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A study circle is a small group that meets to study the course materials from the Ruhi Institute. This collection contains resources related to study circles, as well as resources to assist anyone with deepening their understanding of the Baha’i Writings.
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6 Ways that Ruhi Book 1 Helped Me Process Grief in Community
I recently finished studying Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, the first book in a series of materials that have been developed to “assist individuals to deepen their understanding of the Baha’i teachings, and to gain the spiritual insights and practical skills they need to carry out the work of the community.” 1 I have participated in many Ruhi study circles, but this one has been particularly life-changing for me. Our tutor, Fanya, lost her grandmother earlier this year to COVID-19, and in searching for creative ways to process her own grief, decided to invite a few other people who have lost close family members to study Ruhi Book 1 with her.
The first book in the Ruhi sequence explores what it means to be spiritual beings; the purpose of prayer; and how living a life of service can help us strengthen our spiritual capacity and grow closer to God. In retrospect, the usefulness of this book as a tool to create a supportive environment in which a group of people can move through grief in community seems obvious, but I had never heard of it being used in this way before. Our weekly study circle has been so helpful to me in my own journey through grief that it got me thinking that sharing my experience might inspire tutors in other places to consider using Ruhi Book 1 to support those who are grieving. In the spirit of finding new ways that we can utilize the Ruhi materials to build stronger communities, here are six ways that using Ruhi Book 1 to process grief has helped me:
1. Providing a space within which to process grief within community
Grief can be a very lonely and isolating experience, especially in a small religious community where there are often not enough people to warrant regular grief groups. Without the support to move through the experience of grieving however, I found that until I joined this Ruhi group I had entirely withdrawn from my local community in order to provide myself with the support that I needed to heal. Joining the group provided a space where I could process very personal emotions within community and with the support of the Baha’i Writings to guide me.
2. Inviting a fresh perspective on the grieving process
In the most tender and raw periods of grief I found it hard to step back and see my individual experience within a larger context. The way that Ruhi Book 1 is structured invited us to reflect deeply as a group on how our experiences fit into a larger plan, reminded us of the closeness and intimacy that we still share with loved ones who have passed on, and helped us to explore how our experiences could help us to better serve humanity, grow spiritually, and deepen our love for and relationship with God.
3. Supplying tools to help deal with grief outside of the group
Ruhi Book 1 reminds us that our life on this planet has a purpose. There are many quotes in the book that highlight what a powerful transformative and healing tool prayer is. As I have moved through my grief, being able to turn to passages in the Baha’i Writings that remind me that there is a power greater than me that I can draw on in my moments of sadness and uncertainty has been reassuring. The following quote speaks to this idea:
O thou who art turning thy face towards God! Close thine eyes to all things else, and open them to the realm of the All-Glorious. Ask whatsoever thou wishest of Him alone; seek whatsoever thou seekest from Him alone. With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a nod He layeth balm on every wound, with a glimpse He freeth the hearts from the shackles of grief. He doeth as He doeth, and what recourse have we? He carrieth out His Will, He ordaineth what He pleaseth. Then better for thee to bow down thy head in submission, and put thy trust in the All-Merciful Lord. 2
As we studied and deepened our understanding of how it could support our overall wellbeing, the progress of the souls of our family members in the next world, and our continued efforts to serve our communities I noticed that I started turning to prayer more when I was feeling alone or fearful about what the future would hold. Reflecting regularly on how my spiritual growth in this world is linked to continued progress in all the worlds of God helped me to move through the harder days with a greater degree of acquiescence.
4. Building community
One thing that I have found about grieving is that my heart is more open and tender than it usually is. Emotions are closer to the surface, and I seem to have a greater degree of receptivity to deep human connection than I usually do. I was surprised that despite never having met the other five people in my group before, the fact that our group met online, and the reality that we were scattered across the globe, the connections forged in this group are some of the most heartfelt I have made in many years. Not only did we share highly personal stories and experiences with each other in a supportive and loving environment, but we checked in on each other periodically throughout the week, prayed for each other, and even connected outside of the group for private conversations and prayer. When our study circle ended we decided to reconnect once or twice a month to pray and catch up, and I’m certain that the members of our group are going to remain dear friends for the rest of my life. I also notice that because of the support I have received from the group, I have increasingly been able to turn up for other people in my life again, and have started to explore new ways to engage with my community.
5. Turning a weakness into a strength
It is hard to see the pain you experience when you are grieving as anything other than a weakness, but studying Ruhi Book 1 as a way to process grief has helped me to see that my loss has made me far more compassionate, empathetic and sensitive to the needs of those around me—virtues which were not personal fortes before. Seeing in action how my personal journey through grief has supported and encouraged the other members of my group has helped me to see that I can still be a useful member of my community even as I move through grief. Grieving does not have to take away the ability to be of service.
6. Empowering me to give back to my community
Doing this Ruhi book with a group of people who are grieving, and the depth of discussion, processing and connection that has resulted from studying it within this context has made me realize what a potent tool it is for facilitating grief groups. With so much loss happening on such a massive scale around the world, the need for creative ways of supporting each other and deepening our connection only seems to increase. Having facilitated this book myself a number of times in other contexts, I’m excited to use the insights and inspiration from this group to pursue facilitating a study circle for others who are grieving in my local community.
These are just a few of my key takeaways. I hope that my reflections encourage more tutors to consider adopting this Ruhi book as a means of bringing people together as they move through grief. The period of increased tenderness and open-heartedness that often accompanies loss can be such a powerful resource if we use it as an opportunity to expand human connection. Seen from this angle, grief is a gift—one which has the potential to significantly strengthen communities over time.
Ariana Salvo was born in the United States, and spent sixteen years of her childhood on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. She moved to Prince Edward Island to do her master’s degree in Island Studies, fell in love with the tightly knit community, and has never left. When not writing, she can be found exploring art at galleries around the world, flower farming, traveling to remote islands, hiking and taking photos of the wild natural landscapes of Canada’s eastern shore, teaching English to international students and reading historical fiction with a good cup of tea.
Thank you so very much for sharing these deep insights. You opened a new doorway of understanding for me. Dealing with grief through the unexpected passing of my brother this past year has been isolating to a great extent because of Covid restrictions but also because, I have found, people are uncomfortable with coming face to face with grief and to some extent, don’t really know how to provide support. There is a lot to be learned about this topic.The unexpected death of a loved one is so unsettling and reminds us of the transitory nature of this life and how we need to embrace death with spiritual knowledge. It doesn’t change the fact of death but connecting to the beliefs that life does go on, albeit in a different form, and that we can continue to have a relationship with our departed loved one provides for the consolation of hearts and a renewal of the spiritual view of the purpose of this life. Being able to share these feelings and thoughts in the context of Ruhi book one is an awesome possibility. Thank you again for sharing.
Susan Lynn Yazdanmehr (January 1, 2021 at 6:21 PM)
Thank you for reading Susan. I am very sorry to hear that you lost your brother…and happy that this piece resonated for you. I think that Ruhi book 1 can be used as a really powerful tool to help communities process grief collectively and make it less of a lonely experience, which I find many are finding — even within the Baha’i community. I hope more communities use it in this way in the future as it was such a support to me and everyone else in my group. I would encourage you to consider starting a Ruhi book 1 for people in your community who are grieving. Warm greetings to you!
Ariana Salvo (February 2, 2021 at 8:16 PM)