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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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Days of Blissful Joy 

O my servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will no doubt attain.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 69)

Funny story: In the early days of my recovery, I wrote to the House of Justice for guidance, and they sent me this quote without attribution, so for a very long time, I thought it was written by them, just for me! Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was written by Baha’u’llah for the whole world! My ego was crushed, probably a good thing!

When I first studied this quote in the context of healing from my abusive past, it gave me great comfort knowing that better days were to come.  Since then, I’ve had what seems to have been a lifetime of “things contrary to my wishes” happen to such an extent that I’ve stopped hoping and dreaming.

It’s possible I could be alive for another 30 years and I want the rest of my life to be different.  I don’t want to spend any more days waiting to die, so I can have a better life.  This quote promises that I can have days of blissful joy in this world, so I want to hold onto that hope and look for these days.  It’s possible they may have come (and be coming) in ways I didn’t anticipate.

I might never get anything I pray for, but if I approach life with radiant acquiescence, I might find the joy in the tests and struggles and spiritual growth.

Finding solace and confirmation that I won’t always get what I want, I can accept life on life’s terms I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

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

 

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Personal Ambitions Don’t Bring Happiness

The fulfillment of our personal ambitions in life is very seldom what brings us happiness. On the contrary, it usually arouses an entire group of new ambitions. On the other hand, when we immerse ourselves in our duties both as human beings, to our families and our associates, and as Bahá’ís toward the Cause of God and serving it to the best of our ability in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we begin to know what happiness means. (Shoghi Effendi, letter dated 23 May 1956 in Family Life, #108)

As a recovering work, service and activity addict, I’ve had to learn this the hard way.  I was into my 60’s before I could see that my ambitions weren’t bringing me happiness.  Keeping busy filled a lot of time and helped me feel productive.  Work, service and activities kept the grief of the past from overwhelming the present and it also drove people away because I didn’t make time for relationship-building.

When I was turning 60, I did some research about what to expect from the next decade, expecting to find a lot of information on planning for retirement, but instead what I found were a lot of articles talking about the importance of relationships and health.  According to some research, if we don’t have nurturing relationships by this time in our lives, we are more likely suffer more complex health challenges and to die earlier.  The more I studied addiction, the more this made sense.  Current thinking is that addiction isn’t caused by the thing we’re addicted to – it’s caused by lack of relationships and using other substances and activities to fill the holes in our souls.

So I was happy to find this quote in my reading today, because it reminded me that instead of focusing on achieving my own ambitions to the exclusion of all else, there were other things I could do to have more balance and moderation in my life:

  • immerse myself in my duties towards myself (including self-care)
  • immerse myself in my duties towards my family and friends (including more contact, more love, more forgiveness)
  • immerse myself in my duties as a Bahá’í toward the Cause of God (including more prayer and meditation; and striving to put the Teachings into action)
  • serving the Cause of God to the best of my ability in the circumstances in which I find myself (including reading my reality and aligning my service to the will of God instead of forcing myself into activity meant for someone else)

Being reminded of where true happiness lies, I can focus my attention away from my own ambitions and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

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

 

If You Like What You Read, Please Help Keep This Site Alive

Healing the Stress Caused by the Pandemic

You should not neglect your health, but consider it the means which enables you to serve. It — the body — is like a horse which carries the personality and spirit, and as such should be well cared for so it can do its work! You should certainly safeguard your nerves, and force yourself to take time, and not only for prayer meditation, but for real rest and relaxation.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 296

One of my readers asked:

I am interested in perspectives on the healing of the mental and spiritual stresses placed on so many by the forced isolation caused by the pandemic.

There are lots of great articles on the internet about the importance of balancing physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs for optimal health at this time.  Things we can do in each area include:

Spiritual

  • Prayer and Meditation (Reading the Bahá’í Writings morning and night with care and attention)
  • Make God your Best Friend: when we’re missing our loved one, God is always available to us, 24/7, and deepening our relationship with Him helps us achieve our purpose in life
  • Spend time finding God in nature each day

Mental

  • Immerse yourself in the Writings (perhaps by attending a Study Circle)
  • Set goals, preferably in alignment with the direction given by Bahá’í Institutions
  • Stay positive. There’s lots that we can’t control; and lots that we can’t know, but we can watch our thoughts and focus our attention on the positive, perhaps by finding things to be grateful for several times every day
  • Pay attention to your fears and give them to God instead of making them bigger

Emotional

  • Journal your stressors every day – I do it in the form of a “Dear God” letter
  • Make phone calls – hearing other people’s problems can give us a relief from our own
  • Pray with people – reciting the prayers out loud has an effect on our souls and the souls of everyone around us

Physical

  • Healthy eating
  • Lots of water
  • Lots of exercise
  • Lots of good quality sleep
  • Rest and relaxation

All of these things work together synergistically.

Knowing there are lots of practical ways I can care for my body and safeguard my nerves at this time, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

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

 

If You Like What You Read, Please Help Keep This Site Alive

Overcoming Depression

Mrs. H:  How can I attain to greater stability? I feel terribly discouraged and depressed at times?

Master:  Whenever you feel depressed, go alone into a secret chamber, read one of the Hidden Words and with utmost supplication, beg of Baha’u’llah, to impart to you that happiness which is essential for the future.  Pray with great humbleness:

O God!  Free me from these fetters.  Release me from all these toils.  Make me pure and sanctified.  Illumine me.  Fill my heart with Thy love and attach me to Thyself, so that I may become a captive to Thy love.   May I not seek ought but Thee!  May I not search but for Thy love and may I walk always in Thy path!

Then you will attain to a glorious state – then you will obtain a condition which you would not exchange for the whole world.

Mrs. H:  My great desire is to have more faith.

Master:  This very prayer will bring you the pearl of great price.  (Conversation between the Master and Mrs. Henlay, Feb. 10, 1913, ‘Abdu’l-Baha in France, p. 358)

I love how synchronicity works.  This week, one of my readers asked:

I am interested in perspectives on the healing of the mental and spiritual stresses placed on so many by the forced isolation caused by the pandemic.

While I was pondering how to respond, another reader sent the quote above, thinking I could possibly use it.  Indeed I could!  I was struggling with an issue of injustice that was causing a great deal of anxiety and depression when I finally had a chance to read it, and it helped me in that moment and inspired me to use it to help my reader.

I love the Hidden Words and at one time, had them all memorized.  I used to love playing Spiritual Pursuit, because I always got those questions right.  I’m not going to tell you which one I chose, because it will be different for everyone, but I did put my finger in randomly, and remembered why I loved reading them so much.

There is no prison worse than depression (which I like to think of as self-pity), because when I recognize I’m in the prison of self, I remember I put myself in there and the Bahá’í prayers and Writings are the keys and my “get out of jail free” card.

Knowing there is a simple prayer to remove depression and increase faith, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

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

 

If You Like What You Read, Please Help Keep This Site Alive

Our Reality as Heroes, Guides and Servants

And remind them that they are the illumined souls envisioned by ‘Abdu’l-Baha in His prayer: “Heroes are they, O my Lord, lead them to the field of battle. Guides are they, make them to speak out with arguments and proofs. Ministering servants are they, cause them to pass round the cup that brimmeth with the wine of certitude. O my God, make them to be songsters that carol in fair gardens, make them lions that couch in the thickets, whales that plunge in the vasty deep.”  (27 December 2005, Universal house of Justice to the Conference of the Continental Counsellors)

What exactly is a hero?  Recently I had a discussion with one of my readers about a role we can perform as a “spiritual midwife” ushering someone into the next world. I’ve had this experience a couple of times, totally unexpected, totally through the grace of God both times.

The first time, one of my neighbors found out that a previous boyfriend, spending time in a maximum-security prison, was dying of cancer.  She petitioned to the prison authorities and won the right for his discharge into her care, so she could look after him in the final week of his life.  I never knew what his crime was, and it doesn’t matter.  Close to the time of his passing, she called and asked if I could confirm what she thought was a “death rattle”.  I’d never heard one before and didn’t know what I was listening for, but I grabbed my prayer book and for an hour, I said all the prayers for his steadfastness, imagining him turning towards the light.  I said all the prayers for forgiveness, asking God to forgive his sins.  I prayed for the ease of his passing, for the healing of those he was leaving behind and every other thing I could think of.  After about an hour, my voice was tired, and my friend suggested I take a break and come into the kitchen for a cup of tea.  While she was making it, she looked out the window, and saw him going!  We both rushed into the bedroom and I took a mirror to confirm that he had passed, and he had.  Then the most surprising thing happened, something that an hour before, I never would have imagined myself doing in a million years:  I offered to wash his body!  She agreed, so I rushed upstairs and grabbed some attar of rose and performed that sacred task for him, a man I didn’t even know, but who I’ve felt deeply spiritually connected to ever since.

The second story is this: recently a friend of mine committed suicide and it troubled me greatly. When I was pouring my heart out to God, I was instructed to say prayers for his steadfastness, to help him turn towards God in the last second of his life, remembering that there is no time or space in the next world. I pray that it worked. I will not know for sure till I get there myself, but it gives me great comfort to believe that I can still perform this act retroactively.

I wonder if being a hero is just being in the right place at the right time, performing small but meaningful acts as directed by God.  We are illumined souls by virtue of our access to the Bahá’í Writings.  We are guides when we speak out with arguments and proofs based on the words of God we’re able to share with others. We’re ministering servants when we provide the God-inspired Writings that provide people with the wine of certitude.  I wonder if that’s God’s idea of being a hero?

Knowing I can be a hero through teaching and service, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

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

 

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