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Health, Healing & Overcoming Difficulties

in Explore > Themes

At some point in our lives, we all suffer from illnesses of the body or the mind and we face tests and difficulties. This collection highlights resources dedicated to physical and spiritual health and well-being, healing, resilience and overcoming challenges.

A Spiritual Foundation to Mental Wellbeing: Some Personal Reflections

October 22, 2023, in Articles > Baha'i Life, by

October is Mental Health Awareness Month in Australia—a time for better educating ourselves and becoming more aware about an aspect of life that has profound implications for overall wellbeing. While the Baha’i Writings tell us that mental health struggles—or tests and difficulties–in no way impede our capacity for spiritual growth, they do influence how we perceive reality, build relationships, and the amount of energy and focus available to us for pursuing our career and serving others.

In comparison to the suffering experienced because of war, displacement, famine, prejudice and inequality, my challenges do not seem worth mentioning. Who am I to write about hardship when I am coming from a place of such privilege? And yet I do recognize that each of us can only explore the subject of mental health from our own lived experience, so this is my very humble contribution to the dialogue. I would like to emphasize that these are only a few personal thoughts. You can study and reflect on the compilation of Writings on mental health, tests and difficulties called Light and Mercy, and seeking professional help to strengthen mental and emotional wellbeing is never a bad idea.

I recently chose to move across the world—a decision that has brought many new joys and opportunities into my life. It has also, however, required that I adapt to a different way of life, build a new community network, communicate in a language that I have not used for many years, and still find the focus I need to get my work done. I’ve come up with a number of strategies that I use to support myself when I notice my mental health needing a boost. Here are a few things that I have found invaluable so far:

1. Building a firm foundation

The Universal House of Justice tells us that “[e]ach of us is responsible for one life only, and that is our own. Each of us is immeasurably far from being ‘perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect’ and the task of perfecting our own life and character is one that requires all our attention, our will-power and energy…”1

Moving from a place where I had a strong social network to a place where I only have a handful of close friends hasn’t been easy. Adjusting to so much change while trying to build new relationships doesn’t always work out. I’m learning that there’s no shortcut to building a new life, that it’s unrealistic to expect that new friends will provide the support I need while I build it, and that I need to take the time to find joy and stability in my own new rhythms and daily accomplishments. Building healthy relationships with others is so much easier once we are firmly rooted and secure in the unfolding of our own lives. Regardless of what I am navigating through, being of service to others helps me to contribute and get to know people, and reminds me of the bigger picture.

2.  Showing myself kindness

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada wrote:

“The lives of the Founders of our Faith clearly show that to be fundamentally assured does not mean that we live without anxieties, nor does being happy mean that there are not periods of deep grief when, like the Guardian, we wrap ourselves in a blanket, pray and supplicate, and give ourselves time for healing in preparation for the next great effort.”2

I’m slowly realizing that not having much of a support system here is a hidden gift: it’s forcing me to learn how to be kinder to myself. This week that has looked like giving myself extra time to pray; booking myself a ticket back to Canada this winter for some quality time with dear friends; acknowledging everything I have accomplished during this time of transition; finding myself a therapist who can offer me extra support; and signing up for Elizabeth Gilbert’s Letters from Love on Substack, which has given me a new practice of writing myself letters from love. If that sounds cheesy, it totally is. But it is also proving revolutionary in strengthening my capacity to treat myself with the degree of compassion I need while going through this time of transition.

 3. Relying on God

I don’t know about you, but often when I notice that I’m struggling to come to terms with a situation that is causing me distress I also notice that I’m overly attached to the outcome I think is best, and have lost touch with the reality that, unlike God, I do not have the ability to see the end in the beginning. When this happens, being honest with myself gets me back on track. It may not eliminate the challenge, but it reminds me that the only way I’m going to navigate through the tests with any grace is if I trust in Divine Wisdom. When I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed, I find myself turning to a prayer of Abdu’l-Baha about hope and this passage about the Will of God:

“Whatever God hath willed hath been, and that which He hath not willed shall not be. There is no power nor strength except in God, the Most Exalted, the Most Mighty.”3

Whenever I recite these words a sense of calm descends over me that I cannot entirely explain. All I know for sure is that placing my trust in God transforms how I experience hardship—even while I continue to navigate through it.

4. Reminding myself that hardship has a larger purpose

Shoghi Effendi reminded us that:

“The troubles of this world pass, and what we have left is what we have made of our souls; so it is to this we must look — to becoming more spiritual, drawing nearer to God, no matter what our human minds and bodies go through.”4

In another passage, he wrote that:

“Suffering is both a reminder and a guide. It stimulates us better to adapt ourselves to our environmental conditions, and thus leads the way to self improvement. In every suffering one can find a meaning and a wisdom. But it is not always easy to find the secret of that wisdom.”5

I have a very long way to go in finding grace within the experience of suffering, but, at least in theory, I like the idea that accepting suffering as a necessary and natural part of a fully-lived life could make space for greater ease when the waves of tests inevitably roll through.

I hope some of my reflections on the wisdom contained in the Writings about ways that we might navigate periods of stress and overwhelm with greater grace and mental clarity are useful to you. If there are other passages in the Writings that you find yourself returning to when you are in need of extra strength, it would be wonderful if you would share them in the comments section below.

National Mental Health Month is marked in Australia every October in a bid to advocate for and raise awareness of Australian mental health and promote better mental health for all.

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please know that you are not alone. Help is close at hand. Call the Lifeline Helpline for support at 13 11 14 or 000 if you are facing an emergency.

  1. The Universal House of Justice, Compilation for the 2018 Counsellor’s Conference []
  2. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 116 []
  3. The Bab, Prayer for Protection, p.131-132, from Baha’i Prayers []
  4. Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, 181: Spirituality. p.68 []
  5. Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 434 []
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Ariana Salvo

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.
Ariana Salvo

Discussion 2 Comments

Gradually societies across the world are beginning to erode the stigma around mental health.

Just how distraught it can leave a family is difficult to describe.

The following story tries to capture the turmoil of that distress.

The night air hung heavy with an eerie stillness, a stark contrast to the tempest raging in their hearts. Just a few years ago, their daughter had weathered her first storm of psychosis—a harrowing journey that had shaken their family’s foundation to its core. Like a delicate flower pushing through concrete, she had shown remarkable resilience, regaining her strength and continuing her studies in architecture. Now, as she approached the final stages of her Masters, the storm clouds gathered once more, plunging her into the abyss of a second episode.The shrill ring of the phone pierced the midnight silence, jolting the couple from their fitful sleep. Their daughter, they learned, had been rushed to the A&E department of a general hospital—a lifeline six agonizing hours away by train and coach. Her boyfriend, a sentinel in the night, had stood vigil by her side. Without a second thought, they embarked on their pilgrimage of worry, their minds a whirlwind of fear and desperate hope.As the train clattered through the pre-dawn darkness, the mother’s hands trembled, her fingers absently twisting her wedding ring. “What if we’re too late?” The thought echoed in her mind, a relentless drumbeat of dread. Beside her, her husband stared out the window, his jaw clenched, fighting back tears that threatened to break the dam of his composure.Upon arrival, the sight of their daughter—wild-eyed and distressed—hit them like a physical blow. Her boyfriend, a statue of exhaustion, offered weak smiles of relief. The reunion was a bittersweet symphony of relief and anguish, their embraces tight enough to bruise, as if they could anchor her to reality through sheer force of will. The hours bled into one another, a blur of sterile corridors and mountains of paperwork. The fluorescent lights buzzed overhead, harsh and unforgiving, reflecting off the linoleum floors like a funhouse mirror of their worst fears. By the time they left their daughter in the care of the hospital, knowing she would soon be transferred to a psychiatric facility, their bodies felt hollowed out, scraped raw by worry and fatigue.The journey home stretched before them like an endless desert. Every mile was an eternity, every passing landscape a reminder of the distance between them and their child. When news came that the psychiatric hospital was just over an hour’s drive away, it was a drop of water in that vast desert—small comfort, but comfort nonetheless.At home, chaos reigned. The ongoing kitchen renovation, once a source of excitement, now felt like a mockery of their pain. The cacophony of drills and hammers became a twisted reflection of their fractured peace of mind. Dust settled on every surface, a physical manifestation of the grit that seemed to have permanently lodged in their throats. Nighttime offered no respite. Sleep, when it came, was a fickle visitor, leaving them more drained than refreshed. The mother would often jolt awake, her heart racing, convinced she had heard her daughter’s cries echoing through the house. The daily visits to the psychiatric hospital became a surreal routine. Each trip felt like diving into murky waters, never knowing what they might find beneath the surface. The sounds of distress from other patients formed a haunting backdrop to their own quiet suffering. They brought pieces of home—a favorite blanket, cherished photos—like talismans against the clinical coldness of the ward. As weeks turned into months, their resilience was tested time and again. The mother, burdened by the weight of secrecy, felt as though she was slowly drowning, unable to call for help. When she finally broke down in front of her manager, the tears came like a monsoon, washing away months of pent-up anguish.The father, a rock slowly eroding under the constant pressure, found solace in hushed phone calls to a distant friend. In those conversations, he could let the facade crumble, if only for a moment, before piecing himself back together for another day. Through it all, their love for their daughter burned like a beacon in the darkest night. It was the compass that guided them through the storm, the anchor that kept them from being swept away by the tide of despair. In their shared distress, they discovered a strength they never knew they possessed—a testament to the indomitable spirit of parental love. Each day was a battle against an invisible enemy, but they remained united in their foxhole, driven by an unwavering commitment to their daughter’s well-being. The journey stretched before them, long and arduous, dotted with moments of crushing despair and fleeting sparks of hope. Yet, in the crucible of their distress, they found themselves forged anew—stronger, more resilient, and bound together by unbreakable bonds of love and shared struggle.

Matthew Edwards

Matthew Edwards (July 7, 2024 at 4:49 PM)

Thank you so very much for sharing this heartfelt piece.

Sonjel Vreeland

Sonjel Vreeland (July 7, 2024 at 11:26 PM)

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