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Conquering oneself

chevalSir Edmund Hillary apparently said “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” He should know as he climbed for the highest mountain on earth.

As a teacher, there is nothing more fulfilling than the glee of a child saying “look, I did it myself!” As we advance in life, this exhilarating feeling is rarely felt unless one takes courses, classes, learns a new language or just tries something new or silly like jumping over a bridge with a rope tied to your legs. But this is still well-named child’s play compared to conquering the self.

Conquering our fears, taming our character, channeling our emotions is indeed a steeper trail. Some useful pickaxes: prayer, reflection and meditation. Prayer helps us tap into this mysterious well of spirituality, gives us strength to develop our virtues and connect to others. While reflection combined with meditation ” frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God.”(1). For those who like me have vertigo standing on a stool, there is a beauty in having tools that do not require to go up a mountain or be locked in an isolated spot.  We can use them every day as we go about our daily business. Daily prayer for ourselves, our loved ones or by working in a spirit of service; reflection at the end of each day on our actions and how to improve;  meditation (2) on the meaning of events, words, concepts.  So one day, I might conquer myself and my self, pulverize this monstrous mountain in me and become the person God had intended me to be.

“Great is indeed your blessedness inasmuch as His unfailing grace hath been vouchsafed unto you and ye have been aided to recognize this Cause — a Cause through whose potency the heavens have been folded together and every lofty and towering mountain hath been scattered in dust.”(3)

(1) Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 174

(2) disclaimer: I do not advocate any particular technique. Holding still in silence for a couple of minutes is already a feat in my too talkative, hyperactive opinion.

 (3) Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 264)




OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I start the last day of my period of fasting (from 2 to 20 March, the last month of the Baha’i calendar), I pray that I have cleansed myself from at least some of the dross of the ego. It is a learning curve but I get frustrated about how slow I am to get it right sometimes! For example, I was quite proud of how I handled our break-in when I slowly made a count of all the files that I lost in the missing laptop. Re-writing some of them is pure torture and it is even worse when one is seething with anger. Well, that moment of pride should have tipped me off from the start!

On the topic of learning, this year was quite special as our son who turned 15 started fasting the day after his birthday.  He mentionned that as his body was slowing down during the day, his mind seemed to be sharper and he felt he was able to ponder and meditate on the meaning of his life. His whole demeanour was so joyful compared to the usually grumpy teenager we see in the mornings.  I was truly humbled.

Tonight starts the new year. I wish you and me many learning opportunities!

Happy Naw Ruz!

P.S: I have added a gallery page on this blog for those of you who wish to see my paintings. See here.


Exposition - Potoklinica 050-1The night before we were meant to enter the period of fasting, our house was broken in. Although the thief did not take much he stole two things I find difficult to detach from: my grand-mother’s watch and my camera which was the last birthday gift of my late father. I remember someone telling me that to be detached from things or people we need to love them. If we don’t love, it is not detachment but indifference.

During the fast, we learn to detach ourselves from our bodily needs and specially of food which I simply love!  So apparently I’m in a crash course in detachment and my soul needs some serious work.

As this accidental pattern I photographed a long time ago on a wall of Sarajevo which looked like a portrait, I hope that one day I’ll get a bird’s eye view on what kind of design events and efforts in my life will finally compose. Hopefully something beautiful. Even if it is by accident.


Finding inspiration – Changing your point of view

These days I receive a lot of news from people I know falling ill, dying, suffering and it takes a lot of strength to keep focus on creativity and beauty.   I remembered a project I did with a friend a while ago about the walls of Sarajevo (See here.) . We made close ups of graffiti and paintings inspired by their texture. Somehow these derelict walls could be beautiful if you just changed your point of view. Close-up or from afar things take on a different aspect. So again I went around the neighborhood to get inspiration and found these interesting textures.

I am reminded of this quote “the traveler witnesseth the beauty of the Friend in everything. Even in fire, he seeth the face of the Beloved. He beholdeth in illusion the secret of reality, and readeth from the attributes the riddle of the Essence. For he hath burnt away the veils with his sighing, and unwrapped the shroudings with a single glance; with piercing sight he gazeth on the new creation; with lucid heart he graspeth subtle verities. This is sufficiently attested by: “And we have made thy sight sharp in this day.”  (The valley of contentment, The Seven Valleys, Baha’u’llah).

It just takes a change of point of view! Just…

Feeding teenagers

My husband and I volunteer every year as cooks at a summer camp for teenagers in the South of France which our children attend.  We were in charge of feeding 35 thirteen-years-olds with their young animators. As these are French kids, they expect an entrée, a main course and a desert. So all in all they ate some 75 kg of tomatoes, 25 melons, 20 kg of rice, 20 kg of pasta, and some 48 kg of delicious French bread! They also drank 108 l of milk in the morning!

As we were in charge of quenching their infinite hunger for food, the team of animators catered to their thirst for knowledge and the life of the spirit. Through study, games, sports, arts and music they helped them develop their spiritual perception,  investigate their talents and capacities and discover how these could benefit the world on both the spiritual and the material plane. At an age where they struggle with their bodies and their identity, these teenagers surprised me with their understanding for each other and subtle humour. Of course the adults with them were totally exhausted by the end of the camp as these soon-to-be adults have what seems like unlimited energy. I admired how the animators were able to stay calm and focused with the kind of “background noise” a group of teenagers makes.

As I am now back home, I remember each one of them and especially how they sang every morning and evening  these verses: “Be not careless of the virtues with which ye have been endowed, neither be neglectful of your high destiny. Suffer not your labors to be wasted through the vain imaginations which certain hearts have devised. Ye are the stars of the heaven of understanding, the breeze that stirreth at the break of day, the soft-flowing waters upon which must depend the very life of all men, the letters inscribed upon His sacred scroll.” (From the Writings of Baha’u’llah)


Summoned to a reckoning

I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time with my father before his passing. My clairvoyant sister had advised me to fly over as she had sensed his end was nearer than I thought. In these short moments together I asked him how he felt as his illness was gradually robbing him of his life.  I was very sad to see him, this formidable man, so diminished. He smiled and stated simply that as he had spent every day of his life in constant movement, sleeping very little, and while awake always working and active, now,  God was giving him the gift of peacefulness, of tranquility, providing him with  a unique opportunity to think and forcing him to stand still, meditate on his life and to prepare for the next. “Yes”, he said, in a barely audible voice, “God is very good to me”.

As I meditate on my father’s legacy, other than the obvious i.e. my face, I think he has left me with the certainty that whatever happens, even the worst hardship is but a token of God’s love. However, as I cannot be sure I will  like him be able to cram in my preparation for the next life in a short time, I am enjoying the luxury of getting ready little by little, day by day. Far from being a morbid thought,  coming to terms each day with what we have done with our lives so far helps us to appreciate the road travelled so far and move forward.


Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning;

for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee

and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.”

From The Hidden Words by Baha’u’llah

From life to eternal life

The last weeks I have been MIA because my father passed away. His funeral was held in Australia so I traveled back and forth from Europe to Australia within a week. I wish I had super powers to do that at the speed of light but instead sat in a cramped space for more than 30 hours. I treated myself to a foot and shoulder massage at the stopover in Bangkok airport by a nice man who kept telling me to relax. I used all my super powers not to fall apart.

Even though my father had been ill for a while and since he was my father and therefore 31 years older than me, his death was to be expected. Strangely enough even though I knew that, I still received the news as a shock. It was as if my brain had been able to understand his death yet not taking the information seriously. Unfortunately there is no second degree for death. You are either dead or your’e not. No joke. No punch line.  No I’ll do it again. No better next time. And this definitive state is the hardest to bear.

My father was definitely not a saint but he had a presence that made him difficult to ignore.  He had grown up poor in Ethiopia during the Italian occupation, earned scholarships to study in France during the Algerian war. As an adult, he chose the Baha’i religion and thus ensured that wherever he would be he would always be the odd one out. Yet, he had mastered the capacity of forcing respect even from those who were not giving it readily. He showed such determination to put his decisions in practice that few would doubt him. He also had a knack to find humor in daily events and his smile or loud laugh could warm a room.

At the funeral my niece eloquently read the eulogy and got many to laugh. The Baha’i prayer for the departed was read by my sister by the grave site and as we were repeating the verses as prescribed I could feel as if each lifted a stone of grief from my soul and liberated him at the same time.  When it ended I felt he was now free to move on to new adventures in the other worlds of God and we, the living, were free to continue our lives here of which unfortunately grieving is a part.

My father had told my sister and I many times since we were old enough to remember that he would die in his sleep at the age of 75. He passed away quietly in his bed at home during the night of the 5th of June 2012. He would have turned 76 in July.