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The Strongest Spiritual Test We Can Meet

Yet who can doubt that all the central Figures demonstrated to the whole of mankind an assured and happy way of life? Here is where their example seems particularly precious. To rise above the disappointments, obstacles, and pain which we experience in serving the Cause is difficult enough, but to be called on, in doing so, to be happy and confident is perhaps the keenest spiritual test any of us can meet. (Shoghi Effendi, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 117)

O dear!  I don’t like that not only do I have to find a way to rise above disappointments, obstacles and pain, but I also have to be happy and confident too?  Sometimes I really think God asks too much of me!  That’s how I feel today, in the middle of feeling sorry for myself.

This morning, believing I was acting on a prompting from spirit, I tried to tackle a 2-person job all by myself.  I failed miserably and made the problem worse, and sunk into hopelessness, despair and self-pity as a result.  Fortunately, I don’t indulge in those emotions as often as I used to, because I’ve learned that happiness is a choice, as this quote seems to imply.  I identified the feeling, got up and walked for 10 minutes, praying for my neighbors as I walked and came back feeling ready to tackle the next meeting, grateful to have had the opportunity to be of service to someone.

Learning how to behave from the central figures of our Faith, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read through today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Getting to Know Your Lower Nature

 

Help Keep This Site Alive

 

Overcoming Anxiety through Using Role Models

 

Turn to Baha’u’llah:

In truth the Blessed Perfection was . . . a shelter for every fearing one.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 221)

In the Tablet of Ahmad Baha’u’llah asks us to:

Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison.  (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 210)

When I was in the deepest despair, remembering traumatic events of my childhood, I came across this quote, which helped to lift me out of my “self”.  I was feeling a lot of “poor me” and “why did this have to happen to me”, and then I had to stop and remember Bahá’u’lláh’s days.

Bahá’u’lláh was born into a wealthy family and was expected to follow his father into an important position in the government of Persia (Iran).  He didn’t want the position or the power.  Instead He wanted to dedicate Himself to helping the oppressed, sick and poor and to champion the cause of justice.

As a result, his life included a series of imprisonments, and banishments.  At one point He was imprisoned for four months in an underground reservoir for a public bath, with its only outlet a single passage down three steep flights of stone steps. He sat with his feet in stocks and a 100-pound iron chain around his neck.  He and His fellow prisoners (150 thieves, murders and highwaymen) huddled in their own bodily wastes, languishing in the pit’s inky gloom, subterranean cold and vermin and stench-ridden atmosphere.

When he was freed from prison, He and His family were banished to Bagdad (Iraq), a 3 month journey on foot over the mountains in the middle of winter without enough food.

“The throat Thou didst accustom to the touch of silk Thou hast, in the end, clasped with strong chains, and the body Thou didst ease with brocades and velvets Thou hast at last subjected to the abasement of a dungeon. Thy decree hath shackled Me with unnumbered fetters, and cast about My neck chains that none can sunder . . . How many the nights during which the weight of chains and fetters allowed Me no rest, and how numerous the days during which peace and tranquility were denied Me . . . Both bread and water . . . they have, for a time, forbidden unto this servant . . . and Thy behest summoned this servant to depart out of Persia, accompanied by a number of frail-bodied men and children of tender age, at this time when the cold is so intense that one cannot even speak, and ice and snow so abundant that it is impossible to move”.  (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 109)

He stayed in Bagdad for 7 years, and then was banished again to Constantinople (Turkey), where he stayed for four months, and then was exiled again to Adrianople (Turkey).  Again it was in winter and they didn’t have the proper clothes to protect them from the harsh weather.  In order to drink, they had to light a fire to thaw ice from springs along the way.  He stayed there for four and a half years and then was banished to the prison city of ‘Akká (Israel), to which the worst criminals were sent.  He remained there for the rest of His life (24 years).

He was discredited by His uncle, poisoned by his jealous half-brother and witnessed the death of His son.  He was betrayed by people He trusted, stoned, and isolated from the Believers.  For a time, to protect the Faith from the efforts of His half-brother, He lived as a hermit.  He was the victim of ignorance, injustice, cruelty and fanaticism.

But every crisis was followed by victory, and this, I believe, is what is important to remember.

Although my repressed memories included all the positive and neutral memories too, once they came back I was able to see that like Bahá’u’lláh, there were times in my life that were peaceful, and activities that weren’t abusive.  From anger I learned to find my voice and take action.  From poverty I was protected from materialism and learned to rely on God.  From estrangement I gained knowledge of myself, and through it, knowledge of God. From being silenced, I was protected from backbiting and gossip.

So when you’re feeling in the pit of despair, I urge you to remember not only the negative things that happened to you, and to Bahá’u’lláh, but to remember the victories that came from them as well. 

Turn to the Blessed Spot:

Verily, I read thy letter which indicated that thou hast turned unto the Blessed Spot, that the Truth (of God) hath revealed itself to thee, that thy fear is quieted and that thou hast attained to composure, assuredly believing in this great Cause.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 71)

Turn to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

I wish to add a few words of assurance and sympathy in view of the heavy burden of responsibility that rests on your shoulders in these difficult and trying times. My fervent and increasing prayer is that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá may show you the way that will enable you to continue your splendid pioneer work effectually, peacefully, free from every earthly care and anxiety.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 30)

Haji Mirza Haydar-‘Ali writes in the Bihjatu’s-Sudur of the hopes of the Bahá’ís that, as the heir to Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would, with the passage of years, come to resemble Him physically as well; but their hopes did not materialize, because sorrows and tribulations pressed hard upon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, afflictions weakened His frame and made Him a prey to a number of ailments. He goes on to say that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in order to protect His followers from worry and anxiety, would not expose them to the knowledge of His maladies which at times were severe.  (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 133)

Recently I’ve been reading the newly released “Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá'” which is filled with His answers to questions people put to Him.  It’s so full of love, I feel that reading them is like reading love letters to me too!

Remember the suffering of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

In times of disappointment, stress and anxiety, which we must inevitably encounter, we should remember the sufferings of our departed Master. Your work, your energy, your vigilance and care, your loving-kindness are assets that I greatly value and prize. Keep on, persevere, redouble in your efforts, repeat and rewrite the admonitions and instructions of our Beloved in your communications with individuals and Assemblies until they sink in their hearts and minds. This was truly our Beloved’s way and method and none better can we ever pursue. Your present pioneer work will surely be remembered and extolled by future generations. My prayers will always be offered for you. In matters of contribution we should not use any compulsion whatsoever and ascertain clearly the desire of the donor. We should appeal to but not coerce the friends.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 532)

In times of disappointment, stress and anxiety, which we must inevitably encounter, we should remember the sufferings of our departed Master. (From a letter written by Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 9 July 1926)  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

Turn to the Central Figures of the Faith:

Again, in God Passes By, he tells us of the anxieties of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, called upon to undertake a succession of colossal tasks throughout the entire period of His Ministry. Most recently, The Priceless Pearl has drawn aside the curtain on the life of the Guardian, and revealed to us the anxieties and agonies of the solitary and heroic figure who charted our course in service to the Cause for centuries to come.  Yet who can doubt that all the central Figures demonstrated to the whole of mankind an assured and happy way of life? Here is where their example seems particularly precious. To rise above the disappointments, obstacles, and pain which we experience in serving the Cause is difficult enough, but to be called on, in doing so, to be happy and confident is perhaps the keenest spiritual test any of us can meet. 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.  (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 116)

Study the life of Bahiyyih Khanum:

The memory of the beloved Khanum will, assuredly, prove to be your great comfort in your moments of sufferings and anxiety and will guide your steps and strengthen your spiritual power and insight.  (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Indian Subcontinent, p. 86)

How staunch was her faith, how calm her demeanour, how forgiving her attitude, how severe her trials, at a time when the forces of schism had rent asunder the ties that united the little band of exiles which had settled in Adrianople and whose fortunes seemed then to have sunk to their lowest ebb! It was in this period of extreme anxiety, when the rigours of a winter of exceptional severity, coupled with the privations entailed by unhealthy housing accommodation and dire financial distress, undermined once for all her health and sapped the vitality which she had hitherto so thoroughly enjoyed. The stress and storm of that period made an abiding impression upon her mind, and she retained till the time of her death on her beauteous and angelic face evidences of its intense hardships.  (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 33-34)

Study the Lives of the Martyrs and the Courage of the Baha’is in Iran:

But, thanks to the strengthening grace of Bahá’u’lláh and the demonstration of steadfastness by these noble friends (the Bahá’ís of Iran), we shall know how to meet the shafts of the enemy without fear.  (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 153, 1996)

Read the Dawnbreakers:

It is interesting to note as well that Shoghi Effendi encouraged the believers to study the Dawn-Break­ers, which he described as an “unfailing instrument to allay distress.”  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 October 1994)

Sometimes it’s not enough to turn to books for comfort – you need a real person to talk to.  That’s when you can use the Institutions of the Faith.

Turn to the Continental Board of Counsellors:

When you have doubts and concerns about your own plans, confide in the Counsellors; when something they do causes you worry, talk to them in the proper spirit of Bahá’í consultation. Remember that they, like yourselves, are burdened with the work of the Cause and are beset with many concerns in its service, and they need your sympathetic understanding of the challenges they face. Open your hearts and your minds to them; regard them as your confidants, your loving friends. And be ever ready to extend to them your hand in support.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)

Turn to the Auxiliary Board:

Training alone, of course, does not necessarily lead to an upsurge in teaching activity. In every avenue of service, the friends need sustained encouragement. Our expectation is that the Auxiliary Board members, together with their assistants, will give special thought to how individual initiative can be cultivated, particularly as it relates to teaching. When training and encouragement are effective, a culture of growth is nourished in which the believers see their duty to teach as a natural consequence of having accepted Bahá’u’lláh. They “raise high the sacred torch of faith,” as was ‘Abdu’l- Baha’s wish, “labour ceaselessly, by day and by night,” and “consecrate every fleeting moment of their lives to the diffusion of the divine fragrance and the exaltation of God’s holy Word.” So enkindled do their hearts become with the fire of the love of God that whoever approaches them feels its warmth. They strive to be channels of the spirit, pure of heart, selfless and humble, possessing certitude and the courage that stems from reliance on God. In such a culture, teaching is the dominating passion of the lives of the believers. Fear of failure finds no place. Mutual support, commitment to learning, and appreciation of diversity of action are the prevailing norms.  (The Universal House of Justice, 2001 Jan 09, Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors)

For More in this Series:

What is Fear? 

What are we Afraid Of?

Reactions to Fear 

Fight, Flight or Freeze

Doubt and Fear  

What is the Purpose of Fear?

What about the Fear of God? 

What Makes us Susceptible to Fear?

Understanding the Link Between Fear and Sin 

Overcoming Fear – Introduction 

Overcoming Fear By Turning to God

Overcoming Fear with Prayer

Overcoming Fear By Reading the Writings

Overcoming Fear By Focusing on the Virtues 

Overcoming Fear Through Love

Overcoming Fear with Faith

Overcoming Fear with Patience

Overcoming Fear through Courage

Overcoming Fear through Teaching and Service

Overcoming Fear By Changing your Thoughts

Overcoming Fear through Forgiveness

Overcoming Fear through Tests and Difficulties

What Can Others Do, To Help Those Who Are Afraid?

 Prayers to Eliminate Fear

 

How has this helped you understand this topic better?  Post your comments here:

 

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.  (http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art27767.asp)

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?


Teaching Children to Have High Moral Standards

 

One of the clients in my Bahá’í-inspired life coaching practice posed this question: How do we encourage our kids to have higher moral standards than society around us, without making them feel isolated from their classmates?Perhaps the first thing is to be a good role model ourselves. Our children must see that our deeds match our words. If we don’t drink, do drugs, smoke, or have extra-marital sex, our children will accept this is the norm and be uncomfortable around people who do.

Get them into a junior youth program, so they can discuss these issues with their peers and a youth animator, who is slightly older.

It’s helpful to study these compilations with them and get their comments:

  • Youth Can Move the World
  • A Chaste and Holy Life
  • Individual Rights and Freedoms.

There is a powerful protection for our souls in saying the Obligatory prayers and 95 Alláh-u-Abhás each day, so encouraging our children to recite these prayers will ensure they are protected, and that way, the job is in God’s hands.

Moderation is a wonderful virtue! It’s easy to become outraged by the lyrics on the music they listen to, or by the sexually explicit music videos they watch, or the computer games and movies they view. A natural tendency would be to ban them all.

Recently I came across the concept of vertical vs. Horizontal influences. Vertical influences are the ones which raise our souls up to our Creator, and horizontal influences are ones that keep us trapped in the prison of self. If there is a balance between the 2 influences in our children’s lives, they should feel connected both to their peers and to God.

How do you teach your kids to have high moral standards? Post your comments here: