Four Words That Can Save Your Life

This too shall pass.

If you’ve been in pain for a long time, it may be difficult to remember a time when your pain did not exist. As a result, you may be wondering if this challenging time will ever come to an end.

I experienced this when I was in the fifth month of my suicidal episode, as I began to doubt that there would be an endpoint to my suffering. When I searched for words that would relieve my feelings of hopelessness, what came to me was the Persian Sufi adage:

“This Too Shall Pass”

Why are these words so powerful? Because they express a universal truth: that our thoughts, feelings, and emotions do not remain the same. As Susan Blauner said in her memoir, How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me, “Every single feeling we have eventually does change—with or without any help from us. They never stay the same or at the same intensity.” Every thought, feeling, or experience we have arises, abides for a time, and then passes away. Buddhists have given this phenomenon a name: impermanence.

I remember my therapist, Judy, trying to explain the concept to me of impermanence as I was telling her about my suicidal thoughts. I was horribly depressed and was living with my parents on the east coast, having spent the previous month residing in a psychiatric ward. I saw no possible way that I could ever feel better or that my circumstances would ever change. 

Seeing that I was in despair, Judy read to me the following parable. 

According to an ancient Sufi tale, a village was attacked and captured by a group of warriors. The king of the victorious tribe told the vanquished that unless they fulfilled his wish, the entire village would be put to death the following morning. The king’s wish was to know the secret of what would make him happy when he was sad, and sad when he was happy.s

The village people constructed a large bonfire, and all night long their wise men and women strove to answer the riddle: what could make a person happy when he is sad, and sad when he is happy? Finally, sunrise dawned and the king entered the village. Approaching the wise ones, he asked, “Have you fulfilled my request?” “Yes!” they replied. The king was delighted. “Well, show me your gift.” 

One of the men reached into a pouch and presented the king with a gold ring. The king was perplexed. “I have no need for more gold,” he exclaimed. “How can this ring make me happy when I am sad, and sad when I am happy?” The king looked again, and this time he noticed that the ring bore an inscription. It read, This, Too, Shall Pass.

The truth of this parable has expressed itself in every dark period of my life–depressive breakdowns, relationship breakups, financial setbacks, etc. In each case, I was sure I was stuck in my pain forever. But since the only constant in the universe is change, I eventually found my way to better times. 

Impermanence affects all of us. Think back on your life—two, five, or ten years ago. What changes either large or small have occurred? No doubt you and your circumstances have changed. And if change occurred in the past, it can do so in the future and lead you out of your suicidal episode. Understand this truth, and let it bring you the hope and the motivation to keep going.

Activity: This Too Shall Pass

This too shall pass” is a powerful affirmation that can counter feelings of hopelessness. Repeating these four words to yourself can shift your thinking away from despair and toward feelings of hope. 

Take some time and think of ways that you can easily access these words when you need them. For example, you can write them where you will see them in your home or work environment. Or you can place them on your phone. You can even purchase a bracelet online that bears the inscription “This too shall pass.”

You can also incorporate the affirmation into your daily meditation by reading it to yourself or by speaking it out loud. Focus on this truth daily, and let it bring you the hope and the motivation to hold on until your ordeal comes to an end.