and welcome him inside, he calls our spiritual name, revealing us more fully to ourselves. We become more intimate with our unique essence created in love, and our spirit awakens.  We more clearly see the reflection of God within ourselves and others, and our greatest desire becomes to grow closer to him and to share our unique gifts in celebration, love, and service.

It is the kind of profound pleasure we all need.    The pleasure of God that transcends our superficial desires, and takes us beyond the world that we know to a place of real transformation.  It isn’t always an easy journey, but it is the path of our spiritual growth and fulfillment.  It begins by inviting God home, into our hearts created by love:

O Son of Being!  Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for my descent.  Thy spirit is My place of revelation; cleanse it for My manifestation.  (The Hidden Words, No. 59)

O Son of Being!  With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof. (The Hidden Words, No. 12)