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Using Role Models to Overcome Depression


Studying the lives of the Central Figures of the Faith gives us a model to use in how they dealt with situations which would plunge any of us into self pity:

When Baha’u’llah was in the Síyáh-Chál with his fellow prisoners, He recounts this story.  If ever people had a right to feel sorry for themselves, these prisoners did, but instead, look what they chose to do instead:

We were all huddled together in one cell, our feet in stocks, and around our necks fastened the most galling of chains. The air we breathed was laden with the foulest impurities, while the floor on which we sat was covered with filth and infested with vermin. No ray of light was allowed to penetrate that pestilential dungeon or to warm its icy-coldness. We were placed in two rows, each facing the other. We had taught them to repeat certain verses which, every night, they chanted with extreme fervour. ‘God is sufficient unto me; He verily is the All-sufficing!’ one row would intone, while the other would reply: ‘In Him let the trusting trust.’ The chorus of these gladsome voices would continue to peal out until the early hours of the morning. Their reverberation would fill the dungeon, and, piercing its massive walls, would reach the ears of Násiri’d-Dín Sháh, whose palace was not far distant from the place where we were imprisoned. ‘What means this sound?’ he was reported to have exclaimed. ‘It is the anthem the Bábís are intoning in their prison,’ they replied. The Shah made no further remarks, nor did he attempt to restrain the enthusiasm his prisoners, despite the horrors of their confinement, continued to display.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 631-632)

The Báb also immersed Himself in the Writings:

As He lay confined within the walls of the castle, He devoted His time to the composition of the Persian Bayan, the most weighty, the most illuminating and comprehensive of all His works.  [. . . the writings which emanated from His inspired pen during this period were so numerous that they amounted in all to more than a hundred thousand verses].         (Shoghi Effendi, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 247)

Bahá’u’lláh paid the price for our suffering when He consented to be bound in chains “that mankind may be released from its bondage”.  Bondage is a kind of slavery – in this case to self pity; and liberty is freedom.  He “drank the cup of sorrow” so that we could be filled with joy and gladness, so by staying stuck in the prison of our self-pity, we’re rejecting His gift.

The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. He hath drained to its dregs the cup of sorrow, that all the peoples of the earth may attain unto abiding joy, and be filled with gladness.

Bahá’u’lláh wants us to “Remember my days during thy days”, and perhaps one reason for this is so that we can see how he handled his time in prison:

I sorrow not for the burden of My imprisonment. Neither do I grieve over My abasement, or the tribulation I suffer at the hands of Mine enemies. By My life! They are My glory, a glory wherewith God hath adorned His own Self. Would that ye know it!  The shame I was made to bear hath uncovered the glory with which the whole of creation had been invested, and through the cruelties I have endured, the Day Star of Justice hath manifested itself, and shed its splendor upon men.  My sorrows are for those who have involved themselves in their corrupt passions, and claim to be associated with the Faith of God, the Gracious, the All-Praised.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 99)

Because then He goes on to tell us how we should behave, knowing all this.  He wants us to detach from all earthly things, which includes all of our disappointments and hurts, so that something much better might transpire:

It behoveth the people of Baha to die to the world and all that is therein, to be so detached from all earthly things that the inmates of Paradise may inhale from their garment the sweet smelling savor of sanctity, that all the peoples of the earth may recognize in their faces the brightness of the All-Merciful, and that through them may be spread abroad the signs and tokens of God, the Almighty, the All-Wise.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 99)

You didn’t see ‘Abdul-Bahá fall into self pity.  He could both sigh out in grief, then turn to God:

For thirty long years, from the hour of Bahá’u’lláh’s ascension until His own immaculate spirit passed into the light of the all-highest realm, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá rested neither night nor day . . . All His life long, that quintessence of eternal glory, that subtle and mysterious Being, was subjected to trials and ordeals. He was the target of every calumny, of every false accusation, from enemies both without and within. To be a victim of oppression was His lot in this world’s life, and all He knew of it was toil and pain. In the dark of the night, He would sigh out His grief, and as He chanted His prayers at the hour of dawn, that wondrous voice of His would rise up to the inmates of Heaven.  (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khánum, p. 152-153)

When life dealt Him hardship, He saw what needed to be done and He did it.

Single and alone, a prisoner, a victim of tyranny, He rose up to reform the world — to refine and train and educate the human race. He watered the tree of the Faith, He sheltered it from the whirlwind and the lightning bolt, He protected God’s holy Cause, He  guarded the divine law, He defeated its adversaries, He frustrated the hopes of those who wished it ill.  (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khánum, p. 152-153)

And even in prison, He chose to be cheerful:

Then know ye that Abdul-Bahá is in cheerfulness and joy and in the happiness of great glad-tidings though being in the far distant prison . . .  this prison is my supreme paradise, my utmost desire, the joy of my heart and the dilation of my breast, my shelter, my asylum, my inaccessible cave and my high protection. By it I glory among the angels of heaven and the Supreme Concourse.  Be rejoiced, O friends of God, with this confinement which is a cause of freedom, this prison which is a means of salvation (to many) and this suffering which is the best cause of great comfort. Verily, by God, I would not change this prison for the throne of the command of the horizons and would not exchange this confinement for all excursions and enjoyments in the gardens of the earth.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 4)

‘Abdul-Bahá, in prison, used to find things to laugh about every day:

He referred to His years in prison. Life was hard, He said, tribulations were never far away, and yet, at the end of the day, they would sit together and recall events that had been fantastic, and laugh over them. Funny situations could not be abundant, but still they probed and sought them, and laughed.  (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 31)

When Mírzá Mihdi (Bahá’u’lláh’s son) fell from the skylight of the prison in ‘Akká, you didn’t see him fall into self pity.  Instead, he begged Bahá’u’lláh to let him die, so that people could come and visit Bahá’u’lláh.

The Purest Branch, the martyred son, the companion, and amanuensis of Bahá’u’lláh, that pious and holy youth, who in the darkest days of Bahá’u’lláh’s incarceration in the barracks of ‘Akká entreated, on his death-bed, his Father to accept him as a ransom for those of His loved ones who yearned for, but were unable to attain, His presence.  (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to America, p. 31)

And we’ve been given the story of Bahiyyih Khánum, the Greatest Holy Leaf to use as our example:

You should, however, take courage and resign to the will of God when you see what the Greatest Holy Leaf had to face during her life.  All you may suffer is nothing compared to what she had to endure; and yet how joyous and hopeful she used always to be!  (Shoghi Effendi, Bahiyyih Khánum, p. 87)

We must struggle with such promptings from within, setting our sights on the lofty example set by the Greatest Holy Leaf who, throughout a life replete with severe tests, chose not to take offence at the actions or lack of actions of other souls and, with full and radiant heart, continued to bestow on them love and encouragement.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

The stories of the martyrs are also inspiring insights into how they dealt with situations that might plunge others into self pity.  For example, Mona Mahmudnizhad kissed the noose before she was hung to death:

Well imagine being 16 years old and you and other women and girls have been teaching Baha’i children’s classes. You and nine other women and girls are arrested and charged with teaching children’s classes on the Baha’i Faith (Sunday School), Well, that is one happened in Shiraz, Iran on June 18, 1983.  Mona Mahmudnizhad was teaching her religion (the Baha’i faith) to children, something we in the U.S. take for granted every day.  In an attempt to make the women and girls recant their belief in the Baha’i Faith and Baha’u’llah, they were physically and mentally tortured. Yet, these ten women and girls, like most Baha’is arrested and tortured refused to recant their faith. The women knew that if they didn’t recant that they would be executed. The time came and the women were escorted from their cell, some could hardly walk, their feet had been beat until they were a bloody mess. The women cried quietly and stood steadfast to their knowledge that they would be reunited in heaven.  When it was time for the first to be hung, Mona Mahmudnizhad a brave young girl walks forward, choosing to lead the way to Heaven, God and Baha’u’llah, and to give the others’ courage walked up to the rope. She kissed the noose reverently and placed it over her head, before the executioner had a chance. The remaining women and girls followed Mona Mahmudnizhad into heaven and forever in every Baha’is’ heart.  (

What other role models have helped you overcome self pity?  Post your comments here:

Other articles in this series:

What is Self Pity?

How do we know if we’ve got it?

Where does it come from?

What are the effects?

Why should we stop feeling sorry for ourselves?

How can we transform it?

Selflessness, Service and Sacrifice in your Life as a Bahá’í

The Bahá’í Writings offer a vision of the qualities for which women must strive and we are often encouraged to examine the life of Bahiyyih Khánum, (the daughter of Bahá’u’lláh), who served her Father selflessly throughout His life, forgoing marriage and the establishment of a family of her own in order to care for Him. She was elevated to the rank of one of the most distinguished among her sex, and therefore, a model for selfless service for us to consider and emulate.

Whether in the management of the affairs of His Household in which she excelled, or in the social relationships which she so assiduously cultivated in order to shield both Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá, whether in the unfailing attention she paid to the everyday needs of her Father, or in the traits of generosity, of affability and kindness, which she manifested, the Greatest Holy Leaf had by that time abundantly demonstrated her worthiness to rank as one of the noblest figures intimately associated with the life-long work of Bahá’u’lláh.  (Bahiyyih Khanum: The Greatest Holy Leaf, pp. 34-5).

And in her own words:

In this Day nothing is so important as service. Did not `Abdu’l-Bahá voluntarily call Himself the ‘Servant’ of Bahá . . . We, wishing to follow the commands left by Bahá’u’lláh, . . . can take no greater step toward the Heavenly Kingdom . . . than that of loving service to all mankind.
Bahiyyih Khánum: The Greatest Holy Leaf, p. 224.

Sometimes I wonder what her life was like, and what she did in moments when she didn’t think she had the ability to meet the need of one more demand? Presumably she relied on prayer but did she ever resent having to be so self-less? What about HER life? Did she ever have time for herself, to do something just because she wanted to?

And then I think about how to apply this to my life: is it possible to be selfless to the point of erasing myself so I don’t exist? Does God really expect us to give every last ounce of our time and energy to other people? Where does selflessness overstep the bounds of moderation and become codependency? Why is it they look so much alike that it’s hard, almost impossible to tell the difference? How can we know if we are truly being selfless, or if it’s only being codependent?

It seems to me that one is ego-based and the opposite is other-based.

When we are ego-based, we want to help others because we want them to like us, or we want something from them. It’s somewhat manipulative. I don’t think God wants us to be a martyr to other people’s whims.

One definition of sacrifice is to “make sacred”, and surely this is the example the Greatest Holy Leaf is trying to teach us.

How do you “make sacred” the everyday chores in your life? Post your comments here: