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Sometimes life brings us sorrow, and that sadness can feel paralyzing. How do we heal and move forward?
It is normal to grieve from loss, ache from isolation, suffer from discrimination, despair over a lack of control, or feel that we lack meaning. When the media constantly blasts us with contrived happiness – convincing us that joy comes from material possessions, prescription or street drugs, or frivolous relationships – we tend to fall into the trap of doing whatever we can to escape pain and seek instant gratification instead.
The more comfortable we are, the easier it becomes to hide from our problems. We’re subconsciously taught that the purpose of life involves pleasure, and that we must avoid the full spectrum of human emotion at all costs.
However, the Baha’i teachings urge us to see suffering in a completely different way, as a gift that exalts the human condition and encourages us toward detachment:
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, p. 178.
Sometimes, in a world that doesn’t value all human life equally and the suffering of the downtrodden doesn’t seem to matter, we may wonder whether life has any real purpose. But let’s look at it differently. All the prophets, messengers and manifestations of God, such as Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah, suffered severely during their lifetimes. Perhaps God tries His chosen ones the most.
Clearly, then, suffering is not divine punishment, but a sign of grace that helps us purify our souls and detach ourselves from the world. Thanks to our suffering, we can experience and appreciate true divine happiness, not just temporal happiness based on changing conditions beyond our control.
Although we all suffer, we can avoid falling into deep sorrow if we free ourselves from the attachments of this material world. The Baha’i teachings speak about the influences of joy and pain:
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! – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 110.
So, what do we do if we find ourselves stricken with grief and unable to detach ourselves from it? If we remain stuck in a prolonged state of grief or sorrow, we can easily become susceptible to depression—a painful illness that needs long-term, proactive solutions. The following steps helped me heal from my own depression around eight years ago:
1. Find an Outlet for Your Sorrow
I found an outlet to release the unhealthy build-up of my negative emotions: poetry. Poetry empowered and uplifted me by giving me a voice and an outlet to express my experiences and soothe my emotions. The Baha’i writings talk about the power of the arts to uplift humanity:
2. Confide in Someone about Your Sadness
I found people to confide in. Everyone needs someone who can share their experiences, discuss situations, and go to for advice.
3. Change Your Diet to Fight off Depression
I changed my diet. Personally, I was already an ovo-pescatarian, but I decided to also stop eating gluten, reduce my grain consumption, and cut out most of the sugar I consumed, because our diets affect our moods. In the book Grain Brain, Dr. Perlmutter discussed how a gluten-free, non-GMO, low-carb diet can heal depression and anxiety, and improve cognitive functioning.
4. Pray for Spiritual Healing
I prayed more often and more fervently. I truly believe in the healing power of prayer when one recites the word of God with joy, faith, and gratitude. The Baha’i writings emphasize the power of prayer:
Praise be to God, thy heart is engaged in the commemoration of God, thy soul is gladdened by the glad tidings of God and thou art absorbed in prayer. The state of prayer is the best of conditions, for man is then associating with God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 202.
5. Uplift Yourself with Meditation
Along with prayer, I also started meditating daily, and felt revived by a growing certitude of a brighter tomorrow. I felt more confirmed in the power of faith, as my awe and appreciation for the word of God grew.
6. Give Back to the Community
I served my community more. I reminded myself that selfless service to others should become central in my life, and that I should constantly think of how I can make a difference in the lives of others. In this way, I can contribute to the betterment of our world. The Baha’i writings say that if we’re sad, we only need to serve others.
7. Cut Out the Negative Forces from Your Life
The Buddha said, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.” Since happiness follows a pure thought, I realized I needed to reflect on what was shaping and influencing my thoughts each day. The entertainment industry is one entity that can have a huge influence over our mind if we allow it to dominate our time. So, I decided to fix that. I cut out all the books, music, movies, and TV shows I consumed that were impure and did not enlighten my heart in any way. Sure enough, this helped tremendously with creating a brighter and more positive mindset.
8. Surround Yourself with Those Who Make You Happy
I removed myself from a situation that was repeatedly causing me pain. I can’t tell people how to live their lives, but I can control how I live mine, and emotions are contagious. So, I learned to remove myself from as much negative energy as I could, and try to surround myself with people that brought me joy. As the Baha’i writings say:
“When we find truth, constancy, fidelity, and love, we are happy; but if we meet with lying, faithlessness, and deceit, we are miserable.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 65.
9. Exercise: The Healthiest Antidepressant
Exercise releases endorphins that improve your mood, and studies show that it can act as effectively on your mood as any anti-depressant. One study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that “running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%.” So, I started exercising a lot. Well, I actually started skipping to Disney songs—innocent and lighthearted music that aided my healing.
Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions. Our task then, is not to hide from the tests we receive, but to face them, learn from them, and overcome them. If our emotions indicate the condition of our souls, perhaps joy gives us a sign that we’re on the right track, and sorrow simply invites us to grow or reflect. In that sense, don’t try to escape sorrow – just reframe it.