The boulder of Sisyphus and starting over, again

I’ve been thinking a lot about Sisyphus and his boulder: how it gets away from him just when he’s reaching the summit, it rolls down, and he has to start all over again.

I’ve been told that this is hell

A true punishment.

That there is no other reading, unless the task has a clear benefit, like the rock is actually the solar disk, or the kinetic energy released as it tumbles downhill is providing electricity to a small village.

But I think that every task, every activity has meaning.

Starting with those of daily maintenance such as washing dishes and brushing  teeth to the most grandiose ones of healing and governing and discovery, and passing through policing and farming and teaching and driving people or things places.

Many of these activities strive for goals that never completely come to fruition, or the successes are so small as to feel negligible. Other times success is so piecemeal as to appear hopeless: one reaches one student, heals one sick person, but loses another.

And no matter how successful one may be, at the end of the day: everything ends, everything dies.

So all we have is what we do and what we’ve done.

The first sutra of Patanjali says:

Atha yoga anushasanam.

It can be translated as:

Now the practice of yoga begins.

Atha, now, is both here and now. It is the only thing you can be sure of, as the past is gone and the future might not come. Atha implies preparedness, willingness, an openness to that which will be taken on.

Anushasanam is the teaching, the discipline, the exposition. I translated it as the practice. Practice requires repetition. It includes discipline, learning.

Yoga is translated as the union, the yoking: of mind and body, of yourself and the world around you, of your soul and something larger. Yoga is connecting.

This sutra speaks directly to fact that nothing is ever “done.” Every day we have to face our yoga mat, our desk, our classrooms, our families, our datasets, our clients, our blank canvas or page.

It’s a practice. A practice to connect, to become whole.

Sisyphus tells us that every day is new and every day we start over

In meditation, we are instructed to focus on a specific object, our breath, a mantra. When the mind wanders (which it will), there are no judgments, we simply note that we have lost touch and return our focus.

We’ve dropped the boulder and it rolled downhill, bouncing on every bump along the slope. But when we notice, we get into position and start pushing the rock back uphill.

We start over.

Starting over isn’t a punishment

It’s an opportunity. The heroism is in continuing, in not giving up. Not sitting down in the plain and crying because the boulder fell.

Not walking away from what we decided to do.

As Gabriel García Márquez said

When I finished one book, I wouldn’t write for a while. Then I had to learn how to do it all over again.

The hero, like Sisyphus, keeps trying, keeps pushing the boulder up the mountain, keeps starting over.

Atha means that here and now is anytime. Anytime is a good time to engage, to be willing to try again.


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