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  • Written by  Josh Korda
  • // Monday, 27 May 2013 17:12
Josh Korda

Remembering Sisyphus: Everyday life is fuel for Spiritual Practice

In the great myth, Sisyphus is condemned by the gods, day in and out, to roll a large boulder up to the top of a steep mountain. When the stone reaches the peak, it rolls back down to bottom. And so he would have to start his task over, from the bottom of the hill, day in and out. The punishment is clear: in the hopelessness and repetitiveness of the punishment, the gods are forcing Sisyphus to confront that which most of us prefer to ignore: the futility that underlies existence. 

 

Sisyphus' purgatory is torturous as he witnesses the truth in a compressed, obvious, tangible fashion; what he experiences each day, we encounter only over the course of years; rewarded with salaries and material benefits for producing this or that, we live distracted, becoming aware of futility only during the rare moments when it becomes apparent our accomplishments will unravel. We are often unaware of impermanence simply because our tasks take months or years. As the writer Albert Camus pointed out, the anguish of existence lies in being truly conscious of futility; the moment we become aware of it, we too experience the absurdity of the task driven life.

Yet The Buddha proposed an alternative: the pointlessness of the human condition provides us with a form of disenchantment (nibbida, in pali, The Buddha's recorded language) that fuels all spiritual endeavor. Spiritual practice is difficult, whereas materialism is rewarded, advertised, promoted*. It requires a radical letdown, a disillusionment, to jolt us out of the trance. Discouragement is not always a mistake, or an error to be fixed, it can be our teacher, guide, mentor.

 

Once we experience disenchantment, we rebalance our lives, giving time and effort to developing an inner peace that will sustain us when deflated by the world. And we still have our daily tasks: we return to our boulders at the foot of the hill (our careers and obligations), and proceed to roll them up with ease and detachment, knowing they will inevitably roll back down. We can experiment and play with how we address our tasks, for we have added a source of serenity and peace elsewhere. Life in the world becomes a game; that which we can learn to play well and ethically. Yet win or lose, we see our boulders as only a pastime.