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How many times have I stood on the cliff, my ankles tightly tied to an invisible bungee rope – I'm told it will support me if I jump. But I don't know that for sure. I can't "see" the rope. And then I hear these voices in my head telling me not to jump. My heart starts to race:
"Don't call him until he calls you. You don't want to appear desperate."
"How many times have you invited them, but they never offer to pick up the bill? Forget them!"
"You're giving away too much about your project, after all he is your competition."
"Don't share all your recipes, keep some for yourself."
"Don't give away your whole heart, keep some for yourself."
"I wouldn't trust her."
"This world is all about who's on top. Make sure you're the one."
"You did your best, she was going to die anyway."
There are so many voices that keep telling me not to jump, not to risk it, because the pain might be too hard to take. But who said the point in life is to avoid pain? Some of the most beautiful people in this world are covered in scars.
So I take the plunge.
"I don't wanna play games. I'm going to call him."
"I don't really care if they don't pick up the bill. I love their company."
"I don't believe in competition. I don't believe that giving of yourself will leave you with less. On the contrary..."
"Damn the recipes."
"My heart ain't mine anyway."
"If she betrays me, at least I haven't betrayed myself."
"This world is about putting others before yourself."
"No one can ever say they loved or cared enough. You can always do more of both."
The wind rushes through my face – I'm letting go of control – I'm loving – I'm falling and it's light and it's a rush – it's beautiful. And it's true, there is no pain in letting go - and I'm being caught by all the people I've loved and I'm bouncing right back – held tightly by the promise of the Almighty, "Love me that I may love thee, if thou lovest me not, my love can in no wise reach thee..."
I want to jump again – it's addictive!
I just spent a few days with my family and extended family, celebrating the wedding of my sister-in-law to a guy, we all agree, is just the perfect match. It was an amazing few days, and I tried very hard to live in the moment and not think of what lay beyond this family reunion with all its excitement, drama and fun.
It's funny with family. You've got uncles, aunts, cousins, friends and everyone is related and some of us even share one culture (mostly Persians living in the West), and yet, each branch of the family, even individual members, have their very own distinct 'culture'. With that I mean a way of doing things; habits, expectations, traditions. So with family arriving from every continent of the world, it was no surprise that from time to time you'd have the occasional misunderstanding, the tension, the "I can't believe him or her". We're all so very different. There are those who served and toiled and those who got served and enjoyed, those who gave and those who received – but all of us did a little bit of all those things at some point or another.
And no matter how different we were, across family cultures, or across geographic cultures, in the end, it wasn't about keeping score of who paid what or who slept in a bed or on the floor. In the end, when it was time to say goodbye, it started hitting us that we were probably not going to see each other for a very long time to come. And that's when the tears began to flow and all of us wished we had been even less selfish and even more selfless. We wished we'd taken more time to listen to granny's stories and complaints, more time to help in the kitchen, more time to say sorry. Because time is so precious and the love we have to give is the only thing we get to keep once the house is empty and everyone's gone.
So if my family is any indication or microcosm of how the world functions, then in the end it doesn't really matter if your neighbor has a fancier car, a bigger house, or a pool he can't possibly handle on his own. It doesn't matter that someone pushed ahead of you in line today, or got the job you wanted or took the best watermelon in the grocery store. In the end, life is too short and precious to keep score of those things – and when the end nears, we wish we'd taken less and given more.
My Persian sister-in-law married a Columbian-American and the two of them have already begun their own family and their own unique culture. Their union is bringing together even more people as our family expands. Weddings remind us of what is most important: love. And I can't but marvel at their wedding vow, one that I have heard so often; the vow that is not a proud promise to the other half, but a humble admission to our Creator, namely that "we will all verily, abide by the will of God" – whatever His will shall be!
Christian the Lion
In 1969, two Australians living in London purchased a 35-pound lion cub from the exotic animal division of Harrod's department store. For a full year, John Rendall and Anthony Bourke raised the cub as their pet, permitting him to lounge freely in the furniture shop they co-owned and even join them for an occasional meal at a local restaurant. In 1972, after the lion had grown too large to properly be cared for, he was taken to Kenya and--rather remarkably--reintroduced to the wild. Two years later, Rendall and Bourke paid a visit to Kenya to see their old friend. They were told the lion would never remember them. Watch what happened.
It is perhaps a paradox to say I prefer 'discomfort', because by definition discomfort is something you don't like. The dictionary talks of unease, anxiety and pain. But the notion of doing something that might cause you those things at first, while giving you joy on a deeper level, is not new. We all know that studying real hard for something can be rewarding; or working on a business, a career, a child's education, on something that we really really want; a toned body! But there are people who champion this concept on a whole other level.
For example, there's my friend Renett, who is paraplegic. She suffers from spinal muscular atrophy and hasn't been able to get out of bed for the past 10 or more years. But she earns a living from her bed, where she is connected to the internet and the phone. And despite barely being able to move without help and great pain, her online and tele-businesses pay for 9 (!) employees.
It was her 50th birthday the other day. She's one of the oldest living people in the world with her condition. In her birthday speech, which she gave from her bed, she didn't speak about the many times she's been at death's door, or her recent breast cancer attack. She spoke about her blessings and God's grace. And the one thing she said, that hit me like dynamite after all the physical 'hell' I've seen her go through, was: "if I had a choice between the life I've had and another life, I'd chose this life again." And then, "Nothing good ever comes easy".
I've learned a little bit about leaving your comfort zone in order to grow. But this really inspired me. So the other day I invited the parents of the children who come to my children's class to a themed dinner-party. The theme was "the fast" and our group was really diverse. We had the parents of the children, who are all domestic workers and gardeners, we had a soap opera actress, a radio DJ, a PHD student, a beautician, a former Robben Island prison-inmate and two engineers. We were black, white, Christian, Moslem, Baha'i. It was nuts. I was nervous inviting this crowd. It's not "easy". It's "easier" to invite my closest friends, the ones who look and think like me. The ones who have my level of education, similar life experiences and similar bank statements. The ones I can kick back with. But it's not as "easy" to invite a crowd that's different. At first...
Baha'u'llah says that our very diversity is what makes unity so special. It's the fact that we all look and think differently, that makes us rich when we come together and share and consult. The more diverse we are, the more complete we are. And that kept guiding me as I made my food, lit the candles and played my Putamayo collection for good atmosphere.
And mind you it wasn't easy for them either. Take the domestic workers, for example. They were so flabbergasted to have me serve them food, to see Ryan, a man (!) of the house, serve them and wash dishes! To sit with a soap opera star, to eat strange food, to have no beer, to listen to crazy nut-heads like myself talking about unity and then hear people sharing their views on the significance of fasting from a Baha'i/Moslem/Christian/political perspective...And yet they came. And their initial discomfort turned into joy as did mine. Last night they came over again and we're starting a study circle together now.
Inspired by these recent happenings, I decided to pester my neighbor again, the lady who lives next door and has some reservations about the new South Africa. She's agreed to shoot for coffee on Friday. After I break the ice, I might invite her to one of my colorful parties and ask her to dance!
My first two children's classes with the kids down the road have been awesome, amazing and challenging at the same time. Our first lesson revolved around "unity" – we defined it, learned what it is in Zulu (si hlangene!) and talked about some of its implications. We also sang a song about unity, played a game around it and drew pictures depicting what unity can be like in a family setting.
When they came in the next week singing "we are drops of one ocean, leaves one tree..." I thought I had made some real progress. So I was all the more shocked when I asked them if they loved all the people in the world and they replied "Yes, except for Maria!"
I realized in that moment how much I still have to learn about children and their young, tender hearts and minds. So I took a deep breath, sent a telegram to God asking for assistance and for patience and began the next lesson, talking about "how do we create unity?" We looked at what it means to look for the good in people, no matter how hard it may seem. They explained that Maria is a jealous girl who is arrogant and makes fun of them at school. I asked them whether they had ever asked her to be their friend? Did she have friends at all? Maybe she was alone? We thought long and hard to search for the one good quality that she might have. And the kids agreed it would have to be her talent for mathematics. That was a start. So I suggested we don't try to combat darkness with darkness, but rather with light. Let's try and shed some light on her heart, no matter how nasty and mean she can be and see if we can't slowly help her be a more pleasant person? They got excited by that. We made a drawing to the quote: "O Friend, In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love", and wrote Maria little letters expressing what we thought was great about her. To further deepen on the quote, we planted a sapling in some earth to see if it grows. We realized we would need to feed it water and love over a long period of time to see results. And that's what it's like to plant the rose of love in your heart. It takes time and patience.
We ended the lesson with a jump in the pool and while the girls were having fun, I thought of the weighty task that child-rearing is. I teach them about loving, forgiving and being selfless, but at the same time they are children, young girls at that. And so I also need to teach them about justice, about confidence and standing their grounds. About knowing their worth, their boundaries and protecting them. People could take advantage of them. What a balancing act!
If we spent the money that goes into wars and armaments on the education our children, both morally, spiritually and "secularly" – we would see results within two generations, and probably solve most of the problems we're trying to solve with guns right now. It's just about what you plant in their fertile young hearts that will eventually flourish and rule: guns or roses?
Picture a piano. Imagine a Steinway, dark, shiny, noble, sitting in a beautiful room. Behold the keys, black and white, ebony and ivory, interwoven, playful, dancing, loving. Feel the symphony rising in you, through you, and above you. Listen to the multitude of notes in perfect harmony. If I say the keys are in love, you'll agree.
But what if they weren't? What if, instead of loving each other they "co-existed" or "tolerated" each other? What would this piano sound like?
When we talk about peace in the Middle-East or the harmony of women and men, the equality of races or religions, our highest aspiration thus far seams to be "tolerance" and "co-existence". With such an aim, what tones do we expect to produce? Sure, it sounds better than if the keys were, in fact, at war with other, but perhaps silence is better than a piano whose keys endure each other. Especially since they're intricately connected. When one key strums, they all vibrate.
It's just like the fingers of a hand or the parts of a body. If your heart tolerated your kidneys, tolerated your lungs, tolerated your liver would you be healthy? Or if your fingers co-existed with each other or with your hands, would you be functional?
You get the picture. Love is the force of attraction. Cohesion is the physical manifestation of this spiritual force. Cohesion holds together the very molecules of our physical realities as well as the macro-structures, the planets, our solar system, our universe. Love is integration and functionality. Lack of love and cohesion is tantamount to fragmentation and disintegration.
Baha'u'llah says "O SON OF MAN! I loved thy creation, hence I created thee..." Love is the foundation of everything, the reason religions appear. And yet we take religion and pervert it so badly that it causes Baha'u'llah (in The Hidden Words) to bewail the state of those criminals who call themselves pious:
O YE THAT ARE FOOLISH, YET HAVE A NAME TO BE WISE! Wherefore do ye wear the guise of shepherds, when inwardly ye have become wolves, intent upon My flock? Ye are even as the star, which riseth ere the dawn, and which, though it seem radiant and luminous, leadeth the wayfarers of My city astray into the paths of perdition."
It's hard not to think of Iran – one of many places in this world where crime has been and is committed in the name of love. And yet Iran, this place of confusion, hurt, paradoxes and fragmentation is the cradle of the biggest love story of recent time. In 1844 in the city of Shiraz this story began. A message of love was born that was to be the most all-embracing love humanity had ever seen thus far. This was the love of no single person, people, no single religion, race, culture, tribe, political conviction, gender or nation. This was the love of humanity. This was the love of the notes of a symphony, of the members of one organism. This limitless love was born on the holy land of Iran and its people have yet to own it and be its ambassadors.
Until Iranians discover this love they will not rise to the grandeur that is theirs as the safe keepers of this love story. If you look at Iran's history, a nation that brought forth the first declaration of human rights, a nation with so much passion, pain and love that its art and culture bleed with longing, you realize that it has been groomed as the setting for such a love since time immemorial. The Iranian who embraces this love of humanity is the greatest patriot. The Iranian who resorts to the small-mindedness of his narrowly defined and limited forms of love is, I believe, its greatest enemy.
In the words of Abdul-Baha, one of Iran's greatest lovers:
O people of Persia! The heart is a divine trust; cleanse it from the stain of self-love, adorn it with the coronal of pure intent, until the sacred honor, the abiding greatness of this illustrious nation may shine out like the true morning in an auspicious heaven. This handful of days on earth will slip away like shadows and be over. Strive then that God may shed His grace upon you, that you may leave a favorable remembrance in the hearts and on the lips of those to come. "And grant that I be spoken of with honor by posterity."
Happy the soul that shall forget his own good, and like the chosen ones of God, vie with his fellows in service to the good of all; until, strengthened by the blessings and perpetual confirmations of God, he shall be empowered to raise this mighty nation up to its ancient pinnacles of glory, and restore this withered land to sweet new life, and as a spiritual springtime, array those trees which are the lives of men with the fresh leaves, the blossoms and fruits of consecrated joy.
When I started out blogging it was one way for me to inspire people to think about living purposefully and independently of prevalent trends. So I hope that in each blog I've included some new perspectives on life and its facets. The other day my sister-in-law called me and said: 'I like it when it's more about you. And give me some cliffhangers!' I get what she means. She's talking about the application of my insights.
Truth is, I find myself uninteresting in so far as I have nothing to offer of my own except my independent and gradual discovery of awe and wonderment about the revelation of Baha'u'llah. Which, I guess, is my story. And of that I can never stop telling.
I checked out several Iranian blogs (Iran is the number one blogging country in the world) and what I found was really intriguing. It seems that for the most part though, people love to be cynical. When you're cynical, dark and tortured your blog becomes popular. Persians especially, love to complain and point fingers at everyone: all the governments of the world, the 'ignorant Iranians' who fled the revolution and spent the last 30 abroad and have 'no idea of the actual realities and issues in the country', the ignorant Iranians within Iran - even the mountain people of Nicaragua get blamed...And there is certainly a huge emphasis on personal struggles and sometimes an over indulgence in one's own life. But nobody takes a long hard look at themselves and the role they are playing in perpetuating the fragmentation that is going right now. And more importantly nobody is asking: how do we get out of this mess?
While I find all of these blogs amazingly interesting and testimonies of the time we're living in, I'm trying to inspire us to lift our heads and look around. Unless you stand on higher ground, you're not going to get the bigger picture. But I agree that this should start with me.
So I'm ending my blog with an introspective and proactive note in honor of my big sis. What can Leyla do today to make the world a little better? I'm going to try and invite my neighbor over for cake and coffee. She's an old widow who lives on her own. We've only ever talked over the fence. Our conversations have revolved around dogs, real estate prices and her sentiments of not fitting into the new South Africa as a white person. She also complains about the foreigners who come here and take over (except for me of course) and she feels left out of her own country. She says that there is reverse-apartheid now. Although I might not agree with her views and although they may bug me - those are sentiments I cannot ignore or write off. In fact, on some level I can identify with them. I'm considered an outsider in Iran, because of my Faith, I'm considered an outsider in Austria, because I'm half Iranian, I'm considered an outsider in South Africa because people think I'm American and Americans are not popular right now. So let one 'homeless' soul invite another in a quest for love and I'll tell you about it all next time!
So last year this time I was in Nairobi, Kenya and life was real good. A year later and there's mayhem. What happened? Are Kenyans instable, unreasonable and incapable of democracy? Is Africa in trouble with all its reports of corruption, crazy dictators and economic instability? And did you think that you, in your cushy home in Vienna, LA, or London are safe from such inexplicable spurts of violence and chaos? And do you think that countries where things 'go wrong' have nothing to do with you? That the people there have problems and issues, which must be solved so we can achieve a peaceful world?
I'd venture to disagree. At the moment, the world is under the illusion that war, crime, corruption, poverty, abuse, inequalities and every other conceivable ill can and must be remedied before the world can come together and peace and stability can be established. Do you agree with that? Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Now I want you to imagine that sound you hear in Jeopardy when the answer is wrong. Because: 'rrrr', it's wrong! The fallacy that most people subscribe to is that all these ills are individual, isolated problems that can be tackled by an NGO, a religious group, a corporate social investment program, community engagement or a government scheme. That's wrong. These ills are nothing but symptoms of a much grander, underlying disease. The disease is disunity amongst the peoples of this world and it affects each and every one of us. Its only remedy is unity.
Consider your own body or your mind. If you're in disequilibrium, that is, if any parts of your body or mind are ailing and in disunity, then you're in an unnatural, unhealthy condition that keeps you ill and weak. You need to bring things back into equilibrium in order to heal. So if you're mind is not at ease, because you've been acting (or thinking) contrary to your principles, then correcting your actions will bring peace. Trust me, I've tried it. It's the unity of your principles with your actions that brings about this peace. The same is true for the body and its health when the unity of its parts is restored. No use trying to get that fever down with foot baths, if you're still feeding the patient poison! The prerequisite of healing all of our societal ills lies in the creation of unity; an honest, sincere, deep and loving unity that renders us one human family and citizens of this world.
And how does that affect you? Well for me it means I have to bring myself to account each day, examine my prejudices (passed down and self-made) and actively work to change them. It means that until I am personally an active agent of unity and love amongst all peoples, nations and religions, I'm contributing, directly or indirectly to the disease that is killing our world and which erupts randomly like a giant sore, such as it is currently doing in Kenya. What I'm talking about is not the cheap, lip-service kind of love and tolerance (I hate the word tolerance) for all the peoples of the earth. It's easy to accept people as noble and equal in theory, but it's a great challenge to live it out. To love, without being hypocritical, people you consider prejudiced, careless, lazy, selfish, primitive, barbaric, violent, offensive, strange, crazy and unreasonable, heathens, ungodly people, fanatically religious people, stupid people, passive people....is difficult. But unless we wake up to the fact that we are one human organism that is ailing from the disease of disunity (=lack of love and cohesion), then we are contributing to the darkness that can take over a nation like Kenya from one day to the next. So even your decision not to invite that 'different' person to your party because it's easier to be amongst your own kind; or that thoughtless, humorous but hostile comment last night at dinner is contributing to the disease. And this I promise you: the side-effects of the disease will, if they haven't already, assuredly spill into your cushy life.
Edmund Burke said, "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". And did you know it, most people are good - they just don't do much to get out of their comfort zone and change this world. Most of us chose to stay 'happy', or numbed, in our "pastime paradise" that Steve Wonder so poignantly sings about. We spend most of our lives in it, blaming others for the chaos and oppression in the world. It's never us – we've got an alibi, we were watching MTV. But that's not enough. We must get up and work hard to spread love with a sin-covering eye, teach our children to love every human being regardless of their outer labels, cease to slander and gossip, look for the gems in others and actively create unity in diversity.
This simple formula is the fundamental cornerstone Baha'u'llah's teachings that are, each and all, intended to heal the ills of this world:
"The wellbeing of mankind, its peace and security, are both unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established".
-I'd like to recommend H.B Danesh's academic work: UNITY, the creative foundation of PEACE
The other night my husband, Ryan, and I received an invitation to go and watch the rugby world cup at a friend's house. We battled about the rugby portion, because neither of us gets too excited about sports usually, but hanging out with friends and eating burritos sounded great enough. Before we could swallow our dinner, the kids screamed from the TV room that the game had begun...
Because the stakes were so high, Ryan and I got into the game pretty quickly. After all, this was the world cup and we were playing England! Normally I'd advocate against nationalistic feelings taking over our sense of love for humanity, but that night I was quite happy to root for South Africa for more than one reason :-). But as the game advanced, one of the reasons overshadowed all others: the necessity of South Africa uniting for one common goal. All over the nation, people were following the game in front of the TV sets, in bars, restaurants, on the streets and it didn't matter weather you were black, white, colored, purple or blue, we all rooted for our country and it was an amazingly unifying experience for a country that was painfully divided for so long!
The players teared up as they sang our beautifully diverse national anthem in three of South Africa's 11 official languages – mirroring millions of South Africans who did the same back home.
After an exciting game during which both sides played out their hearts, I admit that I felt bad for the losing team; our world operates on a system where one man's victory is another man's loss. But the victory that South Africa achieved that night was one that unified hundreds of tribal, racial, social and religious groups and that was worth every bit of it.
A lot of people mention the fact that the South African rugby team is mostly made up of white Afrikaaner players. My guess is that in rugby size is quite important, and you just don't find that many large men in South Africa other than in the Afrikaaner community. Another is probably opportunity. But it turned out beautifully, because the most meaningful moment was when this predominantly white team picked up their black President on their shoulders so he could hold up the South African trophy! It was meaningful on so many levels and it caused a ripple of cheers and emotions across the nation and beyond its borders.
The South African team remembered God in prayer after the game, and Ryan and I left our friend's house honking all the way home. The streets were filled with South African who randomly hugged, cheered, smiled and shared the victory. This was a meaningful feat and transcended sports in so many ways.
Blessed the day when the whole world may celebrate its unity with such fervor.