Paul Profaska

Paul Profaska

Though born in Scotland I was raised in London and was around 20 years old when the grace of the All-Merciful initiated the quest that eventually led to my becoming a Bahá’í.  As written in the prayer, “I was heedless, Thou didst awaken me,…I was as one dead, Thou didst quicken me with the water of life.” One morning I awoke to what seems to me now as the “hallowed and blessed surroundings” of a “true and radiant morn”, described in The Hidden Words.  In astonishment I found myself filled with the love and the light, the comfort and the strength of a mysterious and embracing presence.  And as I bathed in its wonderment, just as it is written, “fire and water cannot dwell together in one heart”, the ego welled up and the fire of God’s love began to withdraw, hastened by the ego’s attempts to cling onto it.

Having had very little religious upbringing I was bewildered and, generally lacking initiative, did very little in response. The memory of the experience faded, but in 1968 I did however break with my circle of friends by emigrating to Canada by myself and there started to read a little about eastern religions, as well as associating with some young Christians.  I also read the works of some philosophers: Arthur Koestler was one of these.  His concept that civilizations evolved through cycles appealed to my feelings about the inhumanity and injustices of society, and I concluded that we were at the end of one such cycle. Feeling that I wanted to contribute something positive to life, I decided to return to the U.K., buy some land in Cornwall, and keep alive rural skills by learning to grow organic vegetables as a living.

Through doing this one part of my life was filled with so much positive and exciting adventure; working with nature to learn how to till the soil and sow and harvest. But, in comparison to this, the unchanged social part of my life felt increasingly meaningless and led to deep feelings of unhappiness.

Then, through a friend, I heard of a young woman in the local village of St. Agnes, who belonged to a religion I’d never heard of who, despite her many challenges, was always warm and friendly towards people. Her name was Barbara Anderson.  On sunny days she would sit on her front terrace and drink tea with passers-by, which is how we met. She would answer my questions about her beliefs and she introduced me to the Bahá’í Faith.  I did feel a sense of excitement that this might be what I was looking for, but then one early summer evening when I was delivering vegetables something happened . . .

Barbara’s five children had gone to bed and we were drinking tea and talking. Then something mysterious began to happen to the atmosphere in the room: it felt as though some spiritual presence was entering.  I looked at her.  She had closed her eyes and I felt impelled to do the same. We sat there with the breezes of the All-Merciful wafting over us for a long timeless time.  I can’t remember exactly what happened afterwards.  I felt the need to go, and cycled in bewilderment back to my fields, my mind racing: There is some astonishing spiritual power, a God.  How does this change my life?  What am I supposed to do now?

I visited Barbara again and Richard Matty, one of the other local Bahá’í friends, was there also.  I suppose questions were asked but at some stage I felt the need to sit by myself in the room next door.  Richard began reading from what I now know to be The Gleanings.  Although I couldn’t actually hear what he was saying the effect of the words came over with such overwhelming  power and authority that the door of an astonishing spiritual universe opened before me.  I found out later that the passage was the one sometimes referred to as the ‘tablet of the seeker’ that starts, “O my brother!” and later continues, “Then will the manifold favours and outpouring grace of the holy and everlasting Spirit confer such new life upon the seeker that he will find himself endowed with a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, and a new mind.  He will contemplate the manifest signs of the universe, and will penetrate the hidden mysteries of the soul.”

Now I started to investigate the Faith seriously.  Several books were loaned to me but the one that affected me the most was the compilation, Principles of Bahá’í Administration.  In the introduction it wrote of the need for balance.  How the Administrative Order is a channel for the Holy Spirit. How the prompting of the spirit and wisdom secured through consultation are both required if the “divine purpose for this age” is to be achieved, “The establishment of the reign of divine love, justice and wisdom in the world, under and in conformity with the Divine law.”  Here in these principles I saw a way through which the love of God could transform the debased world we live in; that the enthralling vision, captured in the words of Isaiah, “the government shall be upon His shoulders” could be fulfilled.  It was around the early summer of 1974 that I declared my faith in Bahá’u’lláh, and I have been learning to become a Bahá’í ever since.

I was introduced to the local Bahá’ís and was impressed by their diversity. One of these was an astute soul called Naomi Long who lived in Kelynack, near Land’s End.  A few of us began to meet there for what were called meditations.  Initially these meetings included Richard Matty and Pauline Bray, one of the early pioneers to Cornwall in the 1960’s.  To my surprise some of the local friends expressed concern about what might be going on, thinking some sort of psychic activity was happening, but I knew in my heart  this was not the case.  We read a little from the Writings, but mostly sat in silence, communing with His spirit.  It was around then that I began to realise that not all of the friends had had similar spiritual experiences to mine but had come into the Faith because of some other of its important aspects.

I became involved with the mainstream culture of the Faith but always felt strongly about the need for balance between its spiritual and administrative aspects.  I was intrigued to read what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had said in Paris Talks about ‘the faculty of meditation’, and how through it as individuals we can more effectively develop our spiritual qualities and insights.  He also spoke of how, “This faculty brings forth from the invisible plane the sciences and arts. Through the meditative faculty inventions are made possible, colossal undertakings are carried out; through it governments can run smoothly. Through this faculty man enters into the very Kingdom of God.”  It did perplex me that though we were endeavouring to advance such personal and social objectives, and were definitely engaged in a ‘colossal undertaking’, that more prominence was not given to understanding and developing this ‘faculty’.  I thought this was perhaps because it was not generally a traditional aspect of our culture in the U.K. and, apart from knowing that there was this wonderful source within us that we could draw comfort, insight and strength from, understood very little of its dynamics.

The local district council turned down my application to live on the land where I was growing vegetables, and this led eventually to my becoming a general nurse, where I spent the last 20 years of working life nursing in an Intensive Care Unit.  As well as making me acutely aware of how suddenly life can change for us, it reinforced in me the need to see people in the context of their lives as a whole and, within the bounds of moderation, made me reluctant to give up on them too easily.  To some extent this underlined for me the need for a nurturing attitude towards friends in the community and people in general, and undoubtedly played a part in my approach as assistant to David Lewis and Viv Bartlett, Auxiliary Board members for protection and propagation respectively.

It was through nursing that I met my wife-to-be Diane and in 1980 we shared our first pilgrimage.  Diane had recently enrolled as a Bahá’í and, remarkably, joined me on a cancellation. There were too many bounties to be included here but, notably, we had that of listening in the evenings to Hand of the Cause Mr. Furutan in the old pilgrim house.  Before we left, Diane accepted my proposal of marriage and we were married in the September.  Eighteen years later, along with our only child, Jonathan, we returned on pilgrimage again.

We spent the first six years of married life pursuing the goals of the Faith before Jonathan was born.

At a Welsh Summer School in 1985 a recently declared Peter Hulme ran afternoon sessions which involved using simple meditation exercises.  I was excited to become aware that there were ways in which we could make our hearts and minds more receptive to divine assistance.  On my return to Cornwall these exercises were shared with the meditation groups that followed after those original meetings at Naomi Long’s. These groups, set up by my wife Diane and myself in the 1980s and 90s, consisted of people from all backgrounds whose souls shared a yearning for that state of prayer “that shall rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds”.  Largely these meetings were held in silence, and people meditated in their own ways, but it was sometimes found to be helpful for newcomers, unfamiliar with meditation, to practise meditation exercises for a few sessions.  Over the years a handful of these friends came to declare their belief in Bahá’u’lláh.

I was privileged to be included at the formation of two Spiritual Assemblies; that of Carrick in 1977 and Penwith in 1978.  I served in Penwith for less than a year along with Bernard Leach, Trudi Scott, Alan Bell, and other dear souls, before returning to live in the Carrick district.  For almost all of its existence, up until the late 90’s, the Carrick Assembly consisted of the nine adults who formed the community: these included Ken and Betty Goode when they moved to Cornwall. The Carrick boundaries at that time included Falmouth, Truro and St. Agnes, and Penwith included  St. Ives and Penzance.

One memorable development with the use of meditation was when the Spiritual Assembly of Carrick chose to have a period of around 20 minutes’ silence after its opening devotional and before consulting.  It was such a privilege to have experienced those meetings.  We all looked forward eagerly to Assembly meetings and, such was the unity of heart and mind, the business was conducted so swiftly.  The meetings strove to reach towards ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s vision that consultation be, “spiritual conference in the attitude and atmosphere of love”.  Then the Assembly boundaries were changed to a more appropriate local level which meant the Assembly ceased to exist.

Many happy years were spent with my family involved in local Bahá’í family orientated activities and teaching projects, attending Spring and Summer Schools, and spending many delightful Christmas periods with a large group of Bahá’ís and our friends at a hostel by Dartmeet on Dartmoor. The hostel was called Pixies Holt, hence we were known as ‘the Pixies’.

In 1999, based on a National Convention resolution to promote the use of meditation in society, the National Spiritual Assembly asked me to develop a Pilot Project with this in mind.  Drawing upon a diverse selection of friends in the South West a committee was formed.  This included my wife Diane, Pauline Bray, Arezoo Farahzad, Kay Hughes, Carole Huxtable, Shirin Huxtable and Jan Mughrabi.  We concluded that though it would be relatively easy to introduce people to an experience of meditation, for there to be long term benefits regular practise was necessary.  So over the course of a year, drawing upon the Writings and available guidance, a meditation course suitable for people from all backgrounds was developed,  piloted several times locally, evaluated and revised.  Workshops were then run by Diane and myself at Summer Schools to train others to run the course. There was a great deal of interest from home and abroad, and it was fascinating to see how friends with little or no experience of meditation could create an environment from which people could derive so much benefit.

With regard to the Pilot Project, the Universal House of Justice later informed the National Assembly that though it was permissible for individuals to give instruction in meditation, Institutions should not be endorsing any particular approach.  Therefore such courses were not to be promoted by institutions and the project ended.  In any event it was proving challenging trying to meet the needs of the many souls from all over the country who were interested in the course, but rather than just lose the acquired learning I drew upon all the experience of those who had participated in some way and developed the CALM Course – a Communal Approach to Learning Meditation.  This was in effect an easy to use, do it yourself meditation course for small groups, complete with facilitator’s guide, handbook, introductory digital recording and pamphlet. This was published by George Ronald and was appreciated by many people – Bahá’ís and their friends.

Despite my assertions to the contrary, which were presumed to be due to modesty, people often thought that I was particularly knowledgeable and accomplished regarding meditation. The reality was that the simple teachings of the mainstream religious traditions that could be validated by our Writings, combined with the sincere motivation of participants, resulted in the positive outcomes that people experienced from the courses.

Following our Study of Ruhi Book 6  in 2008, as a personal teaching project, Diane and I, amongst other possibilities, decided to offer a meditation course in our locality.  We thought that we may meet a few new friends this way, but were not expecting the 30 that enrolled.  Our primary goals were to offer sincere love and friendship, and introduce souls to the blessings of the spirit.  Four courses later we continued to meet as meditation groups, and for other activities; and new souls continued to be attracted.  Such strong bonds of fellowship and trust developed but, to date, despite presentations on the Faith and their participation in Holy Days, any seeds sown have yet to germinate into investigating the Faith.  Personally we had the bounty of learning to relate to a diverse group of lovely souls, with all their firm convictions.

Life has been so full of bounty.  Moving now towards my latter years, I feel astonished after all this time how little I have learned or achieved, but despite the record of the years underlining how little personal growth there has been, I still persist hopefully.  With regard to the development of the Faith, I still wish that the extraordinary benefits of  developing our ‘meditative faculty’, both for individuals and in consultative meetings, were a more mainstream part of our culture, but take comfort in Shoghi Effendi’s words, ” We must not only be patient with others, infinitely patient!, but also with our own poor selves.”  We are all part of an astonishing process of life unfolding.  In 500,000 years, the duration of this new cycle, and some 500 Manifestations later, where will we be – still developing, still learning.  And if we do get that far it will be because we have learned to love each other well, and to hold on firmly to the Covenant – “the Pivot of the oneness of mankind.”

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Paul Profaska

Cornwall, February 2012

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