What is true love?
The essence of love is for man to turn his heart to the Beloved One, and sever himself from all else but Him, and desire naught save that which is the desire of his Lord. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 155)
The real and great love is the love of God. That is holy above the imaginations and thoughts of men. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 365)
What is the love between two people?
But the love which sometimes exists between friends is not (true) love, because it is subject to transmutation; this is merely fascination. As the breeze blows, the slender trees yield. If the wind is in the East the tree leans to the West, and if the wind turns to the West the tree leans to the East. This kind of love is originated by the accidental conditions of life. This is not love, it is merely acquaintanceship; it is subject to change. Today you will see two souls apparently in close friendship; tomorrow all this may be changed. Yesterday they were ready to die for one another, today they shun one another’s society! This is not love; it is the yielding of the hearts to the accidents of life. When that which has caused this ‘love’ to exist passes, the love passes also; this is not in reality love. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 180)
How to think about heartbreak
O My servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain. Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p.232
Why do we get our hearts broken?
Anybody can be happy in the state of comfort, ease, health, success, pleasure and joy; but if one be happy and contented in the time of trouble, hardship and prevailing disease, it is the proof of nobility. Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas, Baha’i Publishing Committee, 1909 edition Pages: 730
What to do when your heart is broken
Turn towards the “Best Lover”:
There is nothing greater or more blessed than the Love of God! It gives healing to the sick, balm to the wounded, joy and consolation to the whole world, and through it alone can man attain Life Everlasting. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 82)
By the life of God! A single drop of the ocean of His love is more profitable unto thee than the earth and that which is thereupon, because this will vanish and perish, but that drop of love will remain eternally and everlasting in the worlds of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 669)
In a letter written on his behalf, Shoghi Effendi uses the analogy of the plant turning in the direction of the sun to explain the spiritual significance of turning towards the
…just as the plant stretches out to the sunlight–from which it receives life and growth–so we turn our hearts to the Manifestation of God, Bahá’u’lláh, when we pray; … we turn our faces … to where His dust lies on this earth as a symbol of the inner act. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 169)
Understand just how much He loves us:
He gave us life because He loved us so much:
O Son of Man! 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. My love is in thee, know it, that thou mayest find me near unto thee. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 3).
O Son of Man! I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 4).
O SON OF THE WONDROUS VISION! I have breathed within thee a breath of My own Spirit, that thou mayest be My lover. Why hast thou forsaken Me and sought a beloved other than Me? (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 19)
His eye of favors is directed towards us:
Know thou that, verily, the eye of favors is directed to thee and is beholding thee with a divine glance, so that thou mayest, with clear eyes, see the lights of the Kingdom upon the horizon. Remember, at all times, this great favor and thank thy Lord and supplicate to Him every day. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 132)
Through this love, we receive eternal life:
There are four kinds of love. The first is the love that flows from God to man; it consists of the inexhaustible graces, the Divine effulgence and heavenly illumination. Through this love the world of being receives life. Through this love man is endowed with physical existence, until, through the breath of the Holy Spirit—this same love—he receives eternal life and becomes the image of the Living God. This love is the origin of all the love in the world of creation. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 180)
Understand the bounties and blessings of losing a loved one:
Live free of love, for its very peace is anguish; Its beginning is pain, its end is death. Peace be upon him who followeth the Right Path! (Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, p. 41)
And if, confirmed by the Creator, the lover escapes from the claws of the eagle of love, he will enter THE VALLEY OF KNOWLEDGE and come out of doubt into certitude, and turn from the darkness of illusion to the guiding light of the fear of God. His inner eyes will open and he will privily converse with his Beloved; he will set ajar the gate of truth and piety, and shut the doors of vain imaginings. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, p. 11)
Love is a veil betwixt the lover and the beloved. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Four Valleys, p. 60)
…. the Manifested Light, Baha’u’llah, in this glorious period has revealed in Holy Tablets that singing and music are the spiritual food of the hearts and souls. In this dispensation, music is one of the arts that is highly approved and is considered to be the cause of the exaltation of sad and desponding hearts. (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 9, p. 131)
. . . if a person falls into errors for a hundred-thousand times he may yet turn his face to you, hopeful that you will forgive his sins; for he must not become hopeless, neither grieved nor despondent. This is the conduct and the manner of the people of Bahá’. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 436)
He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vain-glory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence and refrain from idle talk. For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century. (Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, p. 193)
Remember, above all, the teaching of Baha’u’llah concerning gossip and unseemly talk about others. Stories repeated about others are seldom good. A silent tongue is the safest. Even good may be harmful, if spoken at the wrong time, or to the wrong person. (Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 125)
That seeker should, also, regard backbiting as grievous error, and keep himself aloof from its dominion, inasmuch as backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul. He should be content with little, and be freed from all inordinate desire. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 264)
O people of God! Do not busy yourselves in your own concerns; let your thoughts be fixed upon that which will rehabilitate the fortunes of mankind and sanctify the hearts and souls of men. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 93-94)
Be not the slave of your moods, but their master. But if you are so angry, so depressed and so sore that your spirit cannot find deliverance and peace even in prayer, then quickly go and give some pleasure to someone lowly or sorrowful, or to a guilty or innocent sufferer! Sacrifice yourself, your talent, your time, your rest to another, to one who has to bear a heavier load than you. (The Research Department has found that these words were attributed to Abdu’l-Baha in an unpublished English translation of notes in German by Dr. Josephine Fallscheer taken on 5 August 1910. As the statement is a pilgrim note, it cannot be authenticated)
What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation? I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!
If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Forgive
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There is no question that the burden of grief on a sorrowing heart, is heavier than minds can conceive, or words can tell.
There is no question but that the burden of grief on his sorrowing heart, because of this terrible ordeal, this great calamity, is heavier than minds can conceive, or words can tell. (Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 76-77)
The loss of a child is indeed heart-breaking and beyond the limits of human endurance, yet we’re assured that our child has not been lost. He’s just stepped from this world into the next, and we will find them when we get there:
O thou beloved maid-servant of God, although the loss of a son is indeed heart-breaking and beyond the limits of human endurance, yet one who knoweth and understandeth is assured that the son hath not been lost but, rather, hast stepped from this world into another, and she will find him in the divine realm. That reunion shall be for eternity, while in this world separation is inevitable and bringeth with it a burning grief. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 201)
Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting:
Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 50)
They cause us to remember our Father in Heaven:
When grief and sorrow come, then will a man remember his Father Who is in Heaven, Who is able to deliver him from his humiliations. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 96)
And to obtain a harvest of spiritual virtues:
The more a man is chastened, the greater is the harvest of spiritual virtues shown forth by him. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 96)
When we’re happy we may forget God, but when grief and sorrow come, we remember:
While a man is happy he may forget his God; but when grief comes and sorrows overwhelms him, then will he remember his Father who is in Heaven, and who is able to deliver him from his humiliations. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp. 50-51)
Separation belongs only to this world – our loved ones will be with us in the Kingdom of God and we will again look upon their smiling faces, illumined brows and handsome spirits. We will then be happy, comforted and thank God for His favor upon us:
O thou who art tested with a great calamity! Be not grieved nor troubled because of the loss which hath befallen thee—a loss which caused the tears to flow, sighs to be produced, sorrow to exist and hearts to burn in great agony; but know, this hath reference only to the physical body, and if thou considerest this matter with a discerning and intelligent eye, thou wilt find that it hath no power whatsoever, for separation belongeth to the characteristics of the body. But concerning the spirit, know that thy pure son shall be with thee in the Kingdom of God and thou shalt witness his smiling face, illumined brow, handsome spirit and real happiness. Accordingly, thou wilt then be comforted and thank God for His favor upon thee. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 85-86)
Not everyone has the bounty of being able to grieve the loss of their slaughtered children:
How many mothers have not dared, through fear and dread, to mourn over their slaughtered children! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 66)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá grieves for us so we don’t have to:
O my well-beloved, deeply spiritual sister! Day and night thou livest in my memory. Whenever I remember thee my heart swelleth with sadness and my regret groweth more intense. Grieve not, for I am thy true, thy unfailing comforter. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 4)
Effects of Grief on the Soul of the Departed
There’s no need for wailing and weeping, because mourning deeply affects his soul:
Therefore be thou not disconsolate, do not languish, do not sigh, neither wail nor weep; for agitation and mourning deeply affect his soul in the divine realm. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 201)
While in this world separation is inevitable and bringeth with it a burning grief. Therefore be thou not disconsolate, do not languish, do not sigh, neither wail nor weep; for agitation and mourning deeply affect his soul in the divine realm. When he findeth that thou art happy he becometh more cheerful, but when he perceiveth that thou art disconsolate, this provoketh anguish in his heart. (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 9)
These days will pass away and in the Abhá Kingdom we’ll forget all our earthly cares and will find each one of our losses amply compensated:
Let neither despondency nor despair becloud the serenity of thy life or restrain thy freedom. These days shall pass away. We will, please God, in the Abhá Kingdom and beneath the sheltering shadow of the Blessed Beauty, forget all these our earthly cares and will find each one of these base calumnies amply compensated by His expressions of praise and favour. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 4)
It’s important to know that our loved one hasn’t truly died but gone to a better place, which can be a source of comfort and gratitude to us.
Therefore think not that he hath perished. Indeed he will endure in the heavenly kingdom as long as God Himself endureth. And this calleth for gratitude, not grieving. When he findeth that thou art happy he becometh more cheerful, but when he perceiveth that thou art disconsolate, this provoketh anguish in his heart. (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 9)
Bahá’u’lláh doesn’t want us to grieve over our losses – He tells us that if we scan the pages of the Book of Life, we would discover that which would dissipate our sorrows and dissolve our anguish:
Let not thine heart grieve over what hath befallen thee. Wert thou to scan the pages of the Book of Life, thou wouldst, most certainly, discover that which would dissipate thy sorrows and dissolve thine anguish. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 132)
Grief and sorrow cause the greatest misery, so ‘Abdu’l-Bahá reminds us to not give in to it:
Yield not to grief and sorrow; they cause the greatest misery. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 13)
In one of the most popular prayers for spiritual growth He asks to affirm our intention:
I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 150)
The best way to let go of all sorrow and anxiety, regret and tribulation, is to set our hearts on the tender mercies of the Ancient Beauty until we become filled with abiding joy and intense gladness:
From the beginning of time sorrow and anxiety, regret and tribulation, have always been the lot of every loyal servant of God. Ponder this in thine heart and consider how very true it is. Wherefore, set thine heart on the tender mercies of the Ancient Beauty and be thou filled with abiding joy and intense gladness. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 4)
Reading the Tablet of Ahmad will dispel our sadness, solve our difficulties and remove our afflictions:
Should one who is in affliction or grief read this Tablet with absolute sincerity, God will dispel his sadness, solve his difficulties and remove his afflictions. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of Ahmad, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 211)
Faith heightens our capacity to respond to sorrow:
Faith is an endowment from the Higher Kingdom and changes all beliefs into an aliveness in the spirit. The quickening of the soul renews the atoms of the body to the very marrow of the bone … The capacity for response to sorrows … has been heightened greatly. (Helen Reed Bishop, Introduction to the 1950 edition of the Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. vi.)
Prayer, contentment and gratitude help too:
Grieve not at the divine trials. Be not troubled because of hardships and ordeals; turn unto God, bowing in humbleness and praying to Him, while bearing every ordeal, contented under all conditions and thankful in every difficulty. Verily thy Lord loveth His maidservants who are patient, believing and firm. He draws them nigh unto Him through these ordeals and trials. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 50)
Sometimes, though, just like the Guardian, we need to wrap ourselves in a blanket, pray and supplicate, and give ourselves time for healing:
The lives of the Founders of our Faith clearly show that to be fundamentally assured does not mean that we live without anxieties, nor does being happy mean that there are not periods of deep grief when, like the Guardian, we wrap ourselves in a blanket, pray and supplicate, and give ourselves time for healing in preparation for the next great effort. (Shoghi Effendi, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 117)
Conversing with Those in the Next World
Someone asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá how it was that in prayer and meditation the heart often turns with instinctive appeal to some friend who has passed into the next life. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá answered:
It is a law of God’s creation that the weak should lean upon the strong. Those to whom you turn may be the mediators of God’s power to you, even as when on earth. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 96)
We can pray for them and help others solve problems when they ask for help:
In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you! When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty. This sometimes happens in sleep but there is no phenomenal intercourse! That which seems like phenomenal intercourse has another explanation.” The questioner exclaimed; “But I have heard a voice!” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said: “Yes, that is possible; we hear voices clearly in dreams. It is not with the physical ear that you heard; the spirit of those that have passed on are freed from sense-life, and do not use physical means. It is not possible to put these great matters into human words; the language of man is the language of children, and man’s explanation often leads astray. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 96)
Someone once asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá whether or not we can converse with those who have gone on to the next world. He replied:
A conversation can be held, but not as our conversation. There is no doubt that the forces of the higher worlds interplay with the forces of this plane. The heart of man is open to inspiration; this is spiritual communication. As in a dream one talks with a friend while the mouth is silent, so is it in the conversation of the spirit. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 178)
The conversations we’ll have our purely spiritual and dependent on the disinterested and selfless love of the two souls for each other:
The possibility of securing union with his beloved in the next world is one which the Bahá’í Teachings are quite clear about. According to Bahá’u’lláh the soul retains its individuality and consciousness after death, and is able to commune with other souls. This communion, however, is purely spiritual in character, and is conditioned upon the disinterested and selfless love of the individuals for each other. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 207)
The best way to do it is through prayer:
In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you! When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 96)
We can pray for each other in both worlds:
As we have power to pray for these souls here, so likewise we shall possess the same power in the other world, which is the Kingdom of God. Are not all the people in that world the creatures of God? Therefore in that world also they can make progress. As here they can receive light by their supplication, there also they can plead for forgiveness, and receive light through entreaties and supplications. Thus as souls in this world, through the help of the supplications, the entreaties, and the prayers of the holy ones, can acquire development, so is it the same after death. Through their own prayers and supplications they can also progress; more especially when they are the object of the intercession of the Holy Manifestations. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 330)
The Role of Others
Know that in times of our great and irreparable loss, our friends are also sharing our sorrow and grief:
Your touching words in connection with the sudden removal of the Greatest Holy Leaf from their midst have greatly alleviated the burden of sorrow that weighs so heavily upon their hearts and have demonstrated that in their great and irreparable loss the friends are faithfully sharing their sorrow and grief. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 65)
Turn to them – draw on their love for strength and consolation in time of need!
Indeed the believers have not yet fully learned to draw on each other’s love for strength and consolation in time of need. The Cause of God is endowed with tremendous powers, and the reason the believers do not gain more from it is because they have not learned to draw fully on these mighty forces of love and strength and harmony generated by the Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 93)
Sometimes we need to accept help, even if we’ve always been the one to give it. There are times we serve and times we need to allow others to serve us. Remember – the highest level of attainment is for us to be a servant; so if our friends have no one to serve, they can’t achieve their station:
Cling, O ye people of Bahá, to the cord of servitude unto God, the True One, for thereby your stations shall be made manifest, your names written and preserved, your ranks raised and your memory exalted in the Preserved Tablet. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 62)
The greatest gift we can receive is to rejoice someone else’s heart:
Never is it the wish of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to see any being hurt, nor will He make anyone to grieve; for man can receive no greater gift than this, that he rejoice another’s heart. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 203-204)
Of all pilgrimages we ever make, the greatest is to relieve the sorrow-laden heart:
Remember the saying: ‘Of all pilgrimages the greatest is to relieve the sorrow-laden heart.’ (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 92)
Be a role model for others:
Your noble letter uplifted us all and renewed our strength and determination; for if you could gather yourself together and rise above such grievous sorrow and shock, and comfort us, we, too, must do no less; but arise and serve the Cause which is our Mother. (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 41)
What else has helped you grieve the loss of your loved ones? Post your comments below!
Dealing with loss and grief is never easy. It’s a process that takes time, even for the people actively engaged in moving forward. The slowness often frustrates the people around us, who want us to move on and “put the past in the past.” These comments can only make someone feel worse.
In terms of taking time off to heal, the Bahá’í Writings tell us:
There is no object in over-taxing your will power and strength by forcing yourself to do things for the Cause. You should let your mind rest in the thought of the infinite love, Mercy and Forgiveness of Bahá’u’lláh, and cease to fret about whether you are or are not doing your share until you fully recover your health. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 282).
You should have no doubt that the completion of any act of service is contingent on one’s health and well-being, and you are urged to let go of the misconception of failure you have been carrying. In the course of life, unforeseen circumstances occur that can interfere with the achievement of our goals. This is part of life in this world and must not be regarded as a dereliction of duty. (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 12 January 2010)
In the middle of my despair, when I was feeling worse for not being able to work, the House of Justice lovingly told me:
You are encouraged to follow the advice of your therapist in regard to the absences which you should take from your employment in order to facilitate your healing from the trauma you experienced in the past. The time taken away from work beneficial to society would doubtless be more than compensated for by the increase in effectiveness with which you will be able to perform such functions when your healing is more advanced. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 December, 1992.)
And with regards to taking absences from the Bahá’í community, and feeling guilty for failing to participate in Bahá’í activities, they told a friend of mine:
You have asked what to do since psychological problems sometimes make it difficult for you to participate in community events and Assembly meetings. In striving to follow the Teachings and the best medical advice you can obtain, you will want to remember that the healing you do now is an investment that will enable you to better serve in the future. Ideally, you would combine concentrating on healing with avenues of service which do not interfere with it. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 October, 1994.)
Even Shoghi Effendi had to take time off to heal his broken heart!
Shoghi Effendi had to take a “leave of absence” from his job “under the weight of sorrows and boundless grief” until “by the grace of God, having gained health, strength, self confidence and spiritual energy” he was able to return. (Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, p. 42.)
Many times when Shoghi Effendi was intensely distressed, I saw him go to bed, refusing to eat or drink, refusing to talk, rolled under his covers, unable to do anything but agonize, like someone beaten to the ground by heavy rain; this condition sometimes lasted for days, until forces within himself would adjust the balance and set him on his feet again. He would be lost in a world of his own where no one could follow. (Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, p. 45.)
And ‘Abdu’l-Bahá approved!
We also have a Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed to Shoghi Effendi, expressing His concern about his health, but at what period it was written I do not know: He is God! Shoghi Effendi, upon him be the glory of the All-Glorious! Oh thou who art young in years and radiant of countenance, I understand you have been ill and obliged to rest; never mind, from time to time rest is essential, otherwise, like unto ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from excessive toil you will become weak and powerless and unable to work. Therefore rest a few days, it does not matter. I hope that you will be under the care and protection of the Blessed Beauty. (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, p. 7)
In their impatience for us to “get over it”, sometimes people say we need to forgive and not judge. Of course this is true! It’s just not helpful, nor does it take into account the time needed to heal. The House of Justice wrote this to a friend who was struggling with the judgements of the Bahá’í community around her:
Experience seems to suggest that the healing process can often be a lengthy and stressful one requiring the close guidance and help of trained professionals. Advice given by well-meaning believers to the effect that you should seek to transcend psychological problems does not qualify as competent advice on what is essentially a medical issue. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 October, 1994)
The purpose of life is to know and love God, and God sends each of us tests uniquely designed for this purpose. Often it involves separating us through others through death, divorce or estrangement. Where we once relied on others for love and support, we have no choice but to turn to God if we don’t want to stay stuck or turn bitter. This takes time!
Another purpose of life is to acquire the virtues we will need in the next world. This is a full time job, which requires all of our care and attention. If we are busy trying to improve the quality of someone else, we are losing a chance to improve ourselves, as Shoghi Effendi describes:
If we allow our attention and energy to be taken up in efforts to keep others right and remedy their faults, we are wasting precious time. We are like ploughmen each of whom has his team to manage and his plough to direct, and in order to keep his furrow straight he must keep his eye on his goal and concentrate on his own task. If he looks to this side and that to see how Tom and Harry are getting on and to criticize their ploughing, then his own furrow will assuredly become crooked. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)
One of the hardest virtues to develop (and possibly one we will need the most in the next world!) is patience.
Great love and patience are needed towards new believers, especially those who have come from very troubled backgrounds. (From a letter written by the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer July 22, 1981).
I’d like to close with a story that illustrates this (author unknown):
A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.
The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.
The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shrivelled wings, incapable of flight.
What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.
What’s been your experience with taking time to heal; or watching helplessly as others heal? Post your comments here:
Though no one wants to admit to it, we all have self-pity to some degree; some more than others, some less than others. So what is it? How do we know we have it? Where does it come from? How does it affect us and others? What does God think about it? Why should we try to overcome it and how do we do it? These are all some of the questions we will answer in this new series of blog postings. So let’s start by looking at what it is.
Fist of all, we need to know that self pity is not the same as depression and grief and sadness, but if not dealt with, all of those can lead to self pity. God knows how easy it is for us to stay stuck in grief and sadness, which is why He tells us to “sorrow not”:
Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will no doubt attain. (Bahá’u’lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 69).
And “grieve not”:
When the winds blow severely, rains fall fiercely, the lightning flashes, the thunder roars, the bolt descends and storms of trial become severe, grieve not; for after this storm, verily, the divine spring will arrive, the hills and fields will become verdant, the expanses of grain will joyfully wave, the earth will become covered with blossoms, the trees will be clothed with green garments and adorned with blossoms and fruits. Thus blessings become manifest in all countries. These favors are results of those storms and hurricanes. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 394)
Grieve not at the divine trials. Be not troubled because of hardships and ordeals; turn unto God, bowing in humbleness and praying to Him, while bearing every ordeal, contented under all conditions and thankful in every difficulty. Verily thy Lord loveth His maidservants who are patient, believing and firm. He draws them nigh unto Him through these ordeals and trials. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 50)
Grieve not at what hath befallen thee, but put thy whole trust in God, the Almighty, the All-Knowing, the Wise. Raise thy house upon the solid foundation of divine utterances, and give praise to thy Lord. He, verily, shall suffice thee above all the peoples of the earth. (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 151)
In these quotes He promises us that things will get better; He reminds us to turn to God in prayer and gratitude; be patient; trust God; and read the Writings. This then could be a remedy for self pity.
Self pity is . . .
1. Self indulgent: Self pity is a self-indulgent attitude concerning one’s own difficulties, hardships, etc, causing people to dwell on their sorrows or misfortunes. God does not want us to dwell on the unpleasant things of life:
Do not dwell on what is coming to pass . . . and be ye in no wise alarmed. Whatsoever may happen is for the best, because affliction is but the essence of bounty, and sorrow and toil are mercy unalloyed, and anguish is peace of mind, and to make a sacrifice is to receive a gift, and whatsoever may come to pass hath issued from God’s grace. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 245)
I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 151)
2. Paralyzing: Self pity is a paralyzing state of mind where someone has notaccepted a situation and does not have the confidence nor the ability to cope with it. It can lead to apathy and lethargy, which God doesn’t want either:
Underlying all these outward afflictions is the spiritual damage reflected in the apathy that has gripped the mass of the peoples of all nations and by the extinction of hope in the hearts of deprived and anguished millions. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Oct, The Promise of World Peace)
‘Abdul-Bahá challenges us:
Is it commendable that you should waste and fritter away in apathy the brilliance that is your birthright, your native competence, your inborn understanding? (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 91)
God understands that to overcome it is challenging, but tells us:
The apathy and lethargy that paralyze their spiritual faculties — these are among the formidable obstacles that stand in the path of every world-be warrior in the service of Bahá’u’lláh, obstacles which he must battle against the surmount in his crusade for the redemption of his own countrymen. (Shoghi Effendi: Citadel of Faith, p. 149
3. Victimizing: Self pity wants to take you back to a time before the suffering started because you can’t stand the now. It is characterized by a person’s belief that he or she is the victim of events and is therefore deserving of condolence.
God doesn’t want us to feel sorry for ourselves, or to blame anyone for what has happened to us:
Grieve not at the things that have befallen Thee, for erelong shall God raise up a people who will see with their own eyes and will recall Thy tribulations. Withhold Thy pen from the mention of Thine enemies, and bestir it in the praise of the Eternal King. (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 17)
4. Addictive: Self pity is a powerful enemy. It will lead you into addictions to substances (drugs, alcohol) or behaviors (sex outside marriage, shopping, workaholism) looking for comfort and it will make you think you’ve been so badly wronged that it can justify the addiction.
An addiction is whatever you put your affections on; whatever you focus on repetitiously. By this definition, self pity is a powerful drug. It anesthetizes the pain, puts you to sleep (physically and spiritually) and keeps you safe from intrusion. It’s a mood altering substance that should only be available by prescription! It’s addictive and draws others down with you.
If you are sad, and pass a child who is laughing, the child, seeing your sad face, will cease to laugh, not knowing why. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 124)
The person who engages in self-pity is looking for sympathy from others, usually, for in that sympathy they hope to find their happiness, their pleasant feelings. They’re depending on support and encouragement from others to make them feel better; unfortunately, such a dependence is very similar to a chemical dependence–the high soon wears off, and they need another fix. Like an addict, one dose of self pity is not enough. You’re hooked for life. At first, it’s met with joy. You chew on it and it feels good, but after awhile, the honeymoon is over and you won’t want it anymore, but it will be too late. It will already be part of your personality.
For example, after retrieving memories of a lifetime of abuse, I was mired in self pity. And whenever I told my story, people responded with compassion. I felt like nobody had ever lived through the things I lived through. I read Writings which said: “Remember My days during thy days”, and thought that the Manifestation of God had no idea of what I went through. His life had nothing to do with mine. (Can you see how I then slipped into pride?) Over time, I slipped into chronic depression and anxiety and was labeled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (my self pity was driving me further and further from God and from others). I believed I was my diagnoses; and despair and hopelessness became my constant companions. I spent my days wanting to die. Doesn’t this sound like the life of an addict?
5. Self soothing: Self-pity is a way of paying attention to oneself, albeit negatively; it is a means self-soothing or self-nurturing (“I hurt so much”). Self pity often starts in childhood, where children who are hurting need it for their very survival. It might have been one of the only tools available to draw attention to themselves, and as a child it served them well. But what was necessary for a child and adolescent becomes repulsive when seen in adults. For example, it’s almost endearing to see a child sucking his thumb and holding on to a security blanket, but the same behavior won’t get you a lot of respect from your peers as an adult.
Perhaps the child received attention, support, and nurturing while being sick or hurt. They grow up having learned either to give attention to himself (or ask for attention from others) looking for sympathy from others (for example, someone might use the phrase “oh, you poor thing” to comfort the person in self-pity).
6. Fear based: Self pity is fear based, not faith based. Fear and faith are equal: both project into the future and both demand to be fulfilled. Faith is reaching for the good things you’re hoping for, and fear is believing that only bad things are coming your way. You get to choose: Are you going to be the servant of faith or the servant of fear? Self pity is the opposite of having faith. It is a sinkhole from which no rescuing hand can save you, because you have chosen to sink.
Those who are trying to help lift the spirits of those indulging in self pity often get discouraged because they don’t understand the basis of it. It will wear you out because you’re trying so hard to help someone and they don’t really want to be helped at all. They want to complain, but can’t see anything better:
Never shall . . . the lifeless heart delight in aught but in the withered bloom. For like seeketh like, and taketh pleasure in the company of its kind. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 10)
We need to bring our fears into perspective: whether we live or whether we die, we belong to God. We weren’t created for our own pleasure, but to know and worship God. We need to abide by His Will, not our own.
We can take steps to freedom through faith or steps to bondage by fear. Both are a journey. Both are a choice. One leads to happiness; the other to misery. Self pity won’t let you take the journey. It keeps you stuck in the past, which is why you need to be constantly vigilant. Your lower nature is just waiting to lure you back into the prison of self. Patience is needed, as is endurance and long suffering. Resisting self pity takes effort, but do does staying in it.
We’re told: “Draw nigh unto God and He will draw nigh unto you” – not the other way around.
Draw nigh unto Him with a pure heart, cheerful face, gazing eye and a joyful spirit and plunge with thy whole being into the sea of the love of God and forget all else save Him, so that thou mayest be filled with such spiritual sentiments from the kingdom of God, which will take the reins of desire from thy hands and move thee with the power of thy Lord, just as the wind moveth a mote in the open air as it willeth. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 200)
But in order to do it, it requires an act of faith on your part, and the rewards are great:
If a soul of his own accord advances toward God he will be accepted at the Threshold of Oneness, for such a one is free of personal considerations, of greed and selfish interests, and he has taken refuge within the sheltering protection of his Lord. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 46)
The troubles of this world pass, and what we have left is what we have made of our souls, so it is to this we must look to becoming more spiritual, drawing nearer to God, no matter what our human minds and bodies go through. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 296)
Self pity doesn’t trust anything. It always wants to be convinced. By always looking for proof, it can’t have faith.
It is such faith which sufficeth above all the things that exist on the earth, whereas no created thing on earth besides faith would suffice thee. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 122)
Without knowledge, you can’t have faith, which is why we’re told to read the Writings twice a day. It’s the only way we can know truth from falsehood. With faith comes our powers and blessings:
As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Readings, p. 313)
Reading the Words of God will give those with self pity, a proof they can hang on to:
If thou dost ponder a while, it will be evident that it is incumbent upon a lowly servant to acquiesce to whatever proof God hath appointed, and not to follow his own idle fancy. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 122)
But even without the Writings, we can have faith:
The early believers in both the East and the West, we must always remember, knew practically nothing compared to what the average Bahá’í knows about his Faith nowadays; yet they were the ones who shed their blood, the ones who arose and said: ‘I believe’, requiring no proof, and often never having read a single word of the Teachings. (Rúhiyyih Khánum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 322)
7. Idolatry: Self pity can be a form of idolatry, where you think the world rises and sets on you. For example, my self pity resulted in vain imaginings which had me believe that “if those who abused me knew that I was a noble being, they never would have treated me like that”, when in fact, their behavior had nothing to do with me. I was just the dumping ground for decisions arising from their lower natures. Perhaps that’s why we’re told to have an outward looking orientation; to be of service to others, so that we don’t focus so much on our own poor selves:
The liberty that profiteth you is to be found nowhere except in complete servitude unto God, the Eternal Truth. Whoso hath tasted of its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 335)
I hope that thou wilt cut thyself from all that is in this world; wilt sever thyself from all desires of this transitory world; wilt attach thy heart entirely to the light of truth and wilt, at all times, rise in the service of truth in the rose-garden of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 131)
8. Pride: Self pity (along with boasting) is one of the highest forms of pride, as you feel pride in your suffering. When people don’t want to get out of their slump of self-pity, resisting any efforts people make to try to make things better, it’s a form of pride, and Bahá’u’lláh tells us that this makes any kind of improvement impossible.
In brief, the pride and vanity of certain of the peoples of the world have made havoc of true understanding, and laid waste the home of justice and of equity. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 76)
Some people find it hard to think of self pity as a form of pride, because it often masks as self sacrifice. But it’s really a need arising from a wounded ego. For example, perhaps you feel sorry for all the tribulations you’ve had in life, and the effects it’s had on you. But you don’t want people to see you as helpless, so you try to do everything for yourself, without letting anyone help you. One thing you can remind yourself that it’s OK to be “broken” is to imagine yourself in this phrase:
O God, O God! This is a broken-winged bird and his flight is very slow — assist him so that he may fly toward the apex of prosperity and salvation, wing his way with the utmost joy and happiness throughout the illimitable space, raise his melody in Thy Supreme Name in all the regions, exhilarate the ears with this call, and brighten the eyes by beholding the signs of guidance. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 89)
It’s a form of pride when we exalt ourselves above God’s truth, which tells us we’ll always have adversity; we’ll always suffer but it’s all designed for the perfection of our souls.
Moreover, these afflictions shall be the cause of great advancement. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 238-239)
Self pity comes from our lower nature. It’s a form of pride and idolatry when we make our suffering higher than God and His goodness. We’re drawn away from God by our own lusts, our own affections. Many of God’s people can’t feel His love because they’re stuck in the addiction of self pity. The love is there but it’s walled off from them. They can’t take the action required to:
Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 5)
God has a different way of looking at life than we do. We are limited in our understanding. In His mercy, He’s sent us His Manifestations, to provide us with glimpses into His way of thinking.
Our purpose in life is to know God and to worship Him (or love Him). We need to want to please God more than we want anything else in life. And the best way to love God is to love one another:
The best way to thank God is to love one another. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 468)
9. Despair is the absolute extreme of self love; it turns its back on help so it can enjoy the luxury of being lost. It’s a form of hopelessness:
Things have come to such a pass that hope hath well nigh been banished from the hearts of Thy chosen ones, and the breaths of despair are ready to seize them, by reason of what hath befallen them in Thy days. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 335-336)
Despair is all you will get from self pity:
Despair, both here and hereafter, is all you will gain from self-indulgence . . . (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 104-105)
We can’t fulfill our duties as teachers of the faith as long as we stay in self pity:
At this exact time in history when the peoples of the world are weighed down with soul-crushing difficulties and the shadow of despair threatens to eclipse the light of hope, there must be revived among the individual believers a sense of mission, a feeling of empowerment to minister to the urgent need of humanity for guidance and thus to win victories for the Faith in their own sphere of life. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
10. Manipulative: Self pity is often used to manipulate others; to make them feel guilty, and if you don’t yield, they use anger in order to control you. This is the standard we are called on to have:
Amongst all the teeming masses of the earth, only this community of the Most Great Name is free and clear of human schemes and hath no selfish purpose to promote. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 70)
What has been your experiences with self pity? Post your comments here:
Other articles in this series:
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?
Using Role Models