We've been covering proverbs... not, like, book of Proverbs proverbs, but just ancient proverbs from various cultures and the things we can learn from them. Last night, the topic was the phrase "this too shall pass."
As the story goes, a king a long long time ago asked his group of advisers to bring him something that can make the happiest person sad and the saddest person happy. After they went off and thought about it a while, and searched the world for what knowledge they could find, they finally came back with a ring. On the ring, a phrase was inscribed: this too shall pass.
I'm sure a lot of us have heard this saying before, since it's fairly common... I definitely find it helpful in times of sadness, knowing that no matter what is going on in my life, it will pass and I'll move on. I hadn't actually considered it as applying to happy situations as well - that those moments also eventually end (though I am well aware of this fact, especially as a college senior).
The way Lydia talked about it, however, was different. She discussed the idea of impermanence - that nothing will be around forever, and we need to go out into the world with open hands. We can't cling to the things we love, else we will suffocate them. We will ultimately be much better off (happier, more satisfied) if we can accept that the moments of happiness will go away and then cherish them all the more when we have them.
This past weekend, for example. I was at a church retreat - the young adult retreat for United Methodists in Southern California. While this is an annual retreat, I want to move back to Washington when I graduate, so I won't be coming back next year. Chances are, I won't be back at all. I was aware of that the whole weekend - I made friends, knowing I probably won't see them again. I loved the environment, knowing I probably won't be back. The temptation may be to withdraw, to keep from being attached so I won't miss it when I'm gone... but I went the opposite route. I chose to appreciate the blessing that I could be there at all, to love the people all the more for the knowledge that I wouldn't get another chance. These choices... they made the weekend that much better. They reminded me how much nicer it is just to appreciate what I have, they told me I needed to come back to real life and continue to love the people around me more fully, just in case.
Remembering the impermanence of the things in our life goes for pain, too. We frequently cling to pain, holding it tight long after it should be gone, not allowing it to leave and the good things to fill our life again. One could describe holding a grudge this way - it doesn't affect the begrudged, but it hurts the grudge holder, as they obsess about whatever happened and don't allow space for new life.
When I woke up this morning, there was a new post from one of my favorite Facebook pages: Tad. Tad often posts about mindfulness, living in the present moment, and things like that. The post sums up the rest of what I want to say nicely, so I'm going to leave it here to finish:
Pain happens to all of us, but suffering is what happens when you take that pain and build a story around it. This is in no way denying that traumatic events occur. But when you take the pain and trauma and use it to form an identity, you create suffering for yourself.I hope some of you can take this out into life, and appreciate a few moments for what they are, and not fret about what you wish they could be.
Pain can be physical or psychological. You may have sustained an injury, or had a crime perpetrated against you. You may have exp
erienced the death of a loved one, or a broken relationship. You may have been treated unfairly at work, or by friends/society. Illness, loss, accidents, crime, death - with any of these events, you experience pain. Accept what happens because you cannot change it after it occurs; you experience the pain, and you take any constructive actions you can to address the situation. You learn, you grieve, and you heal. But whether you suffer or not is your choice.
Suffering is often easier to see in other people. We all know someone who clings to something that happened in the past and makes it "who they are." They take the pain of an event and turn it into an identity, and this "mind-made suffering" can last weeks, months, years...even a lifetime. It is harder to see in ourselves, but we can do so with mindful investigation.
The more you become aware of these habits of the mind, the more you realize that even though pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.