"This too shall pass" —attributed to Sufi poet Attar of Nishapur

The Persian poet Attar of Nishapur records the fable of a powerful king who asks assembled wise men to create a ring that will make him happy when he is sad. After deliberation, the sages hand him a simple ring with the words “This too shall pass” etched on it.

My Arabic teacher taught me a beautiful expression that resembles the Sufi wisdom: yom ‘asal, wa yom basal, meaning “One day honey, one day onions.” This Middle Eastern teaching describes impermanence, also an essential doctrine in Buddhism, the concept that things are always changing, that bitter days of onion will eventually end and there will be days of honey, and so on in a seemingly endless cycle.

This is not some pie-in-the-sky positive thinking; yom ‘asal, wa yom basal is a reflection of the steadfastness and resilience of a people who have endured all kinds of oppression and resistance and are still able to believe that there’s more to life than miserable days of onions.

We live a life of constant change—“moving” home frequently, relocating to new countries or to a different area in our own country, changing teams, facing illness and death. Relentless, ongoing change. Relentless, ongoing suffering. We are often forced to face the unknown, plunged into sudden traumatic events.

Days of onions will pass. Perhaps we all need a ring like the powerful king’s. In mine I would etch the dance of Arabic letters:


One day honey, one day onions.

- Extract from The Idealist's Survival Kit