the Baha’i month of fasting began on Sunday; from March 2nd to March 20th inclusive, Baha’is refrain from eating or drinking from sunup to sundown. This physical Fast is symbolic of a spiritual Fast—just as fasting helps cleanse our bodies from physical impurities, the Baha’i Fast is a time to cleanse the spirit of selfishness, earthly desires and vain imaginations. I’ll give an example of what I’ve been doing—maybe not the perfect schedule; I’m open to suggestions! I’ve set my alarm for 5:00 AM to give me enough time to wake up and prepare myself for sunrise, which is happening at around 6:30 AM right now (you can follow the 2008 sunrise times in the calendar on the upper right hand corner of this blog’s home page). I’ll plod downstairs somewhat groggily and get some food into me: usually a combination of granola or oatmeal with soy milk, fruits and fruit juice, vitamins, and some form of protein such as eggs or a breakfast burrito. Oh, and lots of water – usually the equivalent of 4 to 6 cups of it before sunrise. The remaining time before sunrise is dedicated to reading from the Sacred Writings of the Baha’i Faith, particularly those of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. I’ve also been reading from the book The Path Toward Spirituality: Sacred Duties and Practices of the Bahá’í Life, published by Palabra Publications (publishers of the Ruhi Institute course materials). It’s a simple, straightforward book that offers a clear outline of all the facets of Bahá’í life; its contents roughly mirror the requisites to spiritual growth outlined by the Universal House of Justice.
I have to confess something (ok, well not really “confess”—just mentioning it for the sake of context): I tend to get distracted easily. Big time. In my everyday tasks, at work, during prayer, while reading, while writing, while enjoying myself—all the time. So, as long-time readers of this blog will attest to, consistency in my own daily spiritual practice is often a challenge for me. When I blogged about my Baha’i pilgrimage to Haifa and ‘Akká, I drew a lot of inspiration from the long obligatory prayer—partly because of the impact of visiting the qiblih, but also as a way of reminding myself of how vital, how refreshing and how fundamentally life-giving the long obligatory prayer is. The truth is, I struggle with the obligatory prayers sometimes, and with all the basic building blocks of spirituality, like daily readings and study, meditation, teaching the Cause, service to humanity, and so on. I think the root of the struggle, for me at least, is attachment to material comfort. Sometimes I feel it’s just easier, or more comfortable, for me to give in to the distraction and go to bed without thinking of anything—turn off my brain, as it were—instead of taking the time every evening to remember God and bring myself into a peaceful, centered state, renewing my connection with a Power greater than myself. Of course, without hitting that “centered” state, I just start the next day feeling unbalanced, off base. And so it continues until I finally snap out of it and say to myself, “Enough is enough, I’m going to say the long obligatory prayer even if it keeps me up past midnight!”
Instead of making the generalization “I’m not following Bahá’í teachings, I must be a bad Bahá’í”, and becoming discouraged or (God forbid!) estranged from the Bahá’í community, we can remember that we are commanded to strive to observe Bahá’í teachings. We’re always striving—that is, until we give up. Apart from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who was known as the Perfect Exemplar of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, and who reminded us to take our struggles “kam kam, ruz bih ruz” (little by little, day by day), nobody can claim to be perfect. As long as we keep trying day by day to bring our behaviour more in accordance with the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh—whether it means writing a note for ourselves so that we don’t forget that day’s obligatory prayer, or leaving a book of daily readings on our pillow so we’ll remember to read them before going to bed—we are not “bad Bahá’ís”, just normal human beings trying to transform ourselves from beings of earth and water into beings of spirit and light.