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The Relationship Between Suffering and Happiness

“Then it is impossible to attain happiness without suffering?”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá. — “To attain eternal happiness one must suffer. He who has reached the state of self-sacrifice has true joy. Temporal joy will vanish.”  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 178)

This week I was reading an article about toxic positivity, which reminded me that Bahá’ís often joke about having a “Feast face” that we wear to community events, masking our real feelings.  I wondered when being truly happy, serene and satisfied with all that is in our lives, crosses over the bounds of moderation and becomes toxic.  When does being chipper prevent us from being authentic?  What prevents us from being authentic in our Bahá’í communities?

When I was going through a really tough time, no one in the Bahá’í community wanted to hear of it, and I felt lonely and abandoned by my community.  There are lots of places in the Writings which told me to “be happy”, but I just couldn’t force myself into that emotion, and I learned to stuff it down.  I read that teaching and service was the path to happiness, so I made sure that this was the focus of each day, until I burned out from trying too hard.  I felt like a mouse in a maze, searching for this chimera called happiness.  The more I tried to will it into being, the more elusive it felt.

To me, suffering and joy seemed poles apart until I read this quote and realized I couldn’t have one without the other.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to deny or minimize the suffering arising from my traumatic childhood, and now that I’m starting to face what happened, allow the feelings to surface and recognize how unprocessed trauma effects my behavior, I’m starting to feel lighter and more peaceful.  Not happier, exactly, but I’m getting there.

Understanding there’s a link between suffering and happiness, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Be Happy

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Moving to the Will of God

May your movement and your stillness be guided by the gentle winds of His Will, and may He bestow upon you the enduring bounty of being enabled to serve Him in accordance with His wish.  (Universal House of Justice, to the Auxiliary Board members throughout the world, 3 January 2022)

When I first read the 20 or so pages coming out of the series of letters from the Counselors’ conference, outlining the goals of the 9 year plan and the general plans for the next 25 years, I was, as I often am, overwhelmed with the enormity of what we are being asked to do.

I’m still recovering from burn-out and not actively participating in the affairs of my local community, and it all seems totally daunting and overwhelming.  Finally, at the end of reading all 4 letters, the House of Justice concluded it all with the above quote, and I immediately recognized it as coming from one of the prayers I often say and burst into tears of relief and gratitude.  They understand me and my limits!

Yes, the task ahead of us is rigorous and herculean; and yes, all of the institutions are going to need our support and our best effort, and yes, it’s OK to “let my movement and my stillness be totally directed by God”.  In the past, I’ve let the urgency of the plans, and the inactivity of the Bahá’ís around me, cause me to push myself to try to do it all, way beyond the point of endurance and it’s taken a real toll on my physical and mental health.

It’s such a relief to know that the House of Justice has given me permission to be still when I need to be, within the context of these plans!  It’s not just Bahá’u’lláh saying this to the world in Prayers and Meditations, it’s the House of Justice saying it in the context of the next 25 years.  I don’t have to do it all, and I don’t have to do it today, if today I need to rest.  I can forgive myself for not being a “good Baha’i”.  Such an incredible relief!

Having permission to move according to the will of God, I am profoundly grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Forgive

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Praying for Others

Should a person recite but a single verse from the Holy Writings in a spirit of joy and radiance, this would be better for him than reciting wearily all the Scriptures of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Recite ye the verses of God in such measure that ye be not overtaken with fatigue or boredom. Burden not your souls so as to cause exhaustion and weigh them down, but rather endeavour to lighten them, that they may soar on the wings of revealed Verses unto the dawning-place of His signs. This is conducive to nearer access unto God, were ye to comprehend.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 225)

Someone recently asked me how I manage to pray for so many people on my prayer list.  This was such a good question because it definitely reflects my situation.  People around me understand that I take prayer seriously and see that I use the 5-Steps of Prayer for Solving Problems in my life every day, and they witness the wonderful things that happen in my life, and they believe that I must have a direct line to God (and they don’t).  I hate it when people say that!  I’m no more loved by God than anyone else.  He loves every single one of us unconditionally.  That’s why He created us.  In the Arabic Hidden Words, number 3, Bahá’u’lláh tells us:

I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.

So, people ask me to pray for them, and I’m honored to be asked; and I enjoy praying for and with people and do it almost every day.  I don’t always hear the end results and I have to leave that to God.

At one time, I put all my prayer requests for me and for others, in the Notes section on my phone, calling it “Prayer Requests”.  I had great fun crossing off the prayers as they were answered, but the list soon grew too long to be useful anymore.

Now what I do, is pray for the person at the time the request is made.  Sometimes I use a formal prayer from the prayer book, other times, based on the quote above, I recite just a single verse from the Holy Writings.  Sometimes it might be “Ya Baha’u’l-Abha (the Greatest Name of God).  Frequently it might be Ya Allahu’l-Mustaghath (to be said in times of trouble, difficulty or great need).  Sometimes it’s just “O God please help this person!”  No matter what I say, I make sure I do it in a spirit of joy and radiance.  After I’ve prayed, I write the person’s request on a slip of paper and put it into my God jar, trusting that God heard my prayer the first time, and I don’t have to keep reminding Him!

If the person and their problem come to my mind later, I can pray for them again, more to relieve my own heart than because I don’t trust that God is already on the job.

I’ve learned not to be so thorough and perfect as to be overtaken with fatigue or boredom or for these prayers to cause exhaustion and to let the burden of other people’s problems weigh me down.

Growing closer to God by letting go of the need to be perfect in how I pray for others, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  How do you pray for others?  Please share your thoughts below.

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Letting Go of Criticizing Others

 

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The Importance of Conquering Myself

 

I want to say a few words now about the Guardianship.  “And when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’ passed away, the whole world became dark for him (Shoghi Effendi). All light had gone out. And when he came to the Holy Land, he had in mind, from the things ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’ had said to him, and I am telling you what he said, that ‘I had in mind that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’ would give me the honor of calling the great conclave together which would elect the Universal House of Justice. And I thought in His Will and Testament that that was probably what He was instructing be done.’   ” ‘But,’ he said, ‘instead of that, I found that I was appointed the Guardian of the Cause of God.’ He said, ‘I didn’t want to be the Guardian of the Cause. In the first place, I didn’t think I was worthy. Next place, I didn’t want to face these responsibilities.’ ” ‘I didn’t want to be the Guardian. I knew what it meant. I knew that my life as a human being was over. I didn’t want it, and I didn’t want to face it. So as you’ll remember, I left the Holy Land. And I went up into the mountains of Switzerland, and I fought with myself until I conquered myself. Then I came back and I turned myself over to God, and I was the Guardian.’ ” ‘Now,’ he said, ‘Every Bahá’í in the world, every person in the world, has to do exactly that same thing. Whether you’re a Hand of the Cause, whether you’re a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh, whether you’re a member of a national Assembly, whether you’re a teacher, whether you’re a pioneer, whether you’re an administrator, regardless of what you are, with anything in the Cause, every Bahá’í must fight with himself and conquer himself. And when he has conquered himself, then he becomes a true instrument for the service of the Cause of God. And not until then! This is what every Bahá’í in the world should know.’  (A Talk by Hand of the Cause of God Leroy Ioas Transcribed from a recording made in Johannesburg, South Africa, October 31, 1958)

This is one of my favorite stories and the part that has always resonates with me is “I fought with myself until I conquered myself” and “every person in the world, has to do exactly that same thing”.

I’m sure I first heard this when I was a new Bahá’í, and God knows, I tried!  But here I am, 40 years later, with a much deeper appreciation of what exactly that means.  The older I get, the more I understand myself and my motives, and the better I see the veils between me and God; the more I have to “fight with myself till I conquer myself”.  As I set the bar higher and even higher with every Writing I read; and every letter from the House of Justice I strive to understand; and every Ruhi book I tutor, I often collapse under the weight of so mighty an effort.

Recently I watched the new movie the House of Justice commissioned on the occasion of the Centenary of the passing of `Abdu’l-Bahá (Glimpses of a Hundred Years of Endeavor),  and what stood out for me was that all the progress of the Faith stands on the shoulders of those who came before us, and as we die, the progress of the Faith will stand on our shoulders.

I get inspired by stories of the early believers, and long for my service to match theirs, but I’m not them.  As important as they were in their day, they alone were not responsible for establishing the Most Great Peace, nor am I.  I just need to keep conquering myself, one day, one decision at a time.

Knowing that the more I struggle to conquer myself, the more I become a true instrument for the service of the Cause of God, and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Getting to Know Your Lower Nature

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Waiting on God’s Direction

However, relying upon God, we conducted ourselves with the utmost patience and submission, resignation and calmness; so much that if one did not know anything about these matters, he would have thought that we were in perfect ease of soul, enjoying the tranquility of heart mind, and were engaged in happiness and felicity.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 45)

It’s hard for me to rely on God when I’m impatient for something to happen or a quick decision to be made and I’m learning that it’s at these times I need to hold tight to His cord even more.  Test number one!

It’s even harder to do it with patience, let alone “utmost patience”.  Test number two!

It’s harder still to submit to God’s will, especially if I have to be “utmost patient” for years, as I’ve had to do with several important issues that apparently, it’s not within my power to rush.  And even harder when God’s given me a disappointing NO!  Test number three!

It’s also hard to be resigned (or worse yet, radiantly acquiescent) in the face of so many tests.  Test number four!

And calm?  Really, God?  On top of everything else, you want me to be calm, when so many emotions are churning around inside me? Test number five!

And finally, to not let anyone know I’m struggling, to wear that “Feast face”, so that everyone around me would think that I’m “in perfect ease of soul, enjoying the tranquility of heart mind, and were engaged in happiness and felicity”.  Test number six!

So many tests embedded in that one quote.

Knowing that reliance on God comes with other things I have to consider, and that all He wants is for me to strive, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Strengthening Your Relationship with God

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