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At various points in my life, I have gazed up at the sky into the vast universe and asked, “Why am I here?”
These moments have arisen at times when I felt particularly lost or uncertain about the way my journey was unfolding. Maybe, I thought, I’m having an existential crisis.
Dictionary.com defines an existential crisis as a “psychological episode in which a person questions the meaning of their life and of existence itself.” But I’ve learned that this may also be a “spiritual episode,” in which one contemplates why they are here on Earth and their unique place in the world.
As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” We all want to live a meaningful life which fulfils our purpose – but how do we do it? Here, with the help of the Baha'i teachings, please consider these five suggestions to guide you on your path toward self-actualization and contentment:
1. Ask Questions
“Why am I here?” “What is the purpose of life?” “Is there more to life than this physical reality?” At some time in our lives, we each have a natural inclination to seek answers for these inquiries and discover the meaning of existence. The Baha’i writings encourage this spiritual quest, and call it “the independent investigation of truth.” Each soul is on its own unique journey toward truth, the Baha'i writings say, and it all begins with a longing, a question. I’ve found that whatever is asked, the universe will supply the answer – all I have to do is be still and listen.
Abdu’l-Baha, the exemplar and leader of the Baha'i Faith after his father Baha’u’llah’s passing, once summarized the Baha'i principle of the independent investigation of the truth this way:
Among these teachings was the independent investigation of reality so that the world of humanity may be saved from the darkness of imitation and attain to the truth; may tear off and cast away this ragged and outgrown garment of a thousand years ago and may put on the robe woven in the utmost purity and holiness in the loom of reality. As reality is one and cannot admit of multiplicity, therefore different opinions must ultimately become fused into one. - Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha
2. Follow Your Intuition
That self-help book you’ve been mysteriously drawn to? Read it! The community class that sparks your interest? Take it! Trust those inner inklings that lead you to your life’s purpose. When you follow your intuition, you will feel inspired and sustained. Nothing need be forced as life has a natural unfolding process. As you tune into your own awareness, you will attract people, places, and experiences which will guide you on your personal journey. Things will fall into place in ways you could never have imagined!
The Word of God is the storehouse of all good, all power and all wisdom … It awakens within us that brilliant intuition which makes us independent of all tuition, and endows us with an all-embracing power of spiritual understanding. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West
3. Find your Joy
When you live life from your heart rather than out of fear or obligation, a sense of light and serenity will envelop your being. Discovering your joy will allow you to align with your true purpose and project that bliss into the world. Each person’s happiness is contagious and it elevates humanity. One way to find your joy is to practice gratitude. Whenever I exhibit thankfulness and submission to God’s will, I experience joy on a deeper level:
Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks
… Abdu’l-Baha said, “May everyone point to you and ask “Why are these people so happy?” I want you to be happy … to laugh, smile and rejoice in order that others may be made happy by you.” – quoted by Annamarie Honnold in Vignettes from the Life of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 130.
4. Serve Others
During times of spiritual search and growth, confusion and pain often rise to the surface. We can choose to either wallow in our internal angst, or allow it to light the flame of our soul’s purpose. When I feel anxious or depressed, I have discovered that focusing on uplifting and serving others pulls me out of the darkness. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying this is easy. In fact, it can be a struggle not to fall into the trappings of self-pity and despair, but the alternative always feels better. Every morning, I recite the Peace Prayer of St. Francis which reminds me that whatever I seek, I must first give:
The Peace Prayer of St. Francis (excerpt)
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
This passage from the Baha'i teachings reminds me to give my time and energy to others, too:
A Baha’i who serves others is like unto a candle which burns and sheds light upon all those who circle around it. The highest attainable station of the candle is to burn and brighten the dark room, and the loftiest pinnacle of our progress and perfection is to be confirmed in service … - Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West
5. Trust the Journey
I wish I could say that there will come a point where I have it all figured out, but I don’t think any of us ever do. Some questions take time to be answered depending on our capacity and receptivity. Moment to moment our consciousness evolves, and a new and hopefully more enlightened self emerges. As you gain more insight and knowledge, the path will become increasingly clear. Of course you will encounter detours, tests and bumps along the road, which ultimately serve to enhance our spiritual growth. At the end of the day, trusting God will lead us toward what we seek:
Be patient under all conditions, and place your whole trust and confidence in God. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah
Never lose thy trust in God. Be thou ever hopeful, for the bounties of God never cease to flow upon man. If viewed from one perspective they seem to decrease, but from another they are full and complete. Man is under all conditions immersed in a sea of God's blessings. Therefore, be thou not hopeless under any circumstances, but rather be firm in thy hope. - Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha