Petty bickerings and jealousies make one lose all the traces of spirituality, excommunicate a person from the divine company of the worthy ones, submerge one in the sea of phantasms, suffer one to become cold and pessimistic and throw him headlong into the depths of despair and helplessness! (Abdu’l-Baha, “Star of the West,” Vol. V, No. 1, p. 6)
Wow, this is such a clear warning about all the reasons to let go of our bickering and jealousy:
makes us lose all traces of spirituality
excommunicates us from the divine company of the worthy ones
submerges us in the sea of phantasms (delusions, fantasies, figments of imagination)
suffers us to become cold and pessimistic
throws us headlong into the depths of despair and helplessness
It’s interesting that bickering and jealousy are paired together here. In my mind, bickering goes on externally between me and someone else, where jealousy goes on inside my head, and yet both have the same results.
I often find myself jealous of those who are married, have careers and contact with adult children and grandchildren. According to this quote, I can see that I lose all traces of spirituality by feeling sorry for myself. I excommunicate myself when I isolate and separate myself from those I envy, not wanting to experience the feelings of “less than” or be pitied. Focusing on what I don’t have keeps me from being grateful for all that I do have, and from developing a relationship with God as my primary relationship, keeping me from achieving my purpose in life. When I look ahead and see only more of the same, I definitely become pessimistic and thrown into the depths of despair and helplessness.
Knowing all of this gives me a great motivation to let go of bickering and jealousy and I am grateful!
What jumped out for you as you read through today’s meditation? I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!
I swear by My life! Nothing save that which profiteth them can befall My loved ones. To this testifieth the Pen of God, the Most Powerful, the All-Glorious, the Best Beloved. (Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 69)
This is a really hard quote for those who want answers to “why is this happening to me?” No matter what life throws at us, the bottom line is that it’s happening to profit us. Somehow, it’s for our good, and that can be hard medicine to swallow, especially when we’re going through really hard times. I’ve come to understand that all of our tests serve 2 purposes: to draw us closer to God and to help us acquire the virtues we’ll need in the next world.
When my brother was killed and my daughter died and I suffered through years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, I felt like a victim and even for many years, blamed God. If there was a God, (and for many years I couldn’t accept that there was), how could He do these things to me? I’ve come to realize that God doesn’t think the way we do. I will never understand why He gave us free will and then stood by watching what mankind would do with it. But with these quotes, and others like it, I’ve come to recognize that my life is better with God in it. I can more easily handle everything that comes my way, I can appreciate that it’s strengthened my relationship to him, and no doubt I’ve developed a lot of virtues, resilience among them.
Knowing that all my tests are for my benefit, I can relax 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!
Someone with low self-esteem frequently feels unworthy, incapable, and incompetent. This can lead to:
Anxiety and emotional turmoil
Lack of social skills and self-confidence.
Depression and/or bouts of sadness
Inability to accept compliments
An Inability to be fair to yourself
Accentuating the negative
Exaggerated concern over what you imagine other people think
Self-neglect or treating yourself badly
Worrying whether you have treated others badly
Reluctance to take on challenges
Reluctance to trust your own opinion
Expecting little out of life for yourself.
As Baha’is, we can’t afford to let this get in the way of teaching and participating in the core activities. The world needs us too much! So what causes low self-esteem, and how can we overcome it? Let’s look at what the Baha’i Writings have to share.
Uninvolved, Negligent or Abusive Parents: When we’re children, our feelings about ourselves are formed by how we’re treated by our parents. If they have mental health problems, substance abuse issues or other challenges, they may not be able to provide their children with the care, guidance and attention they need and deserve. If they are abusive, children may feel that they did something to deserve the abuse, or that they were not worthy of the respect, love and care they deserved. All of these can cause significant self-esteem problems.
Body Image:Body image is a huge factor in young people’s self-esteem. From the moment we’re born, we’re surrounded by unrealistic images of what women and men should look like, what the “ideal” body type is. Women’s bodies are constantly objectified in the media, making it seem as though their bodies exist for others to look at, touch, use, etc. When puberty comes around and our bodies start to change, they don’t change into what we see on magazine covers or in music videos. This can lead to feeling unattractive and inadequate. While men’s bodies are not treated as an object for others to the same extent, the images portrayed are a sign of masculinity. Young men may feel pressured to develop large muscles as a show of strength and manliness; they may also feel self-conscious about their height.
The best way to understand and overcome these messages is through participation in the junior youth empowerment program.
These quotes might also help:
It matters not what the exterior may be if the heart be pure and white within. God . . . looks at the hearts. He whose morals and virtues are praiseworthy is preferred in the presence of God; he who is devoted to the Kingdom is most beloved. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 267)
For the body of man is accidental; it is of no importance. The time of its disintegration will inevitably come. But the spirit of man is essential and therefore eternal. It is a divine bounty. It is the effulgence of the Sun of Reality and therefore of greater importance than the physical body. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 262)
Human beauty and perfection require the existence of the ear, the eye, the brain and even that of the nails and hair; if man were all brain, eyes or ears, it would be equivalent to imperfection. So the absence of hair, eyelashes, teeth and nails would be an absolute defect . . . but their absence in the body of man is necessarily faulty and displeasing. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 129)
Negative Peers:Just as the way we’re treated by parents or guardians can greatly influence our self-esteem, so can the way we’re treated by peers. Being part of a social group that brings you down – by not respecting you, by pressuring you to do things you’re not comfortable with, by not valuing your thoughts and feelings, etc. – can cause you to feel like something is wrong with you, or that the only way for you to be liked is to do what others want and not listen to your own heart and mind. This is very damaging to how you see yourself.
Participation in children’s classes and the junior youth spiritual empowerment program can give our youth exposure to a healthy peer group.
These quotes might also help:
Beware! Walk not with the ungodly and seek not fellowship with him, for such companionship turneth the radiance of the heart into infernal fire. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 57)
The company of the ungodly increaseth sorrow, whilst fellowship with the righteous cleanseth the rust from off the heart. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 56)
Treasure the companionship of the righteous and eschew all fellowship with the ungodly. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 3)
Do not associate with the wicked, because the company of the wicked changeth the light of life into the fire of remorse. If thou asketh for the bounties of the Holy Spirit, associate with the pure ones, because they have quaffed the eternal chalice from the hands of the Cupbearer of eternity. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 434)
[E]stablish ties of friendship, on the basis of shared understanding, with those previously regarded as strangers. (Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2010)
Now associate with good people. You must try to associate with those who will do you good and who will be the cause of your being more awakened, and not with those who will make you negligent of God. For example, if one goes into a garden and associates with flowers, one will surely inhale the beautiful fragrance, but if one goes to a place where there are bad-scented plants, it is sure he will inhale an unpleasant odour. In short, I mean that you will try to be with those who are purified and sanctified souls. Man must always associate with those from whom he can get light, or be with those to whom he can give light. He must either receive or give instructions. Otherwise, being with people without these two intentions, he is spending his time for nothing, and, by so doing, he is neither gaining nor causing others to gain. (The Diary of Juliet Thompson)
Unrealistic Goals:Whether the pressure comes from themselves, authority figures or peers, some young people expect way too much of themselves in terms of school achievement, extracurricular involvement and/or social status. Those who struggle academically may think they should be getting straight A’s all the time; those who perform well academically may try to take on too many other activities and expect to be “the best” at all of them. Young people who crave popularity may expect everyone to like them, not believing they can’t please everyone. This failure to meet unrealistic goals may lead to the feeling that you are a failure in general.
These quotes might help:
Human society at present exerts a pernicious influence upon the soul of man. Instead of allowing him to live a life of service and sacrifice, it is highly competitive and teaches him to pride himself on his accomplishments. From early childhood he is trained to develop his ego and to seek to exalt himself above others, in the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power. The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh aims to reverse this process. The soul of man needs to be adorned with the virtues of humility and self-effacement so that it may become detached from the Kingdom of Names. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)
At the heart of every development endeavour is consistent, systematic action. Action,
however, needs to be accompanied by constant reflection to ensure that it continues to serve the aims of the endeavour. (Universal House of Justice, Office of Social and Economic Development, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 14)
It is only through continued action, reflection and consultation on their part that they will learn to read their own reality, to see their own possibilities, make their own resources . . . (Universal House of Justice, to the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 28 December 2010)
To view the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of how much one can accumulate and how many goods one can consume relative to others is wholly alien to Bahá’í thought. (Universal House of Justice, to the Bahá’ís of the World, 1 March 2017)
Previous Bad Choices:Sometimes we get locked into a certain pattern of decision-making and acting. Perhaps you haven’t been a very good friend in the past. Maybe you didn’t apply yourself in school. Maybe you participated in risky behaviors like drug use or unprotected sex. You might think you’re just “the kind of person” who behaves in those ways. You may even dislike yourself significantly because of past choices, but don’t think you can change courses now. Therefore, you won’t try. You’ll continue making choices that reinforce your own negative self-view.
Forgiveness of self and understanding God’s forgiveness will help.
Negative Thought Patterns. When we get used to feeling, thinking and talking about ourselves in a particular way, it becomes a habit. If you have often felt that you’re worthless or inferior, if you constantly think negative thoughts and say negative things about yourself, then you’re likely to go on feeling and thinking the same way unless you break the cycle by challenging your negative thoughts and feelings about yourself.
We have many stories of the Hands of the Cause who were shocked by their appointment, because they knew how unworthy they were. When John Robarts received the telegraph appointing him as a Hand of the Cause, he thought it was for his wife! When William Sears was appointed, he wrote back to the Guardian saying, “Not worthy.” The Guardian replied, “Get worthy“.
Howard Colby Ives had this to say:
I one day asked Άbdu’l-Bahá how it could ever be possible for me, deep in the mass of weak and selfish humanity, ever to hope to attain when the goal was so high and great. He said that it is to be accomplished little by little; little by little. And I thought to myself, I have all eternity for this journey from self to God. The thing to do is to get started. (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 63)
These quotes might help:
When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 30)
The heart must needs therefore be cleansed from the idle sayings of men, and sanctified from every earthly affection, so that it may discover the hidden meaning of divine inspiration, and become the treasury of the mysteries of divine knowledge. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 68)
Peace of mind is gained by the centering of the spiritual consciousness on the Prophet of God; therefore you should study the spiritual Teachings, and receive the Water of Life from the Holy Utterances. Then by translating these high ideals into action, your entire character will be changed, and your mind will not only find peace, but your entire being will find joy and enthusiasm. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 112)
You know well that the habits of mind and spirit that you are nurturing in yourselves and others will endure, influencing decisions of consequence that relate to marriage, family, study, work, even where to live. Consciousness of this broad context helps to shatter the distorting looking glass in which everyday tests, difficulties, setbacks, and misunderstandings can seem insurmountable. And in the struggles that are common to each individual’s spiritual growth, the will required to make progress is more easily summoned when one’s energies are being channelled towards a higher goal—the more so when one belongs to a community that is united in that goal. (Universal House of Justice to the 114 Youth Conferences, 1 July 2013)
Finally, we’re not alone! Rúhiyyih Khánum tells us how Shoghi Effendi’s hardest task, from the very beginning, was to accept himself.
Every time one goes into the details of any particular period in the Guardian’s life one is tempted to say “this was the worst period”, so fraught with strain, problems, unbearable pressures was his entire ministry. But there is a pattern, there are themes, higher and lower points were reached.
The pattern of 1922, 1923 and 1924 reveals itself, insofar as his personal life is concerned, as an heroic attempt to come to grips with this leviathan – the Cause of God – he had been commanded to bestride. Again and again he was thrown. Torn by agonies of doubt as to his own worthiness to be the successor of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, struggling with himself as had so many Prophets and Chosen Ones before him, he argued in the depths of his soul with his destiny, remonstrated with his fate, appealed to his God for relief – but it availed him naught. He was firmly caught in the meshes of the Master’s mighty Will and Testament.
He hints at this many times in his letters: “the storm and stress that have agitated my life since ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing…” “I, for my part, as I look back…to the unfortunate circumstances of ill-health and physical exhaustion that have attended the opening years of my career of service to the Cause, feel hardly gratified, and would be truly despondent but for the sustaining memory and inspiring example of the diligent and ceaseless efforts which my fellow-workers the world over have displayed during these two trying years in the service of the Cause.” In another letter he wrote: “…looking back upon those sullen days of my retirement, bitter with feelings of anxiety and gloom…I can well imagine the degree of uneasiness, nay of affliction, that must have agitate the mind and soul of every loving and loyal servant of the Beloved during these long months of suspense and distressing silence…”
That his own condition, and what he considered his failure to rise to the situation the Master’s passing had placed him in, distressed him more than anything else for a number of years is reflected in excerpts from this letters. As late as September 1924 he wrote: “I deplore the disturbing effect of my forced and repeated withdrawals from the field of service…my prolonged absence, my utter inaction, should not, however, be solely attributed to certain external manifestations of in harmony, of discontent and disloyalty – however paralyzing their effect has been upon the continuance of my work – but also to my own unworthiness and to my imperfections and frailties.”
His hardest task, form the very beginning, was to accept himself. (Rúhiyyih Khánum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 71-72)
I’d like to finish with this beautiful song. The lyrics were written, sung, filmed and edited by Amelia Mahony, the 15-year-old daughter of Elika Mahoney, a well-loved Bahá’í musician herself. It’s a wonderful mantra to sing, whenever you’re feeling attacked by low self-esteem.
How has this helped you understand this topic better? Post your comments below.
While the following story is not from the Bahá’i Faith, it always reminds me of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Unfortunately I can’t find the author, to give credit. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
A couple vacationing in Europe went strolling down a little street and saw a quaint little gift shop with a beautiful teacup in the window. The lady collected teacups and she wanted this one for her collection, so she went inside to pick up the teacup, and as the story goes the teacup spoke and said:
“I want you to know that I have not always looked like this. It took the process of pain to bring me to this point. You see, there was a time when I was just clay and the master came and he pounded me and he squeezed me and he kneaded me and I screamed: “STOP THAT”. But he just smiled and he said, “Not yet”.
Then he took me and put me on the wheel and I went round and round and round and round … and while I was spinning and getting dizzier and dizzier I screamed again and I said, “Please get me off this thing … please get me off!!!”
And the master was looking at me and he was smiling, as he said, “Not yet”.
Then he took me and walked toward the oven and he shut the door and turned up the heat and I could see him through the window of the oven and it was getting hotter and hotter and I thought, “He’s going to burn me to death”.
And I started pounding on the inside of the oven and I said “Master, let me out, let me out, let me out”, and I could see that he was smiling as he said “Not yet”.
Then he opened the door and I was fresh and free and he took me out of the oven and he put me on the table and then he got some paint and a paintbrush. And he started dabbing me and making swirls all over me and I started to gag and I said: “Master, stop it … stop it … stop it please … you’re making me gag” and he just smiled as he said “Not yet”.
Then very gently he picked me up again and he started walking toward the oven and I said, “Master, NO! Not again, pleeeeease”. He opened the oven door and he slipped me inside and he shut the door and this time he turned the heat up twice as hot as before and I thought. “He’s going to kill me”, and I looked through the window of the oven and I started to pound saying, “Master … Master, please let me out … please let me out … let me out… let me out”. And I could see that he was smiling, but I also noticed a tear trickle down his cheek as I watched him mouth the words.
Just as I thought I was about to die, the door opened and he reached in ever so gently and took me out, fresh and free and he went and placed me on a high shelf and he said: “There, I have created what I intended. Would you like to see yourself?” I said “Yes”, so he handed me a mirror and I looked and I looked again and I said, “That’s not me, I’m just a lump of clay” And he said: “Yes, that IS you, but it took the process of pain to bring you to this place. “You see, had I not worked you when you were clay, then you would have dried up. If I had not subjected you to the stress of the wheel, you would have crumbled. If I had not put you into the heat of the oven you would have cracked. If I had not painted you there would be no color in your life. But, it was the second oven that gave you the strength to endure. And now you are everything that I intended you to be – from the beginning.”
And I, the tea cup, heard myself saying something I never thought I would hear myself saying: “Master, forgive me, I did not trust you, I thought you were going to harm me, I did not know you had a glorious future and a hope for me. I was too shortsighted, but I want to thank you. I want to thank you for suffering. I want to thank you for the process of pain. Here I am! I give you myself – fill me, pour from me, use me as you see fit. I really want to be a vessel that brings you glory within my life”
I’d like to conclude with a quote from the Bahá’í Writings:
Naturally there will be periods of distress and difficulty, and even severe tests; but if the person turns firmly towards the Divine Manifestation, studies carefully His spiritual teachings and receives the blessings of the Holy Spirit, he will find that in reality these tests and difficulties have been the gifts of God to enable him to grow and develop. Thus you might look upon your own difficulties in the path of service. They are the means of your spirit growing and developing. You will suddenly find that you have conquered many of the problems which upset you, and then you will wonder why they should have troubled you at all. (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, pp. 35-36.)
Prayer to Overcome Depression
O God, my God! Have mercy then upon my helpless state, my poverty, my misery, my abasement! Give me to drink from the generous cup of Thy grace and forgiveness, stir me with the sweet scents of Thy love, gladden my bosom with the light of Thy knowledge, purify my soul with the mysteries of Thy oneness, raise me to life with the gentle breeze that cometh from the gardens of Thy mercy—till I sever myself from all else but Thee, and lay hold of the hem of Thy garment of grandeur, and consign to oblivion all that is not Thee, and be companioned by the sweet breathings that waft during these Thy days, and attain unto faithfulness at Thy Threshold of Holiness, and arise to serve Thy Cause, and to be humble before Thy loved ones, and, in the presence of Thy favoured ones, to be nothingness itself. Verily art Thou the Helper, the Sustainer, the Exalted, the Most Generous. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 4-5)
Life Continued: Defeating Depression
Produced by Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake and MTV
A one-hour documentary for MTV, ‘Life Continued: Defeating Depression’ aims to empower viewers who are facing emotional struggles to reach out and get help. The special profiles two courageous millennials who suffer with depression and suicidal thoughts, but are back from the brink and living life to the fullest.
Sarah Virginia Sparkes has battled body image issues since childhood and anorexia since her pre-teen years. She is working with a counselor to live a healthy and happy life.
Devin Price, a college athlete in Indiana, has struggled with depression since high school. Prior to filming, he came out of the closet to his friends and now worries whether or not they will accept him.
Both Sarah and Devin hope that by sharing their stories, they will help others living with depression. The Jed Foundation partnered with SoulPancake on ‘Life Continued,’ which aired on World Mental Health Day. The documentary has won both an Image and Prism Award.
Why Me? A Spiritual Guide to Growing Through Tests by Justice St. Rain
Personal tests can either draw people towards God, or push them away. Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge one way or another to make the difference. With so many people facing severe personal, financial and health challenges, it is more important than ever that we make sure that the nudge is in the right direction. This book has already helped thousands of people discover the hidden gifts behind the tests they are facing.
Why Me explains in a simple, profound and often humorous way, why a kind and loving God will give us tests in order to help us develop our full spiritual potential.
Starting with the metaphor of a gardener pruning a rose bush, it goes on to explain the four kinds of tests, the role of emotions in identifying tests, and the spiritual tools we can use to pass tests with flying colors.
It is selling like there is no tomorrow everywhere from Australia to England. Non-Baha’i friends tell me that they have read it multiple times, and therapists recommend it to their clients.
5 Steps to a Happy, Healthy, Wealthy YOU!: Through Music, The Mind And Meditation
Have you ever tried to change your thoughts to create the life you long for, but get overwhelmed by countless other thoughts racing in every direction? Have you tried to reach your dreams but become discouraged because they are not quickly realized? If so, you are not alone.
So many people try and struggle to create the life they desire in their heart of hearts, but fail for one simple reason. They have left out the most essential step: Meditation—the practice of making conscious contact with your true self, your soul—YOU. From that beautiful and powerful dimension of your inner spirit, which is your personal connection to the source of all being, all things are possible.
This book is a holistic approach to happiness, health, wealth, and manifesting your best life. The concepts and practices that you learn here build upon experience and knowledge that you already have, but may not have fully recognized yet. So, you are already primed and ready to succeed.
Diana Gale is a therapist, Certified in Inner Spirit Therapy, which can help with: smoking, alcohol, drug, gambling & other addictions, anger management, depression, anxiety, allergies, asthma, control issues, Bi-Polar disorder, OCD, fears & phobias, brain damage, PTSD, ADD/ADHD, memory issues, marriage & relationship difficulties, impotence, migraines, nail biting, Anorexia & Bulimia, digestive disorders, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue syndrome, bladder issues, TMJ, ulcers, high blood pressure, Restless Leg syndrome, immune & autoimmune disorders, abuse, death of a loved one, childhood trauma, aging issues, guilt, rejection, reading & math issues, school & test anxiety, insomnia, grief, job loss, nightmares, stress relief, stuttering, weight and body issues, writer’s block, etc…
Diana facilitates an awakening to physical, mental and emotional wellness through dialogue with the Higher Self without detailed disclosure or years of talk-therapy. Inner Spirit therapy proves that recovery does not have to be a long, painful and expensive process. It is highly effective at triggering natural emotional, physical, and mental wellness by tapping our inmost strength, truth, and wisdom — that part of us that we think of as the ‘True Self’.
This relaxing technique will help you to create real and lasting improvement in all the ways that you approach life. A recent Master’s Thesis revealed that Inner Spirit Therapy reduces depression, anxiety and stress levels by 50-100%. 87% percent of Study participants reported normal levels of depression, anxiety and stress upon completion of therapy.
I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Benjamin Koen, author of one of this month’s featured books. A number of years ago, I was within a couple of months of leaving for a pioneer post in Xiamen, China, and was unable to go due to health problems. Fast forward a few years later, when I met Benjamin and learned that he and his family were pioneering to (guess where?). Xiamen! It was as if Baha’u’llah was showing me that someone was able to go in my stead! I’ve followed his career with interest, and was happy to hear he’d launched his business Sound Health International.
Benjamin is a critically acclaimed musician, author, speaker, researcher, educator, life transformation and wellness coach, and music-sound healer. He provides experiences, education, training, and products to help you improve your life in the areas of Body, Mind, Spirit, Emotions, and Relationships.
He uses a holistic approach to health, wellbeing, helping you to create your ideal life. His programs are based on cutting-edge research with thought leaders, visionaries, scientists, physicians, doctors, healers, artists, musicians, and people of capacity and valuable experience to educate and inspire people to improve their lives and the lives of those around them.
One of my favorite products of his, is the CD “Songs From Green Mountain”, a collection of meditative music with sung and spoken prayers and texts from the Bahá´í Writings. It features the end-blown bamboo flute called the xiao (pictured above) as well as the cedarwood flute, quena (Peruvian wooden flute), bansuri (Bamboo flute of India), tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, rain sticks (from Brazil and Chile), Taoist meditation bowls from China, Tibetan cymbals, African wooden chimes, wind caller, Mexican frame drum, djembe (African drum), voice, low multiphonic voice, streams, waterfalls and rain–all recorded live.
Thank you for an excellent “Monthly”. (Clare Stodden)
I just browsed the articles in your monthly newsletter and thought you might appreciate the attached document [Called Why November 26?] I put together a few years ago. I send my apologies in advance if you already have seen what it contains. (David Bowie)
David’s suggested article was posted on my blog. You can read it here
The day after it was posted, he sent me this email:
Carol and I had a chuckle this morning when I received the article from a friend in South Africa, who got it from a friend in Singapore who got it from the Thai Baha’i listserve who got it from your blog. Isn’t modern communication wonderful!
Mental health advocate and member of the Ottawa Baha’i Community
As someone diagnosed in 1980 with a mood disorder – and not very happy about it – developing a stronger spiritual orientation and relationship to God has been an important way of dealing with the effects of a mood disorder and stigma in my life. At the same time, I have to admit that my beliefs and my sense of faith, as well as my sense of self, have at times taken a beating from the challenge of living with a mental health problem. I call this condition “spiritual depression”.
What has helped me spiritually though the ups and downs of a mood disorder? Reducing the sense of isolation through involvement with a mental health support group, many of whose members have a profound understanding of human suffering and are deeply spiritual, has been essential. As well, being a Baha’i with an examined, chosen and evolving set of beliefs, a diverse spiritual community, and like-minded friends with whom to share my beliefs and values has been a wonderful gift. Using spiritual practices such as prayer or meditation, drawing inspiration from scriptures and other spiritual writings, sharing insights with others, attending spiritual gatherings and celebrations, and exploring spiritual concepts or challenges with others, have all been a source of spiritual growth and strengthening.
But as precious as this spiritual dimension of life is, it has been virtually out of reach whenever I’ve been clinically depressed and overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. This is a time when few people are able to pray or meditate, feel close to, or trust in God. It seems as though our spiritual senses have been deadened along with the physical ones, a time when sacred writings fail to inspire, or when the thought of going to services or gatherings and being more than a piece of deadwood seems impossible.
Serious depressions that have arisen between long periods of relative stability in my own life have at times given rise to fundamental and difficult spiritual questions and even doubts. If God really loved me, would He permit me to suffer in this way? Is there meaning and purpose in what I’m going through? Am I intended to experience this and grow by this experience, or is it simply bad luck, or the “changes and chances of this world?” How can I grow when I feel diminished? Should I set these questions aside till I feel better, and aim at simply getting through these rough times with as much dignity as I can muster, accepting the love and support of others as graciously as I can? Though no one can answer these questions for another person, I’ve found it helpful to talk them over with trusted friends. While I feel I have some answers, I find I keep revisiting them from time to time, in conversations with others, with my own heart, and with the Creator.
Just as surviving a serious depression requires patience and a belief that our emotions and lives will eventually get back to normal, surviving spiritual depression requires patience with our own souls, and faith that our spiritual susceptibilities will eventually be restored. It’s a time to ask for understanding, acceptance and support when we feel most vulnerable around other people and often least able to accept help. What are some of the things I’ve asked of friends? To pray for me, or even to come over to read to me when I felt unable to do this myself. To be patient with me and to try to understand how the wretchedness I feel overwhelms every aspect of my life, seemingly turning strengths into weaknesses, at least temporarily.
In my experience, a period of spiritual depression is not a time to conclude that one has lost one’s faith, or that God has vanished from one’s life. It may, however, be a time to acknowledge that under extraordinary circumstances it is natural, even predictable, to have spiritual doubts or painful questions for the Creator. Such doubts may be a sign that some spiritual development or evolution is needed on our part – a good project for when we feel better. But in my experience, spiritual doubts and worries often simply go away when I feel better, just as the anguish and despair at the centre of severe depression eventually fades away. I have found that I must simply make room for these experiences in my spiritual life, accept them, and accept myself when I’m going through them. I’ve come to see them as spiritual symptoms that affect me but are not my reality, just as the painful manifestations of clinical depression obscure my identity but do not destroy it, and eventually fade away, leaving me depleted but intact. And nothing can compare with the spiritual joy, as a friend described it, of “finding my faith secure in my heart again” and “being able to embrace it as an old friend.”
Presented at a panel discussion at the International Mental Health and Spirituality Conference, Ottawa, 2004.