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.

All these examples are to show you that the trials which beset our every step, all our sorrow, pain, shame and grief, are born in the world of matter… – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 109-110.

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.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

9 Comments

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  • Melanie Black
    Dec 19, 2016
    A very good article! Having suffered with bipolar depression, an organic brain chemistry problem, for many years, I know only too well the terrible suffering of dark moods and feelings of hopelessness. About 5 1/2 years ago God brought me into the Baha'i Faith and I found over the ensuing years an enormous amount of healing and a growing optimism. I still have to take anti-depressants, but the cycles of my moods have decreased incredibly. The power of the writings is truly transforming, as well as the mercy of God. The suffering I went through, I believe, made me ready ...to accept Baha'u'llah, to learn compassion for others, to be less judgmental, and seek daily the protection of the covenant. Praise God!
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  • Saniata M. Darapiza
    Dec 19, 2016
    This is a timely and consoling article. Thank you, again.
  • Malcolm Craig
    Dec 19, 2016
    An article which understandably is succinct and a preface to a more detailed discourse examining not just material causes but mental and even spiritual ones too. Reading how "wretched" or "unworthy" we are, so totally dependent on God's grace and mercy in the Writings , contributes to the desperation this unconfident believer has felt. Seeing children pulled from bombed buildings in Syria - the visible outcome of God's avenging wrath? - is not my physical suffering but mental and spiritual anguish. What about depression aggravated if not caused by relationships with believer's and unbelievers alike? I hope I've indicated ...some of the scope of the discussion needed to do justice to this important theme.
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  • Karen Pritchard
    Dec 18, 2016
    Excellent article, Sherry. So often we struggle with problems that are truly spiritual in nature, and we mistakenly treat them with material remedies
  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Dec 18, 2016
    Thank you so much for this reminder Rebecca, as I certainly needed to hear this today. I have been very ill and I know it was purely due to nerves and consternation with my beloved husbands medical results, being given terminal within weeks. I knew it was shock, fear and confusion all wrapped up in one and my body just couldn't cope for several days.
    Still vomiting after 3 days, I walked out to my favourite tree where my horse lays in the sand, I sat with him as he slept and asked Baha'u'llah to guide me through this and ...help me make sense of it all.
    I have no idea how 'things' will work out in the coming weeks, but your post has answered more than you could know. God bless.
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  • Dec 18, 2016
    What a great thing to know, this distinction between material and spiritual feelings, thank you.
  • FARZIN BARAZANDEH
    Dec 17, 2016
    It appears to me the rate of making it through suffering has been very low. Very few caterpillars make it out of the cocoon or seeds break out of the darkness of the soil. I hope I am wrong, but it is my impression. Any good teacher would change his instructions or tests when absolute majority of his students fail, but in the divine realm, the creator is happy with few success.
    • Malcolm Craig
      Dec 19, 2016
      Well expressed Farzin! I've worn that T-shirt and still wear it from time to time. Its a form of questioning of God's wisdom and power I guess and I feel guilty thinking that way. Feeling a 'failure' or seeing others 'fail' doesn't mean I'm right. "Now I see in a glass darkly, but then face to face" suggests that it's possibly down to gaining a new perspective which for some - maybe the majority - comes when we leave this material world behind?
  • Andy Adams
    Dec 17, 2016
    Perfectly expressed with an elegant balance of concepts; a spiritual feast! Thank you.