By Nadia Kardan, Regular Contributor
Last December over winter break, I took a direct flight, alone, from New York to Tel Aviv and used hand gestures and single English words to convey to a conductor that I needed to go to Haifa, Israel’s northern port city. I was shuffled onto a train without verbal confirmation of its direction and felt lucky and relieved enough to arrive in the city I needed to be.
I stayed in a hostel on the bottom of Mount Carmel, where a ten minute walk would lead me to a street corner where I could view nineteen towering terraces leading up the majestic shrine I had come so far to visit and pray in.
I went to Haifa as a religious pilgrim. I’m a Baha’i, and Haifa is the host of the Baha’i World Center and the holiest places a Baha’is can visit.
There are no rituals associated with the Baha’i pilgrimage. Aside from generally universally accepted standards of taste, there is no dress code.
The pilgrimage is designed for the Baha’i pilgrims to be guided through a walking history of the faith, while affording ample time for prayer and meditation in the holy shrines. Fellowship and friendship are also greatly emphasized.
I spent a significant amount of time sitting in my faith’s holiest shrines and simply praying in an environment where no one paid attention to what I looked like or where I came from. It didn’t matter who I was, who I had been, how much money I made, how old I was, that I was a woman, or that I was alone.
Every day I woke up and shared company with others who were so spiritually high and elated that a frown, let alone an unkind word, was impossible to convey. I achieved such ecstasy and detachment in the shrines that I would leave without realizing that I’d been meditating for well over an hour.
I spent my evenings laughing, playing cards, and eating out with new friends. I shared long walks and conversations of a depth I rarely experienced. Together, we meditated on life, love, and God.
I achieved such a state that I had genuinely forgotten the kind of person I was before my moment and time in Haifa. After only days, I forgot what I was doing with my life before. I struggled to imagine what I would do after; in fact, any thought outside of the world I was then occupying seemed futile and almost meaningless.
Upon returning home in New York, I found myself deeply longing for the joy and peace I felt in that holy city. Missing it became so strong that I almost became sad, if not completely grieved. I missed my new friends. I missed the conversation and the pure laughter and exaltation I shared with them. I missed the feeling of spiritual ecstasy, of feeling I was so close to a tranquility most people spent their entire lives seeking.
I was almost convinced I had dreamt it. The level of spirituality, of happiness, of detachment, didn’t seem real.
But it was real. It was as real as anything else I’ve experienced. Having the reality dawn over me made me think: why can’t everywhere be like this?
I believe in God, and I follow a religion, and I take it very seriously, but turning the entire world onto a religion is not the same as promoting spirituality.
Spirituality is the feeling of something beyond the material body. It’s the act of humbling oneself before a greater force. I call this greater force God. You can call it nature. You can call it love. You can call it the universe. It doesn’t matter the name we give it; it only matters that we are supremely humbled before it. It matters that we recognize our limitations as humans enough to become detached from the material world around us.
Spirituality is the connection between the self and feelings, emotions, and nuances in the world around us. It’s the ability to see everyone as equal beings, because it requires that we all see each other as spirits before we see each other as bodies.
I’m a genuine believer that spirituality and a meditation of our inner selves is the key to happiness around the world.
How much could the world improve if we looked at each other as equal beings, all at the mercy of a greater force, all reaching towards the same goal?
How much could the world improve if we all felt as if we were one family, united by the fact that we knew we were more than a material world that aimed to divide us?
I know I sound idealistic and unrealistic. I know I sound like I have the stars in my eyes. I may come off as naïve and unsophisticated. Maybe I come off as crazy.
But I’m not crazy, and I’m not unrealistic because I witnessed such a level of spirituality that peace didn’t just seem possible. Peace seemed inevitable.
While it was hard for me to leave Haifa and the people I met and the experiences I had, I was empowered to do one thing: recreate that level of spirituality I witnessed in every place I would visit.
Let's Chat! Have you ever experienced a level of spirituality such as this? How do you spread the message of love and peace. We'd love to hear about it here!
Nadia holds a B.A. in English Literature from Rutgers University and a M.A. in English Education. She is a public schoolteacher, writes fiction, and is enamored with music, film, faith, and all things wonderful. She works and resides in New York City. Follow her @nskardan on Twitter.
image via hnw.org