You are noble.
No, seriously, you are.
Okay, I know you probably don’t believe it. After all, nobility conjures images of kings, queens, and saints, not ordinary people like you and I. Nobility implies being outstanding in some way: of high birth, exceptional purity, or sharp intellect. Nobility is grand, impressive, uncommon.
You probably feel far from all that. Human beings are easily folded, spindled, and mutilated by the world. We collect stains and scars as readily as financial debts. We don’t usually feel noble unless we’re conceited, which is hardly a noble quality. Indeed, some of us have developed such a low opinion of humankind as to reject our whole species as a waste of space. Seriously. How many people do you know who say they hate people? We don’t regard much of anybody as noble, most especially ourselves.
But that low opinion is based on what’s visible on the outside, which itself results from years of being shoved around, pulled the wrong way, and battered. It’s rather like complaining that a house was poorly built because a tornado ripped it to shreds. But blaming the house is unfair. Not much stands up to a direct hit by a tornado.
What’s on the inside?
So forget outward appearances for a minute. What’s on the inside? That’s where your nobility lies. It’s an inherent quality, what you truly are, your real nature, your heart if you will.
Over time we’ve increasingly told ourselves that we are nothing special. We don’t live in a special place. We don’t live at a special time. We are not even special creatures, merely a particularly clever form of animal. While there is some scientific justification in adopting this view with regard to many questions, it’s not entirely accurate. Our Earth remains the only place we know where life evolved. If life-bearing planets turn out to be rare, ours would definitely be in a special class. Nor are we ourselves exactly typical. Out of the billions of species that have existed on our planet, we stand alone. A nearly infinite expanse separates the human being from even the cleverest animal, as evidenced not merely by our tool-making abilities, not merely by our power to understand the world, but in that we can ask who and what we are.
By asking that question, we stretch out our hands to our Creator — however we conceive It— and implore an answer. Somewhere out there other beings might be asking the same question, but we have not found them. We know of only one creature capable of this feat: ourselves. And if we do find others, it would make neither us nor them unspecial. It would, rather, make us kindred spirits, members of a very rare class, partners in nobility.
By asking that question, we also reveal that we are more than physical bodies. We are mind and spirit, too. Our bodies came into being through an evolutionary process that began not with the first instance of life on Earth, but with the birth of the universe itself. In a sense, we have progressed through all forms of matter from primordial soup to the complexities of our advanced brains to become what we are on the outside, which in turn enables our inner nature, our true nature, to pour out like water from a spring. “Why do you think you’re nothing,” the Imam Ali said, “when the universe is folded within you?”
By recognizing this truth we unlock our potential to become as noble on the outside as we inherently are on the inside.
The Mirror of the Heart
So to repeat: you are noble. Nobility is your nature and your birthright. Nobody can take it from you, for it is what you are. Nobility is the image of God within you. Think of an image in a mirror. If the mirror were perfectly formed and polished, the image would be a faithful representation of whatever is reflected in it. If the mirror is filthy or warped or broken, the image will be distorted. Yet the actual object reflected in it will be untouched, and glimmers of its reflection can still be seen.
This is a metaphor. God’s image is not a physical thing, but spiritual qualities such as love, mercy, generosity, truthfulness, and justice — all the perfections of which we are capable. They reside within us as potentials, awaiting development. If we don’t see them on the outside, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It only means they are obscured. It means the mirror needs cleaning.
So what is this mirror? It is your heart — not the muscle that pumps blood, obviously, but your spiritual heart. The ancients often regarded the physical heart as the controlling organ in the body, associated with emotions and even understanding. We’ve long known that’s not the case, but the symbolism remains. Spiritually, we speak of the heart as the core of our being, our spiritual essence, or the soul itself.
Cleaning this mirror means removing whatever prevents it from reflecting those divine qualities that are part and parcel of our true nature: habits and attitudes that interfere with our ability to be honest, just, kind, and so forth. This is a lifelong quest. If we are to improve ourselves and our world, it’s a journey we must consciously undertake.
Tools exist to help you find and develop your inner nobility, spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation. For some, counseling or therapy may be necessary to deal with serious psychological or emotional issues. In either case, you’re not going it alone. You make the journey in the company of your fellow human beings and with the One who is reflected in your very soul.
But at the end of the day, you must consciously agree to embark upon this journey, and you must put forth the effort to get somewhere. You won’t become as noble on the outside as you are on the inside by simply wishing for it, or by waiting for the wave of a magic wand to transform you. You have to look for it, find it, nurture it, and practice it. You become charitable, for example, by practicing charity.
Bottom line: you won’t go it alone, but you must go. Rest assured, it’s worth the walk.
O SON OF UTTERANCE! Thou art My stronghold; enter therein that thou mayest abide in safety. My love is in thee, know it, that thou mayest find Me near unto thee. — Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, Arabic 10
This post originally appeared on Medium, March 15, 2018.