“These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.” ~ Rumi
I had several subjects lined up for this blog post, but changed my mind at the last minute. I had an accident on Friday and have badly injured my tailbone. Ouch!
Having given birth to four children, I can honestly say the pain of that fall came close! I can’t sit for long periods of time at the moment and have spent the last few days mostly lying on my side feeling sorry for myself, interspersed with copious icing sessions with frozen peas and popping pain killers.
I spent most of April recovering from Covid-19, and the next two months dealing with an inner ear infection and vertigo. It certainly gives you some strange and disconcerting sensations. Various renovations to the house and garden are ongoing, and before I knew it I was pushing myself to the limit again. I should have listened to my body…
There’s nothing like physical pain to facilitate the transition from a human doing to a human being.
The really intense pain is less pervasive now, but I will be on a go slow for weeks. I can only write for short bursts using a special cushion to help alleviate the coccydynia. When we don’t heed messages from the universe they become more and more obvious until they can no longer be ignored! Now I have been forced to scale back and rest more.
The kids were moping as it looks like a four hour drive to Cornwall for our holiday might not be the best idea next weekend. I may have to grin and bear it, as it will be my last family holiday with my younger son for a while; he is planning to live and work in Berlin for a year, commencing mid August. In fact, I think he timed his departure with A-Level results day!
I was at a low ebb when I read this Persian parable. With many ongoing challenges in 2020, on a personal level as well as nationally and globally, it feels like a timely message to share.
The Persian Parable
Once upon a time there was a king who told the wise men of the court: “I’m making a beautiful ring. I have acquired one of the best possible diamonds. I want to keep hidden inside the ring some message that can help me in moments of total despair, and help my heirs, and the heirs of my heirs, forever. It has to be a small message, so that it can fit under the diamond on the ring.”
All who listened were wise, great scholars; they could have written great treaties, but providing the king with a message of no more than two or three words that could help him in moments of total despair…
They thought, searched through their books, but couldn’t find anything.
The king had an elderly servant who had also been a servant of his father. The king’s mother died young and this servant took care of him, so he treated him as if he belonged to the family.
The king felt an immense respect for the old man, so he also consulted him. And the servant said: “I am not a wise man, nor a scholar, nor an academic, but I know the message. During my long life in the palace, I met all kinds of people, and once I met a mystic. He was your father’s guest and I was at his service.
“When he left, as a gesture of gratitude, he gave me this message.” The old man wrote it on a tiny piece of paper, folded it and gave it to the king. “But do not read it,” he said. “Keep it hidden in the ring. Open it only when everything else has failed, when you can’t find a way out of a situation.”
That moment didn’t take long to arrive. The country was invaded and the king lost the kingdom. He was fleeing on his horse to save his life and his enemies were chasing him. He was alone and his pursuers were numerous. He arrived at a place where the road ended where there was no exit: in front there was a precipice and a deep valley; to fall would be the end for him. And he couldn’t go back because the enemy was blocking his way. He could hear the horses approaching. He couldn’t move forwards and there was no other way out…
Suddenly, he remembered the ring. He opened it, took out the paper and there he found a tremendously valuable little message. It simply said: “This too shall pass”.
As he read “This too shall pass”, he felt a great silence descend. The enemies that were pursuing him must have got lost in the forest, or they must have gone the wrong way. All the king knew was that little by little he stopped hearing the sound of the horses’ hooves.
The king felt profoundly grateful to the servant and the unknown mystic. Those words had proved miraculous. He folded the paper, put it back in the ring, gathered his armies and reconquered the kingdom.
And the day he entered the capital again, in victory, there was a great celebration with music and dancing… and he was very proud of himself.
The old man was by his side in the coach, and he said: “This moment is also appropriate: look at the message again.”
“What do you mean?” the king asked. “Now I’m victorious, the people celebrate my return. I’m not desperate, I’m not in a no-way-out situation.”
“Listen,” said the old man, “this message isn’t only for desperate situations; it’s also for pleasant situations. It’s not only for when you are defeated; it’s also for when you feel victorious. It’s not only for when you are the last; it’s also for when you are the first.”
The king opened the ring and read the message: “This too shall pass”.
And again, he felt the same peace, the same silence, in the midst of the crowd that celebrated and danced. However, the pride, the ego, had disappeared. The king could finally understand the full meaning of the message. He had become enlightened.
Then the old man said to him: “Remember that everything passes. No thing or emotion is permanent. Like day and night, there are moments of joy and moments of sadness. Accept them as part of the duality of nature, because they are the very nature of things.”
This ancient parable, thought to originate with the Sufi poets, is probably the most important fable one could ever read and employ in life. Somehow it helps to dissolve worries and woes, and keeps you grounded; offering the succour of equanimity and acceptance in all situations.
When I look back on my life so far, and how awful some segments of it were, I remember feeling that those tough periods would never end when I was in them, but now, with hindsight I realise I grew stronger as a result of the struggle and pain, and they didn’t last forever.
This too shall pass reminds us of the ephemeral quality of emotions and the human condition, the transient nature of life.
The parable brought to mind the vibrant and totally captivating paintings of the Orientalist artists for me.
The Najd Collection would have been a wonderful exhibition to see:
I can’t help thinking there is so much in the world that needs to pass already, but events unfold at their own pace and this erudite parable confers wisdom and peace for all who are in the thick of it.
If we can make the most of each moment, whatever that brings, we may find we can take stock one day and fully appreciate a life well lived, shaped by profound experiences.
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” ~ Rumi