Embracing Life’s Transience: Lessons From The Hourglass

In our fast-paced, ever-changing world, the moments of our lives often rush by like grains of sand in an hourglass. Some grains represent instances of joy and achievement, while others encapsulate struggles and challenges. Yet, every grain—every moment—shares a common characteristic: it is transient.

In this blog, we delve into the profound wisdom enshrined in an old Sufi story, a tale that has journeyed through centuries, offering comfort and understanding to countless souls. This narrative, coupled with personal reflections and historical anecdotes, serves to remind us that life’s moments, whether they bring happiness or sorrow, are fleeting. Thus, we are encouraged to savor the good times while remembering that the challenging periods too, as the timeless adage goes, shall pass.

Join us as we explore the enduring wisdom of the hourglass, discovering how it informs our perspective on life’s impermanence and teaches us to navigate life’s ups and downs with grace and resilience.

The Ancient Wisdom of The Hourglass

The journey of this lesson starts with an old Sufi tale, a pearl of wisdom often attributed to poets like Rumi and brought to Western shores through the translations of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. This tale tells the story of a king in an Eastern kingdom who sought a piece of enduring wisdom—a nugget of knowledge that would provide solace in times of despair and humility in times of prosperity.

In his quest for such wisdom, the king turned to a reputed sage, promising him a generous reward should he succeed in this task. Accepting the challenge, the sage retreated into deep contemplation. Upon his return to the king’s court, he presented the monarch with a small box. Inside was a ring inscribed with a simple, yet profoundly wise statement: “This too shall pass.”

As the king read the inscription out loud, the sage offered further insight. He advised the king to always wear the ring and frequently read the inscription. In doing so, the king would be reminded in times of great fortune or immense sorrow that those periods are fleeting.

This ancient story imparts a timeless message. The ebb and flow of life’s fortunes and misfortunes are transient in nature. In the grand scheme of existence, the highs and lows we experience are but brief moments in time. Through this lens, we can view our lives with a balanced perspective, remaining humble in prosperity and resilient in adversity, understanding deeply that “This too shall pass.”

Echoes of The Story in History

The enduring wisdom encapsulated in the phrase “This too shall pass” has resonated throughout history, transcending cultural and temporal boundaries. A prominent example of this is found in a speech delivered by Abraham Lincoln at the Wisconsin State Fair, prior to his election as the President of the United States.

While the prescribed topic was agriculture, Lincoln adopted a less direct route, using the Sufi story to articulate the transient nature of life. His interpretation of the tale was directed at farmers who may experience a bounty one year and hardship the next due to factors like drought or disease. Lincoln emphasized the impermanence of such circumstances, reminding his audience that neither periods of prosperity nor times of struggle are everlasting. Thus, the story served to provide a sense of balance, offering comfort in the face of hardship and promoting moderation in times of abundance.

Symbolism of The Hourglass in Freemasonry

This powerful concept of transience is also represented symbolically in Freemasonry through the emblem of the hourglass. This iconic symbol is highlighted in the Master Mason lecture as an embodiment of human life. The flowing sands of the hourglass present a poignant reminder of the fleeting nature of our existence.

The hourglass urges us to reflect on the rapid pace at which time passes, highlighting how swiftly our lives are drawing to a close. Whether we are enduring a difficult phase or basking in the glow of a fortunate period, we can fall into the trap of perceiving these periods as endless.

Yet, the hourglass symbolizes the constant, almost imperceptible passage of time, similar to the grains of sand slipping through its narrow waist. This symbol serves as a compelling reminder of life’s transitory nature, urging us to understand that the ebb and flow of fortune and misfortune are but fleeting moments in the grand spectrum of time.

Personal Reflections on The Hourglass Lesson

There are moments in our lives when the enduring wisdom of the hourglass crystallizes through personal experiences. I was recently reminded of this during my daughter’s 4th birthday celebration. We decided to host a grand celebration for her, a stark contrast to her first three subdued birthdays, owed to the restrictions of the pandemic.

Our lawn was buzzing with the joyful chaos of toddlers and their parents indulging in a variety of activities, from face painting to enjoying a unicorn-themed pony ride. The day concluded with a serene family dinner. Amid the frenzy of party preparations, the hum of excited chatter, and the heartwarming sight of our daughter surrounded by loved ones, I found myself pausing to reflect on the bittersweet transience of it all.

Despite the whirlwind of emotions, from the stress of organizing the party to the elation of witnessing her happiness, I was struck by the realization that these moments, both challenging and joyful, are fleeting. As our family sang “Happy Birthday” to our radiant daughter, I was reminded of the wisdom imparted by the ancient king’s ring and the hourglass. This day, filled with its unique magic and chaos, was impermanent. And like the sand in an hourglass, these moments had slipped away almost imperceptibly.

The Hourglass in Daily Life

The wisdom of the hourglass serves as a valuable guide in our everyday lives. It provides a perspective that allows us to view our experiences as fleeting moments that are part of a larger whole. Whether we are grappling with hardship or relishing moments of joy, the hourglass reminds us that these periods do not last forever. They are temporary, just like the grains of sand that flow swiftly through the hourglass.

In moments of great joy, this wisdom reminds us to fully appreciate and cherish these times, knowing that they are temporary. Similarly, in periods of difficulty or sorrow, the knowledge that “this too shall pass” can provide comfort and strength to endure.

Therefore, as we navigate the ebbs and flows of life, the timeless wisdom encapsulated in the hourglass encourages us to live each moment fully, whether we are facing good times or challenging ones. For indeed, every moment, like the sand in an hourglass, swiftly passes, leaving behind memories and experiences that shape our lives.


The wisdom of the hourglass and the enduring adage, “This too shall pass,” weave a compelling lesson about the transient nature of life’s moments. From the tale of the Eastern king to the symbolism in Freemasonry, and from Abraham Lincoln’s insightful use of the story to personal experiences, this concept has echoed throughout time and space, offering a comforting perspective on life’s transitory events.

The hourglass’s poignant symbolism serves as a daily reminder that all things, whether periods of joy or times of sorrow, are fleeting. This understanding encourages us to fully embrace and appreciate moments of happiness, knowing that they are transient, and to muster resilience during challenging times, comforted by the knowledge that these, too, will pass.

In essence, life is akin to the flowing sands of an hourglass, with each grain representing a transient moment. By acknowledging this impermanence, we can approach life with a balanced perspective, savoring our joys, enduring our trials, and living each moment to its fullest. The wisdom of the hourglass, thus, teaches us not only to count our moments, but also to make each moment count.

Source: Brother Phillip Welshans | The Midnight Freemasons