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Avoiding Addictions

 O ye, God’s loved ones! Experience hath shown how greatly the renouncing of smoking, of intoxicating drink, and of opium, conduceth to health and vigour, to the expansion and keenness of the mind and to bodily strength. There is today a people who strictly avoid tobacco, intoxicating liquor and opium. This people is far and away superior to the others, for strength and physical courage, for health, beauty and comeliness. A single one of their men can stand up to ten men of another tribe. This hath proved true of the entire people: that is, mem­ber for member, each individual of this community is in every respect superior to the individuals of other communities. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p 150)

When I first came into the Faith, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t continue my moderate social drinking.  I didn’t drink much but when I was with friends, having a nice meal, I loved red wine and when I was just hanging out, I was particularly fond of brown cows.  I was willing to accept the laws, though, even if I couldn’t embrace them, trusting that God knows more than I do what’s best for me.  That’s why I loved finding this Writing so much, because it explains why:

If I give up smoking, alcohol and drugs, I will have more health and energy.  My mind will be clearer and I’ll be stronger in my body.  I might even be among those who have the most courage and beauty, inside and out, and even, in God’s eyes, superior to others.  But what about other addictive behaviors?

For example, if I give up my addiction to work, perfectionism, people-pleasing, caretaking, approval-seeking, drivenness, adrenalizing, control, manipulation, fear, self-will, self-pity, disappointment and many of the other areas of my life where I put my addictions before my relationship with God, would my life improve too?

We know that every word of the Writings has 70+1 meanings, so I believe that this quote can mean for all addictions.

Giving up the things I’m attached to, opens me up to a better life than I can imagine, 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 Making Friends with Sin and Temptation

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Selfish Desires

In other words, the heart that partakes of the outpouring grace of the Holy Spirit and becomes sanctified is made goodly and pure. The purpose is that the reality of man be purified and sanctified from the defilements of the world of nature, which are vile attributes such as anger, lust, worldliness, pride, dishonesty, hypocrisy, deceit, self-love, and so on.  Man cannot free himself from the onslaught of vain and selfish desires save through the confirming grace of the Holy Spirit.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, 2014 ed., p. 19)

We’ve all got vain and selfish desires.  We were created that way, by a loving God.  There’s nothing special about us or anyone else in that regard.  We are all sinners.  We all have vile attributes such as anger, lust, worldliness, pride, dishonesty, hypocrisy, deceit, self-love, and so on, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  There’s no need to make ourselves better or worse than others, when we see their defects and can’t see our own.  The trick is what do we do about them?

First we have to recognize when we are acting from our lower natures and understand that we have a choice to continue to stay stuck or use the opportunity to “partake” of the outpouring grace of the Holy Spirit.  We can remember that our purpose in life is to draw closer to God, and acquire the virtues we’re going to need in the next world.  How can we do that without tests, without opportunities to grow?  We can’t do it by ourselves.  We can only do it by turning to God and asking Him to transform anger into forgiveness; lust into detachment; worldliness into nearness to God; pride into humility; dishonesty into truthfulness; hypocrisy into sincerity; deceit into trustworthiness; self-love into service and so on.  Remembering and asking must be followed by faith and trust and acceptance of the ourpouring grace that is continually streaming forth for us.

Remembering that transforming my selfish desires is a full-time job that pays huge dividends in both this world and the next, 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 Getting to Know Your Lower Nature

 

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Perfection or Perfectionism – How to Tell the Difference

Workaholics reading “Strain every nerve” in the following quote, will see evidence in the Writings to push through and work harder:

Strain every nerve to acquire both inner and outer perfections, for the fruit of the human tree hath ever been and will ever be perfections both within and without. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Education, p. 247)

But is this what God wants from us?

I see a difference between acquiring perfections and being perfectionistic.  In one, we strive for excellence to please God, in the other, we strive to please others.  Here are some other examples of how they might be different:

Perfection Perfectionism
excellence fastidiousness
faultlessness fussiness
exactness nitpicking
precision hairsplitting
flawlessness meticulousness
accomplishment conscientiousness
achievement thoroughness
diligent punctiliousness

 

In the Secret of Divine Civilization (p. 40), ‘Abdu’l-Baha gives us the attributes of perfection, which include:

  • to fear God
  • to love God by loving His servants
  • to exercise mildness and forbearance and calm
  • to be sincere, amenable, clement and compassionate
  • to have resolution and courage, trustworthiness and energy
  • to strive and struggle
  • to be generous, loyal, without malice
  • to have zeal and a sense of honour
  • to be high-minded and magnanimous
  • to have regard for the rights of others

To this list, Shoghi Effendi adds:

. . . to be free of one’s ego is a hallmark of perfection. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 453)

We know we’ll never reach a state of perfection in this world:

We humans are never going to become perfect, for perfection belongs to a realm we are not destined to enter. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

So we can (and should) use this list to strive towards, without judging ourselves or others for not meeting up to this standard.

While perfection of work as a result of incessant labour and application makes us happy and is man’s greatest reward:

Perfection of work is man’s greatest reward. When a man sees his work perfected and this perfection is the result of incessant labour and application he is the happiest man in the world. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 6, No. 6, p. 44)

It only brings joy to our body, but it does not glorify our souls:

Perfection in worldly things is a joy to the body of a man but in no wise does it glorify his soul.  It may be that a man who has every material benefit, and who lives surrounded by all the greatest comfort modern civilization can give him, is denied the all important gift of the Holy Spirit.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 62-63)

Nor does it elevate our spirits:

If a man is successful in his business, art, or profession he is thereby enabled to increase his physical wellbeing and to give his body the amount of ease and comfort in which it delights. All around us today we see how man surrounds himself with every modern convenience and luxury, and denies nothing to the physical and material side of his nature. But, take heed, lest in thinking too earnestly of the things of the body you forget the things of the soul: for material advantages do not elevate the spirit of a man. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 62-63)

We need to perfect ourselves spiritually as well as materially:

Only by improving spiritually as well as materially can we make any real progress, and become perfect beings.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 62-63)

The key to moderation is striving “little by little, day by day.”

Later in the month, Mrs. Tatum was talking with Abdul-Bahá and said, “I feel so dejected today.  I am unhappy with myself.”  The Master replied: this is a sign of progress.  The person who is satisfied with himself is the manifestation of Satan and the one who is not satisfied is the manifestation of the merciful one.  An egotist does not progress but the one who thinks himself imperfect will seek perfection for himself and will progress . . . The attainment of absolute perfection for a human being is impossible; thus, however much he may progress he is still imperfect and has above him a point higher than himself.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 160)

What’s been your experience with this issue?  How has this helped you to understand it differently?  Post your comments below.

How to Stop Being Driven

I’m Susan and I’m a workaholic.  My life has become unmanageable and exceeds the bounds of moderation.

I don’t think I’m alone, especially in the Baha’i community.

I’m driven to complete my goals.  I’m driven to please others.  I’m driven to being the best Baha’i I can be.  I’m driven to participate in the community building process.

The thesaurus lists the following synonyms related to being driven:

  • Ambitious
  • Determined
  • Single-minded
  • Obsessed
  • Motivated
  • Focused
  • Compelled
  • Pushed
  • Forced
  • Obliged
  • Manoeuvred

The problem with this addiction is that it’s praised in our materialistic society, and with employers more interested in the bottom line and maximizing profits at the expense of their employees, many of us are unwittingly caught up in this behaviour.

At the root of being driven is a mistaken belief that:

  • No one will love me for who I am.  I have to earn their love
  • Someone always has something better and I have to have what they have, and more
  • I have to find a solution to all my own problems
  • I have to take responsibility for things that aren’t mine to take on
  • I did something to deserve abuse, bullying, humiliation, rejection, disapproval etc.
  • I have to do everything right, all the time, to be number 1.  Nothing else is acceptable.
  • I have to be a “somebody” to be accepted.
  • The only way to survive a broken heart is to get busy.

Fear is at the root of it all.  In my case, it’s:

  • Fear of letting go – who will I be if I’m not driven?
  • Fear of poverty – who will I be if I’m fired or take time off for disability, or declare bankruptcy?
  • An overwhelming disappointment in this life and wanting to do everything in my power to earn “spiritual brownie points” so I can secure a better place in the next world
  • Feeling guilty for not doing enough for the Faith and being judged by the Institutions

I had to learn that being asked by representatives of the Institutions to do something is not necessarily the voice of God.  I could be driven towards people pleasing, wanting to be seen and judged by others as a “good Baha’i”.

God doesn’t want us to seek the approval of others, though.  ‘Abdu’l-Baha is reported to have said:

To be approved of God alone should be one’s aim.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 6, No. 6, p. 44)

. . . at all times seeking the approval of men is many times the cause of imperiling the approval of God.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, June 24, 1915)

Even if we let go of the need to seek the approval of others, there are pressures coming from the goals of the 5-Year plan, especially at a time when the workers are so few and we’re being called on to make a “herculean effort.”

I wonder if being driven is from God, though.  Somehow I doubt it.

Bahá’u’lláh tells us:

In all circumstances they should conduct themselves with moderation.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Lights of Guidance, p. 294)

Overstep not the bounds of moderation.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 235)

And even:

Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 216)

So what is moderation and how do we achieve it?  This is a question I’ve taken to the Writings.  Come along with me as I see what I can learn.

What I’ve Learned About Being Driven:

First of all, this quote got my attention!

Ambitions are an abomination before the Lord.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West –  4)

So not only are we NOT to push ourselves towards our goals, we aren’t to have ambitions in the first place!

Drivenness is a lack of awareness of God in that moment, and a belief that I have to push on with a task, regardless of the cost to self and family.  It’s easy in the Faith, at this period in history when the workers are so few and the tasks requiring a “herculean effort”, to give everything we’ve got and more, and to believe we can’t say no, when an Institution asks us to give even more.  Instead of asking God what He wants us to do, we assume we know the answer from reading the recent letters of the House of Justice.  The problem is, we may be applying the wrong remedy!  Although insulin and penicillin are both valuable medications, each has to be applied to the right ailment at the right time.

Many workaholics do tasks that are not necessarily theirs to do.  They may feel absolutely responsible for something, but inadequate to do it and/or unwilling or unable to delegate or ask for help.  They can be hard on themselves for not being able to do it all, or as well as they would like.  They blame themselves and feel guilty and ashamed and don’t know why, because in their minds, they believe they are doing all the right things.

The paradox is that we’re hard on ourselves because we know we have to follow the current guidance from the House of Justice, and when others aren’t stepping up to the plate, we do more and more and eventually burn out.

For example, here’s something I wrote about 3 years ago:

I totally understand and see the vision of the House of Justice, in which we do the core activities in our own neighborhoods as a way to build communities.  I want to be part of the process but my passion lies in researching the practical application of the Writings to everyday problems, and making this information available to others through books and my blog.  Even though I’m having several devotional gatherings with others over the phone; and tutoring 3 Ruhi Books over the phone, and supporting others who are animators and children’s class teachers, over the phone, I feel hugely guilty that I’m not doing it in my own cluster.  Surely God sees my efforts as “enough”, yet my guilt has driven me to do more.

Recently, a member of the Institute Board told me that community building was the role of the Institutions and not the responsibility of the individual.  It was a huge relief!

Also, God never asks us to carry anyone else’s responsibilities.  As the House of Justice said in its Ridvan Message of 2014:  “Everyone has a share in this enterprise; the contribution of each serves to enrich the whole.”

If I’m trying to fill someone else’s role because they are inactive, I don’t have time to fill my own.

Finding this quote really got my attention!

No good but only evil can come from taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go regardless of the clear texts and our own limitations. It is His Cause. He has promised that its light will not fail. Our part is to cling tenaciously to the revealed word and to the institutions that He has created to preserve His Covenant.’  (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 119)

YIKES!  “only evil can come from taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go regardless of our own limitations”!  That’s exactly what I was doing!

But as a workaholic, it was one thing to leave the community building to the institutions and another to know what moderation looked like.  I had to ask myself – when working full time on my business, is tutoring 3 study circles; holding devotional gatherings and accompanying others  excessive?  Or is it applying a “herculean effort”?  I didn’t know, until I carefully studied the second half of this quote:  my job is to “cling tenaciously to the revealed word and to the institutions.”

Recently, I joined Workaholics Anonymous who gave me the 3 R’s as a standard:  In addition to working (and service), I need to spend equal amounts of time on Rest, Relaxation and Relationship Building.

So which “revealed word” can help shed some light on my need for rest, relaxation and relationship building?

Recently at a Baha’i Conference, we looked at this quote, where Shoghi Effendi told us:

…you should not neglect your health, but consider it the means which enables you to serve. It — the body . . . 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 and meditation, but for real rest and relaxation.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 297)

It was a real “aha” moment for me.  I felt that Shoghi Effendi really understood me, when he said I should “force myself to take time for real rest and relaxation”!  That’s what it will take!  A force of willpower and a herculean effort, because I don’t know when or how to stop the work and service I enjoy doing.

That takes care of 2 of the 3 R’s right there!  That’s a quote I can cling to tenaciously.

But how does an introvert like me go about building relationships when I have no ties to my biological family or a spouse?  Home visits and elevated conversations with like-minded people seem to be clues, but only if these activities aren’t coming from a place of “should” and only if they lead to real rest and relaxation.  I think that’s a topic for another day!

The good news is, even with a society that promotes workaholism, we can overcome it and not live in drivenness, constantly trying to measure up to someone else’s standard. God knows what we need and will provide everything we need, if only we remember to ask.

What’s your experience with drivenness?  Post your comments below.

Seeing Ourselves through the Eyes of God

Continuing on the theme of recovery from low self-esteem, I think there are two more things we need to pay attention to – one is looking at how God sees us and understanding how much He loves us, just the way we are.

First of all, He created us because He loved us:

Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of my essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 3)

His love is inside of us:

My love is in thee, know it, that thou mayest find Me near unto thee.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 10)

His love for us cannot be concealed:

My grace to thee is plenteous, it cannot be veiled. My love has made in thee its home, it cannot be concealed.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 20)

He’s with us always:

With all my soul and spirit, I am thy companion at all moments. Know thou this of a certainty!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Vol. 3, pp.557-558)

Know thou that God is with thee under all conditions, and that He guardeth thee from the changes and chances of this world. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p.122)

No matter what we might think of ourselves, the way He created us was perfect:

With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof.  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 12)

He knows us better than we know ourselves, so we can trust Him when He tells us who we really are:

Ye are better known to the inmates of the Kingdom on high than ye are known to your own selves. Think ye these words to be vain and empty? Would that ye had the power to perceive the things your Lord, the All-Merciful, doth see–things that attest the excellence of your rank, that bear witness to the greatness of your worth, that proclaim the sublimity of your station! (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 316-317)

He sees the entire universe enfolded within us:

Do thou reckon thyself only a puny form when within thee the universe is folded?  (Bahá’u’lláh, Seven Valleys, p.34)

He sees us as a “mine rich in gems”:

Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.260)

He’s given us the capacity to exercise a particular influence and given each of us a distinct virtue:

It is therefore important to appreciate that God in His bounty has endowed every created thing, however humble, ‘with the capacity to exercise a particular influence, and been made to possess a distinct virtue’.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 2 December, 1985)

Our station is so glorious that if we wanted to see it, we’d never be able to live in this world:

Such is the station ordained for the true believer that if to an extent smaller than a needle’s eye the glory of that station were to be unveiled to mankind, every beholder would be consumed away in his longing to attain it. For this reason it hath been decreed that in this earthly life the full measure of the glory of his own station should remain concealed from the eyes of such a believer… If the veil be lifted and the full glory of the station of those who have turned wholly towards God, and in their love for Him renounced the world, be made manifest, the entire creation would be dumbfounded.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pp.110-111)

God understands our low self-esteem:

Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 72)

I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 13)

Here’s my favorite rendition of this quote, by Nabil and Karim.

God understands how looking at our failures affects us:

Each one of us, if we look into our failures, is sure to feel unworthy and despondent, and this feeling only frustrates our constructive efforts and wastes time. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, page 447)

He shows us how to overcome it:

Remembrance of Me cleanseth all things from defilement, could ye but perceive it.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.294)

Forget yourself. God’s help will surely come! When you call on the Mercy of God waiting to reinforce you, your strength will be tenfold.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p.38)

Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 22)

Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 13)

Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 72)

The thing for us to focus on is the glory of the Cause and the Power of Bahá’u’lláh which can make of a mere drop a surging sea! (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, page 447)

He wants us to eat from His heavenly table:

…the gate of boundless grace is opened wide, the heavenly table is set, the servants of the Merciful and His handmaids are present at the Feast. Strive ye to receive your share of this eternal food, so that ye shall be loved and cherished in this world and the next.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p.77)

Shoghi Effendi has no patience with our self-indulgence:

You certainly have no right to feel negative; you have embraced this glorious Faith and arisen with devotion to serve it, and your labours are greatly appreciated by both the Guardian and your fellow-Bahá’ís. With something as positive as the Faith and all it teaches behind you, you should be a veritable lion of confidence, and he will pray that you may become so.  (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, page 447)

Finally, we are promised:

Now I say unto you, bear this on your hearts and in your minds. Verily your light shall illumine the whole world, your spirituality shall affect the heart of things. You shall in truth become the lighted torches of the globe. Fear not, neither be dismayed, for your light shall penetrate the densest darkness. This is the promise of God, which I give unto you. Rise! and serve the Power of God!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris TaIks, p.168)

Knowing all of this should bring us delight and happiness, gladness and joy:

By thy life, O my beloved! if thou didst know what God had ordained for thee, thou wouldst fly with delight and happiness, gladness and joy would increase every hour.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í World Faith, p.363)

And if this wasn’t enough, Bahá’u’lláh has given us one of the most comforting passages here:

Rejoice thou with great joy that We have remembered thee both now and in the past. Indeed the sweet savours of this remembrance shall endure and shall not change throughout the eternity of the Names of God, the Lord of mankind.

We have graciously accepted thy devotions, thy praise, thy teaching work and the services thou hast rendered for the sake of this mighty Announcement. We have also hearkened unto that which thy tongue hath uttered at the meetings and gatherings. Verily thy Lord heareth and observeth all things.

We have attired thee with the vesture of My good-pleasure in My heavenly Kingdom… At this moment We call to remembrance Our loved ones and bring them the joyous tidings of God’s unfailing grace and of the things that have been provided for them in My lucid Book.

Ye have tolerated the censure of the enemies for the sake of My love and have steadfastly endured in My Path the grievous cruelties which the ungodly have inflicted upon you. Unto this I Myself bear witness, and I am the All-Knowing. How vast the number of places that have been ennobled with your blood for the sake of God.

How numerous the cities wherein the voice of your lamentation hath been raised and the wailing of your anguish uplifted. How many the prisons into which ye have been cast by the hosts of tyranny. Know ye of a certainty that He will render you victorious, will exalt you among the peoples of the world and will demonstrate your high rank before the gaze of all nations. Surely He will not suffer the reward of His favoured ones to be lost.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p.245)

For more on this topic, you might enjoy:

A Love Letter from God

And Nabil Moghaddam’s Talk on this Hidden Word

O SON OF SPIRIT!

My claim on thee is great, it cannot be forgotten. My grace to thee is plenteous, it cannot be veiled. My love has made in thee its home, it cannot be concealed. My light is manifest to thee, it cannot be obscured.  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 20)

 

Recovery From Low Self Esteem

Recently I was following a discussion on self-esteem on a Baha’i forum.  As someone who suffers from low self-esteem, I was particularly interested in the discussion, hoping to find a Baha’i-inspired way to overcome this problem.  I was disappointed to see the tone of the discussion, which was largely dismissive.

One contributor said:

The first thing that came to mind was ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s breakdown of the four different kinds of love:

  • God’s love for us
  • our love for God
  • God’s love towards Her Self
  • our love for our fellow human beings

At no time does The Master mention the spiritual validity or even the existence of a fifth kind of love, namely a human being’s love for oneself. Nonetheless, self-love has become an insanely successful commodity. Why?

This certainly made me think!

In the Secret of Divine Civilization (p.96-97), ‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us both:

…self-love is kneaded into the very clay of man ….

The heart is a divine trust; cleanse it from the stain of self-love.

All of this made me start to meditate on this question: Is there a healthy form of “self-love” from a Baha’i perspective?

Contributor 2 suggested:

  • There’s wisdom in knowing ourselves. And not just the Eternal, the Perfect, but also our flaws and foibles.

It reminded me of this quote:

The first Taraz and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon  of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty.  (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 34)

Contributor 3 suggested:

  • One theory is that individuals who have been abused – particularly by someone in a position of authority – have a deep mistrust of this parent-like God who resides outside them. These abuses need not even be direct; simple exposure to the dysfunction of the crumbling Age may lead to the same kinds of fears. Arguably, in this Day of corrupt governments, sexually predatory clergy members and vile human rights abuses, it may be unrealistic to expect the majority of people not to be deeply suspicious of an authoritative God who expresses Her will via Institutions and Laws, no matter how lovingly She is characterised. Perhaps at this point in the process, self-esteem aids serve a vital purpose for those individuals who have been so damaged that their healing requires they learn how to love the God within before they can even conceive of obeying a God without.

This article elaborates on this theme a little more:

The Role of Parents in Training us to be Obedient

Contributor 4 suggested:

  • It would seem to me that the Baha’i Faith is encouraging us to focus on “God love” rather than “self-love”. The most effective and safest way to love ourselves is to love the image of God that is potentially reflected in the reality of our true identity which is the soul.

This reminded me of the Hidden Word which says:

All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words, 27)

Contributor 5 suggested:

  • The self-esteem industry consists of two broad streams: self-healing and self-improvement. Though it occasionally touches on notions of surrender and service, the latter tends to revolve around the cult of more; how to get more rich, more attractive, more employable, more…more. It’s the saddest kind of irony as studies upon studies have disproved the myth that acquiring more things equals acquiring more happiness – or as the ads imply, more ‘self-esteem.’ The first stream though, that of purchasable ‘healing,’ is the one that I believe offers the most insight to a Baha’i looking to assist a struggling brother or sister. What we need to ask ourselves is why. Why is this route so popular? Why do people feel more comfortable paying thousands of hard-earned dollars for guidance on how to commune with the Divine within, rather than acquiescing to a God found outside themselves (for example, in Holy Writings and Institutions), as well as within?

This got me thinking about our purpose of life, which is to know and worship God (not ourselves), and the best way to achieve that is to pray and read the Writings morning and night, and to participate in the core activities, which exposes us to the transformative Word of God, which can recreate us.

Contributor 6 suggested:

  • We really are powerless! In the short obligatory prayer, we remind ourselves daily: “I testify at this moment to my powerlessness and to Thy might”.  This frees us from the delusion that we’re any different from anyone else, specifically more damaged or less ‘spiritually evolved’ than anyone else.

Contributor 7 suggested:

  • My experience of America culture is that we are now living under a “self-esteem” regime where “feeling good” has become more important than “doing good”. The line between self-love and selfishness is not a bright and well-lit highway, but is more like a spider’s web in a dark attic.It reminded me of these quotes:

If man be imbued with all good qualities but be selfish, all the other virtues will fade or pass away and eventually he will grow worse.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 136)

But if he show the slightest taint of selfish desires and self-love, his efforts will lead to nothing and he will be destroyed and left hopeless at the last. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 71)

It may be helpful to understand the two ways that “self” or “ego” is understood in the Baha’i Writings as explained by Shoghi Effendi.

Regarding the questions you asked: self has really two meanings, or is used in two senses, in the Bahá’í writings; one is self, the identity of the individual created by God. This is the self mentioned in such passages as “he hath known God who hath known himself”, etc. The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.

Contributor 8 suggested:

  • I’ve also noticed that having an ongoing negative mental conversation about one’s flaws, faults, and failings doesn’t seem to be conducive towards joy, kindness, appreciation, and treating others with love and serving humanity. Consequently, I’m starting to let go of excessive criticism of my own failures. And that seems to be leading towards an improvement in my overall ability to “live the life”.

It reminds me of this quote:

He urges you to persevere and add up your accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. Everyone’s life has both a dark and bright side. The Master said: turn your back to the darkness and your face to Me.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 457)

Contributor 9 suggested:

  • I find it helpful to think of how ‘Abdu’l-Baha was. For Baha’is He is the perfect Exemplar of how we should be and live. His whole being was suffused with the love of God, so He was able to love all those He met without any hint of self-interest or self-love.

Summary

According to the Bahá’í Writings, self-love is kneaded into the very clay of our beings and we need to cleanse our hearts from its stain.  In order to do it we need to know ourselves well enough to recognize what leads us to loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty.  The easiest way to do this is to make the love of God so strong in our hearts, that there is no room for anything else.

The negative mental conversations we have about our flaws, faults, and failings leads to our abasement.  If we want to be happy and joyful servants and teachers of the Faith, we need to treat ourselves with as much kindness, appreciation, and love as we would treat other people.  We need to turn our back on our failings and our face to God.

How do we do it?

  1. We remember that our purpose of life is to know and worship God (not ourselves). The best way to achieve that is to pray and read the Writings morning and night, and to participate in the core activities, which exposes us to the transformative Word of God, which can recreate us.
  1. Our parents have a role in educating us spiritually, but if we’ve been abused, it may be more difficult. Nevertheless, we remember we are all powerless.  In the short obligatory prayer, we remind ourselves daily: “I testify at this moment to my powerlessness and to Thy might”.  This frees us from the delusion that we’re any different from anyone else, specifically more damaged or less ‘spiritually evolved’ than anyone else.
  1. We follow the example of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, whose whole being was suffused with the love of God, so He was able to love all those He met without any hint of self-interest or self-love.

If we aren’t able to do this, our efforts will lead to nothing and we will be destroyed and left hopeless.

How has this helped you in your understanding of raising your self-esteem?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please post below.