If the world is like a mirror reflecting the attributes of God, we can say that the mirror shines because of the Sun within it, and not by its own power.
To look at one of the many mirrors and fall in love with it is perfectly natural, because the soul is a lover of light. The question is, are you in love with the particular mirror, or with the Sun that shines within it? If we love the Sun, we will cherish its light wherever we find it: in small mirrors, large ones, clear ones, somewhat dusty ones. Our powers of detachment permit us to see past the mirror, and focus on the reality it reveals. If we love the mirror, however, we have failed to understand the role of things in Creation. Then if another mirror comes we will treat it poorly; or if the Sun departs from our beloved mirror, we will still cling to it. The people of the past rejected the Manifestations of God because they were lovers of a particular mirror, instead of lovers of the Light. They were attached to the Sun’s places of appearance, and not to the Sun itself.
Being detached from wordly things, therefore, is a separate matter from emotion. Our emotions exist to strengthen our bond to God, and shouldn’t be ignored. But in order for the fulfillment of emotion to take place, we must detach ourselves from everything that exists – the mirrors – so that our sight can be wholly focused on God – Who shines within the mirror.
And so truly loving people comes from seeing God within them. This will enable a person to love all of humanity. But if we look to the particular attributes of people, sometimes we will love them and sometimes we won’t at all. Detachment is what saves us from getting lost in their myriad failings and thus fail to appreciate their fundamental beauty.
As far as humans being able to perfect detachment: Before we get too stratospheric and lift detachment to an impossible level, perhaps all of us already know how to be detached. For example: There is a concept which I will call “Orange”. I know what Orange tastes like, what it looks like, what it smells like. When I want Orange, I go to the store and buy an orange and eat it. This particular orange I buy allows me to experience an Essence which I knew long before that physical orange came into being.
Now let’s say that I buy three oranges and I pull one of them out to eat it. But something happens, I drop the orange and it falls down a storm drain. An adult will say, “Oh well”, and will reach into the bag to get another orange. This is because he knows that Orange is what he wants, and each particular orange is simply another manifestation of the same essence. One is as good as another. He is completely – perfectly! – detached with regard to the particular, in favor of the Absolute.
A child, though, might have a completely different reaction. He may cry and say, “But I wanted that orange!!” The adult tries to tell him they are all the same, but the child has fallen in love with the one orange that disappeared. He is not detached, because he loves the particular over the Absolute. The adult wants Orange, but the child wants orange. He still has some learning to do.
So I think we all know what detachment is, in many respects. We have already perfected detachment over and over again. The ultimate form of detachment is setting aside the world – these particular manifestations of the Divine – in favor of God, the ultimate Absolute. Although it seems vastly more difficult, it is an extension of the same basic idea. I even think ordinary detachment exists to educate us and give us examples of that spiritual Detachment.
But it’s not so impossible. We’ve done it before, many times over. It’s a question of extending what we learned with those tiny lessons to their ultimate degree: Applying our many experiences with detachment to master that Detachment which is the purpose of those other forms.
Now, although the metaphor of the orange tries to cut to the heart of the matter, it also drops a few subtleties along the way. Take for example love of a sibling, a brother; if they are lost, it is not like dropping an orange. In that case, the metaphor needs to be refined: What one loves about a brother is never lost. His soul is immortal, and will continue through all the words of God. Although it is a very sad thing to lose one’s point of connection to a special person, in reality that connection is not lost at all when they pass.
For example, a brother has already gone through many stages in his life. He was an infant, then a child, then a teenager, then an adult. At every step an older form of his being was “lost”, when he exchanged it for a more mature form; but the essential connection is never lost. I love the essence of my brother, so that even if his body’s cells are completely replaced every six years, I spare no grief for his body of six years ago.
Likewise, when he matures again in passing from this earthly life. Recently I was at the deathbed of a good friend of mine who died the next day. When I saw him after his heart attack, it made me so happy to know that his life had been spent serving God, and that I knew where he was bound for. The falcon was about to be freed from its cage. I also knew that once he passed we would have an even more intimate connection, because at least one of us would no longer be impeded by material restrictions. I continue to pray for him until this day, and sometimes I can feel him helping me.
Now, if we can love the Essence of a thing – its soul – beyond all places and times of appearance, we can love the Essence of Essences beyond all its many forms too. A brother is not the orange that was lost, he is the Orange that survives all changes. And in his soul one can see the signs of God, and our love for him will be a cause of drawing nearer to God. Is God a particular Essence which requires turning away from one’s brother, or is He the life of all Essences, and therefore is seen by looking to that brother?
There is nothing which, in the end, does not serve the purpose of knowing and worshiping God. It is holding to this purpose through all changes and transformations that distinguishes the detached. In this respect, not one of them would ever reject a Messenger of God, or be distracted by His changed appearance in each New Day.
In this station the truth of the unity of God and of the signs of His sanctity is established. Thou shalt indeed see them all rising above the bosom of God’s might and embraced in the arms of His mercy; nor can any distinction be made between His bosom and His arms. To speak of change or transformation in this plane would be sheer blasphemy and utter impiety, for this is the station wherein the light of divine unity shineth forth, and the truth of His oneness is expressed, and the splendours of the everlasting Morn are reflected in lofty and faithful mirrors.1
Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p.71↩