Spiritual X Factor Part Two

From a Baha’i Perspective

As a Baha’i, I know that my purpose in life is to move closer towards God, not the limelight. In the daily obligatory prayer it says, “I bear witness oh my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee.”  It doesn’t say –‘Thou hast created me to know Thee and for other people to worship ME.”

We live in a time when we worship people, not God. Along with musicians, we worship shoes and actors, fashion and cars, material things, illusion. The All-Bountiful God is ignored, shut out, denied and His eternal existence is rationally, even scientifically argued against. Perhaps it’s a lack of connection to God that creates in people the desire to seek a form of worship – flipping it over to having others worship them? The cult of the individual in full view of us all, analogue , digital or on I-Player.

Our station – if not to be deities – is a high one though. In the Bible we are told that ‘Man is made in the image of God’, which I understand to mean that we possess the potential to reflect through our characters and actions all the spiritual qualities of God, such as trustworthiness, generosity, forgiveness and love, to name but a few.

Baha’u’llah says,

“ Lofty is the station of man, were he to hold fast to righteousness and truth and to remain firm and steadfast in the cause. In the eyes of the All-Merciful a true man appeareth even as a firmament (heaven); it’s sun and moon are his sight and hearing, and his shining and resplendent character its stars. His is the loftiest station and his influence educateth the world of being.

I discussed this theme and the above passage with my Dad, and he said the following, which I would like to share with you because it encapsulates this theme very nicely;

(Picture of ‘Abdul-Baha, son of Baha’u’llah)

‘Seeking loftiness is inherent in our human nature. In a materialistic society it demonstrates itself in seeking loftiness in material ways – such as fame, fortune, acquisition and status which evidently is the road to self delusion as it leads to nothing but frustration, loss, unhappiness and in some case, mental ill health. The nature of man to acquire loftiness should be related to a safer approach to God, for example, Abdul-Baha says, “Human happiness is founded on spiritual behaviour.” The happiness gained from material things can only be at best temporary and inevitably illusionary.’

 

Ultimately I feel that the fame sought on the ‘X Factor’ is a demonstration of the way the mass of people in the UK think; that you can only call yourself a singer if you are written into a million pound contract with a record label and that happiness and success is achieved and measured through material means. Winning a TV contest is believed to be the final chance to be, well ‘saved’ actually and is worth fighting for and even dying for on stage and on screen so that my ‘real life’, the ‘life I always dreamed of’ can begin.

 Wouldn’t it be great if we could start enjoying singing for the love of music, the beauty of our voices (however cultured or rough, pure or naive) and the sense of oneness we feel when singing together as a group. Not giving up our voices on the sacrificial alter for a few weeks, or a moment of fame.

(Friends singing and playing djembe drums in Cardiff) 

Singing without the glamour, illusion and delusion. Our lives made happier through the way we show more kindness, more love, more honesty and generosity, using our singing talents to serve mankind.

Everyone’s got the X Factor buried away deep inside them (maybe we all know this deep down and that’s why thousands of people audition for the TV programme year after year, however practiced or unpracticed their skill) for as Ali, the Son-in-Law of Muhammed said,

Dost thou reckon thyself a puny form, when within thee the universe is folded?”

Spiritual X Factor Part One

I think I have – to be honest – a good singing voice and I am thankful to God for this gift. I sing all the time, at small and large social and educational events, in my home, with friends, in schools with children (beaming faces and joyful voices), in recording studios, in workshops and in my daily prayers. I don’t need fame to be a singer and I don’t need the ‘X Factor’ to bring meaning to my life, to be my last chance for success. Isn’t that a relief, saving myself and all my family and friends a bucket of tears and heart-ache!

(Richard Leigh and myself, performing at ‘Make a Difference in Just One Day’ fundraiser, 21st September 2007.)

I did used to think I would one day go on ‘X Factor’ and try my hand at winning over Simon Cowell. Yet now I have no desire to audition for the show, not because I lack the self-esteem to think I could go very far but because I don’t want to be a celebrity.

 I do enjoy watching the programme however because I love to witness people’s journeys and it’s great hearing good singers and songs, but I am mystified by the attachment people have to winning the competition as the be-all-and-end-all. Were we all really born to seek fame as our purpose in life as almost every ‘X Factor’ contestant claims? Really? Every singer? Ever?

The ‘X Factor’ amount of tears, heart-on-a-plate emotions, devastation or complete bonkers, screaming exuberance is, I’m sure, all genuine, but come on! I feel so sad when I hear, every week, people saying things like, ‘If I don’t get through to the next round, it will DESTROY me’, and ‘This is make or break for me.’.

The fact that I can sing doesn’t fool me (or delude me) into thinking I am destined for stardom or mass adoration. If fame was the only way I could achieve anything with my particular gift, how sad and limiting that would be. I would miss out on so much joy, as would all the young people I work with in singing groups and primary schools.

I truly do not see how celebrity lifestyles bring long lasting happiness. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that if I was given the chance to sing professionally, recording an album on a well known record label, I wouldn’t jump at the chance. Of course I’d jump up and down for joy. Maybe even shed a few tears, but only a few. I would, no doubt enjoy the excitement of it all, the attention and the fancy clothes among other things. But for my own protection my personality would need to be hidden behind an accepted public persona to avoid trouble from all the strangers I had just sung my heart out to.  My singing would be taken away from me as a person, from Fleur – and shoved out into the public domain, disconnected from the inspiration for my songs (personal experiences and the Baha’i writings) and the amazing, pure and soul-connecting feeling I get when I sing – as I am carried away from myself, as I feel my soul sings. It would all distract me for a bit, but deep down I know it wouldn’t complete me, satisfy my soul or bring me long lasting happiness.  (Zimbabwean choir ‘Siyaya’, performing in Bath, August 2008)

 

Healing wounds (Oct 1st)

  I woke up feeling miserable. I had a tasty but moody breakfast and a horrible mug of tea.

 Asking myself what was going on in my body (everything working fine boss) head  (brain running a little too fast – mindful meditation needed) or my heart  (yes,  here’s the leak) I stopped licking my  wounds, gave myself an internal hug and  crawled out of my cave.

 

 After reading a few passages from the writings of Baha’u’llah I  immediately felt a  little better, inspired to see my life from a  different and more far-reaching angle.  One of the passages was this  (from The Hidden Words):

 “Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of  all created things.”

 

Pondering on this, I realised that the tests I am currently facing (feeling disempowered due to a lack of understanding and poor communication) are actually for my training, not my destruction – as I had previously, miserably and a little pityingly viewed them to be. 

 As God has made ‘every atom in existence’ to be for our training – then that includes people,    right? One Person is made up of thousands of atoms – all working together to vibrate as a  human being. So rather than getting pulled down and disempowered by another person  (atoms) , we can chose to see that person as a training ground or an exercise, where we have  the opportunity to strengthen our spiritual muscles – our higher nature shining out as we  move closer towards God, our final, incredible goal. The lesson? Well, I think if I want other people to understand and respect me then I need to become a better communicator. That’s the goal of this particular training exercise. I can’t expect anyone else to train for me. These are my spiritual muscles, after all.

I also said some Baha’i prayers and felt strengthened. I felt more able to move forward. One of the prayers I said included this wonderful passage,

“I beg of Thee to guard this handmaiden who hath fled for refuge to Thee, and hath sought the shelterof Him in Who Thou Thyself art manifest (Baha’u’llah), and hath put her whole trust and confidence in Thee…”

The morning spent  sorting out my study (while listening to beautiful music from the ‘Hang Playing Hedge Monkeys’) I claimed my home as my sanctuary again, rather than a place of silent protest as the fortress of ‘stuff’ pretended to protect me from the outside world. Having friends over on the weekend was my motivation but I also wanted to start caring for myself. Us carers tend to get left out on the care side, as others often misread our vigilant (and  often selfless) care for our loved ones as a message that we are invincible and everlastingly competent, without the need for kind words, encouragement or recognition. I would like to point out that this is not the case. We need love, kind words and support on an emotional and spiritual level. If no one cares for us and we fall apart, who will care for the ones we care for?  

So, reminded that I have Baha’u’llah as my guide and protector, a much more powerful and eternal bodyguard and teacher than my stack of papers (now neatly filed), and every atom in the universe is there to train my spiritual muscles, my wounds are slowly starting to heal.

Fasting chickens

23rd March 09

early morning

 Hello again people! Its been a few months since I last blogged. I have been thinking about what to write, wondering what thoughts to share, analysing the way I could communicate- the style and the format. It’s all still feels blurred and unsure to me – so rather than spend a few more months on that vague path, I am just going to get on with it, and write stuff – perhaps then a clear path will appear.

 

 

I would like to point out that my ‘deep and meaningfuls’ – if they ever were so – will still grace these pages, but not as a regular occurrence. I think I just need to write regularly rather than setting myself up as any particular kind of writer. Otherwise I will feel overwhelmed again and my fingers will refuse to blog. I am sure my Baha’i beliefs and lifestyle will come through quite clearly anyway – and maybe that’s enough.

 

Its only been a few days since the The Fast came to a close and we celebrated Baha’i New Year on March 21st. I feel quite proud of myself this year. My relationship with The Fast has been troublesome and this year I wanted to just do it, to stop asking myself questions and obey Baha’u’llah’s law without resistance. The Fast started on the 2nd of March and ran until the evening of March 20th. Every sunrise I got up around 6AM, had a large breakfast and then went next door (sometimes with, sometimes without Ramin) to pray with my Dad. The funny thing was that for the first two weeks this year I was the only one in my immediate family to be fasting – as everyone else was exempt due to different reasons. In the last week, I got a bad cold and had to stop – and then Kalim (who had recovered from a sore throat)  started to fast. It was like at least one of us needed to uphold the fasting banner on behalf of our family!

 

Not eating or drinking between sunrise and sunset used to be my idea of hell. I used to dread the Fast, worrying about my energy levels, not liking getting up earlier, finding other people’s food and drink choices unbearable and generally making life very hard for myself as I either grumpily fasted or guiltily ate.

 

This year I wanted things to be different. Psychologically I was glad that the Fast started on a Monday and ended on Friday, giving you two weekends – rather than the three as can sometimes happen. I was also glad that I could pray with my Dad in the morning – which I found very supportive and which helped me spiritually focus. Living in our lovely home, with the gorgeous mountain view outside our kitchen window was also an assistance.

 

I am happy to say that my experience this year was really the best so far. I have been fasting every year since I was 15 – and really, 21 years later it should be easy peasy by now. However, its only been since we moved back to Wales in the Spring of 2008, that I have felt a sense of being settled in a place – and calm inside myself. My fasting experience was a reflection of this. I didn’t really get any illumined understanding, or feel that spiritually moved during the Fast – but I did feel more grounded, more detached from food and drink (I am drinking De-Caff coffee daily now, rather than my usual full-Caff cuppa) and more in touch with prayer than I was before the Fast.

 

One of my favourite moments this year was rather silly, but which still makes me smile. Kalim, Ramin and I had been out all day, printing flyers and organising things for our ‘Half-Light’ Sports Relief funded Performing Arts project in Pillgwenlly, Newport. We had gone to a retail park, to Comet (Electrical stuff) and to Staples (Stationary and Office Stuff)– and were waiting on a bus-stop to get the bus back to the town centre, where we planned to break the Fast in Subway at sunset before going to the YMCA to distribute flyers and promote our workshop sessions to the young people attending the weekly Youth Club there.

Fleur & Ramin bus stopThe bus stop was cold, windy and rainy – the rain lashing into our faces at a 45% angle, and we were huddled together waiting for the bus. Kalim and I were fasting (pre his sore throat) and therefore cold, hungry and thirsty and Ramin –due to being a bit underweight- was on a ‘lots of small meals’ plan- and therefore feeling cold also and peckish. We waited for about 10 minutes, feeling colder and more uncomfortable as the minutes ticked by. Our legs were getting soaked by the rain and my hands were freezing off inside the damp pockets of my non-waterproof coat. Right across the road was a Kentucky Fried Chicken and after smelling the tantalizing wafts of chicken on the wind and seeing the tables illuminated by warm lights, looking so cosy and inviting- we lost our will to wait for the bus and eat healthier (i.e. Subway sandwich) and dashed across to the glow of Kentucky.We had about 35 minutes to wait until sunset – so Ramin got a coffee and we waited, our jeans dripping onto the floor – slowly warming up while the rain spat against the window.

 

Ramin’s coffee was disgusting and weak – so it sat untouched while we tried and failed to talk about anything but food. We were able to break the fast at 6pm exactly, so debated when we should go up and order our food. Reminiscing on times past when we had all had experiences of sitting in restaurants not able to eat the food – we vowed this would not happen to us today. After much debate, taking in the number of customers, the number of servers, the slowly ticking time and, of  course, the kind of food we were going to order – we decided we would go up at 6.45 – allowing 10 minutes for serving, 5 minutes for sitting at the table and saying a prayer and then chow down!

Up Kalim and I went at 6.45 – We ordered and paid for the food – I looked around at Ramin, looked back and the server was already pressing the Bucket of chicken into my hand – it had literally taken her one minute to gather our food. Back to the table Kalim and I went – and then for the next 15 minutes we sat and tried not to stare at the food, avoiding it’s tempting wafts, doing our best to ignore its presence – as well as the puzzled stares of some of the other customers. It was actually really funny, and the time passed quite quickly because the three of us found the situation really amusing. 

I have to say – the chicken that day was so scrummy…. and it probably won”t taste that good again until next March.Kalim laughing

Paradigm Shift Part Two (Sept 22nd)

One of my happiest days was when, after five weeks of hospitalization (Ramin totally incapacitated in his bed, my sitting next to him in a hard plastic chair, reading, praying and singing to him, in the same stiflingly hot room), I was able to take Ramin outside in the fresh air in a wheelchair and buy an ice cream for us from the hospital café. We both felt like it was our birthdays and we had been given this huge, amazing and longed for present.

Perhaps sometime we need to have things taken away from us to realize what we really need and desire. Maybe I needed to have Ramin’s capacity to be, well…Ramin, taken swiftly away from me so that I could see that I didn’t need fame and fortune, I just needed and wanted Ramin. Loving him and being loved by him made me happy. What a gift to be given to us, so soon on our path together!

A definition of madness is when someone does the same thing over and over again and expects a different same result. If money doesn’t bring us long lasting happiness, if fame isn’t creating deep love and personal contentment, if success is short lived or even long lived, but never enough – then  why continue searching through these swirling mists of nothingness on the hunt for the glorious wonderful future that we hope to live in, one day, someday? That’s a description of idealism, if you ask me, rather than people believing in the power of spiritual forces to overcome dark ones.

Happiness can be a daily occurrence, a daily feeling, a daily knowing you are doing a good thing (a spiritual action!), especially when you serve someone else or you rest in order to be able to continue caring for your loved one. 

I would like to share with you a Baha’i prayer that I regularly say and which gives me the strength to keep going through the challenges I meet. I hope it can assist you too.  

“O God! O God! This is a broken-winged bird and his flight is very slow- assist him so that he may fly toward the apex of prosperity and salvation, wing his way with the utmost joy and happiness throughout the illimitable space, raise his melody in Thy Supreme Name in all the regions, exhilarate the ears with this call, and brighten the eyes by beholding the signs of guidance.

O Lord! I am single, alone and lowly. For me there is no support save Thee, no helper except Thee and no sustainer besides thee. Confirm me in Thy service, assist me with the cohorts of Thyangels, amke me victorious in the promotion of Thy Word and suffer me to speak out Thy wisdom amongst Thy creatures.

Verily, Thou art the helper of the weak and the defender of the little ones, and verily THou art the Powerful, the Mighty and the Unconstrained.”

-‘Abdu’l-Baha.

Paradigm shift Part One (Sept 22nd)

We live in a world where material things are worshipped,  success is measured in terms of (fickle) fame and (never enough) money, and happiness is always around the corner and always in the future.

 

I have had enough of this way of thinking!

It’s painful, pointless and basically madness! If money brings happiness, then why is it that so many people who are about to leave this planet, through a terminal illness can display such radiant and content personalities? If material goods bring happiness then why is it that children want their parent’s attention and love more than they want any present or gadget given them? If parties and glamour and fame bring happiness, then why is it that we have daily conversations with our mates about other people’s faults and misdoings, comparing and contrasting ourselves with other people’s successes or failures? Why do we spend years in therapy, live lifetimes on diets or try to lose ourselves in alcohol or drugs and still feel miserable, alone, discontented and yearning for something more? 

If the solution to sadness and pain is to be found in the physical world then why doesn’t it last?

Sometimes it is only when everything is taken away that we realize what’s important to us, deep down, beyond the superficial or the immediate physical want. Before we were married both my husband and myself wanted -someday- to be famous, myself as a singer and Ramin as a film director. We wanted to travel in first class, spend weeks in 5 star hotels, go on incredible holidays, look amazing, beautiful, healthy and rich, bring up our children in luxury and be fabulous for all to envy and admire.

We both thought this, along with living spiritually minded lives,  would bring us happiness and long lasting joy. Even as I read this statement back to myself I can see how silly and immature this idea was. Only a few months after our wedding, Ramin became ill and was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and his brain and body stopped functioning normally. Our imagined futures dissapeared amongst the reality of steroid infusions, hospital appointments and Ramin’s continual tiredness as his body was ravaged by attack after attack.

I still grieve for the pain Ramin sufferred and for the lost joyful years of newly wedded life but I am glad our paradigm for happiness has shifted – something we both learnt through the following years. We still have ambitions and hopes for the future but neither of us base our personal fulfillment on achieving success in the world of fame, celebrity or mass exposure anymore. Thank God!

I know this is a lesson some of us creative ones with ambitious tendancies need to learn as a part of becoming a mature adult, and most people achieve this understanding in a less dramatic way than the events of our particular story. But I feel blessed that through our particular life’s challenge, I was able to connect to a happiness, a contentment within me that was based on inner understandings rather than outward proofs.

I gained strength through my daily prayers, the spiritual and principle focused conversations with my parents, the support and friendship of my family and friends – as well as the strong and soppily loving bond Ramin and I always maintained. MS didn’t destroy us as a married couple, and didn’t destroy Ramin as a personality, a creative being or as a physical one. Many miracles have come to pass in the last five years, perhaps more than I have even realised.

My challenges have taught me that long lasting, true happiness is founded on spiritual behavior alone – on developing and demonstrating qualities such as patience, trust, positive thinking, appreciation for the now, living in the beauty of now and appreciating little things, commitment and generosity of course, unconditional love running like a golden thread through all of these. None of states of being have anything to do with what money can buy and all to do with loving and being loved.