This Too Shall Pass

The Blessing And The Curse Of Impermanence



This Too Shall Pass - A True Story

This is a true story about how I learned that this too shall pass.

Approximately 20 years ago I was in a senior management position working on a large multi-million dollar IT programme in London. The various projects involved major change in the client organisation’s service delivery processes.

It was an extremely pressured role which was made far more difficult because of the adversarial relationship between my employers who were the prime contractor and our client’s IT department who were our direct interface on behalf of our client’s business users.

A Highly Political Environment

As these situations so often are, this was a highly political environment where emails were used by the client’s IT people and their subcontractors to make mischief and generally stir things up.

A typical strategy was for the client’s project manager or one of this team to fire off a critical – but inaccurate and misleading  - email and to copy-in senior management and directors in the client organisation and with the prime contractor – and thus ensuring a continuous escalation of highly politicised issues.

This would happen several times a week.

I Was The Buffer

My role in all this was to act as buffer and filter for my boss who was the programme director – to field these offensive emails – resolve the underlying issues and/or recommend a solution and to neutralise the politics.

You may find all this is a bit hard to believe unless you have worked on a large messy IT project (the large ones nearly always are messy!) – but I assure you it is true when I tell you that it was not uncommon for it to take me the best part of a day to deal with one of these emails.

Often my colleague – the programme manager - and myself were unfairly and inaccurately personally criticised in these emails. It was wearing, draining and deeply unpleasant (and yes I only stuck it for the money – a lot of money at the time).

How I Discovered The Truth

But here’s the thing, even though I did not know anything about mindfulness I did rapidly discover the truth of the mythical  “This too will pass” story.

I very soon realised that these angry and defensive states arose automatically but if I just sat with them and observed them, without engaging with them for about 24 hours, and reminded myself that this too will pass, they did just that.

I was then able to exercise clarity and to manage the tricky politics on behalf of my boss and to best effect. This became known on our side of the programme as the 24-hour “dead bat” rule – that is, to never reply to a politically motivated email for 24 hours!




This Too Shall Pass - The Mythical Story

This is a story about a king who sought wisdom. He searched all over his kingdom for wisdom and did not find it.

Eventually he heard of a man living in a remote part of the kingdom who had a reputation for great wisdom.

The king sent for this man and had him brought to court, whereupon the king offered the man a great reward if he would share the secret to his wisdom. The man agreed and departed from the king’s presence.

He returned several weeks later and presented the king with a small box.

The king looked a little surprised and very disappointed as he opened the box and removed a ring.

“Is this it?”  he shouted at the wise man.

“Place the ring on your finger and read the inscription out loud” replied the wise man.

The king read the inscription: “This too will pass”.

The wise man counselled the king: “Wear that ring that at all times and look at it frequently, and regardless of whether you are experiencing good fortune or adversity remind yourself that this too will pass…”

The king was satisfied that he had at last found true wisdom and he duly rewarded the man with great wealth.




This Too Shall Pass - A Blessing Or A Curse?

I once heard someone say: "Every relationship ends in tears...someone leaves, or someone dies...".

At the time I thought this was a deeply cynical thing to say, but now I am not so sure.

Shantideva the 8th century Indian Buddhist sage commenting on impermanence, and the innate reality that this too shall pass, said:

"The moment we are born, we have no freedom to remain for a single second.

We are running towards death, like a galloping horse.

We call ourselves ‘living beings’ but we are ear-marked for death. This is sad indeed. That is the reality."

In Ecclesiastes 3 in the Old Testament the preacher/teacher [alleged to be King Soloman] speaks of the seasonality of impermanence and declares that this too shall pass as he says:

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

  • A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
  • A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up..
  • A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance..
  • A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."

At times of great suffering and loss impermanence is felt as a curse. The loss of a loved one, a job and material comfort, the loss of status and reputation...these losses are hard.

The path to healing ultimately lies in acceptance.

There are situations where impermanence is a relief and a release, and this is especially true with our emotional and mental states.

In my personal experience, the practise of mindfulness  is one of most effective remedies for reducing stress, gaining perspective and enabling us to realise the blessing that comes with the acceptance that with all things....this too will pass.




This Too Shall Pass...

I want to close this article with this beautiful song by Peter Himmelman "Impermanent Things".




Lyrics

All these impermanent things
Oh how they fool me
Dominate and rule me
They keep me waiting here forever
All these impermanent things
Well their beauty's never aging
But their worthlessness's enraging
You know we all stand alone when we're together

Why keep hanging on
To things that never stay
Things that just keep stringin' us along
From day to day

All these impermanent things
Present yet elusive
Passive yet abusive
Tearing out the heart in utter silence
All these impermanent things
Well they point in all directions
Like secondhand reflections
And they're leading us to subtle shades of violence

Why keep hanging on
To things that never stay
Things that just keep stringin' us along
From day to day

All these impermanent things
Well they're trying to convince me
Baptize my soul and rinse me
Purge my mind of honesty and fire
All these impermanent things
Well they all add up to zero
They make-believe that they're my hero
Then they fill my mind with doubt and false desires

Why keep hanging on
To things that never stay
Things that just keep stringin' us along
From day to day





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