This too shall pass.
This phrase (or a variant of it), which can also be attached to a story of a king and/or a ring that has this words inscribed on it, is a sentence that is always true – in times that are good, and in times that are bad. First found in the writings of the medieval Persian Sufi poets, this simple proverb reminds us of the transient nature of everything that is, including our own existence. Nothing lasts forever. I try not to see this as either good or bad. It is what it is.
The comprehension of the “law of impermanence” leaves little ground for arrogance or desperation. Knowing that nothing is eternal, life’s achievements and drama lose its seriousness and can be accepted for what they are: a mere chapter in a life of a person, a nation, a planet. Nothing matters that much in a big scheme of things.
Of course, animals and humans, we have a natural survival instinct that serves the purpose of evading death for as long as possible. Pain and fear are parts of this self-preservation strategy, for they guide us away from danger. So, I am not suggesting at all, that you should ever ignore pain and fear, even though they are also impermanent.
However, unlike animals, humans have an added capacity to form an identity out of their life situations, be it good or bad. Even this ability probably has some benefit for the individual, but it can also grow out of proportion, into a delusion of grandeur or, conversely, into a victim identity. When this happens, suffering is a guarantee. If you identify yourself as a victim, your whole life will be miserable; and if you have a big ego, you will suffer when things don’t go your way or when your world starts falling apart, as it will eventually. If nothing else, you will grow old and helpless.
It is only when you truly accept impermanence of everything, including your own, that you can really start living your life with ease. If nothing lasts, then it doesn’t matter much if things go one way or the other. It can make a difference now, but in the long run it will make no difference. With that burden taken off of your life, you can start looking at the world as a light place. You can still strive for achievements and success, but you do it as a game, a play, and not because you want to build your self-importance, or because you want to run away from something (provided that you already have your most basic needs taken care of).
You live your life like a kid who is building a sand castle on the beach. You know that it will be washed back into the sea tomorrow – yet, you are doing it anyway, simply for the fun of it.
The whole essence of Zen consists in walking along the razor’s edge of Now – to be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence, can survive in you. In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve. Suffering needs time; it cannot survive in the Now.
– Eckhart Tolle, The Power Of Now
Since I first stumbled upon the concept of Zen I have realized that there is something profound in it, but I had never quite understood it. I haven’t really committed to find out what Zen is all about, however I put a mental note in the back of my mind that I need to explore it someday.
And then, one day, I read a book written by Eckhart Tolle – The Power Of Now. I had mixed feelings after reading it: on one hand, I realized that it is a profound book on spirituality, but on the other hand I was turned off by some New Age terminology and concepts that I could not connect with. So after I read it, I put it away and didn’t think much about it.
Until last month, that is. I decided to have a second look at The Power Of Now and this time I actually experienced some of the things that Tolle talks about in the text. There is a big difference between reading about presence and actually being present. Only when you experience for yourself the things that Tolle describes in his books (he also wrote a sequel: A New Earth) you can really understand how powerful his message is. I guess I wasn’t ready yet, the first time I read it.
I still don’t buy into everything he teaches. I still cannot connect with – what I see as – New Age nonsense – like when he talks about different worlds (or interpretations of reality): a human world (with its many sub-worlds), an ant world, a dolphin world, etc. He then says that all these worlds are interconnected, so “when collective human consciousness becomes transformed, nature and the animal kingdom will reflect that transformation. Hence the statement in the Bible that in the coming age “The lion shall lie down with the lamb.” This points to the possibility of a completely different order of reality.”
I just cannot comprehend how enlightenment of humanity could possibly make lions vegetarian, although even today there are rare instances of the predators and the prey living together for a while – for example, when maternal instinct prevails (A lioness adopts a baby antelope).
Nevertheless, I highly recommend The Power Of Now to anyone who is interested in living more at ease, being present, and in the moment. You may not connect with it the first time you read it. That is OK. Put it away, just as I did, and revisit at a later time. If you cannot connect with a certain concept or a word that he uses, just ignore it and continue reading. View The Power Of Now as a guided meditation, not as a book of absolute truths. Tolle himself states, that every word that comes out of him is just a pointer, a signpost that points towards a certain state of being. He actually did a pretty good job with describing something that ultimately cannot be described with words. Don’t get attached to concepts and words – in fact, the whole point of this book is to get you beyond your mind with its little concepts and thoughts.
The mind, while being a useful tool, is also the source of all suffering in life. Suffering is the result of mind dwelling on the future and worry about problems, or dwelling on the past and deriving identity out of it (for example a victim identity). This is what Tolle describes as “psychological time” (as opposed to “clock time”); you are creating psychological time whenever you are putting your attention on past or future, although you haven’t had any practical reason to do so (at that particular time). If, on the other hand, your attention is on the present moment, there can be no suffering for you, no problems, no worry. Only situations to be accepted and then dealt with or left alone. If you have a hard time understanding this, then contemplate The Most Zen Chart Ever until you do understand.
Pain in life is inevitable; suffering is optional. The power of now will set you free.