God created us with a fight, flight or freeze response to fear, which is innate and useful in getting us out of dangerous situations.
When it becomes permanently “on”, however, it becomes part of our lower nature and we have an opportunity to do something about it. Each one of these responses requires something different from us so let’s look at each one individually.
This is one of the hardest of the fear response to overcome, since our society encourages “fighting back” in many ways. The entertainment and gaming industries all focus on the battle between good and evil; and mankind has always looked to war as a way to solve problems. Many of us have grown up in households where violence was an automatic response to threats of any kind. This conditioning is hard to recognize and harder to overcome. But overcome it we must:
O ye lovers of God! In this, the cycle of Almighty God, violence and force, constraint and oppression, are one and all condemned. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 149)
If we don’t, the penalties are severe:
The penalties for wounding or striking a person depend upon the severity of the injury; for each degree the Lord of Judgement hath prescribed a certain indemnity. He is, in truth, the Ordainer, the Mighty, the Most Exalted. We shall, if it be Our Will, set forth these payments in their just degrees – this is a promise on Our part, and He, verily, is the Keeper of His pledge, the Knower of all things. (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 40)
Baha’u’llah has come to unite the world, and it all starts by uniting us as individuals. We can’t have unity if we’re fighting with someone.
Acts of violence might properly be regarded as a negation of the persistent emphasis on concord, understanding and unity which are at the heart of the Bahá’í Teachings. (Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 22 September, 1983)
The first thing we need to do is recognize our attack thoughts and change them. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá shows us how:
I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. 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-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 29)
Here we see that we are to:
- Concentrate our thoughts on love and unity
- Recognize negative and attack thoughts (war, hatred)
- Oppose these thoughts with thoughts of peace and love
How did He do it? This story gives us some clues:
Hear how he treats his enemies. One instance of many I have heard will suffice. When the Master came to ‘Akká there lived there a certain man from Afghanistan [Haji Siddiq], an austere and rigid Mussulman [Muslim]. To him the Master was a heretic. He felt and nourished a great enmity towards the Master, and roused up others against him. When opportunity offered in gatherings of the people, as in the Mosque, he denounced him with bitter words. ‘This man,’ he said to all, ‘is an imposter. Why do you speak to him? Why do you have dealings with him?’ And when he passed the Master on the street he was careful to hold his robe before his face that his sight might not be defiled. Thus did the Afghan. The Master, however, did thus: The Afghan was poor and lived in a mosque; he was frequently in need of food and clothing. The Master sent him both. These he accepted, but without thanks. He fell sick. The Master took him a physician, food, medicine, money. These, also, he accepted; but as he held out one hand that the physician might take his pulse, with the other he held his cloak before his face that he might not look upon the Master. For twenty-four years the Master continued his kindnesses and the Afghan persisted in his enmity. Then at last one day the Afghan came to the Master’s door, and fell down, penitent and weeping, at his feet. ‘Forgive me, sir!’ he cried. ‘For twenty-four years I have done evil to you, for twenty-four years you have done good to me. Now I know that I have been in the wrong.’ The Master bade him rise, and they became friends. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Centre of the Covenant, p. 101)
From this story we see we are to:
- Find ways to meet the needs of those whose anger is directed towards us (food, clothing, medicine, money)
- Stay connected instead of cutting them out of our lives
The biggest lesson here is that instead of getting angry every time this man denounced him, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá showed him love and kindness for 24 long years!
“Fight” might take the place of anger or taken to the extreme, to violence and abuse.
No Bahá’í husband should ever beat his wife, or subject her to any form of cruel treatment; to do so would be an unacceptable abuse of the marriage relationship and contrary to the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January, 1993)
There are many “anger management” programs out there, so if you have a problem, please get help!
‘Abdu’l-Bahá teaches us how to deal with those who have upset us:
Bahá’u’lláh has clearly said in His Tablets that if you have an enemy, consider him not as an enemy. Do not simply be long-suffering; nay, rather, love him. Your treatment of him should be that which is becoming to lovers. Do not even say that he is your enemy. Do not see any enemies. Though he be your murderer, see no enemy. Look upon him with the eye of friendship. Be mindful that you do not consider him as an enemy and simply tolerate him, for that is but stratagem and hypocrisy. To consider a man your enemy and love him is hypocrisy. This is not becoming of any soul. You must behold him as a friend. You must treat him well. This is right. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 267)
From this we see that we are to:
- Not see people as our enemies
- Treat them as we would a lover
- See them as a friend
- Treat them well
The House of Justice gives us a spiritual perspective on how to deal with anger:
You ask how to deal with anger. The House of Justice suggests that you call to mind the admonitions found in our Writings on the need to overlook the shortcomings of others; to forgive and conceal their misdeeds, not to expose their bad qualities, but to search for and affirm their praiseworthy ones, and to endeavour to be always forbearing, patient, and merciful. Such passages as the following extracts from letters written on behalf of the beloved Guardian will be helpful: There are qualities in everyone which we can appreciate and admire, and for which we can love …. You should turn your thoughts away from the things which upset you, and constantly pray to Bahá’u’lláh to help you. Then you will find how that pure love, enkindled by God, which burns in the soul when we read and study the Teachings, will warm and heal, more than anything else. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 454-455)
From this we see we are to:
- Overlook their shortcomings
- Conceal their misdeeds
- Not expose their bad qualities
- Search for and affirm their good qualities
- Be forbearing, patient and merciful
- Turn our thoughts away from the things that upset us
- Pray to Baha’u’llah for help
In some ways, this is the easiest response to overcome, because it calls on us to find our courage.
God wants us to face our enemy, not run from him. When you respond with flight, fear rules you. You will never defeat your enemy when you are running. God has taught us never to run from an enemy, but always to face Him, and let Him fight our battles for us.
Instead of fleeing from our problems, we need to recognize that God is there to protect us:
Who is it that can protect you? None, by Him Who is the All-Merciful! None, except God, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the Beneficent. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 45-46).
All we have to do is place our trust in Him and He will take care of the rest:
. . . and he that placeth his complete trust in God, God shall, verily, protect him from whatsoever may harm him, and shield him from the wickedness of every evil plotter. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 233)
We can put on the armour of protection:
O my Lord! Make Thy protection my armor, Thy preservation my shield, humbleness before the door of Thy oneness my guard, and Thy custody and defense my fortress and my abode. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 135)
Do these things:
In one of His Tablets, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote: ‘If you seek immunity from the sway of the forces of the contingent world, hang the ‘Most Great Name’ in your dwelling, wear the ring of the ‘Most Great Name’ on your finger, place the picture of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in your home and always recite the prayers that I have written. Then you will behold the marvellous effect they produce. Those so-called force will prove but illusions and will be wiped out and exterminated. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 520)
Here we are given some concrete things we can do:
- hang the ‘Most Great Name’ in your home
- wear a ring with the ‘Most Great Name’ on your finger
- hang a picture of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in your
- recite the prayers of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
We can say this prayer:
O Lord! Protect us from what lieth in front of us and behind us, above our heads, on our right, on our left, below our feet and every other side to which we are exposed. Verily, Thy protection over all things is unfailing. (The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, p. 133)
And memorize this to use as a reminder:
Armed with the power of Thy name nothing can ever hurt me, and with Thy love in my heart all the world’s afflictions can in no wise alarm me. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 208)
A common “freeze” response is to do nothing, which can look like apathy and lethargy. We know from the Baha’i Writings that nothing inflicts a greater harm than apathy:
Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than . . . apathy. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8)
It paralyzes our spiritual faculties and is one of the biggest obstacles to serving Baha’u’llah:
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)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes what can happen to someone caught in “freeze”:
You were the fountainhead of learning, the unfailing spring of light for all the earth, how is it that you are withered now, and quenched, and faint of heart? You who once lit the world, how is it that you lurk, inert, bemused, in darkness now? (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 91)
And gently chides 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)
He goes on to tell us what to do about it:
Open your mind’s eye, see your great and present need. Rise up and struggle, seek education, seek enlightenment. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 91)
- Look around and see our great and present need
- Rise up and struggle against apathy
- Seek education
- Seek enlightenment
In the Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah has some strong words for those who are idle:
Ponder and reflect. Is it thy wish to die upon thy bed, or to shed thy life-blood on the dust, a martyr in My path, and so become the manifestation of My command and the revealer of My light in the highest paradise? Judge thou aright, O servant! (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 46)
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. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 81)
He suggests that if we stay frozen, we will yield no fruit on this earth and we’re better off dead! Of course, staying frozen feels like a living death, anyway. Believe me I know, since this is my typical response to fear!
What all three responses to fear have in common is a belief that we need to solve the problem, instead of turning to God and asking Him to do it for us.
O thou who art turning thy face towards God! Close thine eyes to all things else, and open them to the realm of the All-Glorious. Ask whatsoever thou wishest of Him alone; seek whatsoever thou seekest from Him alone. With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a nod He layeth balm on every wound, with a glimpse He freeth the hearts from the shackles of grief. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 51)
All of them require us to have faith in a God that is big enough to solve our problems; and trust that He will do it.
He will assuredly not forsake you. In this, likewise, there is no doubt. No father will surrender his sons to devouring beasts; no shepherd will leave his flock to ravening wolves. He will most certainly do his utmost to protect his own. (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 10)
Rest assured in the protection of God. He will preserve his own children under all circumstances. Be ye not afraid nor be ye agitated. He holds the scepter of power in His hand, and like unto a hen He gathereth his chickens under His wings . . . Now, friends, this is the time of assurance and faith and not fear and dread. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 8, No. 19, p. 241)
Lastly, we’re told that love and fear can’t dwell in the same heart.
Love is a light that never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear. (Baha’u’llah, The Four Valleys, p. 58)
Let’s look at how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá demonstrated love in the face of fear:
In ‘Akká there lived a man who so hated ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that he would turn his back when he met Him, fearing lest he lost his hatred. One day they met in such a narrow street that the enemy was forced to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá face to face. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tapped the man upon the shoulder and said, ‘Wait a few moments until I speak. However great may be your hatred of Me it can never be as strong as My love for you.’ The man was startled, awakened, and made to feel the unconquerable power of love. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 102)
For more in this series, please see:
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