We all have dreams and aspirations, but all too often we’re likely to face disappointment. A life filled with disappointment is not a great life to live, and that’s why contentment is so important.
Real contentment means to be satisfied with what we have and what happens to us in life.
The Baha’i writings have an enormous amount of wisdom to offer about the importance of contentment. Here are just a few passages. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote these passages in his mystical book The Hidden Words:
O son of man! Be thou content with Me and seek no other helper. For none but Me can ever suffice thee.
O son of spirit! Ask not of Me that which We desire not for thee, then be content with what We have ordained for thy sake, for this is that which profiteth thee, if therewith thou dost content thyself.
Additionally, in one of Baha’u’llah’s letters to a physician, he counseled:
Verily the most necessary thing is contentment under all circumstances; by this one is preserved from morbid conditions and lassitude. Yield not to grief and sorrow: they cause the greatest misery. Jealousy consumeth the body and anger doth burn the liver: avoid these two as you would a lion.
Contentment in all circumstances – that’s a tall order of any of us! So, how do we reach this lofty level?
Contentment: Accepting God’s Will
Simply, the Baha’i teachings say, we achieve contentment by accepting the will of God.
In Baha’u’llah’s book The Seven Valleys, he uses the traditional Sufi stages of spiritual development to explain the journey of the spiritual seeker from the Valley of Search to the heights of mystic knowledge. In the third stage or valley – the Valley of Knowledge – the seeker attains what we might call a lesser contentment in the worlds of limitation. In the fifth valley – called the Valley of Contentment – the seeker attains a higher contentment beyond limitations.
In the Valley of Knowledge the spiritual seeker attains a degree of contentment – but not necessarily absolute contentment. They may have the wisdom to understand that everything happens for a reason, that what might immediately seem like a misfortune will, in the end, prove to be a good thing. For instance, the person might lose their job and have the conviction that this will lead to a better life, either by finding a better job or by learning to live differently.
In contrast, when spiritual seekers pass through the Valley of Unity, they rise above the world of limitation and see that God’s light shines on all things alike; ultimately making fortune out of misfortune. They realize that there is nothing to strive for materially, because they have become detached from the material world, making them spiritually rich. In the Valley of Contentment, they have reached the stage wherein they are fully satisfied with whatever God wills. In fact, they have attained a mystical state of radiant acquiescence – to accept the will of God with joy and gratitude, no matter what befalls them, knowing that all existence can only benefit those who seek a spiritual path.
Who Can Be Truly Content?
All of this seems to imply that the truly content person is fully present, detached from the material world but living happily and spiritually in the here and now. Someone who is truly content fully accepts and embraces the will of God. But what exactly is the will of God? How can we know?
The Baha’i teachings describe several different dimensions to God’s will, and many perplexities about how it interlinks with our own wills.
Certainly God has given human beings a measure of free will, the capacity to choose and have control over our lives. We exercise this control by deciding what we want to eat, which career path we want to pursue, who to marry … the list goes on. But we are all imperfect, which means our attempts at autonomy are often misguided if not foolish – and so by exercising our wills, we often risk harming ourselves.
But even though we have the ability to choose and exert control, to a much larger extent we are at the mercy of the world we live in. Though we have some ability to shape and change the environment, nonetheless, we live in it and will also bear the consequences of our behaviors. We also live among other people, billions of us here on planet Earth, which means that all of our intentions often collide, so your desire to be wealthy may trump mine.
We could say that in a sense the environmental and social world around us are manifestations of the will of God, as well, because they are largely beyond our control.
When we fail to realize this, we experience anger, jealousy, disappointment and the like. When we fully accept the things we can’t control, when we accept what is, we attain contentment. Of course, that leaves us with some crucial questions:
- Does living contentedly mean that we need to give up on our dreams and aspirations?
- Does it mean that we become completely passive?
- Would the person in the Valley of Contentment no longer be affected by the injustices around them – and would they still be devoted to fighting against injustice?
These are big questions – what do you think? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.