Day in, day out, day in, day out, day in, day out, rest…day in, day out…
You get the idea.
This is the life of an Ashtangi. For most of us, it’s also an accurate portrayal of our daily lives as well. On a day-to-day basis, there usually aren’t big changes, but rather little ones that pop up here and there. Our days remain pretty consistent. However, in practicing Ashtanga Yoga, big differences occur every day due to the sequence being the same. It helps one realize just how different each day really is. Think of it like a painter starting a new piece on a fresh canvas every day. Or like the story of Sisyphus, a mythological Greek character.
In punishment for his deceitful ways, Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to a life of suffering. He was to push a large boulder up a mountain every day, just to have it roll back down so he could start over. Same boulder, same mountain, for an eternity. As he stood at the top of the mountain watching the boulder roll back down, it was believed that as he himself climbed down the mountain it was so he could have the time to contemplate his fate.
Albert Camus’s book, The Myth of Sisyphus, states, “When Sisyphus acknowledges the futility of his task and the certainty of his fate, he is freed to realize the absurdity of his situation and to reach a state of contented acceptance.” It goes on to say that no fate exists that cannot be surmounted by scorn.
It is this that leads me to believe that Sisyphus has nothing on us Ashtangis because unlike Sisyphus, we choose to push the boulder up the mountain as part of our daily practice. We see the boulder every morning waiting for us at the foot of the yoga mat when we wake up. Dutifully, and without scorn, we accept our fate. All Ashtangis know there will be some dukkha along the way, as well as some sukha. We accept that and practice anyway.
In Jeff Bridges’s book, The Dude and the Zen Master, Bridges figures Camus was trying to say that Sisyphus was a hero. Bridges says of Sisyphus’s feelings about his fate, “Instead of just saying, Oh man, what is the use, he [Sisyphus] finds some interest in his job: Oh, look at what happened this time! Funny, I never noticed that little shrub before. The rock sure raised a lot of dust this time when it rolled back down, wasn’t that interesting? Oh, here it goes again. Oh, there it goes. Watch it.”
If Sisyphus was focused on the outcome of getting the rock to the top, then his suffering would be great. But if he was able to do his work without expecting the outcome to be any different from one day to the next, then he would be free to enjoy the process, rather than the result.
Ashtanga yoga is a process, not a result. It is why Pattabhi Jois said, “Practice and all is coming.” The words when, if or how are not in his statement because it’s not about outcome, it’s about process. If you do the practice there is bound to be several different outcomes, but no one outcome removes the need for the process. The process of ashtanga yoga is until death (or until we can no longer move our bodies). The Ashtangis that I know celebrate the big anniversaries: 10 years, 15 years, 25 years of daily practice. All the way to Pattabhi who had over 70 years of practice to see what the all was about.
Pattabhi was fond of saying “You do.” Some believe it was a result of his limited and broken English, but maybe he just didn’t see the need to say it any other way. Such as “You have to do this,” or “When you do that,” or “If you do this.” He knew, for those of us that do, “You do” is enough.
Sisyphus knew, but he had no choice. We can hope he eventually he realized the gods meant “You do” and not “You have to do this.” To quote a Jivanmukta saying, “One statement carries burden, while the other sets you free.”
Possibly, the gods thought this boulder business would be good for Sisyphus in that he could eventually see the error of his ways. However, we yogis already understand this. Our practice helps to get rid of our samsara halahala. The practice is the boulder. However, it is up to the individual as to whether or not they push it up the mountain. It is also up to the individual as to whether or not it feels like a burden…or a blessing.
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Assist Ed: Andrea Charpentier/Ed: Sara Crolick