One in ten Americans take antidepressants—in fact, depression is rampant in modern society.
Sadly, depression usually comes with a stigma, including feelings of embarrassment and guilt. We don’t often talk about or admit it. So do spiritual people get depressed, or does spirituality somehow prevent it?
Everyone goes through periods of sadness and depression in life—including those with a spiritual outlook. This material existence, according to the Baha’i teachings, offers each human being any number of opportunities for grief, depression and defeat:
…when sadness visits us we become weak, our strength leaves us, our comprehension is dim and our intelligence veiled. The actualities of life seem to elude our grasp, the eyes of our spirits fail to discover the sacred mysteries, and we become even as dead beings.
There is no human being untouched by these two influences; but all the sorrow and the grief that exist come from the world of matter — the spiritual world bestows only the joy!
If we suffer it is the outcome of material things, and all the trials and troubles come from this world of illusion.
For instance, a merchant may lose his trade and depression ensues. A workman is dismissed and starvation stares him in the face. A farmer has a bad harvest, anxiety fills his mind. A man builds a house which is burnt to the ground and he is straightway homeless, ruined, and in despair.
But what if we focus a different light on depression? What if temporary depression is the darkness of the caterpillar in the cocoon? Or the planted seed in the darkness of the soil? What if a breakdown actually becomes a breakthrough? One could argue, as many mental health professionals and researchers do, that temporary sadness, grief and depression actually contribute to spiritual growth and development.
The Baha’i teachings say that depression comes solely from the material world, and its opposite, joy, comes from the spiritual:
Today, humanity is bowed down with trouble, sorrow and grief, no one escapes; the world is wet with tears; but, thank God, the remedy is at our doors. 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.
If sorrow and adversity visit us, let us turn our faces to the Kingdom and heavenly consolation will be outpoured.
If we are sick and in distress let us implore God’s healing, and He will answer our prayer.
When our thoughts are filled with the bitterness of this world, let us turn our eyes to the sweetness of God’s compassion and He will send us heavenly calm! If we are imprisoned in the material world, our spirit can soar into the Heavens and we shall be free indeed!
When our days are drawing to a close let us think of the eternal worlds, and we shall be full of joy! – Ibid., p. 108.
So the spiritual growth that comes from our tests and trials is not the pain itself but the letting go, becoming detached, showing trust and faith, and ultimately the submission under the will of God.
Once we manage to pull ourselves out of the darkness of grief and sadness by trusting God, letting go and turning “our eyes to the sweetness of God’s compassion,” we start the transformation. The seed that was planted in the darkness of the soil starts to germinate and once it breaks the soil the light of the sun will give it warmth and light to grow.
By reading the holy writings daily our minds will be trained to think in terms of spiritual meanings; and therefore when we encounter further tests and trials we are less likely to fall into the hole of depression and resignation again.
However, in some cases such as long-lasting, chronic clinical depression, other factors can play a role in that need to be addressed by medical care. Depression can have physical causes—thyroid problems, hormones, nutritional deficiencies, lifestyle, gut health, imbalances in brain chemistry, etc. Our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual existence needs to be balanced.
But once competent physicians rule out those physical factors, then remember these consoling words from Abdu’l-Baha:
Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit. – Ibid., pp. 50-51.