I’m a pretty quick person. My mind is fast. I “get” things easily; I pick up on whys and hows with very little effort. This has served me well in so many areas of life, and I am grateful for it. Yet, this quickness coupled with trauma (emotional trauma) has contributed to a serious internal challenge—becoming emotionally hijacked. On an average day my mind is floating along on a calm, serene ocean, able to function at its full capacity, serving me well. However, anytime my sense of self comes into question, the waves begin to pick up, crashing around me, to the point where I loose touch with my ability to be a rational, grounded being. I shut down, for all of my mental energy has turned inward as a war is waged; a war against my self—my ego—and all I can do is struggle to keep my head above water.
‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote that in this life our “one crusade is against the insistent self”; our one battle is within.
Self has really two meanings, or is used in two senses, in the Bahá’í writings; one is self, the identity of the individual created by God. This is the self mentioned in such passages as ‘he hath known God who hath known himself etc.’. The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.
~Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Divine Guidance
I have been consciously engaged in this struggle for my whole life. And, I must say, it is exhausting. Anyone who knows me knows that I am constantly striving—little-by-little and day-by-day—to be the best version of myself I possibly can. I’m always learning, growing, and becoming. And my mind, at times when the water is calm, is my best friend in this process; it really sees me through and helps me progress. And yet, I have found that just when I think I’ve got a handle on things, my sense of self is called into question and the waves come rolling in. All that work to ground myself, to honor myself, to hold myself accountable seems to sink to the bottom of the ocean as I splash and claw my way to the surface of the water. At times I feel defeated. In such moments I call to mind Shoghi Effendi’s words that “… unfortunately, not everyone achieves easily and rapidly the victory over self”, and I pick myself back up and try again.
Last week, the metaphor of being stranded in the ocean felt really powerful, important actually. I wasn’t sure why, so I began to meditate on the imagery, as meditation is a way to commune with my spirit:
Bahá’u’lláh says there is a sign (from God) in every phenomenon: the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time—he cannot both speak and meditate.
It is an axiomatic fact that while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed.
Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spirit—the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation.
The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration, through it he receives heavenly food.
Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves. To illustrate this, think of man as endowed with two kinds of sight; when the power of insight is being used the outward power of vision does not see.
This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God.
~’Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks
While meditating I realized something—this may sound silly, but it was revolutionary for me—I have been out in this water with no land or person in sight for my whole life, isolated and all alone. I’m 34 years old, which means I have grown; I have literally gotten physically taller. So … maybe I can just stand up? What would happen if I put my feet down?
What would happen if I put my feet down?
I don’t think I’d every tried to stand up before, I mean, it’s an ocean, why would that thought occur to me? But if felt vital, this idea of just standing up. And so I did. In my minds eye, instead of floating around in the open ocean, I put my feet down. Part of me was terrified that there would only be more water, and another part of me trusted that my feet would make contact with the solid, stable, and supportive ground—and it happened. I stretched out my legs and made contact with the ground—it was soft yet firm, like sand that sinks in a bit but holds your feet tightly, anchoring you to one place. I planted my feet firmly, and rose out of the water; I kept rising and rising until the once mighty and vast ocean became a mere pool around my ankles, and those debilitating, stormy waves, became quiet laps, gently caressing my skin. They could no longer move me, let alone toss me under. They could no longer keep me from breathing, let alone threaten my survival. I felt calm, centered, grounded. I was grounded.
I am grounded.
I put my feet down, and I stood up.
And while all of this took place in meditation, the effects of it have been striking and, I trust, lasting. For I know that it was not merely imagery. It was an exercise in communing with my spirit.