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The soul is an active and progressive facet of human reality – which means it will not remain unaffected by the consequences of our interactions with the wider environment.
The spirit is changeless, indestructible. The progress and development of the soul, the joy and sorrow of the soul, are independent of the physical body. If we are caused joy or pain by a friend, if a love prove true or false, it is the soul that is affected … and the grief or trouble of the soul may react on the body.
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Prayer, resilience, reliance on God, and meditative reflection broaden our vision of the purpose of life in this material world and its ultimate spiritual destiny.
As travelers on a journey, we are bound to encounter hardship, disappointment, and unexpected crises, as well as joyful and fulfilling experiences. We may not be aware of the meaning and mysteries of these experiences, but they play an important role in our personal and spiritual growth and prepare us for our soul’s continuing existence in the next world.
In this earthly world our will, our faith, and our ultimate expectation of life will be tested. We will face stress, tests, and difficulties. Knowing this, we may take the following advice from the writings of Abdu’l-Baha to heart:
When calamity striketh, be ye patient and composed. However afflictive your sufferings may be, stay ye undisturbed, and with perfect confidence in the abounding grace of God, brave ye the tempest of tribulations and fiery ordeals.
This kind of outlook – taking the long view and recognizing that your soul is eternal – helps us learn to cope with stress. That positive process depends largely on the human ability to evaluate and respond appropriately and successfully to internal or external demands or challenges. With respect to training children, Abdu’l-Baha advised parents to “… bring them up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship. Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great import, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind.” This kind of training can help young people understand that life stress and crisis can sometimes be a blessing in disguise, which may motivate them to become better prepared for greater achievements.
Abdu’l-Baha elaborated on the two sentiments of joy and sorrow which affect everyone, by saying that all sorrow, grief, and suffering originate in the material world, while “… 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.”
Thus, building happiness also constructs a healing remedy for the stresses of daily life. True, lasting happiness is a spiritual state of mind, which has a healing effect on the mind and the body.
Abdu’l-Baha once advised a group of young students that:
Man must so live that he may become beloved in the sight of God, beloved in the estimation of the righteous ones and beloved and praised by the people. When he reaches this station the feast of eternal happiness is spread before him. His heart is serene and composed because he finds himself accepted at the threshold of His Highness, the One. His soul is in the utmost felicity and bliss even if he be surrounded by mountains of tests and difficulties. He will be like unto a sea on the surface of which one may see huge white waves, but in its deeps it is calm, unruffled and undisturbed. If he trusts his happiness to worldly objects and fluctuating conditions he is doomed to disappointment. Should he gain a fortune and anchor his happiness to that he may hypnotize himself into a state of so-called joy for a few days, and then that very fortune will become a mill-stone around his neck, the cause of his worry and melancholy.
“But if he lives in accordance with the good-pleasure of the Lord he will be favoured at the court of the Almighty. He will be drawn nigh unto the throne of Majesty. He will be respected by all mankind and loved and honoured by the believers. This fortune bestows eternal happiness. The tree of this fortune is ever green. The autumnal wind does not sear its leaves nor does the frost of winter rob it of its perennial freshness. This is a happiness which is not followed by any misery but is always a source of gratefulness and blessedness.
Spiritual Responses to Disasters
Natural and manmade disasters, which can be the most trying and stressful events of life, have become widespread the world over, impacting large numbers of people psychologically and physically. In this regard, researchers have studied the influence and role of spirituality and religious belief in the aftermath of such disasters. Nasreen Lalani et al (2021) explored the role of nurturing spiritual resilience in post-disaster community recovery after the 2016 Alberta, Canada wildfire, the largest natural disaster to date in that country, which caused mass evacuation of over 88,000 residents and significant damage to the small city of Fort McMurray. Their findings showed that spiritual values and beliefs could “play a significant role in building resilience and promoting individual and communal healing and recovery post-disaster.”
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At this time of war, violence, life-threatening disease, and environmental disasters, the global Baha’i community has always played and continues to play a role in providing support to an ailing humanity, both spiritual and material. In doing so it heeds the following words of Abdu’l-Baha, which are a call to serve humanity with love and empathy:
… the honor and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world’s multitudes should become a source of social good. Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight.