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Someone once told me that life continues to give you the same challenge until you learn to overcome it.
While I am not sure that this is true for everyone, this proposed “rule of the universe” has proved to be true in my life. As a Baha’i, I’m learning to view these challenges as part of the human journey to acquire spiritual perfections, and understand that by overcoming the challenges I face over and over again, I will become stronger—both mentally and spiritually.
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.
Throughout my journey to find my long-term love and a person to build a life with, my fear of rejection brought me challenges. I struggle to cope with rejection from people I’ve allowed to get close to my heart. I fear being left out of friendships, and resist detaching from romantic relationships even when boyfriends want them to end. When it comes to relationships, I find it hard to “let go and let God.”
I started to like someone, and he liked me back. But he began to show that he wasn’t good for me, and I disregarded these signs in hopes that the issues would get resolved or go away—but ultimately I suspected the relationship would end badly. It was like walking up to a wooden bridge. I initially saw no holes in the bridge, but as I got closer I could see that the wood looked old and unstable. I stepped onto it anyway, and at first it seemed fine—but as I kept walking, my foot fell through. Chunks of the wood fell off. Instead of turning back, I kept walking, and eventually it all collapsed.
Despite this experience, the next time I saw a rickety bridge, I was just as drawn in as the first time—and the cycle repeated itself.
While this specific pattern seems unique to my own personal tendencies and shortcomings, we all have a “bridge” of some kind—challenges, or tests, that pop up over and over again. Sometimes we get good at passing the tests of life, and learn to navigate things that used to be difficult with wisdom and ease. Other times, we fall into unproductive cycles.
Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote:
Strain every nerve to acquire both inner and outer perfections, for the fruit of the human tree hath ever been and will ever be perfections both within and without. – Baha’u’llah, from a tablet translated from the Persian.
So, how can we grow out of our old habits and break unwanted patterns?
In order to break a habit or pattern, it helps to understand how the pattern works. But processing those patterns with a mind full of commotion and without understanding makes breaking them unlikely.
I discovered that reflection helps me learn from this part of myself. The Baha’i writings encourage us all to clear our minds and meditate deeply, because meditation can bring clarity:
Meditate profoundly, that the secret of things unseen may be revealed unto you, that you may inhale the sweetness of a spiritual and imperishable fragrance, and that you may acknowledge the truth that from time immemorial even unto eternity the Almighty hath tried, and will continue to try, His servants, so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, guidance from error, happiness from misery, and roses from thorns. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, p. 8.
In my case, I understood that I find it hard to trust that other good people will come my way. I also tend to over-empathize and make excuses for people, rather than allowing space to naturally separate me from people who do not want me in their life. My challenge: to recognize the red flags and, rather than trying to win someone over, give myself the opportunity to explore elsewhere.
Now that I have a decent grasp of the ins and outs of my tendency, the question has become “what next?” I understand why certain things are difficult for me, but if I don’t want to repeat the same mistakes, something has to change. I have to stop letting empathy be an excuse to let others disrespect me.
Making big changes in the way I interact with others requires trust in God—trust that even if things are uncomfortable for a time, the will to change ultimately pays off. Beyond trust, that requires action. I cannot just pray for internal change—I need to become the change I want to see, and let the rest fall into place. In breaking habits, prayer and meditation can offer guidance, but ultimately I need to effectuate an internal change in my heart and an external change in the ways I act in the world.