There once was a Persian king who gave his wise men the most difficult of tasks: Come up with a statement that will always be true, no matter the circumstance, and inscribe it on a ring. This way, he could wear the ring and turn to it in times of uncertainty. After much time and consideration, the wise men came up with what they believed to be the universal statement, and they had it inscribed on the king’s ring. Excitedly, he placed the ring upon his finger and examined it to find out what his wise men had shared. And here’s what it said:
“This, too, shall pass.”
I’m not sure where that fable comes from. (I’m going to be honest: I got it from Sadie Robertson’s Instagram page.) And it doesn’t tell us what the king thought of the truth that his wise men brought to him. Maybe he was pleased with what it said because he took comfort in it. Or maybe he was enraged by his servant’s audacity to claim his reign wouldn’t last. Maybe he was scared by the truth of what his ring said. I don’t know. But I know that the more I think about their statement, the more I realize its truth. And its power.
Everyone knows deep down that nothing in this life is permanent. No circumstance lasts forever. No possession stays within grasp. And no person or connection remains unchanged for long. We live in a world of impermanence. Everything we have, everything we see, and everything we think makes us who we are will one day be gone. Even the very cells that make up our bodies are constantly dying and being replaced. Literally nothing we perceive lasts forever.
Most of us don’t like to think about that. Especially in the Western world, we tend to look at ourselves, our accomplishments, our possessions, and our ways of doing things and think, “This will last forever.” We try to accomplish goals and build monuments to leave our mark on the world and create something that will overcome the impending decay. But as Eastern wisdom has always known, and as human experience has come to teach us, there is no escaping death, irrelevance, or being forgotten. It happens to everyone and everything.
And though it might be jarring to recognize at first, this truth is actually quite comforting. It’s a reminder that the situation we find ourselves in at this moment is not where we’ll be for the rest of our lives. Our experiences are ethereal; they come, and they go. If you’re hurting, you can hope in the fact that you won’t hurt forever. If you’re disappointed or frustrated or unfulfilled or angry or just plain tired, don’t get bogged down in thinking that life has to be this way. This, too, shall pass.
This recognition that the way things are isn’t the way things have to be can both spur us to create change and allow us to accept the things we can’t change. When we overcome the tendency towards defeatism, we see that there are things about our circumstances that are within our power to change: our attitude, our reactions, our outlook. And that makes it easier to tolerate the things we don’t like but can’t change, and to trust that those things will change naturally in time.
But there’s a flip side to this truth as well: If the bad things will inevitably pass, so will the good things. If we’re lucky, we can remember a time in our lives when we were happy, care-free, and completely fulfilled. But most of us probably aren’t there now, and none of us can live in that place full-time. Because as great as life can be at times, something always sneaks in and causes issues.
This should inspire us to practice humility. When we are successful and things are going well, we must remember that they won’t always be this way. We can’t let our own pride trick us into thinking that we can always be happy. We can’t be. But if we recognize in the midst of our happiness that it isn’t going to last forever, we can at least enjoy it without becoming distraught whenever it does inevitably go away.
The key, I think, is found in the practice of non-attachment. It’s not that we don’t enjoy the good things in life or dislike the bad things. It’s that we don’t become too attached to any of those feelings, or for that matter, the things that cause those feelings. We can experience the highs and the lows of life in such a way that we aren’t so affected by them that they control us. We stay in control by keeping ourselves in check, and that is accomplished through remembering this simple truth.
As the band OK Go says in their catchy song (and impressive music video), “Let it go. This, too, shall pass.” That statement applies to both the bad things we experience and the good. The truth is that everything is going to change eventually. So we can’t cling to anything, lest it go away and we be left with nothing. But we can’t become completely detached from the world, either. Instead, we can hold on to things loosely, fully experiencing and being affected by them while recognizing that they will soon go away.
No matter where you find yourself, whether it’s in a good place or a bad place, I hope this post is encouraging to you. I’ve been intentional about practicing non-attachment in my own life for several years and found it to be incredibly helpful. Maybe you will, too. Just remember that no matter what you’re going through, whether you love it or hate it, it’s not going to stay the same forever. After all, this, too, shall pass.