Fragments of Their Broken Hearts

Dorothy Marcic

from And Her Eyes Were Open: Women’s Religious Journeys

edited by Nomi Manon

It took many years for me to realize that life is about growth and that we come to this through an endless series of tests.  Somehow in a more child-like way of thinking, I had unconsciously assumed that all I needed was to get through any particular difficult time and everything would be fine after that.  But now I see there is no end-point, no final destination of arrival after which life is easy and trouble-free.

“Pray for tests,” my Baha’i friends used to tell me. But why, I thought would I want more tests than I already had?  Weren’t they enough?  What I yearned for instead were times of peacefulness, calm and happiness, which was when I felt better, more content.  Troubles only seemed to bring me anxiety, pain and disappointment.  So back many years ago, I admit to structuring my life in order to avoid pain and suffering, believing that was the road to true happiness.

Now I see how I was, in fact, stunting my own spiritual growth.  For trials bring strength.

 The more difficulties one sees in the world, the more perfect one becomes.  The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes.  The more you put the gold in the fire, the purer it becomes.  The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts.  Therefore, the more sorrows one sees, the more perfect one becomes.  (‘Abu’l-Bahá in Fire and Gold, 1995, p. 13)

Inspiration for this consciousness came to me nearly thirty years ago, but it took many readings, horrendous tests and some growth, before I started to see even a portion of the light.  The pivotal tome was the mystical essay, or Tablet, The Seven Valleys,[1] by Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith.  Written over 150 years ago, it was a response to a Shaykh (a high level teacher in Islam), who was a member of the Sufi sect.[2]  The Seven Valleys describes the seven stages the soul must go through as it journeys towards the object of its quest, namely, God.

The passage I was drawn to over and over again, was a story in the third stage, the Valley of Knowledge.

There was once a lover who had sighed for long years in separation from his beloved, and wasted in the fire of remoteness.  From the rule of love, his heart was empty of patience, and his body weary of his spirit; he reckoned life without her as a mockery, and time consumed him away.  How many a day he found no rest in longing for her; how many a night the pain of her kept him from sleep; his body was worn to a sigh, his heart’s wound had turned him to a cry of sorrow.  He had given a thousand lives for one taste of the cup of her presence, but it availed him not.  The doctors knew no cure for him, and companions avoided his company; yea, physicians have no medicine for one sick of love, unless the favor of the beloved one deliver him.

At last, the tree of his longing yielded the fruit of despair, and the fire of his hope fell to ashes.  Then one night he could live no more, and he went out of his house and made for the marketplace.  On a sudden, a watchman followed after him.  He broke into a run, with the watchman following; then other watchmen came together, and barred every passage to the weary one.  And the wretched one cried from his heart, and ran here and there, and moaned to himself:  “Surely this watchman is Izra’il, my angel of death, following so fast upon me; or he is a tyrant of men, seeking to harm me.” His feet carried him on, the one bleeding with the arrow of love, and his heart lamented.  Then he came to a garden wall, and with untold pain he scaled it, for it proved very high; and forgetting his life, he threw himself down to the garden.

And there he beheld his beloved with a lamp in her hand, searching for a ring she had lost. When the heart-surrendered lover looked on his ravishing love, he drew a great breath and raised up his hands in prayer, crying:  “O God! Give Thou glory to the watchman, and riches and long life.  For the watchman was Gabriel, guiding this poor one; or he was Israfil, bringing life to this wretched one!”

Indeed, his words were true, for he had found many a secret justice in this seeming tyranny of the watchman, and seen how many a mercy lay hid behind the veil.  Out of wrath, the guard had led him who was athirst in love’s desert to the sea of his loved one, and lit up the dark night of absence with the light of reunion.  He had driven one who was afar, into the garden of nearness, had guided an ailing soul to the heart’s physician.

Now if the lover could have looked ahead, he would have blessed the watchman at the start, and prayed on his behalf, and he would have seen that tyranny as justice; but since the end was veiled to him, he moaned and made his plaint in the beginning.  Yet those who journey in the garden land of knowledge, because they see the end in the beginning, see peace in war and friendliness in anger.

(Baha’u’llah: The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys, Pages: 13-15)

As I went from test to test, the phrase that kept my faith, that helped me move ahead was to “see the end in the beginning,” to be able to look ahead to the positive growth that surely comes out of turmoil.  And to be comforted by that promise.

Applying the principle

Perhaps the most severe test I have yet encountered was the divorce from my first husband, an Iranian who had become mentally ill sometime after the Iranian revolution.  Locked in a fierce and mean-spirited custody battle over our three daughters, he was (in the words of a psychologist he had hired) willing to do anything to destroy me, even if it meant hurting the children.

A highly dysfunctional and amoral genius is a formidable opponent.  Almost every day there was some new technique he had thought of to get back at me.  Finally, he kidnapped the girls and I believed I might never see them again.  Such antics went on for nearly three years, until he finally killed himself.  During those times, and after the suicide, I had days where the pain was so great I thought I would turn to vapor and vanish into the air.  Other days, success was measured by the ability to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other as I muddled through in a veritable fog.

I remember during the most intense time, days when I would wake up and feel as if my soul had grown.  Never before had I experienced such a remarkable feeling, that is, to actually sense spiritual growth in real time.  It was similar to having worked hard at the gym for a few days and one day you see how strong your muscles have become.

To survive that experience, I prayed so much, I read about tests, and I always came back to the story from the Seven Valleys.  To see the end in the beginning.  I knew if I could just hold on, the rainbow would come at the end of the storm.

“Never lose thy trust in God. Be thou every hopeful, for the bounties of God never cease to flow upon man.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Fire and Gold, p. 134

How easy to say those words—never lose trust in God—and how difficult to remember them in times in intense pain.  How much easier to blame: the world, our parents, our spouse, our boss, our co-workers, the economy.  An immature response to difficulties—and I admit to this, even today—is to look outside for the cause and to bemoan one’s fate.  Real spiritual development includes being a full adult, taking responsibility and looking within for the strength.

Tests and trials only cause agitation to weak hearts.  But to the pure souls, a hundred thousand tests are but to them like mirage, imagination, shadow.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Fire and Gold, p. 36.

Re-engineer our spirits

What I came to see was that these tests were helping me re-engineer my inside structure, so that it could endure harsher tribulations.

“The same tests come again in greater degree, until is shown that a former weakness has become a strength…”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Fire and Gold, p. 15

In my less mature ways, I wanted the outside world to change, to accommodate me, so that I would not have to feel the pain and sorrow.  But spiritual growth ultimately brings that inner transformation, where weaknesses become strengths, where a gnat becomes an eagle.

But suffering, although an inescapable reality, can nevertheless be utilised as a means for the attainment of happiness….  Suffering is both a reminder and a guide.  It stimulates us better to adapt ourselves to our environmental conditions, and thus leads the way to self-improvement.  In every suffering one can find a meaning and a wisdom.  But it is not always easy to find the secret of that wisdom.  It is sometimes only when all our suffering has passed that we become aware of its usefulness.

(Shoghi Effendi:  Fire and Gold, p. 29)

They key, once again, was to see the end in the beginning.  To have faith in God to know I am always receiving blessings and that, in the future, I would possibly understand the wisdom in my current suffering.

The previous quotation ties back in to the concept of spiritual law, which I discuss at length in Managing with the Wisdom of Love.  Suffering helps us adapt to our surrounding conditions, and may even be the result of our own behavior.  That is, we have broken a spiritual law and are living the consequences, which might include suffering. As the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament states, “Reap what ye sow.”  For there are two kinds of suffering, one for tests and growth and the other as a consequence of our actions.

In the workplace

There are two teachings for me regarding tests and the workplace.  First, tests help us to grow, to become stronger.  Secondly, if someone, say a leader, breaks a spiritual law, it ultimately increases suffering, often of innocent persons.  It is the predictable consequence.  While on the one hand, the Great Religions teach that suffering leads to growth, I did not find any justification in the Holy Books for acting in a way that will inflict pain on others.  A self-centered person, or one who has read too many of the superficial kind of new-age books, might say, “Well, it does not matter what I did and how it hurt those people.  It will help them grow.”

Our own tests. About my own tests and suffering, though, I have control over how I will react.  And I mean control in a wholistic, long-range sense.  For example, I am sometimes tested at work by people whose confidence exceeds their competence.  It drives me crazy and I have trouble loving them, or even dealing with then in an adult manner.  Yet because I know this is basically my issue, I am slowly understanding why that behavior triggers such an intense reaction (it relates back to my relationship with my father), and how to remain calm and without anxiety under those conditions.  So, even though I may not have control in the moment, I have control in the sense of choosing over time to work towards growth and healing of that issue.

Another type of test has come up for me. Recently at work, I was placed on a committee that pitted me in a brutal battle between our dean and my department head.  It got so bad that I spend weeks with almost no sleep, looking like the walking wounded.  I even went to the dean and begged to be removed from the committee, saying that I had been put in an untenable position.  Yet after a couple of months, I could feel myself stronger.  It had become easier for me to speak my truth in meetings, to say things others were afraid to bring up.  It was, though excruciatingly painful, another part of my growth process.

My friend and colleague, Mary Lynn Pulley, did some research on people who had been downsized XXXX

Organizations, too, sometimes suffer not from their own actions.  Volatile economies, changes in government regulation, unexpected competition—any of these may require wrenching changes in order to adapt.  And afterwards, the company may find itself more competent, more nimble, with a better presence.

Ten years ago, H-P, the inventor of handheld calculators, had to retreat out of that business due to Japan’s cheaper and well-designed units. Similarly, in 1985, Japan made 80 percent of all computer printers that Americans bought, and The Wall Street Journal called that market “the stronghold of Japanese industry.” Through savvy corporate restructuring founded on the previously mentioned virtues, on innovation, on entrepreneurship, and on rejection of the “rugged individualism of cowboy culture” (Yoder, 1994, p. 7), H-P gained its lost market and sold about $8 billion of printers in 1993, which is greater than Hollywood’s yearly box-office revenues. H-P currently holds 55 percent of the inkjet printer world market (Yoder, 1994).

The company didn’t achieve such a turnaround by using high-handed tactics or sophisticated financial maneuvers; by cutting corners, abusing, or taking advantage of employees; or by using power plays in the office. H-P succeeded by hiring and retaining smart people, treating them well, encouraging them, rewarding risk takers, and always being trustworthy. (Marcic, 1997, pp. 100-101)

These involuntary traumas forced H-P to restructure and re-engineer, helping it to ultimately be a more successful company.  It was the angel of death that was actually the angel of mercy for the firm.

Suffering and consequences.  Working in management consulting for over 20 years, I have seen too much suffering.  In some organizations, the pain is so intense, you could almost cut it with a knife.  Some of the anguish I see is not from unpredictable  environmental events, but rather from ill-thought or self-centered management policies.  What I teach my students and practicing managers is to behave in a way to ease others’suffering, to treat them lovingly and with respect, to uphold justice, to act out of service.  Because of spiritual law, this sort of behavior in the end has a more positive result.

Companies that break spiritual laws, that lack love, integrity, justice, and respect, will over time show negative effects in some way. They may be initially successful, or even successful for quite a while, particularly if they have clever managers or little competition. However, the results of lovelessness, injustice, and disrespect will eventually make the organization less productive than it might have been. In the long run, the company will suffer alienation of workers, disenfranchisement of customers, loss of community respect, and so on. (Marcic, 1997, p. 16)

Business exists in the same physical and spiritual world as every other unit of society and is dependent on the same physical and spiritual laws. There are not two sets of spiritual laws, one for everyday life and another for business; there is only one. Whether managers want to see this or not is irrelevant. The same laws apply to them as to everyone else, even when they are ignorant of them. Ideas in the Tao are similar: “Natural law is blind, its justice evenhanded. The consequences of one’s behavior are inescapable” (Heider, 1985, p. 9). (Marcic, 1997, p. 10)

For example, in recent years in the U.S. workers report increased pressure to spend more hours and produce more, more, more.  But, as spiritual law would tell us, you can only push so hard before negative results come back like a boomerang.  The American Institute of Stress reports that employers lose $200 billion annually from stress-related problems including poor morale, turnover, absenteeism and lost productivity (Hein, 1998).  During 1998, absenteeism rose 25 percent from the previous year, because employees found the only safety valve was calling in sick (Shellenbarger, 1998).  To me, it seems another example of spiritual law at work. Predictable consquences to oppressive behavior by management.


The path of spiritual development is a long and arduous one.  Without pain, real growth is difficult.  “Men who suffer not, attain no perfection.” (‘Abdu’l-Baha in Fire and Gold, p. 6)  Seeing the end in the beginning and trusting in the bounties of God are ways to move through the turmoil with radiant acquiesence.

Several years ago I was skiing in Austria.  During my first hour at ski school, I had an accident where I tore two ligaments in my knee and was taken to the hospital.  With my limited German, I was able to understand the doctor telling me I needed surgery.  “No!” I cried out, tears streaming down my cheeks.  “I don’t have time for an operation and a cast on my leg.  I have too much work to do!”  Unable to see the end in the beginning, I was angry and started blaming the ski school instructor, Manfred, for abandoning me on that difficult T-bar lift.

Traveling home to Prague via train, a cast from hip to toe and two children, luggage and ski gear was no small feat.  I quickly realized Prague was not a city made for handicapped people and I found myself unable to go much of anywhere for six weeks, until the cast was removed.  The paper I had wanted to write on spirituality in organizations was sitting at my desk, begging me to work on it.  For the past five months, I had told myself “Next week I will start it.”  Finally, I had unpressured time to devote to it.   By the time my cast was off, I had made so much progress, I knew it could be a book.  Ultimately, it became Managing with the Wisdom of Love.  Without the ski accident, I might still be telling myself I have to work on that project.  So, the trauma I was so angry about was actually the blessing that helped give birth to my book.

Becoming a full adult spirituality, I think, means not complaining in the midst of tests, but being able to see the end in the beginning and being grateful for the learning and strength that are soon to come.

My calamity if My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy.   Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 15.

[1] As part of the book by Baha’ullah, The Seven Valleys and Four Valleys.

[2] Sufism began in 12th century Persia and has been most well-known the west from the poems of such mystics as Rumi and Hafiz.  The Shaykh knew of the famous work of the Sufi mystic‘Attar, whose Language of the Birds traces the journey of the soul through seven stages of Search, Love, Knowledge, Detachment, Unification, Bewilderment and Annihilation.  In the Seven Valleys, Baha’u’llah uses a similar format of seven stages which the soul must go through on its quest towards God.


Bahá’u’llah. (1939, 1990)  The Hidden Words. Wilmette, IL: Baha’i Publishing Trust.

Bahá’u’llah. (1945, 1991)  The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys.  Wilmette, IL: Baha’i Publishing Trust.

Kurzius, Brian. (1995)  Fire and gold: Benefiting from life’s tests.  Oxford: George Ronald Press.

Marcic, Dorothy. (1997)  Managing with the Wisdom of Love: Uncovering virtue in people and organizations.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.