This Too Shall Pass
When I was growing through my teenage years, with the misguided belief that my suffering was greater than anyone who ever lived, my mother would remind me, “…and this too shall pass.” I never believed her. But the present became the past and along with the passage of time, so too did those imbalanced-hormone-induced emotional meltdowns slip away.
Years later, some smell, sound or taste would send me plunging back to those long ago moments and the time, place, sensations would all come rushing back to me in a tidal wave of emotional memory.
It fascinated me for some time how I could relive those moments in such detail. Until recently, when I began attending 10-day silent sitting residential courses called Vipassana once a year, where the late S.N. Goenka would come on one of the video or audio played by an assistant teacher and say, “…observe the sensations arising and passing away…”
I began to understand that I was responsible for my own misery when I would emotionally react to these sensations.
Vipassana means “to see things as they really are,” and is a practice which instructs the student to simply observe the sensations of their body without any prejudice, judgment, attachment, interpretation; observing the sensations in the body as they arise and pass away. Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation.
Circumstances, sensations, relationships … they all arise and pass away. This is called impermanence. Nothing lasts forever; as my mother implied all those years ago when she would say, “…and this too shall pass.”
I am reminded of the story of a very dedicated disciple who was working on his meditation practice for months. Suddenly he got stuck in a phase where no matter how much he concentrated, he simply could not focus enough and release his attachments to his thoughts. As the days drew on, he became more and more frustrated with his practice; so, he decided to approach his master for advice.
The disciple approached the feet of his master very humbly and explained the situation. He expected to hear a full lecture, including techniques on how he could conquer his thoughts and surpass this extremely vexing moment. But, his master simply responded, “It shall pass.”
Despite the disciple’s disappointment in not receiving more instruction, he went back to his meditation practice with renewed confidence. After all, he now had the understanding that it was just a phase and soon enough his mediation practice would be back on track. For several weeks, the disciple dedicated himself to his practice and he could see improvement every day. He was now very excited and could not wait to share this great news with his master.
Once again, he approached the feet of his master and shared his delightful news. He expected to receive praise for having been able to overcome this trying phase and some encouraging words to continue on this successful path. But all his master said was: “It shall pass.”
This story shows that in any practice, as in life, there will be phases. And in each phase we need to continue working on ourselves. In life, the old habits we experience move us to react with craving and clinging when we feel pleasant sensations and aversion and anger when we feel unpleasant ones. Wherein, the practice of Vipassana teaches us to observe every sensation, both pleasant and unpleasant, objectively and remain equanimous with the understanding that every sensation, every experience, has the quality of arising and passing away; and, that no sensation remains eternally.
Through the joys and the sorrows, when we learn to stay focused on our own development, rather than pining after the jubilation of success or running away from the frustration of failure, we we stay present to the moment and simply observe, we can rest assured in the knowledge that this too shall pass.