Armor for the Soul: Prayer, Contemplation and Study.

Armor for the Soul: Prayer, Contemplation and Study.

This morning, getting ready to bicycle to some local shops, I put on my helmet and checked that I also had my lock and key.

As I made those preparations to protect myself and my bicycle, I thought about other forms of protective gear, other ways I protect my body and my possessions. When I drive my car, I secure my seat belt around my waist and shoulder. When I leave my house, I turn off lights and then lock the door. When I go to the beach, I take a hat and sunscreen. I do a backup of my computer every few weeks, and so on.

So I began to wonder: How do I protect my self—the part of me that defines who I am, and that is essential to my existence? Since I have a spiritual nature as well as a physical body, what are my risks and what do I do about them?

As a Baha’i, I am guided by the teachings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith. This source of faith and trust helps me interpret and cope with troubles. Rather than being depressed by the morning news each day, I can envision where these times and tragedies are taking us. This helps me to orient my own actions toward solutions, and protects my mind, my heart and my soul—really my most valuable possessions. This excerpt from a prayer for protection from the Baha’i writings helps sustain that outlook:

O Thou the Merciful One! O my Lord! Make Thy protection my armor, Thy preservation my shield, humbleness before the door of Thy oneness my guard, and Thy custody and defense my fortress and my abode. Preserve me from the suggestions of self and desire, and guard me from every sickness, trial, difficulty and ordeal. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, pp. 136.

Prayer, contemplation, and study as part of each day offer my soul protection—similar to what daily physical exercise does for my body. Connecting with my higher nature and contemplating truth helps to restore balance and protects me from being mired in confusion and negativity.

We are surrounded by negativity, so I must remain vigilant. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid, for example at a workplace where complaining and gossip are part of the daily culture. I can try to turn the conversation toward other directions or I can leave the room. If I do this consistently, then I am helping to protect my colleagues, too.

Whether or not I have a workplace, having daily purpose protects me from idleness and boredom. This may be a place to go, a task to do, or people to see. Whatever may be the specifics, the point is to have something that offers satisfaction and makes the day worthwhile.

Offering help to others benefits them, even as it provides protection for me. It shifts the focus from my own needs to the needs of others, thus protecting me from becoming overly self-indulgent. Group projects have the added advantage of bringing together like-minded people, which elevates the spirit and prevents feelings of isolation.

Trusting my friends and offering mutual support is a protection from becoming self-absorbed. Rather than dwelling on my own troubles, I am genuinely concerned for others in ongoing relationships.

Obviously not all relationships are alike and not every encounter is the same, but some of my favorite times are when we laugh together. The well-known phrase “Laughter is the best medicine” has its origins in the Bible: “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” – Proverbs 17:22.

Most of us have had the experience of feeling better after a hearty laugh, and science has investigated the reason for this. The first book I ever read by a Baha’i, William Sears’ book God Loves Laughter, helped me get through tremendous personal difficulties, accompanying me along my own path with the author’s humor and refreshing honesty.

A bike helmet does not guarantee I won’t fall; nothing can guarantee no mishaps to our bodies and possessions. On the other hand, protection for the inner self ultimately comes from what we do and not just what we say, especially if what we do has been guided by principles that elevate us. Living as best we can with consideration for others is the best protection for what truly matters.