Knowing that 'this too shall pass' can be a real comfort in life
Buddhism is sometimes criticised as offering an overly pessimistic worldview. Indeed, the first of its Four Noble Truths is that all life is suffering. The Buddha taught that the main cause of suffering is attachment.
Because of the truth of impermanence, anything that one may become attached to is bound to ultimately be taken from us; and that leads to human suffering.
I'm aware of the bittersweet nature of impermanence as I watch my children grow up. Despite all the exhaustion and shouting, having young kids in the house certainly feels like a golden time for us.
Yet, I know it's fleeting, that time passes quickly, and that they are rapidly moving towards the dreaded teen years.
This awareness at the back of my mind, that I'm in the process of losing something at the very same time I'm in the middle of it, is part of what the Buddha must have meant when he said that all life is suffering.
It may be valid to claim that aspects of Buddhism can lead to pessimism in susceptible people. But I also find that we in the West tend to undervalue the positive aspects of impermanence.
I work with many people who say they 'have' depression, or PTSD, or anxiety, etc.
In English, depression is a thing that we have, in the same way that we have other possessions such as cars or houses. Possessions are solid, permanent. Real things seem to always be with us.
Yet, a primary reason why mindfulness is proving to be so successful in treating serious emotional disorders, is that it invites one to go inside and experience the impermanence of these 'things' we supposedly have. When you close your eyes and really pay attention to your internal experiences, you'll invariably find that they are in fact not solid. You'll find that your emotional states are not something that you possess, but something you do. They are processes which ebb and flow.
By their nature, feelings are impermanent. Experiencing that 'this too shall pass' can be tremendously comforting.
I have a free mp3 on the impermanence of emotions. Contact me if you want it.
- Joseph Pond is a clinical hypnotherapist, an acupuncturist, and a mindfulness instructor. He is co-founder of Hypnosis Explorers NI and conducts workshops in hypnosis with PowerTrance. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at https://www.facebook.com/Belfast Hypnosis/?ref=hl/?ref=hl