One of the purposes of our lives is to acquire the virtues we will need in the next world:
The purpose of the creation of man is the attainment of the supreme virtues of humanity through descent of the heavenly bestowals. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 4)
Bahá’ís believe that human beings are inherently noble, and that the purpose of life is to cultivate such attributes, skills, virtues and qualities as will enable them to contribute their share to the building of an ever-advancing civilization. True education releases capacities, develops analytical abilities, confidence, will, and goal-setting competencies, and instills the vision that will enable them to become self-motivating change agents, serving the best interests of the community. (Baha’i International Community, 1990 Mar 08, Teacher’s Situation Determining Factor of Quality)
Although it might not make sense now, someday you will need these virtues and thank God you had a chance to develop them so you aren’t handicapped in the next world!
As the child in the womb does not yet know the use of its members, it does not know what its eyes are for, neither its nose, nor ears, nor tongue — so also it is with the soul on earth. It cannot understand here the uses and powers of its spiritual gifts, but directly it enters the eternal kingdom, it will become clearly apparent. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers 9, p. 48)
So it would make sense that we’d want to replace fear with something else that will benefit us more. These virtues can be found for every social problem, including overcoming anxiety.
There are spiritual principles, or what some call human values, by which solutions can be found for every social problem. Any well-intentioned group can, in a general sense, devise practical solutions to its problems, but good intentions and practical knowledge are usually not enough. The essential merit of spiritual principle is that it not only presents a perspective which harmonizes with the inherent nobility in human nature, it also induces an attitude, a dynamic, a will, an aspiration, which facilitate the discovery and implementation of practical measures. (Baha’i International Community, 1992 Mar 05, Earth Charter Rio De Janeiro Declaration Oneness of)
Focus on the virtues you’re developing (or the ones that will help you through). Tenacity, courage, faith and noble exertions are some that help alleviate anxiety and stress:
I wish to reaffirm my deep sense of gratitude and admiration for the splendid manner in which the English believers are discharging their duties and responsibilities in these days of increasing peril, anxiety and stress. Their tenacity, courage, faith and noble exertions will as a magnet attract the undoubted and promised blessing of Bahá’u’lláh. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 137)
Often when I’m feeling afraid, I will ask God to take the fear off my shoulders, and transmute it into peacefulness or courage or assertiveness or faith and trust – depending on the situation. That way I’m letting go of the stress, and using it for my growth and development.
One of the practices in Ruhi Book One is to study a prayer with someone. Consulting on the meanings together will develop our capacity to meditate and ponder more deeply on the meanings in the prayers.
Consultation allows an open examination of fears and misconceptions, the gathering and presentation of facts, the identification of relevant spiritual principles, and a collective exploration of ways to implement those principles so that unity is preserved and enhanced. (Baha’i International Community, 1991 Nov 16, Report Rural Poverty Alleviation Efforts)
I find it interesting that courage doesn’t merit a chapter on its own, since conventional wisdom would suggest that courage is what is needed to overcome fear. Given that there are so many other clues in the Writings about what to do, courage only gets a passing nod here!
Whatever decreaseth fear increaseth courage. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 32)
The most surprising quote on courage for me is this one:
The source of courage and power is the promotion of the Word of God, and steadfastness in His Love. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 155)
This suggests to me that if we want to find courage, we need to learn to teach the Faith and find courage there.
Let go of worry and let God take care of it.
Tear asunder, O my God, the veil of vain imaginings that hath obscured the vision of Thy people, that all may haste towards Thee, may tread the path of Thy pleasure, and walk in the ways of Thy Faith. We are, O my God, Thy servants and Thy bondsmen. Thou art sufficient unto us so that we can dispense with the world and all that is therein. We are wholly satisfied with all that hath befallen us in Thy path. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 101)
Try to imagine holding up a glass with some water in it. At first it seems simple enough, but the longer you hold it, the heavier it feels. If you hold it all day, you’re likely to have your arm go numb and be unable to feel it anymore. Life’s anxieties are exactly like that. At first they nibble away at you but it seems manageable. The more you think about them, they begin to interfere with your life, and the more entrenched they become, the harder it will be to stop the hamster wheel and let go of the worry. That’s why it’s so important to give the stressors to God every day before going to sleep, so you can sleep well and wake up every day refreshed and ready to take on any challenge that comes your way.
How do you do that? Some people have a real or symbolic “worry tree” where they hang their problems before entering their house each day.
When I have a problem that has to be solved, I say the prayer for solving problems. This prayer was revealed by Bahá’u’lláh in Arabic for Jinab-i-Samandar (Shaykh Kazim Samandar), the father of the Hand of the Cause of God Tarazu’llah Samandari, to assist him in making a difficult decision.
In regard to his affairs, let him repeat nineteen times:
O my God! Thou seest me detached from everything save Thee, clinging to Thee, to guide me in my doings in that which benefits me for the Glory of Thy Cause and the Loftiness of the state of Thy servants.
Let him then reflect upon the matter and undertake whatever cometh to mind. This vehement opposition … will indeed give way to supreme prosperity.
I also like to use the 5 Steps of Prayer for Solving Problems:
The below five steps were suggested by the beloved Guardian Shoghi Effendi
to a believer as a means of finding a solution through the use of prayer.
This statement belongs to the category of statements known as “pilgrims
notes”, and as such has no authority, but since it seems to be particularly
helpful and clear it was felt that believers should not be deprived of it.
1st Step: Pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifestations
as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of contemplation
for a few minutes.
2nd Step: Arrive at a decision and hold this. This decision is usually born
during the contemplation. It may seem almost impossible of accomplishment
but if it seems to be as answer to a prayer or a way of solving the problem,
then immediately take the next step.
3rd Step: Have determination to carry the decision through. Many fail here.
The decision, budding into determination, is blighted and instead becomes a wish or a vague longing. When determination is born, immediately take the next step.
4th Step: Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you,
the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right
message, the right principle, or the right book will be given to you. Have
confidence and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise
from prayer, take at once the 5th step.
5th Step: Act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless,
ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which
will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed
channel for the Divine power to flow through you.
Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step. Some who
meditate arrive at a decision, but fail to hold it. Few have the determination to carry the decision through, still fewer have the confidence that the right thing will come to their need. But how many remember to act as though it had all been answered? How true are these words “Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered” and greater than the way it is uttered is the spirit in which it is carried out. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 91)
Also, if I have a problem that still troubles me, I:
- Ask God to transmute it into peacefulness and acceptance
- Pray for detachment and God’s will
- Forgive the person
If you aren’t grateful for the things God has blessed you with in the past, why would He want to send you any more? We need to thank God for everything, including our tests and troubles:
As to the calamities and afflictions of Abdul-Bahá: These are not calamities, but bounties; they are not afflictions, but gifts; not hardships, but tranquillity; not trouble, but mercy — and we thank God for this great favor. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 128)
In short, thou shouldst thank God a hundred-thousand times for having been confirmed and strengthened in obtaining such a great gift [servitude]! Know thou the value thereof and consider that its price is highly appraised. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 510)
Happiness and Joy
Happiness and joy don’t come to us by choice. They require a decision:
I WILL be a happy and joyful being. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 150)
Try saying that out loud, right now, placing emphasis on the word “will” and see if it doesn’t make you smile!
There’s no point in waiting for some other time in the future to be happy when we can change our thinking to let happiness in today:
If we are not happy and joyous at this season, for what other season shall we wait and for what other time shall we look? (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 351)
The Bahá’í Writings seem to suggest that happiness and inner tranquility ultimately hinge on our ability to see purpose and meaning in every moment, even in the midst of agonizing suffering. Again action is needed. We need to choose to rise above our suffering in order to find happiness.
Seek ye divine happiness through the hardships and sorrows of this physical world, and behold spiritual well-being in the struggles of this fleeting existence. Distill sugar and honey from the bitter poison of suffering. Recognize the caress of divine favor in the arrows of misfortune. Consider the lowest degree of humiliation in the path of the Blessed Perfection as the highest station of Glory. Know descent to be identical with ascent, and consider death itself the essence of life. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 439)
In the Valley of Wonderment, Bahá’u’lláh wrote of those that have rid themselves of earthly attachments:
At every moment he beholdeth a wondrous world, a new creation, and goeth from astonishment to astonishment, and is lost in awe at the works of the Lord of Oneness. (Baha’u’llah, Seven Valleys, p. 32)
Wouldn’t you love to get to a place where every day you could say:
O Lord, increase my astonishment at Thee! (Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 33)
Mindfulness and Living in the Moment:
Many of those who’ve experienced extreme trauma, are stuck in the past. We can’t get past the terror, horror, betrayal, rejection, bitterness and many other veils that distance us from God.
But God can’t do anything to help as long as we’re living in the past.
He urges you to grasp firmly the teachings of our Faith, the love of your family and many Bahá’í friends, to put the past behind entirely, realizing that it can do you no more harm; on the contrary, through changing you and making you spiritually aware, this very past can be a means of enriching your life in the future! (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, pp. 449-450)
He wants us to come into the present:
Pleasant is the realm of being, wert thou to attain thereto . . . Shouldst thou attain this station, thou wouldst be freed from destruction and death, from toil and sin. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 70)
And focus on the future. His teachings are all directing us to a future which encompasses the Most Great Peace (which will benefit us as well as society at large):
Do not allow your minds to dwell on the present, but with eyes of faith look into the future, for in truth the Spirit of God is working in your midst. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 169)
Each day has enough trouble on its own, so you don’t need to borrow trouble from tomorrow. When you think that God’s not able to look after you, have a look at what He did for you yesterday and remind yourself that He’s with you today and will help you tomorrow too, since they’re all the same.
The past, the present, the future, all, in relation to God, are equal. Yesterday, today, tomorrow do not exist in the sun. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 116)
Once his effort is directed in the proper channel, if he does not succeed today, he will succeed tomorrow. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 8, No. 1, p. 21)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá shows us how easy it is to live in the moment, in the spiritual world:
Let us turn our hearts away from the world of matter and live in the spiritual world! It alone can give us freedom! If we are hemmed in by difficulties we have only to call upon God, and by His great Mercy we shall be helped. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 110)
Let us live in the spiritual realm . . . who wouldn’t want that? No bills, unconditional love, rest, relaxation . . .
Is it possible to have those things in this world? It must be, or ‘Abdul-Bahá wouldn’t be suggesting we do it. I think this quote is talking about living in the present moment. For most of us, this present moment, right now, as I’m writing this and you’re reading it, we are safe. We are free from abuse and bills, and in this moment, if we take the time to turn to the spiritual world, we can feel the love that’s there for us, and get the rest and relaxation we need. We can all go there, right now, because right now, in this very minute, everything is totally OK. And all we have is this minute we’re living in.
Perhaps our lives in the past were not what we wanted them to be; and we know that our life in the future will be rife with tests, but just now, in this moment, if we turn to the spiritual realm, everything is fine.
God wants us to be at peace. It’s the reason Bahá’u’lláh suffered so much:
His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh endured ordeals and hardships sixty years . . . He willingly endured these difficulties . . . [that] peace and tranquility be realized by all. (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 230)
He teaches us that we need to know and understand the divine teachings in order to find peace and tranquility. It goes back to immersing ourselves in the Writings!
Praise be to Him, ye are acquainted with the various laws, institutions and principles of the world; today nothing short of these divine teachings can assure peace and tranquility to mankind. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 249)
God knows what has happened to us, and has given us prayers we can say:
Thou knowest all that is in me, O Lord, but I know not what is in Thee. Have mercy then upon me through Thy loving providence and inspire me with that which shall give peace to my heart during Thy days and tranquillity to my soul through the revelations of Thy sacred presence. (Compilations, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting)
All laud and honor to Thee, O my God! Thou well knowest the things which, for a score of years, have happened in Thy days, and have continued to happen until this hour. No man can reckon, nor can any tongue tell, what hath befallen Thy chosen ones during all this time. They could obtain no shelter, nor find any refuge in which they could abide in safety. Turn, then, O my God, their fear into the evidences of Thy peace and Thy security, and their abasement into the sovereignty of Thy glory, and their poverty into Thine all-sufficient riches, and their distress into the wonders of Thy perfect tranquillity. Vouchsafe unto them the fragrances of Thy might and Thy mercy, and send down upon them, out of Thy marvelous loving-kindness, what will enable them to dispense with all except Thee, and will detach them from aught save Thyself, that the sovereignty of Thy oneness may be revealed and the supremacy of Thy grace and Thy bounty demonstrated. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 335)
Trust and detachment:
Baha’u’llah speaks directly to those of us with a fearful heart:
Say to them that are of a fearful heart: be strong, fear not, behold your God . . . Well is it with him who hath been illumined with the light of trust and detachment. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 146)
Spiritual radiance lights our path so we can get rid of the dark cloud caused by our anxiety:
If material anxiety envelops you in a dark cloud, spiritual radiance lightens your path. If your days on earth are numbered, you know that everlasting life awaits you. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 111)
Letting your light shine can have a very powerful effect on the world:
Let your light shine before the eyes of men. Such must be the purity of your character and the degree of your renunciation, that the people of the earth may through you recognize and be drawn closer to the heavenly Father who is the Source of purity and grace. (Shoghi Effendi, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 92)
It can be as simple as starting with a smile. Look at the effect one small gesture can have:
A bright and happy face cheers people on their way. If you are sad, and pass a child who is laughing, the child, seeing your sad face, will cease to laugh, not knowing why. If the day be dark, how much a gleam of sunshine is prized; so let believers wear smiling happy faces, gleaming like sunshine in the darkness. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 124-125)
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