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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.

Understanding Low Self Esteem

Someone with low self-esteem frequently feels unworthy, incapable, and incompetent. This can lead to:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Anxiety and emotional turmoil
  • Lack of social skills and self-confidence.
  • Depression and/or bouts of sadness
  • Eating disorders
  • 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.

These might help:

The Role of Parents in Training us to be Obedient

The Responsibilities of Parenthood

Should Bahá’í Mothers Stay at Home? 

The Role of Fathers in a Bahá’í Family

When Parents Fail

Honoring an Abusive Spouse or Parent

Newsletter – On How we Treat our Parents

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.

There are lots of articles on this topic or you can read them in my book Learning How to Forgive

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)

You might find these articles helpful:

A New Way of Looking at Myself

We Are Not Our Thoughts

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Change is Difficult and Takes a Long Time

Is your Mind Killing You?

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.

My Life Has No Fruit

Some people have told me that this quote terrifies them:

The basest of men are they that yield no fruit on earth. Such men are verily counted as among the dead, nay better are the dead in the sight of God than those idle and worthless souls.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words #81)

They’ve come to understand “fruit” as meaning children, family life, productive work, service, philanthropy etc, and when they don’t marry and/or have children, or they lose a job or they don’t make enough to make ends meet, they judge themselves harshly and punish themselves with this quote.

But I think the Bahá’í Writings have a different understanding of what this quote means.

It’s true:

The fleeting hours of man’s life on earth pass swiftly by and the little that still remaineth shall come to an end, but that which endureth and lasteth for evermore is the fruit that man reapeth from his servitude at the Divine Threshold.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 234)

We know that one of the reasons we’re put on this earth is to develop the virtues we’ll need in the next world, so perhaps the “fruit that man reapeth from his servitude at the Divine Threshold” are the virtues we are continually acquiring.

With regards to your life bearing no fruit – I know this is a chronic source of pain for some of us, and I have every confidence we will be absolutely astonished when we get to the next world, to find out just how much fruit we’ve harvested to bring with us, I promise!  Let’s have this discussion then, OK?

Keep these quotes in mind – so you can banish the lies (my life has no fruit) from your hamster wheel, and replace it with the truth:

Read this:

One who performeth neither good deeds nor acts of worship is like unto a tree which beareth no fruit, and an action which leaveth no trace. Whosoever experienceth the holy ecstasy of worship will refuse to barter such an act or any praise of God for all that existeth in the world.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting)

Ask yourself:

  • Have you ever performed a good deed? Make a list of 25 of them!
  • Have you ever performed an act of worship? Said your daily prayers?  Attended a devotional gathering?

If so, your life has fruit!

Read this:

The Tree of Life is full of blossoms, leaves and fruits!—shade thereof is a peace to the soul and a rest to the consciousness. Whosoever is under this Tree will certainly partake of fruit. But shade trees are many in the forest, which, though fresh and verdant, are, nevertheless, fruitless. This truth shall finally become clear and manifest unto thee.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 126)

Ask yourself:

  • Are you under the “tree of life”?

If so, your life has fruit!

Read this:

The fleeting hours of man’s life on earth pass swiftly by and the little that still remaineth shall come to an end, but that which endureth and lasteth for evermore is the fruit that man reapeth from his servitude at the Divine Threshold.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 234)

Ask yourself:

  • Have you ever performed an act of service? At home?  To your parents?  Your spouse?  Your children?  Your boss?  Your coworkers?  The Faith?

If so, your life has fruit!

Read this:

What are the fruits of the human world? They are the spiritual attributes which appear in man. If man is bereft of those attributes, he is like a fruitless tree. One whose aspiration is lofty and who has developed self-reliance will not be content with a mere animal existence. He will seek the divine Kingdom; he will long to be in heaven although he still walks the earth in his material body, and though his outer visage be physical, his face of inner reflection will become spiritual and heavenly. Until this station is attained by man, his life will be utterly devoid of real outcomes. The span of his existence will pass away in eating, drinking and sleeping, without eternal fruits, heavenly traces or illumination—without spiritual potency, everlasting life or the lofty attainments intended for him during his pilgrimage through the human world. You must thank God that your efforts are high and noble, that your endeavors are worthy, that your intentions are centered upon the Kingdom of God and that your supreme desire is the acquisition of eternal virtues. You must act in accordance with these requirements. A man may be a Bahá’í in name only. If he is a Bahá’í in reality, his deeds and actions will be decisive proofs of it. What are the requirements? Love for mankind, sincerity toward all, reflecting the oneness of the world of humanity, philanthropy, becoming enkindled with the fire of the love of God, attainment to the knowledge of God and that which is conducive to human welfare.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 335)

Ask yourself:

  • What are your spiritual attributes? We all have them?  If you are stuck, this list will help.  Make a list of your strengths and/or ask your loved ones.  They’ll be able to tell you.
  • Are your aspirations lofty?
  • Have you developed self-reliance?
  • Do you seek the divine Kingdom?
  • Do you long to be in heaven?
  • Is your face of inner reflection spiritual and heavenly?
  • Are your efforts high and noble?
  • Are your endeavors worthy?
  • Are your intentions centered upon the Kingdom of God?
  • Is your supreme desire the acquisition of eternal virtues?
  • Do you have love for mankind and sincerity toward all?
  • Do your deeds reflect the oneness of the world of humanity?
  • Are you philanthropic through sacrificial donations to the Fund?
  • Is your Right of God up to date?
  • Are you becoming enkindled with the fire of the love of God?
  • Do you have a knowledge of God?
  • Do you understand that which is conducive to human welfare?

If so, your life has fruit!

If not, you know what you need to work on!

Read this:

… the fruit of man’s earthly existence, which is the recognition of the one true God …
(Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 344-345)

Ask yourself:

  • Have you recognized God?

If so, your life has fruit!

Conclusion:

So let’s summarize.  As you can see, the fruits of your life include:

  • Recognition of the one true God
  • performing good deeds and acts of worship
  • shade to others, which is a peace to their souls and a rest for their consciousness
  • servitude at the Divine Threshold
  • spiritual attributes
  • lofty aspirations
  • seeking the divine Kingdom
  • longing to be in heaven while you still walk the earth
  • your face of inner reflection is spiritual and heavenly
  • gratitude that your efforts are high and noble, that your endeavors are worthy, that your intentions are centered upon the Kingdom of God and that your supreme desire is the acquisition of eternal virtues
  • acting in accordance with these requirements
  • all your deeds and actions
  • your love for mankind
  • your sincerity toward all
  • reflecting the oneness of the world of humanity
  • philanthropy
  • becoming enkindled with the fire of the love of God
  • attaining knowledge of God and that which is conducive to human welfare.

How has this helped you understand this topic better?  Post your comments below.