It's official: Steve and I have this week sold our house, and are therefore free to move to our new home in the north. I can't believe it has finally become a reality. We have been preparing for this since May 09, which is just over a year, and seven months of that was hard-slog renovation. It all happened so quickly. We completed the last task on the house, put the house on the market, and negotiated a sale inside a week! We were delighted, because the average days for selling is 45 at the moment. It went like a dream, of course, because Baha'u'llah guided it through.
I think now about the dream I had soon after the fast in 2008. I blogged about it; it's called "Moving upstairs". Here's a few paragraphs of what I wrote. I think it is an example of what Baha'u'llah means when he says we dream something now and see it fulfilled in the future. The "friend" is, of course, myself.
"And so, in the dream, my friend was showing me the extensive alterations to her house. She had a whole new storey built onto her house. She showed me the new layout and use for the ground floor. She had brought in a lodger to live downstairs. He was a quiet Asian student and she showed me how she had made alterations to the back of the house so that he had space to put all his things. ... The dream seemed to be saying that this aspect of me has been put in order.
Then my friend invited me to see the new upstairs, where she now hung out. Ah, this was a revelation. Upstairs, she had built three very large rooms. All of them had a line of windows stretching all along the outer wall and they were flooded with light and sunshine. I saw pillars in the middle of the rooms to keep the ceiling up. But, and here's the interesting thing, the rooms were all empty! Two of them were entirely bare apart from the pillars. The third room had my friend's old bedroom in one corner of it. The rest of the room was also bare. As I looked around me and took it all in, I thought how lucky my friend was to have these lovely rooms with all that light and what fun she had in store figuring out what she was going to do with them and how she would furnish them.
The other thing that struck me was that my friend was still learning how to live upstairs. Up until now, she'd lived downstairs, focused entirely on working hard. She had not yet learned how to live upstairs, which was why she was still occupying one corner of one room and the rest was bare. She needed to spend more time upstairs, getting a feel for the place and allowing herself the time and pleasure of figuring out how she would use the other rooms and furnish them."
At the time of writing this in March 08, I believed (rightly) that it showed me I was undergoing a huge spiritual change. Late March 08 marked the beginning of the 9th year after my expulsion; Baha'u'llah was nine years in Akka before moving into the country, and I had asked him if he might ordain for me to move out of my 'Akka' to freedom. What I hadn't realised was that this spiritual change would have a physical manifestation in the form of us moving house into the country. I look now in wonder at the accuracy of the symbolism in the dream, particularly the image of the upstairs being sunny and full of light - for the northern part of New Zealand is much warmer than the south. I guess it is now time for me to occupy the rest of the upstairs rooms and begin to furnish them.
But the story has another layer of meaning, which is establishing roots now and will gradually reveal itself over the rest of my life. It anticipates my physical death: the shift from the physical world to the eternal abode, which is the ultimate manifestation of "upstairs". The move from the south to the north that I am about to make is a sign of that ultimate move from the physical world to the celestial realm.
How does one prepare now for that move? Yes, that is, perhaps, the important question about the spiritual journey. I have my answer, which is derived from my experience. The dream captures the heart of it: put in order and let go of our downstairs; awaken to the upstairs reality. Baha'u'llah outlines repeatedly in his writings the essentials of how to do this: we must detach ourselves from the things of this world and, instead, focus our complete attention on the eternal realm.
"O friend, the heart is the dwelling of eternal mysteries, make it not the home of fleeting fancies; waste not the treasure of thy precious life in employment with this swiftly passing world. Thou comest from the world of holiness - bind not thine heart to the earth; thou art a dweller in the court of nearness - choose not the homeland of the dust." (Baha'u'llah, in the Valley of Wonderment)
Here's another quote, taken at random. If you look for this theme in the writings, you'll see that it is everywhere. (It reminds me of the American woman who, once she became obsessed with smiley faces, saw them everywhere she went.)
"Then, O birds of the sacred skies, do not deprive yourselves, by virtue of your concentration upon this ephemeral world, of this immortal fountain. Possibly you will receive permission to enter the eternal chamber of audience with the glorious beauty. Thus do we make mention to you of the mysteries, insofar as what was referred to in all the tablets as the water of life was hidden from your intellects and your hearts. Perhaps you will attain to the water in that spring after severing yourselves from all who are in the heavens and on earth, and will return to the wonders of his overflowing grace." Breath of Spirit, paragraph 6
There's a great deal that can be said about this subject, and I hope in future to write about it in detail. But here, for now, I'll make a few points.
People get bent out of shape about passages like this. They think Baha'u'llah is advocating something akin to ascetism. But that can't be the case, because in other places he's denounced it and told monks to get out of their cloisters and marry. Our lives should produce fruit, he says, otherwise we're fit only for the fire. I think what he means - bearing in mind that his meaning is fathomless - is that our primary and principal focus must be on our spiritual and eternal source and home, which is God/Baha'u'llah. This Reality has a prior and superior claim on us; it trumps everything in creation. We show our recognition of this through a regular devotional life, in which we discuss the ongoing details of our lives with the Lord. The Lord rules over us and sets the standard on which we determine the right thing to do. If we are detached from the world, as the quotes above ask us to be, we will steer our lives according to this primal relationship. But if we are attached to things in the world, we'll consider them more important and make poor (immoral or unjust) decisions.
By establishing this regular discipline in our lives (it requires, you'll recall, getting away from everything twice a day to read the writings and pray), a spiritual tree begins to grow in our soul. We make mistakes; it doesn't matter. With a pure heart, we pick ourselves up and keep trying. Gradually, the tree of our fidelity grows and gives off a light that influences others. This is how true teaching occurs. It is 'powered' by the crystal-like reflections of our soul, when it is in a healthy spiritual state. This explains why the quotes above appear to advocate that a person should focus primarily on their own salvation and not that of others. It is for the simple reason that a person who has not yet found salvation cannot guide others to it.
And so, over time, we gradually become attached to the things of the Lord and detached from what's going on in the physical world. A mystical reality appears before us, and we see the eternal reality of paradise. In the following passage, Baha'u'llah testifies that this process has taken place in the soul of his correspondent. He speaks to her from his realm of eternity, acknowledging that she has flown 'up' into his eternal realm of the spirit and drawn near to him. Well, what else can he do, when someone comes knocking on his door, but welcome her in?
"Countenance of love, we have recognized your longing for God in the pavilions of eternity, insofar as you drew near and attained, in the arenas of encounter, to the presence of God. Thus have we reckoned everything in a book that was decreed in the Tablet. Know that you have advanced to the sanctuary of beauty and visited the kaaba of holiness in the garden of paradise on the Mount Paran of love." Countenance of Love
The final point I want to make is that, like Baha'u'llah's correspondent in the quote above, we must find paradise before we die physically. For when we die physically, we enter the world that our spiritual state has created for us at that moment. The reality of paradise must already exist within us, if we are to find it in the hereafter. Without it, we don't know how to get there and will not miraculously find it after death, except by the grace of God. I think this is what's meant in the following enigmatic verse, which Baha'u'llah quotes in the Valley of Wonderment:
"O Son, if thou art able not to sleep, then thou art able not to die. And if thou art able not to waken after sleep, then thou shalt be able not to rise after death."
I interpret "sleep" as the condition of a person who has not detached from the world and awoken to the reality of the eternal realm and home.