As we saw in the two preceding sections, we have to be mindful when considering any situation not to break it apart in such a way that we begin to compartmentalize aspects of our lives, which can lead to unnecessary contradictions. In general, the human mind has a tendency to fragment the world it encounters. Realityphysical, social, or spiritualis too vast to be understood in its entirety. It is not unreasonable, then, to break it up in order to understand it in parts. However, when this is done without taking into account the wholeness of reality, difficulties arise.
If we are not careful and adopt such a fragmented approach to our lives, we can create all kinds of dichotomies that are largely imaginary. Work, leisure, family life, spiritual life, physical health, intellectual pursuits, individual development, collective progress, and so on become pieces that together make up our existence. When we accept such divisions as real, we feel pulled in many directions, trying to respond to what we consider to be the demands of these different facets of life. We are bewildered by apparently conflicting aims: Should I sacrifice my family life to serve the Cause? Will not serving the Faith interfere with my efforts to raise my children? These are two examples of the myriad of questions that can arise.
To resolve the dichotomies we have created, we sometimes try to divide our time equally among the various demands placed on us. On other occasions, we attempt to prioritize responsibilities and focus our energies on those we believe to be the most important at any particular moment. A careful allotment of time and energy is of course necessary. But it is only fruitful when we remain conscious of the interconnectedness of the many aspects of our lives. If we fail to see the whole, the tension created among all the parts can give rise to anxiety and even confusion.
Below are various aspects of life placed in pairs that should reinforce each other, but which are sometimes thought to be in conflict. For each one of the sentences that follow the pair, decide whether it represents the kind of thinking that is conducive to an integrated way of life or whether it is indicative of a tendency towards fragmentation. Mark it with an “I” or “F” accordingly.
1. Family and work
____ My family life will suffer if I work hard at my job.
____ I often discuss with my family my accomplishments at work and the challenges I face there.
____ Of course women can excel in their careers, but the children always pay the price.
____ If I want to raise my children well, I will have to forget about my profession.
____ I can advance in my profession and fully attend to my family responsibilities.
2. Education and service to the Cause
____ I have to choose between pioneering and education, since it is not possible to do both.
____ Academic achievement is a prerequisite for entering the field of service.
____ The knowledge I gain through my studies is an asset in the field of service, and the experience I gain in the arena of service enhances my abilities.
____ I have to abandon my studies if I really want to devote myself to the Cause.
____ One of my greatest aspirations is to learn to apply the teachings of the Faith in endeavors that promote the betterment of the world.
____ The period of service that I dedicate to promoting the Faith or participating in a Bahá’í-inspired social and economic development project will assist me in choosing a suitable field of study.
3. Intellectual development and development of spiritual qualities
____ The independent investigation of truth requires the cultivation of the intellect, as well as the acquisition of spiritual qualities.
____ In teaching the Faith to others, we should just show them love; what we say is not important.
____ Intellectual development requires justice, honesty, and lack of prejudice.
____ To develop spirituality, one has to let go of one’s intellect.
____ Our minds and hearts are not separate from each other; they represent complementary and mutually interactive aspects of one realityour soul.
____ Spiritual qualities are developed through conscious knowledge and the exercise of good deeds.
4. Material life and spiritual life
____ I must deny myself material pleasure in order to develop spiritually.
____ Spiritual matters should be put aside until we are old; during our youth we should take advantage of every opportunity to advance materially.
____ The material needs of people have to be satisfied before they are ready to pay attention to spiritual matters.
____ The purpose of my life on this material plane is to develop my spiritual qualities and powers.
____ We should enjoy all the bounties that the world has to offer but should not allow earthly desires to take hold of our hearts and prevent us drawing nearer and nearer to God.