Sunday, October 2, 2011


I'm still thinking more about Gleanings CXXVIII, really. I am. It's just that other things keep coming up that I want to share.

Let me back up for a moment, and explain.

I was recently asked to serve as a chaplain for he Baha'i community at the University of Victoria here in BC. Why? I don't know, but I was.

And yes, I'm well aware of the fact that we don't have clergy within the Baha'i Faith, but it's not the same thing at all. A chaplain, in this context, is the official representative of a faith community, helping to look after their spiritual needs, while, at the same time, aiding other students and faculty in their spiritual path as needed. (Hmm. That actually sounds pretty good. I should keep that for when others ask me what I do.) It is, in a sense, a legal definition, as opposed to a theological one. It is just like when an Assembly asks one of its members to serve as a marriage registrar. Depending on the laws of the area they should be registered as a clergy, as opposed to a lay person. The reason is that they are acting on behalf of the legally recognized body of the Faith. Even though they themselves are not "clergy", the legal definition would usually warrant them taking on that role on behalf of the institution. Besides, its free that way. As a layperson, you often have to pay.

But that's all besides the point. I only write it because so many have questioned the idea of a "Baha'i Chaplain", and I just wanted to set it straight.

Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, distractions. (Not that I would know anything about distractions. Not me.) (He says, whistling innocently.)

Aside - You know, it's awfully difficult to keep focus. Since I've started writing this article, my family and I went out mushroom hunting, I've watched a movie, done a crossword puzzle, and all sorts of other myriad things. I've even decided that I should write an article about the spiritual quality of mushrooms, just so that I can have a story with a good morel. (Where's the rim shot when I need it?) Oh, and I even played a few levels of a video game. Woo hoo.

Now, why am I talking about distractions? Good questions, and one that I've been wondering about for the last little while. You see, dear Reader, in my work as a chaplain, it has come to my attention that most of the students want to learn about meditation. When I was talking with some of the friends in the counselling office, they also mentioned that the majority of the students they see are trying to deal with anxiety. Now it may just be me, but I see these as related.

On a seemingly bizarre side note, I have also been conducting a workshop in my own home community on how to invite people to things. You see, it had been noticed that we had all examined our life, looked at our circumstances, made friends, found people who were interested in some of the Baha'i teachings, and were beginning to invite them to things. (This is from the outline offered by the Guardian in the Advent of Divine Justice, which I'm sure you knew.) And that is where we stuck. While the courtesy was there, people were generally not coming to stuff. After looking through Ruhi Books 2 and 6, we focused our attention on what our friends were talking about, where their interests lie, and the words we used to convey our invitations. (People seemed to be more interested in spiritual things than religious things.) After a few weeks of this, another thing came up: we were interested in talking about our faith, but not as good at listening to others talk about theirs. It seems that when our friends were telling us about what they believe, our inner voice was whirling a mile a minute, getting ready to tell them what we believed.

And this led to an understanding that we needed to learn to still that inner voice.

Which led to talking about meditation. Which, in a sense, is about focus and ignoring distractions.

Which I am not doing well, as evidenced by how little I've been writing lately.

But back to the point at hand.

When I began serving as a chaplain, I had no clue what to do, so I asked some others. In the end, I realized that they didn't really know either. And so when the students began to show up for the classes this term, I went around and talked to them. What did they want? What did they feel they needed? What would they like me to do?

The main thing that came up was "something about meditation". I suggested that they go to the meditation workshops already being offered, and many countered that "this method doesn't work for me" or "I can't relate to that style". So I decided to offer Meditation 101, an exploration of many styles of meditation so that people could find a method that works for them. It is this that I offer twice a week for those interested. (Mondays and Thursdays at 12:30 at the Multifaith Chapel at the University of Victoria.) (Blatant plug.)

At the beginning of each session, I ask the participants what they think meditation is. Once they have all responded, I offer that it could be the listening part of the conversation with our Creator. After all, if prayer is conversation with God, there has to be a time when we listen, right? Otherwise we're the ones doing all the talking, and that's just not a conversation. It's a monologue.

Then I take a moment to introduce the style of meditation we're using for the day. One method, for example, was to simply experience a flame of a candle.

"Get comfortable", I told them. "If you like to sit up straight, feel free to do so. If you prefer to slouch in your chair, or even sit on the floor, fine. The point is to be comfortable." When I said this, I could see a bit of relief on the faces of some of the friends. They weren't being told what they "had" to do. They were being allowed to do what worked for them.

"Look at the flame", I said, about this style. "You don't have to think about it, just experience it. If your inner voice starts to analyze it, or goes on about other things, fine. Gently bring your attention back to the flame. And don't worry about 'doing it wrong'. Ignore your inner perfectionist. Simply congratulate yourself for noticing that you've drifted, and gently go back to the flame."

At the end, I don't ask them what they thought of the exercise; I ask them how they felt. More than a few people have said how uplifting it is to them to reconnect with their heart, and not continually dwell on the head. So I ask that at each session, too.

It's been pretty good so far. The feedback has been positive.

This has also been a useful tool for the friends who are looking at being more effective in inviting people to things. Taking a moment to just quiet yourself allows you to better listen to the person with whom you are talking.

It also allows us better listen to the promptings of our heart, which is invaluable when teaching the Faith. After all, that is how the Concourse on High seems to communicate with us.

You know, it just occurred to me that 'Abdu'l-Baha talks about how prayer "engenders the susceptibilities of the higher intelligence". And isn't that part of it? Who knows? Could be.

Well, I think it's time to make dinner. I wouldn't want to be distracted from that now, would I?

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