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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)

 

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.