“King Solomon once searched for a cure against depression. He assembled his wise men together. They meditated for a long time and gave him the following advice: Make yourself a ring and have thereon engraved the words ‘This too shall pass.’ The King carried out the advice. He had the ring made and wore it constantly. Every time he felt sad and depressed he looked at the ring, whereon his mood would change and he would feel cheerful.” – Israel Folklore Archive # 126
This too shall pass. These wise words have often been a towrope when I’ve found myself off the road in an emotional ditch. When I fall into a deep pit of despair, or get caught in a self-perpetuating spiral of worry and fear, this simple truth can remind me that if I just hang on, eventually things will shift. How encouraging!
But, these days I feel happy, grateful, peaceful and calm. I am strong and healthy. My marriage is supportive and sweet. The kids are thriving, and my parents are alive and in excellent health for their age. I am financially secure, and my home is comfortable haven. My mood is bright and I am able to see and appreciate my many blessings. Everything is really great right now…and there it is, softly whispering in my ear “Don’t feel too happy…this too shall pass” In what could be a time of pure grace, gratitude, and expansion, I catch myself glancing up to peer at the underside of the other shoe, dangling by a lace – ready to drop.
I know, of course, that challenges will arrive again before too long. My parents won’t live forever, and chances are good I will outlive my dog. Things can change in an instant, and my mood has been known to shift without a recognizable cause. And so, I’ve developed the habit of tempering my joy and bracing for impact…as if I can shore myself up against future hardship, and rehearse for grief. Even though I know it doesn’t work.
And of course, I don’t always realize that I’m doing it. I just experience an underpinning of grief even in the midst of great happiness. Our patterns and habits can be incredibly subtle. (PYS 2.10) The very same thought that can ease my pain in one moment, can rob me of pleasure in the next. I can convince myself that I’m just being realistic, pragmatic, and mature. Yes, inevitably this too shall pass. It’s one of the great “TRUTHS”, and aren’t I so advanced to remember it? Sure, but instead of leaning into whatever the “IT” is that’s guaranteed to pass, my mind races into the future, where things are so much better – or worse.
The way I utilize this “truth” in good times and bad reminds me of something my teacher often says, “Same-Same, only Different!” Whether I am gritting my teeth and waiting for the darkness to pass, or attempting to grasp onto a moment of joy before it slips away, it’s all just contraction. Either way I am abandoning the reality of the present moment and attempting to jump into the future where everything is so wonderful or terrible. In both extremes I am missing the opportunity to unfurl into the NOW, and blocking the natural cycle of emotions. The nature of emotions is to move through us. Like the Hindu trinity of Brahma – the Creator, Vishnu – the Sustainer, and Shiva – the Destroyer, they arise, linger a while, and dissolve. When we are open, receptive, and surrendered to their waves, emotions organically pass through us, leaving behind lessons and insights. They can be signposts to where we are out of alignment or tangled up in distortion. We cannot think our way out of feelings, not if we truly want to be free. It’s the very mind that Yoga practices work to tame that keeps us enslaved. When we attempt to resist or manipulate our emotions, through rejection or grasping, they can become trapped and toxic. That’s how the natural sorrow of loss morphs into sustained depression, or passing fears become perpetual anxiety.
Yoga encourages us to trust in the difficult and relax into discomfort. It’s certainly more comfortable to feel happy than sad or frightened. And it’s natural and understandable to try to avoid or eliminate “bad” feelings. But we’re doing ourselves a great disservice. I’ve always assumed that if I can practice relaxing into joy, it will better train me to surrender to sorrow. But maybe I’ve got it backwards. Maybe when this good moment passes and I find myself laid low once again, I can practice giving into the dark, painful feelings, free from the shadow of that damn shoe. After all there is inherent relief in knowing that you can’t fall off the floor. When sadness or worry returns, I will try to be present for it. I will try to be brave and curious, and maybe even thankful. And perhaps, by allowing my sorrow or fear or anger to just move on through like a trio of mighty gods who refuse to be ignored, I might find myself, sooner than expected, empty and open and barefoot in the peace that follows. I’ll keep you posted.
“Others may be saying Oh No, but you will be opening out like a rose, losing itself petal by petal.” – Rumi