Someone once wrote:
My aunt (a grown woman in her 40’s) has a serious eating disorder and has had it for at least a few years now. Her family is in complete denial that she could possibly have a “teenage problem.” After a while, the malnutrition combined with a REALLY bad relationship (two way street) has led her to become psychotic. My question is do you have any advice on how anybody can get through to help her? What can be said or done that she might actually listen to? She has finally admitted to having problems eating and fully admits that she is deliberately doing this to hurt the family because they’re trying to control her, and as long as they try to interfere in her life she will continue to punish them.
I fully admit that I’ve had no personal experience with eating disorders; nor have I found any specific guidance in the Baha’i Writings about this topic.
Nevertheless, here are some spiritual principles which come to my mind; and I hope you’ll add some more!
A non-Baha’i with eating disorders once scrolled through my book Violence and Abuse: Reasons and Remedies and read this quote:
As this physical frame is the throne of the inner temple, whatever occurs to the former is felt by the latter. In reality that which takes delight in joy or is saddened by pain is the inner temple of the body, not the body itself. Since this physical body is the throne whereon the inner temple is established, God hath ordained that the body he preserved to the extent possible, so that nothing that causeth repugnance may be experienced. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 95)
She said: “If I could really believe that was true, my eating disorder would be gone”!
She intuitively understood that embedded within this quote was the connection between:
- The body and the soul
- The inner life and the outer life
- A way to regain control by focusing on protecting the body in order to get to delight and joy and let go of pain
But I think the person in this email has other challenges! Unless she wants help, nothing anyone else does will help.
The principles that come to mind are:
Everyone in her family has a part to play:
The work of healing the sick, however, is a matter that concerns not the patient and the practitioner only, but everyone. All must help, by sympathy and service, by right living and right thinking, and especially by prayer, for of all remedies prayer is the most potent. “Supplication and prayer on behalf of others,” says ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “will surely be effective.” The friends of the patient have a special responsibility, for their influence, either for good or ill, is most direct and powerful. In how many cases of sickness the issue depends mainly on the ministrations of parents, friends or neighbors of the helpless sufferer! Even the members of the community at large have an influence in every case of sickness. In individual cases that influence may not appear great, yet in the mass the effect is potent. Everyone is affected by the social “atmosphere” in which he lives, by the general prevalence of faith or materialism, of virtue or vice, of cheerfulness of depression; and each individual has his share in determining the state of that social “atmosphere.” It may not be possible for everyone, in the present state of the world, to attain to perfect health, but it is possible for everyone to become a “willing channel” for the health-giving power of the Holy Spirit and thus to exert a healing, helpful influence both on his own body and on all with whom he comes in contact. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 112)
So if you can suggest a family consultation, preferably with someone skilled in bring about a unified decision, it would be good:
When a believer has a problem concerning which he must make a decision, he has several courses open to him. If it is a matter that affects the interests of the Faith he should consult with the appropriate Assembly or committee, but individuals have many problems which are purely personal and there is no obligation upon them to take such problems to the institutions of the Faith; indeed, when the needs of the teaching work are of such urgency it is better if the friends will not burden their assemblies with personal problems that they can solve by themselves. “A Bahá’í who has a problem may wish to make his own decision upon it after prayer and after weighing all the aspects of it in his own mind; he may prefer to seek the council of individual friends or of professional counsellors such as his doctor or lawyer so that he can consider such advice when making his decision; or in a case where several people are involved, such as a family situation, he may want to gather together those who are affected so that they may arrive at a collective decision. There is also no objection whatever to a Bahá’í asking a group of people to consult together on a problem facing him. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179)
All healing comes from God (but the person needs to turn to God themselves)
All is in the hands of God, and without Him there can be no health in us! (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 286)
Without following God’s laws, it will only get worse:
Praise be to Him, ye are acquainted with the various laws, institutions and principles of the world; today nothing short of these divine teachings can assure peace and tranquillity to mankind. But for these teachings, this darkness shall never vanish, these chronic diseases shall never be healed; nay, they shall grow fiercer from day to day. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 249)
She needs a combination of treatments – spiritual and physical:
There are two ways of healing diseases, the material and the spiritual way. The first is the remedies of the physicians; the second prayers and turning one’s self to God. Both must be practiced and followed. The diseases that happen to be caused by physical accident are cured by medical aid; others, which are due to spiritual causes, will disappear by spiritual means. For instance: For a disease due to grieving, fear, nervous impressions, the spiritual remedies will take more effect than the physical. Therefore, these two kinds of remedies must be followed; neither is an obstacle to the other. You must take care of the physical remedies. These also came from the bounty and mercy of God who revealed and made evident the science of medicine, so that His servants may also be benefited by this mode of healing. In the same way take care of the spiritual healing, because it giveth wonderful results. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v3, p. 653)
She needs to consult the best specialist AND follow his advice (whether she likes to or not):
It is incumbent upon everyone to seek medical treatment and to follow the doctor’s instructions, for this is in compliance with the divine ordinance. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 155)
She needs prayer:
Turn thou toward God with thy heart beating with His love, devoted to His praise, gazing toward His Kingdom and seeking help from His Holy Spirit in a state of ecstasy, rapture, love, yearning, joy and fragrance. God will assist thee, through a Spirit from His Presence, to heal sickness and diseases. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v3, p. 628)
Love goes a long way:
The love and consideration he has been shown by the friends, and by the members of your Assembly in particular, will, he feels certain, help to a marked degree in counter-acting the painful effects of the insidious disease from which he is so severely, yet so uncomplainingly suffering. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 124)
If she could do some form of volunteer work or service, she’d be focused on others and not on herself:
By Thy Power, verily, the sweetness of servitude is the food of my spirit; with the fragrance of servitude my breast will be dilated, my being refreshed, my heart delighted, my eyes brightened, my nostrils perfumed, and in it is the healing of my disease, the allaying of my burning thirst, the soothing of my pain. (Compilations, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 265)
Now it’s your turn. What has been your experience with eating disorders? What spiritual principles helped or hindered your progress? Post your comments below!