How Being Part of My Baha’i Community Helped Me Fight Loneliness

My first experience of loneliness was at the age of 18, when I moved to Canada from Dubai to pursue my undergraduate degree. Growing up as an introvert who is also shy, I was actually used to avoiding social interaction, not craving it. But at university, I started feeling alone all the time. Suddenly, I couldn’t stand the silence of walking back to my room after class. I couldn’t eat breakfast in the dining hall without calling a family member. Even when I was surrounded by other students in my classes, even when I made an effort to hang out with the other residents on my floor, I still felt alone. Because although there were other human beings around me, I didn’t have a meaningful connection with them. Most of the residents on my floor were local, and I felt like they didn’t understand what I was going through. On the first long weekend of term, I saw some of them going home with their suitcases and I felt so envious that I had to remind myself that I had a family, I was just far away from them.

University students are not the only ones who experience loneliness. According to the World Health Organization, it affects people across age groups and in all regions of the world, with serious consequences to the health of individuals and communities. Baha’is believe that the Teachings of Baha’u’llah contain the solutions to the issues of this age. In The Tabernacle of Unity, Baha’u’llah says, “The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy.”

The Nineteen Day Feast may be one example of how the Teachings cure the ill of social isolation because it ensures that the community gets together every 19 days to pray, consult and socialize. In a more expansive way, however, one of the ways we are working to translate Baha’u’llah’s Teachings into reality today is by building vibrant communities. This takes the form of interwoven activities that are described in the following quote from the Universal House of Justice.

“It was recognized that certain activities were a natural response to the spiritual needs of a population. Study circles, children’s classes, devotional meetings, and later junior youth groups stood out as being of central importance in this regard, and when woven together with related activities, the dynamics generated could give rise to a vibrant pattern of community life.”

I believe that these activities also respond to our need for social connection and, in this article, I will discuss how they helped me cope with my loneliness by providing opportunities for regular social interaction, deep friendships rooted in service, and a higher purpose to live and work for.

I had been involved in the community building activities since I was 15, when I had started studying the courses of the Ruhi Institute. So I was eager to participate in Vancouver too. Luckily I knew a Baha’i friend from back home who took me to a youth devotional on campus. There I met new friends who started a weekly study circle and helped me find a children’s class on campus where I joined the small team of teachers. These regular activities were a reprieve from my loneliness. I had opportunities to interact with people of all age groups and have conversations that continued over time. I got to attend gatherings and visit people’s homes, which filled me with warmth and comfort at a time when the unfamiliar campus felt so large and cold. The people I was studying and serving with became my friends, and these friendships were deeper because I could share my struggles with them and ask for help.

Friendships at university can often be driven by our own interests, like spending free time together, sharing homework assignments, or participating in shared hobbies. But on the path of service, friendships are based on selflessness and mutual support. These were the connections that stayed with me long after the interaction was over, and made me feel less alone. In its 2013 message to the participants of the worldwide youth conferences, the Universal House of Justice writes about the friendships we make on the path of service.

“To follow a path of service, whatever form one’s activity assumes, requires faith and tenacity. In this connection, the benefit of walking that path in the company of others is immense. Loving fellowship, mutual encouragement, and willingness to learn together are natural properties of any group of youth sincerely striving for the same ends, and should also characterize those essential relationships that bind together the components of society. Given this, we hope the bonds you develop through association with other conference participants will prove abiding. Indeed, long after the gatherings close, may these ties of friendship and common calling help keep your feet firm.”

Filling up my weeks with service and study also meant that I was learning more and more about the Baha’i Faith as the term went on. I identified with the Teachings of Baha’u’llah, and with the community that strives to apply them to their lives every day. The Baha’i Writings helped me with my loneliness because through them I knew that all of humanity is one family and I am never truly alone. They also told me to look beyond myself and work for a higher purpose, like the following words of Baha’u’llah.

“… the purpose for which mortal men have, from utter nothingness, stepped into the realm of being, is that they may work for the betterment of the world and live together in concord and harmony.”

“Do not busy yourselves in your own concerns; let your thoughts be fixed upon that which will rehabilitate the fortunes of mankind and sanctify the hearts and souls of men.”

With this perspective of knowing the true purpose of my life, the temporary pain of loneliness became bearable, and I was inspired, and continue to be inspired, to work for a vibrant community where individuals do not feel isolated from others.

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Aditi Kumar

Aditi recently graduated from UBC Vancouver where she studied psychology and human geography. Originally from India, she grew up in Dubai where she currently resides and has dedicated a year of service in community building activities. In her free time, she enjoys reading, journaling, and cooking for her family.

Aditi Kumar

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