It hurts so bad that you feel like it'll kill you - not now in one stroke but forever, by never allowing you a happy moment again. Some experiences are just like that - damaging beyond the instant in which they transpire; for the seemingly permanent pain they etch on our minds.
When such events come to pass, we often console ourselves by putting our minds in fast-forward mode, that is, we tell ourselves that at some point in the future, we won't hurt so much. In other words, we try to blank out the present and rely on time to heal our wounds.
Memories fade away
In a way, it seems a strange thing to say or believe that time - a dimension that is otherwise detached from our wellbeing - is a great healer.
Perhaps, we merely assume that as time passes, our recollection of the past will fade, and hence, so will the pain associated with sad events? Or maybe, when we say that time heals, we do not recognise that by its very nature, time allows for fresh positive experiences to emerge [occur]. This layer of recent happy memories positioned on top of our sad recollections, entirely replaces the impact of the past negativity.
Reasons come to the for
But is there more to this mystery of time – the great healer? A first century AD Roman philosopher, Seneca, is known to have said, "Time heals what reason cannot." Evidently, nothing is more convincing than reason. But a reason may not be apparent, especially to a mind clouded by sad emotions. Better fortune or some other good outcome of a hurtful event may take time to actually happen, and allow us to pin-point it as the reason why our preferred event did not occur. Until such realisation dawns, time soothes that which is beyond our understanding.
This too shall pass
Essentially, the truth is that the "now" – the present moment - is constantly in a state of flux. Wise people often mouth the phrase "this too shall pass", to calm a person in pain. The wisdom of the "now" is best epitomised in the story from where this phrase originates.
King Solomon was once feeling out-of-sorts, as he realised that when he was satisfied, he feared that the good feeling wouldn't last, and when he wasn't happy with life, he felt his sorrow would last forever. Having become conscious of the fact that he was thus never truly happy, he asked his advisors to search for a ring he had dreamt of that would alter his negative state of mind.
Fortunately, one advisor met an old jeweller who carved the phrase "this too shall pass" into a gold band. King Solomon found that by turning his attention to the possibility of a brighter future, these words eased his sorrows, and gave way to contentment.
A step further, he realised that even as the phrase changed his sorrow into joy, it also served as a reminder that elation is not a lasting emotion. King Solomon thus learnt to appreciate the transient nature of emotions – a positive followed by a negative or vice-versa. Eventually, he was able to experience a state of calm.
It is worthwhile linking this story to recent research in the field of psychology. Dr Martin Seligman, director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Centre, and founder of Positive Psychology, believes that when someone assumes his/her problem is permanent, it can lead to depression.
Go with the flow
In Dr Seligman's words, ".if you are a pessimist in the sense that when bad things happen you think they are going to last forever and undermine everything you do, then you are about eight times more likely to get depressed, fail at work, personal relationships are more likely to break up, and have a shorter and more illness-filled life." Evidently then, King Solomon's perception of sorrow, either as reality or imminent, was reason enough for his feeling disheartened.
Undoubtedly, "this too shall pass" is a powerful mantra in itself. In fact, having made a lot of effort to determine the cause for suffering, Buddha eventually came to the conclusion that most often, people suffer when they cling to happy situations. We fail to accept that circumstances - being temporary - change. Further, instead of going with the flow, and looking forward to the next scene life has in store for us, we continue to dwell in, and moan about the loss of the past. While not every scene may be as enjoyable as the last, a wise person realises that s/he will not remain upset forever - just as situations change, individual feelings and perspectives also evolve. That is how we grow in life.
Travel beyond time
But not everyone has the same attitude. In fact, some people respond faster to the passing of time, in that they heal faster. Why? Actually, our mind – as it is not ruled by time – is timeless and peaceful by nature.
Those who learn to dwell in this sanctuary-like space can revert to a peaceful, happy experience whenever life throws up adverse situations. This ability to withdraw to a positive "now" [reality] is a powerful coping mechanism to tap into.
Essentially, nothing is beyond us. It's just that although this state of mind is a very handy solution, sometimes, we forget it exists, or having never experienced it, are unable to return to its confines. The trick is to train the mind to recognise and live in its real timeless state, so that it does not seek refuge in time. This is best done through meditation.
When you learn to live beyond, you'll find you no longer take that long to heal. Until then, take your time. Time is on your side.
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