A Seed grows into a Tree
When my son was five years old, his heart was set on learning how to whistle. We would pucker up our lips for hours on end while he huffed and puffed in great concentration and determination.
Some days he would be rewarded with a tiny fleeting whiff of a faint whistle and that tiny breakthrough would set him off puffing harder than ever. Some days, he would just pretend he was whistling by blowing lightly through his teeth. Other days, he would come to me with sad eyes and a quivering chin frustrated that he was no where closer to being the World’s Best No.1 Whistler than when he first started out.
On his sixth birthday, he woke up and the first thing he did still sitting in bed was to whistle the loudest, the clearest and the shrillest whistle he had ever mustered! It was the most beautiful sound in the world.
It brought a pang of pride to his mama’s heart to see this little chappy’s dogged perseverance pay off. Today he whistles like he was born to whistle. Effortlessly. Tirelessly. Confidently. Every clear note polished to beautiful perfection from hours of practice.
And since then everytime my young son would feel like giving up at the beginning of a task which seemed so monumental to his young self, I would remind him, “Remember that time when you couldn’t whistle? Well, just take a look at yourself now.” or “Remember when you were younger and you thought you would never learn how to put on your socks all by yourself and now isn’t it the most easy thing in the world?.”
And he would nod and give me a grin and give it another go.
I have since then often thought to myself, how similar and how often I too find myself like that little child setting out in earnest to learn and accomplish great things on the inside. Taming that ego, pursuing the path of truth, trying to live honourably.
And somedays, just as it seems I have a measure of these within my grasp, I trip and fall flat on my face.
Just when I thought I had scaled that mountain and can now marvel at the view at the top, I slip and tumble.
Just when I thought I was getting spiritually transformed, I realised with a flash of clarity the ugly truth that spiritual arrogance is the worst kind there is.
Somedays, I try to whistle and all I seem able to muster is a feeble, flat, soundless flop of a sound.
And I too feel my chin quivering. I found myself in that situation this week. Doing the unthinkable in one moment of self-superiority. I don’t think anybody noticed, just myself. But that was enough. I covered my face in shame.
Oh what do we do after we bite the dust? What do we do when we disappoint ourselves the most?
I took it really hard when it dawned on me how deceitful my own heart was. I was inconsolable and remorseful and I struggled to forgive myself. But I soon realised that self-flogging provides no solution except perhaps to deepen the ego’s need to feel like a wretched victim of my own doing. And it dawned on me then, just as a mother often comes alongside to gently guide and instruct her child to carry on, we have to become our own voice of encouragement and gentle nurturing. The voices of discouragement and defeat can be overwhelming sometimes. But always, if we listen very carefully, there is that still, small voice which whispers above the clamour. It is the voice of hope.
“Therefore, be thou not hopeless under any circumstances, but rather be firm in thy hope.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Just as the child attempts to learn a new skill, we are all attempting to learn and master certain skills which would bring us closer to our true and highest selves. And sometimes we find ourselves in a less than ideal situation because perhaps this is really about as much as we know how to handle ourselves. If we knew any better, we would have corrected it already. And sometimes and actually most times, we do know better, but the flesh is weak. And that realisation of our own weakness brings humility. And humility is a very good place to learn and to change.
“I wonder at the man who does not find his own imperfections…As long as a man does not find his own faults he can never become perfect.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Perhaps in all the world, the biggest and most formidable task and the greatest achievement is to break free from the prison of self. And this work of a lifetime requires constant self-awareness, integrity, effort, endurance, perseverance and discipline. It takes stamina to keep going. To keep the mirror of our hearts constantly polished and turned towards the light of truth is a daily effort. It requires diligence just like mastering the skill of whistling. This is the inner work that transforms us.
“Day by day he must endeavor to become better…day by day he will make progress, for to stop advancing is the means of going back. The bird when he flies soars ever higher and higher, for as soon as he stops flying he will come down.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Then we would realise that those moments when we had been lost, bruised and yet persevered in navigating our inner compass towards truth, those moments had stretched our souls to a place of maturity and perfection – engrained forever into the core of our souls.
And then we realise that the tiny seed in us has grown a little more. Well on its way to becoming a tree.