Friday, 11 January 2019

Turn your radio on

Both Prince William and Prince Harry have made it their business to support causes relating to mental health and to encourage people to seek help, specifically via their “Heads Together” charity. But unfortunately it seems that the gap between the professional help available and the need among the UK population is widening. Between 2003 and 2015 the number of people in the British Isles being treated for mental health issues almost doubled to 1.8 million. Significantly, these figures include growing numbers of children and young people. In 2008 it was estimated that around 10% of the children in Britain have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem. The number of 10-14 year-olds attending Accident and Emergency departments because of self-harming has risen by 70% since 2014. The British government announced this week a Ten Year Plan for the National Health Service, a major part of which is to improve mental health care for young people as a consequence of the growing concern.

There are many things which affect a person’s mental health, but one of the underlying problems must surely be that fewer people nowadays realise their own worth, their own place in the universe, and their own capacity for making a difference. The Bahá’í Writings say: “Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth.” But people often do not recognise this and do not nurture the spiritual side of life. Many people do not have a conscious relationship with God. In the past, when most people believed that God cared for individual people, they believed that He cared for them personally. They may, or may not, have felt that their parents and wider family really cared, but they felt that they were part of a creation cared for (in some measure) by its Creator. Bahá’u’lláh, speaking as the mouthpiece of God, announced: “O Son of Being! Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee.” He seems to be saying that the individual has to turn towards God in order to recognise the love with which God surrounds each soul. A possible parallel is with radio reception. Radio waves are everywhere around us but a radio is incapable of receiving anything until it is switched on. In the same way, the individual human being needs to take a positive step and turn towards God, thereby opening a channel of communication.

When we listen to the radio, we tend to give it due attention and respect. In religious terms, regarding something with respect is termed “worship”. Bahá’u’lláh gave a short prayer which can be said every day, preferably around the middle part of the day: “I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.” There is an awful lot in this short prayer, but someone saying it makes a very positive affirmation that they have a role, that they have a purpose. They affirm that they have been deliberately created, and are not simply some worthless accident. They affirm that God is their help when they are in danger – and surely one of the dangers people face at the present stage of humanity is the danger of falling apart mentally. The message is that God is there for them, and that they do matter.

If our purpose in life is to know God, this means that we have to recognise the good qualities which God possesses in perfect measure: perfect love, for example. Bahá’ís believe that we are here on earth to learn, to develop these good qualities so that we become more perfect, more like God. We are told that if we do not develop these good qualities, such as kindness and generosity, then we will be lacking in the next world. Bahá’ís therefore establish classes for children which start by teaching these virtues, and discuss ways in which they can put them into practice. Each child needs to have a healthy balance between having regard to their own happiness and having regard to the needs of others. Human beings of any age gain satisfaction and pleasure from being of service to others. Directing ourselves outwards, towards the society of which we form a part, helps us to have a healthy mind, spirit and body. Instead of facing the danger of becoming trapped in a cycle of introspection, if we go out and help others, we find that we are actually helping ourselves as well. The Bahá’í Writings say: “Turn all your thoughts toward bringing joy to hearts” and “Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race.” In this context, the Junior Youth Groups which the Bahá’ís are now running world-wide not only give the young people a sense of their own worth, and a friendly space in which to talk about any problems, but also give them direct experience of looking at society to see what needs there are, and then setting out deliberately to do something to solve them. They learn how to make a difference, and that has a positive effect on their own well-being.

For older teenagers and adults to be able to improve their spiritual connections, Bahá’í communities have developed what are called “study circles”. It was found that the first and most fundamental subjects for study were topics such as what the nature of the soul might be, the nature of prayer, the purpose of life and what happens to the soul in the next world. Obviously, each person who participates in these study circles brings their own understanding, but it is the sharing of ideas with others which is so important. By discussing these spiritual subjects, people see that there is a meaning to life and they have a definite goal.

To move in a positive direction, each person needs to establish a relationship not just with society, as part of a community, but also with the Creator. We need to turn our radios on.


Heads Together

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