There are several reasons why taking action is one important key to overcoming anxiety.
It’s not enough to pray for solutions. We must take action. It’s the only way our prayers can be answered.
It is not sufficient to pray diligently for guidance, but this prayer must be followed by meditation as to the best methods of action and then action itself. Even if the action should not immediately produce results, or perhaps not be entirely correct, that does not make so much difference, because prayers can only be answered through action and if someone’s action is wrong, God can use that method of showing the pathway which is right. (Shoghi Effendi, Guidelines for Teaching, p. 325)
Have no fears or doubts. Your opportunities are great, the confirmations of God abundant. Sally forth then, therefore, to seize your moment, to make your mark on the destiny of humankind. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 Dec 22, To National Youth Conference, Phoenix Arizona)
In the Five Steps of Prayer For Solving Problems, Shoghi Effendi tells us to pray, meditate, come to a decision, and act as if it had all been answered. Then he warns us:
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 those 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)
Humanity is steadily sinking into a mess and we are the only ones who can help. There’s no time to lose. The faster we learn these principles and take action to remove anxiety from our lives, the sooner we can use this reclaimed energy to carry out our duties.
There is no time to lose. The hour is ripe for the proclamation, without fear, without reserve, and without hesitation, and on a scale never as yet undertaken, of the One Message that can alone extricate humanity from the morass into which it is steadily sinking, and from which they who claim to be the followers of the Most Great Name can and will eventually rescue it. The sooner they who labor for the recognition and triumph of His Faith in the new world arise to carry out these inescapable duties, the sooner will the hopes, the aims and objectives of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as enshrined in His own Plan, be translated from the realm of vision to the plane of actuality and manifest the full force of the potentialities with which they have been endued. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to America, p. 79)
The great thing about taking action is that it distracts us from our worries. When we’re active, our thoughts are turned to other things and we forget our fears:
Be not idle, but active and fear not. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 362)
Rúhíyyih Khanum tells us how Shoghi Effendi used this technique to his advantage:
In reading over my diaries – so very little of which I have quoted out of hundred of pages written off and on throughout the years – it seems strange to me there is practically no reference to the World War raging everywhere during almost six years and constituting such a dire threat to the safety of the World Centre of the Faith and particularly to the Guardian himself as Head of that Faith. Nothing could more eloquently testify to the internal upheavals he was going through during all those years than this blank. The day-to-day pressures and the work, worry and mental exhaustion were so great that it crowded mention of this constant threat and anxiety into the background. (Rúhíyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 177)
There are two ways in which taking action will help yourself and others: teaching and service, and you’ll want to be engaged with both of them, every day, particularly when you’re anxious.
When we study the Writings on Teaching we learn how they inspire us to cast off our fears, misgivings and sense of inadequacy:
A study of the compilation [on teaching] will provide the friends with stimulating information on general guidelines to be followed by them when engaged in the teaching work. While many will be inspired, after reading the compilation, to cast aside their fears and misgivings and their sense of inadequacy, and will arise to speak forth announcing the glad-tidings of the Kingdom to their fellow-men. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Once we’ve been inspired by the Writings, it’s important to get out and teach, because that’s the source of our courage and power:
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)
Service is another very important component in reducing anxiety. We’re told that only by implementing the system of Baha’u’llah can fear be eliminated. We do this through service:
Our contributions to the Faith are the surest way of lifting once and for all time the burden of hunger and misery from mankind, for it is only through the system of Bahá’u’lláh — Divine in origin — that the world can be gotten on its feet and want, fear, hunger, war, etc. be eliminated. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Funds: Contributions and Administration, p. 12)
I love it when God tells us plainly that He’s giving us “one of the great spiritual laws of life” because it makes me pay attention. When I focused on my diagnosis of anxiety and PTSD, I spent years in therapy, trying to analyze the source of my fears, but it kept me trapped on the hamster wheel of thinking about myself. When I read this quote, I realized that the key was to turn away from myself and towards achieving my true station in life – that of a servant:
The more we search for ourselves, the less likely we are to find ourselves; and the more we search for God, and to serve our fellow men, the more profoundly will we become acquainted with ourselves, and the more inwardly assured. This is one of the great spiritual laws of life. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)
When we continually empty ourselves through service, trusting we’ll be filled up by God, we’re building our spiritual muscles and achieving our purpose in life, which is to draw closer to God.
We must be like the fountain or spring that is continually emptying itself of all that it has and is continually being refilled from an invisible source. To be continually giving out for the good of our fellows undeterred by the fear of poverty and reliant on the unfailing bounty of the Source of all wealth and all good — this is the secret of right living. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Funds: Contributions and Administration, p. 11)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá reminds us (and the kings and rulers) that we all inhabit the same earth and we’re all one family, so when one is unhappy we’re all unhappy.
The poor man at the gate of his palace spoke out, saying: “O kind king! Assuming that you are from every point of view so happy, free from every worry and sadness — do you not worry for us? You say that on your own account you have no worries — but do you never worry about the poor in your land? Is it becoming or meet that you should be so well off and we in such dire want and need? In view of our needs and troubles how can you rest in your palace, how can you even say that you are free from worries and sorrows? As a ruler you must not be so egoistic as to think of yourself alone but you must think of those who are your subjects. When we are comfortable then you will be comfortable; when we are in misery how can you, as a king, be in happiness?” The purport is this that we are all inhabiting one globe of earth. In reality we are one family and each one of us is a member of this family. We must all be in the greatest happiness and comfort, under a just rule and regulation which is according to the good pleasure of God, thus causing us to be happy, for this life is fleeting. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 41)
Helping humanity understand the oneness of humanity counteracts the despair and anxiety which afflict us:
Only a fostering of the consciousness that “the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens” is capable of counteracting the despair and anxiety which afflict us. (Baha’i International Community, 1987 Aug 24, Relationship Between Disarmament Development)
The service we do for others isn’t about serving them, though. It’s about serving God.
The service of the friends belongs to God, not to them. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 61)
I can almost hear you saying: I don’t have time to add another thing to my already busy life.
So why is service so important?
In the Bahá’í Writings, ‘Abdul-Bahá tells us it lays the foundation for our own success:
By assisting in the success of another servant in the Cause does one…lay the foundation for one’s own success and aspirations . . . (‘Abdul-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 6, #6, p. 44)
This doesn’t mean that service has to be outside our normal work life – we can all be of service to our families, our bosses, our co-workers and customers. It’s more about attitude than it is about adding more to our workload. It’s about getting rid of false dichotomies.
Transformation comes through service, so if we want to transmute our fear into something else, the key is service.
The power of God can entirely transmute our characters and make of us beings entirely unlike our previous selves. Through . . . ever-increasing service to His Faith, we can change ourselves. (Shoghi Effendi, Spiritual Foundations, p. 17)
As with everything I’m teaching you, the choice is always yours to make – do you want to be a slave to your moods, or to master them? The key is to find someone else who is suffering and help them, so you will see that others have it worse than you do:
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-Bahá 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.)
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