When I was a small child and something made me sad, my mother used to sing me a sweet little song: Life has its Funny Little Ups and Downs.
At the time I just thought it sounded happy and would cheer me up, but I didn’t realize the inner significance of the song at such a young age.
Like music, life traces an undulating path of ups and downs, rises and falls, quiet notes and crescendos. Nothing stays the same because if it did, life and music would be pretty boring, and we wouldn’t grow. If every moment were the same, we couldn’t hear the melody or the rhythm of life.
So whatever is happening in your life right now, you can be assured that at some point it is going to change. The real trick is to outsmart the ups and downs so that they don’t take you by surprise and make you think they’re real or permanent. In one way, everything is an illusion here on Earth, because nothing physical lasts. These illusions teach us detachment and always lead us to God. Remaining calm and content whether up or down is the only way to ride the highs and lows:
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those imposters just the same. – Rudyard Kipling from his poem, “If.”
It’s best not to get too excited or too depressed by the ups and downs of life. – The Dalai Lama.
The Baha’i teachings point out this deep wisdom in many different ways:
If we suffer it is the outcome of material things, and all the trials and troubles come from this world of illusion. … the trials which beset our every step, all our sorrow, pain, shame and grief, are born in the world of matter; whereas the spiritual Kingdom never causes sadness. A man living with his thoughts in this Kingdom knows perpetual joy. The ills all flesh is heir to do not pass him by, but they only touch the surface of his life, the depths are calm and serene.
Today, humanity is bowed down with trouble, sorrow and grief, no one escapes; the world is wet with tears; but, thank God, the remedy is at our doors. Let us turn our hearts away from the world of matter and live in the spiritual world! It alone can give us freedom! If we are hemmed in by difficulties we have only to call upon God, and by His great Mercy we shall be helped. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 109-110.
One day while finding myself worrying and ruminating about something I thought was oh-so-important at the time, I stopped, hearing something familiar coming from the next room. My husband, an old movie junkie, was watching a classic film in the living room. As I came closer, my heart flooded with a warm rush. I didn’t know yet why, but as I approached nearer, I recognized sounds that were very familiar. I heard music and then a cheerful song.
Yes, you guessed right—it didn’t take long before I recognized that it was the very same song my mother had sung to me many years before, called “Life has its Funny Little Ups and Downs.”
I entered the living room to find an old Donald O’Conner movie, and sure enough–there was the song from my childhood! With a big lump in my throat and misty eyes I listened to the words with overwhelming emotion. Now I could understand its meaning! I realized that my mother, who at this point had passed on to the next world, was trying to teach me a wonderful secret—life is never stagnant.
We should take heart when we think things are going poorly, because there is no doubt that every temporary condition will pass. On the other hand, when all is well, we must prepare ourselves and gather our courage so that life’s next test doesn’t overwhelm us. In any case, being grateful and keeping a calm, strong inner core would serve us in all situations:
Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 329.
There is an ancient proverb from the medieval Levant that originated around 1200 AD; “This too shall pass.” It means that all material conditions are transient, whether good or bad. The only thing that is constant are the eternal conditions—love, truth, and all the virtues and blessings that come from God:
We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2nd Corinthians 4:16-18.
This physical life is so short, and as much as we hate it sometimes, change is inevitable. But change means growth, and after all, what are we here for if not to grow and flourish?
Today, I’m happy because I found the sweet little song my mother sang from my childhood.
Currently, the sun is shining and my world is bright and hopeful. I wonder, what unwanted difficulty or challenge will come next? When it comes, will I recollect that it is just an illusion, an opportunity to help me learn inner peace and detachment?
I’ll certainly try, and I’ll keep this song in my pocket to evoke for a rainy day and remember not to take myself too seriously—for only love is constant, and life has its funny little ups and downs.