Page is loading...

Chapter 5: The Stormy Sea of Life

Life is like a restless sea, full of wonders and always in a state of perpetual turmoil caused by the waves of events. No one is secure from the violent waves on the surface of this deep ocean. Pleasure and pain in this world, like positive and negative forces in nature, together perform their function everywhere. Opposed to joy and delight are grief and sadness and opposed to youth and vitality are old age and weakness.

Everyone who is alive must bear the burden of affliction and suffering. Everyone who sets out on this sea is bound to be drenched by its waters and encounter in the course of his life a series of unpleasant and painful events: failure, privation, the death of dear ones and many other afflictions of the kind. Who is it that has remained unscathed by the arrows of time and secure from the tempests of events?

The type of hardships and calamities, it is true, is different in every age, but the universal principle of hardship and suffering is intertwined with man's life in all its stages. Certainly, the means of comfort and welfare have never been so within man's reach in any era of history to the extent they are accessible today.

Similarly, he has never attain the knowledge of nature's complex mysteries that he possesses today and been never so successful in subduing nature's unfriendly elements to the extent of today. In the shadow of science and with the power of technology, the civilised human being has overcome many of his difficulties by employing nature's various forces to his benefit.

However, despite these remarkable advancements in science and its brilliant achievements, and in spite of possessing all the different means essential for a better life, man today not only does not possess the feeling of mental peace and security that are basic for a happy life, he is drifting further away from the goal of a pleasant and wholesome life. From the viewpoint of peace and happiness, the future prospects of this materialistic life of today are not promising.

It cannot be denied that in most advanced societies psychological stress and anxiety have constantly increased in direct proportion to scientific, industrial, and economic progress and with the expansion of civic amenities and affluence. With the increase in psychic problems, the corresponding increase in the number of psychotherapists and psychiatrists has not at all helped to meet the situation.

Dr. Schneider writes:

What is it that has a greater share of human misery than anything else? I can answer this question in my capacity as a physician. It is a chronic disease. It will frighten you somewhat if you think about it. For out of a thousand kinds of diseases to which the human constitution is prone, one of them is as prevalent as the remaining nine hundred and ninety-nine of them. In the United States of America, fifty percent of those who go to see a physician suffer from this illness. Some claim that the figure is even higher than fifty percent.

At the Oxis Clinic in New Orleans a report was prepared about five hundred patients who had consecutively made a call to that place. It revealed that seventy-five percent of them suffered from this illness. A person could be affected by it irrespective of his age and the stage of his life. Moreover, the diagnosis and treatment of this disease are terribly expensive.

I will hasten to refrain from mentioning its name, for that may lead you to a misunderstanding. Its first characteristic is that it is not a real disease. Traditionally it was referred to as 'mental illness' and now they call it psychosomatic disorder. It is not an illness in the sense that the sick person should really consider himself to be ill. But the suffering that one undergoes as a result of it is as severe as the spasms of pain due to bilious colic.

Psychosomatic illness is not something produced by bacteria, virus, or an unnatural growth of bodily tissue, but is something caused by the conditions of daily life. Whenever someone is enclosed within a thick and impenetrable shell of anxieties, worries and problems from which he cannot emerge into the world of joy and peace, we consider him as suffering from psychosomatic illness.1

Freud says:

The primitive man satisfied his desires in a better way than the civilised man. His life was free from mental anxieties and cares, and he did not suffer from psychic ailments. But since the advent of civilisation, industry and urbanisation, man came to suffer from serious mental illnesses.2

The Cause of Psychic Afflictions

One of the factors responsible for anxiety is acquisitiveness. In a social environment where people's thoughts revolve around the axis of materialism, where wealth and passing material comforts are considered the criteria of prosperity and misfortune, and where everyone is constantly after the satisfaction of this inner urge, life is undoubtedly full of perpetual stress and anxiety. That is because no matter however extensive one's efforts may be, he cannot satisfy his endless greed, fill his mental vacuum, and realise all his desires and wishes.

Also, often there arise insuperable obstacles in the way of his desires and goals, which lead him into various kinds of misgivings and torments. His mind and nerves are greatly disturbed as a result of this mental vexation. Moreover, since his attachment is to un-enduring things, which are prone every moment to destruction and extinction, their transitory charm cannot give tranquillity to his tormented life. Such a person, no doubt, will not feel happy within himself.

Another important factor that causes spiritual anguish is the thought of death and absolute extinction. When death is believed to be the last limit of life and the end of everything, the awesome phantom of non-existence darkens the soul and pours bitterness into every joy of life. Psychic strain, despair and despondency, especially in the later part of life, will put him in a state of painful torture.

Similarly, a haunting fear of encountering some undefined danger-something one fears without being able to express precisely what terrifies him-misgivings and apprehensions cripple the soul and shatter man's debilitated nerves like a sledge hammer.

One becomes constantly listless as a result of financial insecurity or inadequacy; another is agitated on account of his unmanageable wealth and is beset with a thousand financial cares, some fret at the difficulty of meeting their commitments due to unfavourable factors and justify their always remaining in a state of consternation. Some are so full of scruples about certain particulars that they tire and exhaust everyone about themselves.

Such persons, as a matter of principle, are those whose anxiety seeks an outlet in order to surface, and they are constantly after some fresh pretext to start lamenting and complaining. The problems of life take a specially fearsome aspect in the evenings, for the fatigue resulting from day's work draws a curtain over the intellect and suppresses its power of rational judgement. At such times it no longer possesses its usual vigour, whereas the power of imagination is still active; its figments and fancies, finding the arena empty without a rival, torment the person severely.

If misgivings and futile apprehensions were to occur to anyone as a result of some small mistake, he should know that something that shouldn't have happened has taken place and there is no use in getting troubled about it. Moreover, he has no right to complain about what he had to suffer as a result of his own act. Everyone must reap what he has sown and if he has sowed a bad seed who is to blame? If one becomes upset by his mistake and sees its consequences to be much graver than they really are, he would fail to make amends, for that would divide his attention.

That which is certain is that one cannot succeed in solving one's problems with agitation and vexation, for agitation does not increase the capacity of one who has made a mistake, and regret and sorrow cannot change what is past. The only result that one obtains from his gloomy thoughts is to make his life gloomy and paralyse his activity. Peace of mind is necessary for one to disentangle the issues through reflection, and then try not to repeat the mistake. It is by correct reasoning that man can bring a discipline in his moral conduct.

Too Much Concern for the Unknown Future

The extent of attention that one directs to the future or the present greatly affects one's spiritual well-being. There are some people who give an extraordinary importance to the future; as a result they miss the opportunity to benefit from the present. Even if no danger should threaten them presently, they are afraid that some unpleasant accident may befall them. They are overwhelmed by a fear, which is as strong as they would feel in the face of a real danger.

However, one must remember that the past has no influence on the present and the future too is unforeseeable. The future events that should make one worried and concerned are those which are definite. But it goes without saying that such events are few and rarely do events turn out according to one's forecasts.

William John Reilly, a researcher belonging to the Carnegie Institute, writes: If you reflect you will see that amongst your friends, and even within your own family, those who have a positive way of thinking fascinate you more than the others. You like to be with them most of the time. Of course, there are also cynics amongst them who create trouble and headaches for you. Those who have a positive way of thinking are happier, livelier and more active.

They get things done and make them work. They might make many mistakes, but then they have the perspicacity to acknowledge their mistakes and correct them. They have the determination to start all over again. They don't waste time worrying or getting upset over something that will never happen. In every twenty-four hours about more than twenty million meteorites enter the earth's atmosphere. But there is no reliable record of any person getting killed anywhere due to the falling of any of these meteors.

Mark Twain said, "I am an old man and I know many calamities and misfortunes. But most of them have never happened." Life is a continuous stream of problems, and these have to be confronted with a determination. Many of the problems that engage out mind, which we allow to upset us and spoil several hours of our life, and at times a whole day, are actually insignificant and of no consequence. The difficulty is that at the time we are not capable of noticing their insignificance.3

And then whether these probable dangers really take place or not, the present anxiety has no result except diminishing one's physical and spiritual capacities. In different stages of life one may encounter events that block the way of success.

These events are not exceptional and happen for everyone. We cannot alter the eternal laws of nature and make things happen according to our wishes. That was in relation to external dangers. As to the dangers that threaten man from within, they are no less significant than the external ones and sometimes are of a more serious character. There is a destructive force in every individual that threatens his life. This danger that accumulates within man's being is the same as anxiety and anguish, and the person who carries it within him may be unconscious of its presence.

Should the physical and mental energies that are consumed by fear and anxiety concerning imaginary dangers be spent in fruitful tasks, that can yield valuable and brilliant results. Everyone can recall the amount of precious time that he has spent musing about the ways of encountering possible accidents. Exceptions aside, one may say that the actual hardships and misfortunes that most persons face are quite insignificant in comparison to the imaginary calamities that torment them.

Kronin writes: Make a list of the things that you consider the causes of your worries and anxieties. When these causes are down on the paper you will see that, in general, most of them are vague, indistinct and unimportant. Most of the time the balance sheet of our worries and cares appears as follows. Forty percent of them are such calamities as will never take place. Thirty percent of them relate to the past or the future sorrows, which not even the sympathies of the whole world can alter.

Twelve percent of them consist of unfounded fear of loss of health. An eight percent may really be causes for worry and anxiety. A realistic examination will lead us further to drop some of these latter causes. Then, we will see that that which we usually fear most only happens rarely in actual reality. Many are the woes that trouble our hearts on account of melancholic self-pity. There is only one remedy for the disease of egoism. We should bring about such a change in our world that we cease regarding ourselves as its centre and axis.

Rather, we should take others into account and realise the fact that our being is a part of the human society and that our life depends upon and is subject to the welfare and misfortune of the family, community, nation and group to which we belong. After these difficulties are finally analysed and no solution is found, to immerse oneself in sorrow and grief is a kind of faithlessness; for such a despair signifies the absence of faith in the need for God's help.

No wisdom or philosophy, however sublime, can be of benefit to a man who locks himself in the prison of sorrow and grief. If we employ wisdom by following the lead of reason, we will be able to elevate our lives to a height beyond the reach of our inner number-one enemy, and attain a real spiritual peace.4

Mental anxiety visibly affects all the tasks one performs and sometimes lead one unconsciously into deviant paths and to make irrational responses. Another harm caused by mental worry is that it deprives one of self-confidence. Many people make it their habit to constantly complain regarding their ill fortune and fate and are never satisfied with their life. They imagine that they cannot prosper in life unless all their affairs are set in order and unless they possess considerable wealth and all the means of comfort. They look for happiness in the distant horizons of the future while they squander the great asset of life, the precious moments of today, for the sake of the future's dream, whereas if they really care for their happiness they would discover it in plain and peaceful lives; because that which is of basic significance in life is the present, and the future, which appears to be a heaven in their eyes, would assume the appearance of a frightful hell as soon as they reach it.

One who is tired and fed up with his present state of life and awaits better days that lie beyond the dark and uncertain horizon, must wake up from the slumber of ignorance and seek his lost ideal in these wearisome days of today, not in an imaginary and unknown future. The obstacles that he sees in the way of realisation of his goals may be the product of his own thinking, and his success and triumphs may lie hidden in the present itself. If the seed of today should remain unsown, tomorrow will not yield its fruit. Life cannot be lived twice so that one may make amends for his earlier mistakes.

A wise human being derives the maximum benefit from the passing moments of life, which pass quietly and soundlessly like rain drops falling into the dark ocean of extinction and annihilation. He does not let them go in vain. As a result, with each day his situation improves, the horizon of his life becomes more radiant, and his soul becomes vaster.

He remains steady and unmoved like the centre in a wheel in the face of accidents and unpleasant events. Should the wave of a calamity pass over his head, he is not swept off his feet. He draws benefit from pleasant events and takes lesson from undesirable incidents. He does not expect the world to change in order that events happen according to his wishes. Finally, he spends the hours of his life in such a way that at the end of the day he does not have any regret or remorse.

There are some others who care neither for the present nor the future. The today does not interest them and they expect nothing from the future. Rather, they live in constant agitation due to the regret of having lost the opportunities offered by the past and which now lie buried in the graveyard of non-existence. Instead of pursuing their way with earnestness and composure on the plain of life, they always look behind themselves like someone lost in a vast desert. They keep reviewing the errors and inauspicious happenings of the past and waste their lives. What is surprising is that while they let the present slip, they regret for the moments of the past.

There is no doubt that ruminating over the mistakes and unhappy episodes of the past and burning oneself in the flames of sorrow and regret does not do any good. Moreover, it exhausts and debilitates the soul and lets one's vital powers go waste so that one remains no longer capable of choosing the right course in life in conformity with his interests.

What we have said concerning giving attention to the present does not mean that one should do something today without paying attention to its evil consequences in the future. What we mean is that one should not let one's peace of mind be disturbed by regret for the past and fear regarding the future.

Clinging to Deviant Means

Need and deprivation cause suffering, and for this reason the mass of people are in perpetual battle against need and de- privation. But the people all whose material needs are satisfied become subject to a kind of spiritual malaise and agony. In order to escape this state of nervousness and agitation they often opt for methods and ways that lead to destruction of their vital and intellectual powers. For instance, they take refuge in alcohol or drugs, which appear to them as the only remedy, and become addicted to these destructive evils so as to escape their anguish and inner torment for a short time.

They think that they can do nothing else except seek refuge in alcoholism and drug addiction to obtain relief from their pain and suffering; but in reality they undermine their own personality, For everyone knows that addiction to these things for relief from anxiety and inner distress does not lead to good consequences; for as soon as the effect of intoxication is gone, his anguish returns to badly torment him again. Moreover, the effect produced by drugs is gradually diminished due to continuous use and they themselves give rise to many diseases and afflictions.

Psychologists explain the causes of taking refuge in alcoholism as follows:

Those who are used to alcohol are not capable of satisfying their wants in a complex and complicated world. Therefore, in order to evade difficulties and delve in unrealistic fancies they take resort in alcohol. Alcohol makes a drastic effect on the nervous system and, in addition to that, enfeebles the rational faculty. One who is drunk behaves in an unnatural manner, and intoxication does an irremediable harm to him. He not only injures his own health, but achieves nothing by escaping problems by taking resort in a harmful beverage.

Ultimately, he loses respect in the eyes of his friends, family and relatives. When he returns to his ordinary state, his capacity to confront his difficulties is further diminished. The consumption of alcohol does not afford any progress in the solution of problems, and one who makes alcohol a means of evading problems only makes his hardships graver. Then this exacerbation of the difficulty induces him again to turn to alcohol.

Some kinds of daydreaming and the use of alcohol are similar in regard to the escape from problems. Of course, the use of alcohol is physically more harmful. In these two kinds of escape, the person does not attempt to solve the difficulty by the means of reasoning. Rather, he wants to evade it, and since the escape cannot be permanent, he is forced to return to the real world in a state of greater disharmony and anguish.5

A man's thoughts and ideas exercise a profound influence on his spiritual well-being. His progress and backwardness and, in a word, his spiritual qualities depend on his way of thinking. Various factors have an effect on one's way of thinking and looking at things. One who enjoys an active intellect is not overwhelmed by total despondency in his inability to obtain material resources and derive benefit from the external world.

The world does not appear to him to be dark and frightful. Rather, he immediately closes shut the windows of the spirit that face external things and turns to the enjoyment of spiritual pleasures. Thereby he takes himself into a world free from the bondage of suffering and where he can satiate himself with the cup of felicity and peace.

However, those who are short-sighted seek refuge in external means in order to seek freedom from the chains of anguish. Because, on the one hand, man's wishes and desires are in a state of perpetual change and, on the other, there is nothing permanent and enduring in this turbulent world. Should man's happiness depend on external things, it would always be prone to destruction. Therefore, such a person, like a drowning man, clings to everything that he can catch hold of but which cannot save him. Ultimately, nothing that is transitory and impermanent can give him true peace.

Carlos describes the wretchedness of this group of people in these words:

One abandons his beautiful mansion in order to escape monotony, and fruitlessly takes resort in various means. Another speedily runs away from his wife and children, like a fire engine hastening to extinguish a fire, but as soon as he reaches his destination he again comes face to face with his pernicious enemy: spiritual boredom and malaise. Thereat he goes back with the same haste that he had gone forth, confounded and lost like a madman.6

The Profound Effect of Suffering

Basically, man's creation is such that he is compelled to bear a lot of physical and spiritual hardships in order to satisfy the needs of his life. Because it is in the course of this toil and endeavour for obtaining the material means of life that his intellectual and spiritual faculties acquire their vigour and growth.

Hardship and suffering has a profound and extensive influence in life. The spiritual powers of great men receive their burnish under the stress of calamities and shine forth better in the darkness of adversity.

Had not man, since the first days of his existence, not felt wretched on account ,of his ignorance and ignorance, he would not have made any effort to obtain relief from this malady and would have languished in the darkness of ignorance and savageness, and we would not see today any trace of the manifestations of his intellect, morality and spirituality. It is the painful feeling of being ignorant that made him make an unrelenting struggle against ignorance.

The all-round advancement of man and the foundations of all his progress in civic and social matters are based on this truth. Most of the great social movements that were a point of departure for human progress and a leap towards human edification were the consequence of crushing hardships and difficulties. Although adversities and vicissitudes are bitter and repugnant in appearance, and pleasures and joys are pleasing and attractive, the matter is in reality quite the opposite. Because the pursuit of pleasures and lusts leads to decadence and disaster, whereas adversities and hardships carry in their bosom felicity and success.

There is a definite interrelation between experience of suffering and attainment of felicity. There is a cause-and-effect relation between hardships and adversities on the one hand and felicity and achievement on the other. Hegel, the German philosopher, says: Life is not made for happiness, but for achievement. The history of the world is not the theatre of happiness; periods of happiness are blank pages in it, for they are periods of harmony; and this dull content is unworthy of a man. History is made only in those periods in which the contradictions of reality are being resolved by growth, as the hesitation and awkwardness of youth pass into the ease and order of maturity.7

Metals, in order to be separated from impurities, are melted in hot furnaces. Hardships of life have a similar result for the human being. They purify him and purge him of impurities, and prepare him for fulfilling his human duties. Ultimately, no individual can attain to felicity and survival except in the shadow of suffering. The Qur'an says:

Indeed We have created man in the cradle of trouble and suffering. (90:4)

Imam al-Sadiq, may peace be upon him, said:

Indeed, of all people the severest of sufferings and afflictions are faced by the prophets, and after them by others in proportion to their degree of merit.8

In order to drive home the same point, Rumi says:

Cast was the wheat grain under the soil, Then, ears of corn were gathered from its dust, Then, it was ground between the millstones, And lo, its worth rose and it became life-giving bread! Then the bread was crushed under the teeth, And lo, it became intellect, soul and gainful understanding!

A European thinker says:

Hardships and difficulties make up the touchstone of morality. In the same way as some plants must be squeezed to give out their perfume, so also some natures have to be subjected to hardship in order that their essential talents and merits become manifest. There is no ease and comfort in the world that does not change into pain and adversity. So also, there is no hardship that does not ultimately lead to happiness and felicity. In each of these conditions, the results that we derive depend on our use or misuse of it.

Complete happiness and ease are not to be found in this world. Even if, supposedly, they were to exist, they would not be fruitful, nor would they offer any kind of good or benefit. Among the teachings that have been delivered to man to this day, the most worthless and hollow is the one that invites him to comfort and ease; for, under all circumstances, defeat and hardship are wiser teachers than happiness and comfort.

Defeat reforms and strengthens an individual's character; suffering and hardship bring discipline and awareness to nature. They initiate the person in the rites of patience and forbearance, developing the most sublime thoughts and ideas in his mind. Hipper says: "What is it that leads to the development of man's profoundest thoughts? It is not knowledge or science. It is not ability and expertise either. Neither it is emotion or feeling.

Only suffering and hardship can fathom the depths of human thought. Perhaps, that is why there is so much suffering in the world. The angel charged with afflicting with suffering and hardship has rendered a greater service to this world's people than what the angel of well-being and healing has brought to the world."9

The Definite Role of Faith in Spiritual Peace

A study of the history of human progress proves that the supports of man's civilisation and culture have always rested on the shoulders of those for whom the power of faith had made it easy for them to bear the heavy burden of hardship and pain whose negative effects were neutralised by the faith present in their strong hearts. Psychologists generally admit that the power of faith is amazingly effective in the cure of psychic diseases and creation of confidence and inner peace.

In cases where severe hardships shatter man's personality and divest him of his hope and will power, trust in God produces a profound and undeniable effect in a defeated soul. Failure, adversity, and defeat can never create a storm in the pure hearts of godly men and make them suffer despair and loss of self-assurance and self-respect. Jung, the well-known psychoanalyst, writes:

Among all my patients in the second half of life-that is to say, over thirty five-there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every four of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook.... Here then, the clergyman stands before a vast horizon.... It is indeed high time for the clergyman and the psychotherapist to join forces to meet this great spiritual task.10

The faith in God, like a relief valve, helps regulate psychic urges which are themselves the mainspring of man's spiritual afflictions. The faith in God gives a visage of perfect beauty to life, because when one has the conviction that everything does not come to an end with this life it creates an inner peace and makes him traverse the entire course of life with steadiness and moderation. Acquisitiveness, greed and avarice, which are one of the factors responsible for anxiety, are moderated as a result of faith in God and observance of the moral precepts of religion. The hope of great rewards and the fear of severe punishments make man refrain from rapacity and avoid unreasonable and uncontrolled fondness for material things, glitter and ostentation. As a result, a desirable and serene equilibrium worthy of man's humanity is brought about within his soul. Similarly, faith in resurrection and afterlife removes the intolerable strain induced by the idea of absolute annihilation and extinction from the human spirit, for the person with such a faith is convinced that at the threshold of death the door to another world will open in front of him and he will enter an eternal life and its everlasting bounties that cannot be compared with the joys of this world. This faith results in eliminating another agent of mental anxiety which is the anguish of absolute non-existence. Faith not only removes anguish and anxiety from the human heart, it can protect it from being overwhelmed by agitation and agony. The Qur'an describes the preventive role of faith in these words:

If you have faith, do not yield to fear and sorrow, for you have an u p per hand over the others on account of this asset of faith. (3:139)

This verse drives home the point that faith is a firm shield for the soul in its encounter with the agents of anxiety, producing a certain immunity in the human being. If one should lack a complete faith, and should the agents of anxiety penetrate to the core of his soul, it is again faith by relying on which he can free his mind from the burden of agony and purge the effects of suffering from the tablet of his heart. The Qur'an says:

... In God's remembrance and reliance upon Him are at rest the hearts of those who have faith and do righteous deeds. (13:28)

It is He Who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the faithful... (48:4)

The Qur'an considers steadiness and security to be the characteristics of those whose hearts are full of faith:

Mental peace and security are qualities of those who have faith and who have not drawn a veil of wrongdoing over their faith (6:82)

Lo, fear and sorrow do not affect the friend of God. (10:62)

In a sermon on the benefits of remembrance of God, 'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, may peace be upon him, describes the characteristics of godly human beings:

God, the Exalted, has made His remembrance the light and burnish of the hearts. It is by the means of His remembrance that the hearts recover their hearing after being deaf, regain their sight after being blind, and become soft and tractable after being savage and rebellious. It has always been the case that in periods of spiritual torpor, from time to time, God Almighty has confided His inspiration to the thoughts of His sublime servants and spoken to them through their intellects.11

The state of people possessing faith is not at all comparable with the condition of materialistic and irreligious persons in encounter with life's vicissitudes and its bitter experiences, for the two are as apart as the earth and the sky.

During the Prophet's times one of the Muslim women in Madinah received the news of the loss of three of her close relatives in the Battle of Uhud. She set out on a camel to the scene of battle to bring the bodies of the martyrs. Having laid the lifeless and bloody bodies of her dear ones on the camel, she was returning to Madinah when on the way she met one of the wives of the Holy Prophet, may peace be upon him and his Family. The Prophet's wife, who was concerned about the Prophet's welfare, asked her if she knew anything in this regard. That bereaved woman, as she held the reins of her camel and blood dripped to the ground from the bodies that it carried, answered with a peculiar serenity and calmness that sprung from her firm and steady faith: "I have a glad news for you: the Prophet hasn't suffered any harm in the battle, and every lesser grief is tolerable in front of such a great and precious blessing." The Prophet's wife asked her; "Whose bodies are these?" She answered: "One of them is my husband's, another is that of my son, and the third one belongs to my brother, I am taking them to Madinah to bury them." What agent except faith could give such indescribable serenity and calm to this bereaved soul? Jean Jacques Rousseau writes: If we were immortal we would all be miserable; no doubt it is hard to die, but it is sweet to think that we shall not live forever, and that a better life will put an end to the sorrows of this world. If we had the offer of immortality here below, who would accept the sorrowful gift? What resources, what hopes, what consolation would be left against the cruelties of fate and man's injustice? The ignorant man never looks before; he knows little of the value of life and does not fear to lose it; the wise man sees things of greater worth and prefers them to it. Half knowledge and sham wisdom set us thinking about death and what lies beyond it; and they thus create the worst of our ills. The wise man bears life's ills all the better because he knows he must die.12

Taslim and Rida

One who does not possess the asset of faith is quite vulnerable against the unfavourable forces of nature. He considers himself a victim of its overwhelming and tyrannical forces. Even if he does not make a retreat in the first encounter with afflictions and hardships, ultimately, at some fearsome moment, the violent waves of events will drive him into a deep whirlpool. But one who relies on the logic of religion and does not consider anything except the will of God as being effective in the order of creation, believes that the unavoidable sufferings of life have been decreed by a beneficent creator for the purification of his heart and the disciplining of his soul. Therefore he does not allow hardship and affliction to paralyse his spiritual power. Rather, he maintains his serenity under all circumstances and in every eventuality steers the ship of his existence with the help of God's eternal power to the shores of purity, success, and felicity and even his spiritual joys and pleasures increase despite the burden of suffering. Jabir ibn 'Abd Allah was one of the personalities that had been brought up under Islamic teachings. Once when he fell ill, Imam al-Baqir, the Fifth Imam, may peace be upon him, came to his house to visit him. When the Imam asked Jabir about his condition, the latter replied: "My condition is such that I prefer old age to youth, sickness to health, and death to life." The Imam, may peace be upon him, said to him: "Yet we, the Prophet's family, are not such. If God decrees sickness or health, youth or old age, life or death for one of us, we accept it most willingly. The principle of rida (satisfaction) vis-à-vis the vicissitudes of life is our custom."

Bertrand Russell says:

Resignation, however, has also its part to play in the conquest of happiness, and it is a part no less essential than that played by effort. The wise man, though he will not sit down under preventable misfortunes, will not waste time and emotion upon such as are unavoidable, and when such as are in themselves avoidable he will submit to it if the time and labour required to avoid them would interfere with the pursuit of some more important project. Many people get into a fret or a fury over every little thing that goes wrong, and in this way waste a great deal of energy that might be more usefully employed. Even in the pursuit of really important objects it is unwise to become so deeply involved emotionally that the thought of possible failure becomes a constant menace to peace of mind. Christianity taught submission to the will of God, and even for those who cannot accept this phraseology there should be something of the same kind pervading all their activities. Efficiency in a practical task is not proportional to the emotion that we put into it, indeed, emotion is sometimes an obstacle to efficiency. The attitude required is that of doing one's best while leaving the issue to fate.13

Of course, in speaking of resignation and forbearance vis-à-vis fate what is meant are the mishaps and unpredictable events that lie beyond the range of human power and ingenuity; otherwise those misfortunes and ills that are products of a corrupt society and pathological social conditions, their roots must be sought within the social structure. To alter such a distressing state of affairs is within the scope of man's will. Hence one must not justify submission to violation of his rights as resignation and surrender to God-ordained fate. Dale Carnegie, a brilliant writer on topics relating to psychological subjects of popular interest, writes:

My father had lost his health due to debt, hardship, poverty and bad luck. The doctor told my mother that he would not survive for more than six months. Several times my father attempted to end his life by hanging himself with a rope or by throwing himself into the river. Years later he told me that the only thing that kept him from committing suicide at that time was the firm and unshakeable faith of my mother. She was convinced that if we love God and obey His commandments everything would be set right. She was right. Ultimately everything got right. My father lived for another forty-two years. Throughout those difficult years my mother never became upset. She placed her hardships and problems before God and in that little and lonely village cottage she would pray to Him not to deny us His love and support.
In the same way as the benefits of electricity, water and good food have been effective and important in my life, the benefits and advantages of religion have been of great significance. Electricity, water and food help me provide a better, more complete and comfortable life. But the benefit of religion is many times greater than that of any of these things.
Religion gives me faith and courage. It relieves me from trepidation, anxiety, fear and alarm. It gives a direction and goal to life. Religion completes my happiness to a great extent and bestows upon me an abundant peace. It helps me lead a calm and peaceful existence in the midst of the tempests of life.14

Einstein, the famous scientist of the twentieth century, after offering a classification of religions and while explaining the third kind of religions which he calls 'cosmic religious feeling', describes the kind of feeling it produces in man. He writes:

The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvellous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as significant whole.15

The cause of the anxieties and mental anguish of many people must be sought in their way of thinking and their view of life. They imagine that they have come into this world to enjoy its pleasures without any restraints and when they confront a reality that is contrary to their conceptions they often complain and blame the world, the order of things, and their own situation. In the same way as water extinguishes fire, our own misfortunes and hardships are forgotten when we pay attention to the miseries and misfortunes of others and reflect about them. But there are some people who imagine that they are the victims of all the misery and grief that there is and that hard times do not give them a moment's relief, where they have quite a different opinion about others and imagine that they are always prosperous and happy and face no hardship in life.

Unlimited Expectations

The great extent of one's expectations leads one to become a constant victim of sorrow and distress. Those who are realistic in their outlook consider an immoderate amount of wealth to be an obstacle to happiness and mental peace. Happiness and wretchedness, peace and anxiety have their own particular criterion in which wealth, position and prestige do not play any role. There are narrow-minded rich persons in this world who go hungry despite all their riches and who do not know any comfort, and there are many poor people who lament on account of their poverty. As a subtle poet says:

Alas, that the golden cup of self-contentment, Was turned into a beggars bowl by our acquisitiveness!

'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, may peace be upon him, said:

No treasure is as plentiful as contentment and no wealth can overcome the feeling of being wretched and destitute to the extent of contentment (rida). The one who is not greedy and is content with the income that meets the needs of his life has procured the means of his well-being and mental peace.16

Also in the opinion of researchers in the field of man's psychic life, a high level of expectations is a source of anxiety and dissatisfaction, whereas the observance of moderation and contentment gives mental peace and security. In the field of mental health there is a principle called 'the principle of contentment' according to which:

The lesser one's expectations are, the greater is one's peace of mind, and the greater they are, the lesser it is. To the extent that we minimise our expectations, we will also reduce the probability of defeat and failure. As a result, fear and hope, anxiety and agitation, and the oppressive feeling of expectation that besiege us prior to the achievement of success are automatically reduced. In fact, the principle of happiness is no other than the principle of contentment. However, one should remember that the meaning of the principle of happiness and contentment is not that one should sit idle and refrain from every kind of activity and effort. What is meant by the principle of happiness is getting to know of one's own limits, abilities and means and becoming reconciled with one's capacities and powers. It means that one should not extend one's expectations beyond the ken of one's capacities and make unrealistic and extravagant demands upon them.17

Faith in Immortality

Islam propels the human heart towards everlasting life. Although faith in resurrection is a real and living faith that raises man over the plane of the sensible and vitalises his faculties for the realisation of sublime human ideals, it does not restrain man from enjoying the world's bounties. But it restrains the self from pursuing these joys in an unruly, self-willed manner in the expansive arena of life and counters wayward greed and acquisitiveness by subjecting it to controls and restraints. When one is really convinced that the world offers scant and limited opportunities, that its joys are insignificant and that its short days are devoid of real delights, then enjoyments of this world lose their glitter and glamour in his eyes and he does not regret if he fails to obtain more than what falls to his lot. Thus he does not become subject to anguish, sorrow and fear. His attitude towards material benefits is not like that of someone who is in a haste and perpetual agitation due to the fear lest death should one day put an end to his pursuit of joys. Rather, he possesses a peacefulness of mind and tranquillity of conscience. This confidence and serenity no doubt add to the pleasure that he derives from the bounties of life, which he utilises rationally and with dignity. Accordingly, a person with faith knows that these bounties are means for attaining to higher ends, not the end and goal of life itself in whose pursuit one should spend all his life and moreover lose his spiritual equilibrium. The painful stresses produced by anxiety also lead to physical illness and the loss of physical vigour. In order to safeguard one's physical health and well-being and save oneself from the influence of self-destructive forces within one, one must not allow anxiety and sorrow to overwhelm his soul. 'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, may peace be upon him,

Grief and anxiety have a destructive effect on the body.18

Grief and agony have a wasting effect on the body.19

Drink up (i.e. suppress) your sorrow and resentment, because it is the sweetest and the most pleasant of drinks from the viewpoint of result and ultimate outcome.20

Scientific investigations have revealed that some physical ailments are the effect of psychic anxieties and outbursts of emotion. Munn, the well-known psychologist, writes:

Some of the physiological concomitants of emotion are evident in everyday experience. Palpitation of the heart, accelerated breathing, a sinking feeling in the stomach, sweating, trembling and many other organic phenomena are commonly-reported aspects of emotion.... Milder forms and intensities of emotion provide a motivational background to much that we do. In emergency situations, largely through adrenal secretions, we have energy in excess of that normally present.... The emotionally aroused organism is aroused all over. There is an overall interaction of receptors, muscles, internal organs, and nervous mechanisms, with resulting changes in blood chemistry, in brain waves and in the physiological reactions already considered... One frequent outcome of prolonged stress, emotional or otherwise, is the production of gastric ulcers. According to Selye, this is due in part to the overactivity of the adrenal cortex. The first clear evidence that ulcers can be produced by emotional stress came from observations of a man whose stomach was exposed and whose gastric activities were thus observable.... During two weeks of prolonged anxiety, the subject developed small haemorrhages in the lining of his stomach and also a heightened gastric acidity. Something resembling a small ulcer finally developed and the investigators were impressed with the possibility that "the chain of events which begins with anxiety and conflict and associated overactivity of the stomach and ends with haemorrhage or perforation is that which is involved in the natural history of peptic ulcer in human beings." Since the above observations were made, there has been additional direct evidence that psychological stress produces ulcers.21 That which distinguishes the world of a realistic person from the world of an immature one is imagination. A superficial and shallow person who has seen only the appearances of things is so much enchanted by his faculty of imagination that his heart is swept every moment by the waves of endless desire. As soon as he comes to see the course of events as an obstacle in his way, his spirit becomes submerged in a fearsome gloom and he is put at a complete loss. If this crisis is accompanied with a weakness of the soul that may lead him to commit suicide. By contrast, the realistic person is free from the bondage of childish and unrealistic notions. He views things in a wide and extensive perspective. He does not see things partially and does not allow delusions to influence his practical life. Rather, he strives to conform himself to his physical and social environment and with the facts of his inner and external life. One who has a genuinely balanced personality and a spirit possessing equilibrium is not shaken by every gust of wind. The reason that some people feel upset and uneasy in times of leisure is their inadequacy of spiritual strength and the absence of secure foothold. Therefore, they turn to harmful and unwholesome modes of entertainment in order to kill time. But the stronger a person is in respect of his inner powers, the lesser does he stand in need of the external environment. A country that has lesser need of imports has more steady economic foundations. One who has adequate inner assets and is not in constant need of outside assistance can deliver himself from dangerous activities and destructive conduct. He can bring about a state of moderation in his ethical qualities and alter the impact of external factors on his soul. Jean Jacques Rousseau says: Prudence! Prudence which is ever bidding us to look forward into the future, a future which in many cases we shall never reach; here is the real source of all our troubles! How mad it is for so short-lived a creature as man to look forward into a future to which he rarely attains, while he neglects the present which is his? This madness is all the more fatal since it increases with years, and the old, always timid, prudent, and miserly, prefer to do without necessaries to-day that they may have luxuries at a hundred. Thus we grasp everything, we cling to everything; we are anxious about time, place, people, things, all that is and will be; we ourselves are but the least part of ourselves. We spread ourselves, so to speak, over the whole world, and all this vast expanse becomes sensitive. No wonder our woes increase when we may be wounded on every side. How many princes make themselves miserable for the love of lands they have never seen, and how many merchants lament in Paris over some misfortune in the Indies! ...We no longer live in our own place, we live outside it. What does it profit us to live in such fear of death, when all that makes life worth living is our own? Oh, man! Live your own life and you will no longer be wretched. Keep to your appointed place in the order of nature and nothing can tear you from it. Do not will against the stern law of necessity, nor waste in vain resistance the strength bestowed on you by heaven, not to prolong or extend your existence, but to preserve it so far and so long as heaven pleases. Your freedom and your power extend as far and no further than your natural strength; anything more is but slavery, deceit, and trickery.22

Imam al-Sadiq, may peace be upon him, says:

Actually man's life in the world is like a fleeting hour. Whatever that has taken place in it up to the present is gone and you do not feel its pleasure or pain. As to that which is to come, you don't know what it is. All that remains in your hand of your precious life are your present moments. Therefore use them for the purpose of obtaining control over yourself and strive therein for your self-improvement and salvation. Be steadfast in obeying God and observing His commands and refrain from sin and violation of God's ordinances.23

If one's involvement with the past or the future is for the sake of escaping the problems of the present, it is a psychic sickness or prelude to such sickness in the opinion of psychologists, who say:

If one were to decide to pay no attention to the present and should one fail to utilise the opportunities that arise, and should one continually go on saying to oneself and others, "It is true that I am not good at my studies, but wait and see what I will do upon entering life. All those who did poorly in their studies nevertheless succeeded in real life. I have certain ideas and dreams concerning the future"-this kind of thinking shows that one wishes to escape from real life and from his present. The psychologist knows well that these fancies do not accord with reality and are nothing but fallacious reasoning. This kind of thinking concerning the future is harmful, and that which is almost certain is that the person with this kind of thinking will fail to achieve success in the future like the present. If thinking about the future and the past occupies all one's time and energy and causes one to neglect the daily problems with which he is faced, such a person is definitely unhealthy and poorly adjusted. If one cannot face his present problems and constantly thinks about the future in order to escape them, this thinking about the future becomes a substitute for attention to the present. Such a substitute, which does not help in the solution of one's problems, is worthless and injurious.24 The leader of world's free men, al-Husayn ibn 'Ali, may peace be upon him, said:

When a wise man is visited by an affliction, he is not enveloped by grief. Rather, with forbearance and farsightedness he removes the rust of sorrow from his heart and makes use of his intellect to find a solution.

With the power at our disposal we can struggle against the defeats and adversities that assault us from every direction, and whenever there is a spell in this battle, one's unused energies, like a heavy burden, torment him who is forced to use them for futile ends. One of the effective ways of relief from anxiety is to engage in some profitable activity. Those who in times of inner turmoil engage in some beneficial activity obtain relief during the time that they are busy, and they are delighted and satisfied when they see the fruits of their work. For this reason, though certainly many of such activities consist of a relative relief, they constitute a beneficial and satisfying response and the mind, at the least, obtains temporary relief from an apparently insoluble personal problem. And particularly if the activity involves a benefit for others it will be good for him too, for it is impossible that someone who is beneficial for others should not be such for himself. Moreover, that will save him from resorting to unwholesome and injurious ways of keeping himself busy.

The Benefit of Unburdening One's Sorrow

Unburdening one's heart with loyal and sincere friends is one of the means of obtaining relief from grief and mental tension. Persons in a state of grief must be given the opportunity to relieve their inward tensions by talking about their hardships to close friends.

Similarly, fellow-feeling for suffering friends, and helping them in relieving their inner tensions and solving their difficulties to the extent of one's capacity is one of the crucial as well as valuable duties of every human being. Someone whose friendship rests on real affection should not be indifferent to or oblivious of his friends in times of crisis. This matter has been given complete attention in the traditions of religious leaders and it has been pointed out that the man of faith is a source of comfort to others.

The Noble Messenger, may God's blessings be upon him and his Family, said:

The best of works near God is to make happy a brother in faith by relieving him of hunger, distress and sorrow.25

Imam al-Sadiq, may peace be upon him, said:

Whenever one of you is affected by distress and sorrow, he must bring it to the knowledge of his brother so that he may remove the gloom of grief and agony from your heart.26

Schachter, the well-known psychologist, says:

If you are unhappy and distressed by your own conduct and condition and are unable to solve your own problem, confide your difficulty to someone that you rely upon and who is wise. Keeping a painful thought, fear, or anxiety to oneself only makes it more persistent and bothersome. Express your secret thought and seek advice from a wise and experienced person. Fear and bad thoughts dwindle and disappear on confronting people. Don't refrain from unburdening yourself before a psychiatrist or a wise friend; for, troublesome thoughts that are consigned to the unconscious will always remain an impediment between us and our mental peace and happiness. It should be known that the suppression of thoughts is of two kinds. Either it occurs naturally without our knowledge and will; that is, our ingenious mind suppresses every troublesome thought without even our noticing it and casts it into the depths of the memory. Or sometimes, knowingly and voluntarily, we banish painful thoughts and insist on not recalling them. This action is called 'repression' in the jargon of psychology. However, that does not in the least diminish the distress arising from that thought, and the more we try to forget it, the more it oppresses us, causing us greater pain and mortification. In any case, a troublesome and distressing thought that we suppress or repress, knowingly or unknowingly, does not leave us alone. Secretly or openly, it continues to torment us, and as long as we do not confide it to some wise person and seek his help and advice, we will not get rid of the suffering and torment.27

Maintaining Good Spirits

One thing that is quite effective in diminishing the impact of anxiety and grief is making an effort to appear cheerful and happy:

'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, may peace be upon him, says:

Keep your good spirits in adversities and maintain a lively disposition in times of affliction.28

Always maintain an attitude of satisfaction and conciliation in life in order to be pleasing.29

Present-day psychologists also consider sport and maintaining an appearance of gaiety and cheerfulness as an effective and beneficial way of alleviating painful crises as well as an edifying factor of personality. They offer the following advice:

Try to maintain a pleasant expression on your face. Make an effort to always appear so lively and free of sadness and sombreness that everyone who meets you thinks that he has met the best of his friends. If you feel dejected or nervous, try not to manifest this dejection and sadness in your encounter with others. Try to appear cheerful and satisfied.

When you are in good spirits and you impress upon people as being jolly and hearty, others too will act in a genial manner towards you. They will open up in talking to you, and you all will derive pleasure from one another's company. When you get into in a cheerful state, there appears an effective behavioural mode in your conduct that attracts others.

The first step for being happy and lively are the expressions on one's face. Don't scowl; always keep a smile on your lips. These expression will undoubtedly produce an effect in you and will lighten your inner heaviness. Otherwise sullenness will become a habit with you. People try to avoid morose and gloomy persons. A lively face attracts others, and there is nothing great about looking stern and grim. Some people imagine that if they always keep a stern look on their face, others will be impressed or overawed by them. This is not true. Whenever you feel sad, bring a smile on your lips and you will see how quickly your sadness disappears.30

  • 1. Kelidhaye Khushbakhti, trans. from English into Persian by Ahmad Aram, p. 285.
  • 2. Otto Friedman, Rawanshenasr dar khidmat-e siyasat, 131.
  • 3. William John Reilly, Twelve Rules for Straight Thinking, Persian trans. Tafakkur-e sahih, p. 108.
  • 4. Danestanihaye jahan-e 'ilm, pp. 48-51.
  • 5. Marguerite Malm and Herbert Sorenson, Psychology for Living, Pers. trans. Rawanshendsi baray-e zistan, p. 230.
  • 6. Shafiq Hamadani, Afkar-e Schopenhaur, (Tehran: Chapkhaneh-ye Kayhah, 1326 H. Sh.), p. 64.
  • 7. Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, (New York, Washington Square Press, 1968), P. 267.
  • 8. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 15, part 1, p. 53.
  • 9. Samuel Smith, Akhlaq-e Samuel, vol. 2, pp. 204-205.
  • 10. C. G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966), trans. by W. S. Dell and Cary F. Baynes, p. 264.
  • 11. Nahj al-balaghah, ed. Dr. Subhi al-Salih, p. 342.
  • 12. Rousseau, Emile, trans. by Barbara Foxley, pp. 45-46.
  • 13. Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness (London: Unwin Books, 1975), pp. 180-181.
  • 14. Dale Carnegie, Ain-e zindagi, trans. into Persian by Jahangir Afkhami.
  • 15. Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 1984), p.38.
  • 16. Nahj al-balaghah, ed. Fayd al-Islam, p. 1250.
  • 17. Muhammad Hasan Nasir al-Din Sahib zamani, Ansu-ye Chehrakh (Tehran: 'Ata' i, 1343 H. Sh.) vol. 3 of Ruh-e bashar, p. 213.
  • 18. Al-Amidi, Ghuraral-hikam, p. 23.
  • 19. Ibid., p. 16.
  • 20. Ibid., p. 351.
  • 21. Munn, Norman. L., Psychology: The Fundamentals of Human Adjustment, 4th ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1961, pp. 321, 325, 342, 352.
  • 22. Rousseau, Emile, pp. 46-47.
  • 23. Al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 454.
  • 24. Malm & Sorenson, Op. cit., p. 238.
  • 25. Al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, p. 405.
  • 26. Wasail al Shiah, vol. 2, p. 55.
  • 27. Rushd-e shakhsiyyat, pp. 109-110.
  • 28. Ghurar al-hikam p. 565.
  • 29. Ibid., p. 564.
  • 30. Malm & Sorenson, op. cit., pp. 77-78.

Share this page