When we get physical injuries, we expect them to itch or ache as they heal. So, why do we expect emotional healing to be easy?
Even though most of us recognize that physical healing requires a period of discomfort, we often feel disappointed to find that emotional healing isn’t always comfortable as we process and recover from hardship. Aside from the personal hardships we individually experience, our world can impose unhealthy ideologies and patterns of behavior on us.
For example, we might learn to repress certain feelings or thoughts that are actually important to express. We might inherit toxic ideas about productivity – learning that we have to work ourselves to the bone in order to “deserve” rest. Most of us in the United States have been subconsciously exposed to detrimental attitudes around race, gender, and class, which not only poison our mindsets but actually contribute to the pain of others around us. This also requires us to heal.
Breaking unproductive coping mechanisms and purging ourselves of problematic beliefs can be difficult. We often learn to break poor habits through being tested. The Baha’i writings explain:
‘Does the soul progress more through sorrow or through the joy in this world?’
Abdu’l-Baha: ‘The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him. Look back to the times past and you will find that the greatest men have suffered most. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks
If I struggle with a short temper, for example, the best way to learn patience is for things that bother me to happen around me. Patience requires us to resist rushing or snapping when something unexpected happens or doesn’t go as planned. If I struggle to be hopeful, one of the best tests to learn hope may be to face saddening circumstances and overcome them. If I can learn to maintain hope despite hardship, I have actually learned hope. Being hopeful when nothing goes awry is easy, but we need hope the most in difficult times.
I have recently tried to learn how to get more in touch with my intuition and strengthen my ability to listen to what it tells me. If there were no external noise, it wouldn’t require much growth to trust my intuition, and my intuition wouldn’t need strengthening. It would be easy to learn to persevere and commit to goals without any distractions, but then how would I really strengthen my skills?
While healing and growth often hurts, the Baha’i writings suggest that our spiritual growth is not only for the benefit of the life we have here, but also for the much longer life of each of our souls.
. . . in this world he must prepare himself for the life beyond. That which he needs in the world of the Kingdom must be obtained here. Just as he prepared himself in the world of the matrix by acquiring forces necessary in this sphere of existence, so, likewise, the indispensable forces of the divine existence must be potentially attained in this world. What is he in need of in the Kingdom which transcends the life and limitation of this mortal sphere? That world beyond is a world of sanctity and radiance; therefore, it is necessary that in this world he should acquire these divine attributes. In that world there is need of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God. These he must attain in this world so that after his ascension from the earthly to the heavenly Kingdom he shall find all that is needful in that eternal life ready for him. – Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace
As we struggle to heal, it can bring us peace to view the sacrifices we make as part of a much greater long-term benefit.