Life resembles a journey—however varied our aspirations may seem, we all seek to find and fulfill some sort of meaning.
Along the way we can easily fall into the path of chasing dreams of comfort, money, fame, and prestige. Usually described as “happiness,” our material goals all too often neglect to nurture our deeper internal well-being. With so many distractions, usually we have to put active effort into clearing a space within our minds and hearts to be attentive to our inner spiritual needs, in addition to the desire for comfort and security:
Cleanse from your hearts the love of worldly things, from your tongues every remembrance except His remembrance, from your entire being whatsoever may deter you from beholding His face, or may tempt you to follow the promptings of your evil and corrupt inclinations. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 275.
Though many of us are taught in one way or another that in order to lead a happy and productive life we have to aspire to high levels of material comfort, our spiritual health requires that we access will power to actually override some of these more primal instincts. Similar to how our bodies need certain elements to grow, our souls flourish under particular circumstances:
… when man does not open his mind and heart to the blessing of the spirit, but turns his soul towards the material side, towards the bodily part of his nature, then is he fallen from his high place and he becomes inferior to the inhabitants of the lower animal kingdom. In this case the man is in a sorry plight! For if the spiritual qualities of the soul, open to the breath of the Divine Spirit, are never used, they become atrophied, enfeebled, and at last incapable; whilst the soul’s material qualities alone being exercised, they become terribly powerful—and the unhappy, misguided man, becomes more savage, more unjust, more vile, more cruel, more malevolent than the lower animals themselves. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 97.
If, on the contrary, the spiritual nature of the soul has been so strengthened that it holds the material side in subjection, then does the man approach the Divine … – Ibid.
In addition to constant effort to rise above some of our more animalistic tendencies, we can encourage spiritual health by adopting hopeful beliefs:
The conception of annihilation is a factor in human degradation, a cause of human debasement and lowliness, a source of human fear and abjection. It has been conducive to the dispersion and weakening of human thought whereas the realization of existence and continuity has upraised man to sublimity of ideals, established the foundations of human progress and stimulated the development of heavenly virtues; therefore it behooves man to abandon thoughts of non-existence and death which are absolutely imaginary and see himself ever living, everlasting in the divine purpose of his creation. He must turn away from ideas which degrade the human soul, so that day by day and hour by hour he may advance upward and higher to spiritual perception of the continuity of the human reality. If he dwells upon the thought of non-existence he will become utterly incompetent; with weakened will-power his ambition for progress will be lessened and the acquisition of human virtues will cease. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 90.
Additionally, the same way our bodies need to consume the highest quality food possible, we need to nourish our souls. Similar to the way that all of us require slightly different foods to best take care of our bodies, this form of spiritual nourishment might look different for everyone. Baha’is believe that some form of prayer and meditation, however varied it might look, is necessary for spiritual growth:
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. Prayer verily bestoweth life, particularly when offered in private and at times, such as midnight, when freed from daily cares. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 202.