Have you ever had a transcendent moment, and felt carried away in a mystical state of bliss? Wasn’t it wonderful? Wouldn’t you like to have those powerful experiences more often?
Every spiritual seeker lives for those deep, powerful insights into the numinous aspects of life.
In fact, people spend their entire lives searching for that transformative spiritual experience. Every seeker wants to swim in the sea of mysteries, and develop a sense of unity, oneness and connection with a greater consciousness.
But how do we find that transcendence — and once we find it, how do we sustain it?
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The Baha’i teachings offer three clear recommendations for seekers of transcendent spiritual experience: meditation, prayer, and fasting. These techniques for fueling our inner light all start with the distinctly human capacity for silent self-reflection and contemplation. Baha’u’llah said that:
… 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.
This state of meditative contemplation — the act of sitting silently in deep thought, of communing with your inner consciousness, that regular spiritual practice the Zen masters call zazen — can be particularly effective and powerful during the annual period of the Baha’i Fast.
Abdu’l-Baha, in a public talk in Paris more than a hundred years ago, encouraged everyone who seeks an understanding of life’s mystical dimension to develop a regular meditative practice:
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.
The Baha’i teachings have no recommended techniques, times, or tenets for meditation – Baha’is are free to meditate in any way that works for them. But the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, did recommend that Baha’is increase and intensify their meditative efforts during the nineteen days of the Baha’i Fast:
The Fast is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul.
For Baha’is, simply going without food and drink during the daylight hours, in a merely physical act of self-denial, doesn’t really constitute a true Fast. Instead, as the Baha’i teachings suggest, meditation and prayer act as an integral part of fasting, making it complete. These contemplative aspects of the Fast have a singular goal — attaining the transcendent moments our souls long for, and finding the spiritual nourishment we need. Abdu’l-Baha said:
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 simply allows you to speak with our own spirit. Just about anyone who takes ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes every day and sits down where nothing will disturb their inward concentration can meditate. It’s especially easy during the Fast, when the early hours around sunrise or the normal time set aside for lunch can instead be used to meditate. Instead of preparing and eating food, we can prepare our souls for the spiritual nourishment they so ardently require.
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Experienced meditation teachers urge a few basic ways to make it work: turn off the cell phone, the television, and any other electronic device that might interfere. Wash your face and hands to feel outwardly cleansed and refreshed. Sit in a place where there are no distractions. Get comfortable. Say a prayer. Then, make an attempt to clear your mind of all extraneous thought, and listen to your spirit. Franz Kafka described it this way:
You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
You may discover, once you begin a consistent practice of meditation, that you start to recognize others who regularly meditate. You’ll notice their peaceful, serene happiness, their clear-eyed spiritual calm — and they’ll notice yours.
Meditation and fasting together can help bring each of us to that transcendent state where we catch fire from the love of God.