Day in, day out, day in, day out, day in, day out, rest day. Day in, day out…get the idea. This is the life of an ashtangi. For most of us, it’s an accurate portrayal of our daily lives, too. On a day-to-day basis, there usually aren’t big changes, but just little ones that pop up. Most of our days have some consistency, or so it appears. But if you do Ashtanga yoga, you know that there can be big differences day-to-day. Because of the sequence being the same, it helps you to realize just how different you really are each day. With the practice having the same format, it’s sort of like a painter always starting with a white canvas. Or you could think of it as being similar to the story of Sisyphus, a character in Greek Mythology.
Sisyphus was condemned to a life of suffering, by the Gods, for his deceitful ways. He was to push a large boulder, up a mountain, every day, just to have it roll down again. Same boulder. Same mountain. Every day. For eternity. He’d find himself standing at the top of the mountain watching the boulder roll back down, and it is believed that on his way down he was left to think about his situation. * It is said by Albert Camus, in the book The Myth of Sisyphus that “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.” Camus also says that “[t]here is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.” It is that statement, that makes me say Sisyphus has nothing on us Ashtangi’s. Because unlike Sisyphus, we choose to push the boulder up the mountain in what our daily practice. Every morning we wake up and see “the boulder” waiting for us at the foot of our yoga mat. We dutifully accept our fate, without scorn. All Ashtangis know there will be some dukha along the way, as well as some sukha. We accept that, and practice anyway.
I just read a book called The Dude and the Zen Master, by the actor Jeff Bridges, in which he implies that Camus was trying to say that Sisyphus was a hero. Jeff interprets Sisyphus feelings about his fate as such “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 were attached to his 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 his outcome to become any different, then he would be free to enjoy the process, instead of the result.
Ashtanga yoga is a process, not a result. That is why Pattabhi Jois said “Practice and ALL is coming” the word 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 many different outcomes, but any particular outcome never removes the need for the process. The process of ashtanga yoga is till death, or until we can no longer move our bodies. The Ashtangis that I know celebrate the big anniversaries, 10 years, 15, 25 years of daily practice. All the way to Pattabhi who had over 70 years of practice to see what the ALL was about.The practice is the boulder. However, it is up to you whether you push it up the mountain. It’s also up to you whether it feels like a burden, or a blessing. Pattabhi was always saying “You do”. Some say it was his limited/broken english that made him say it that way, 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 did, but he had no choice. Maybe he eventually realized that the God’s meant “You do” and not “You have to do this.” One statement carries burden, while the other sets you free – Jivan Mukta. The God’s probably thought this work would be good for Sisyphus, so that he could see the error of his ways. We yogi’s understand this. Our practice helps to get rid of our samsara halahala.
* Excerpt from Wikipedia.