Tag Archives: Zen

The Long, Swollen Pause

The idea that pauses in conversation are bad has been indelibly etched into our belief system. We even have an expression for this unwanted interval: The awkward silence. Because in our minds, conversation should be a lively flowing exchange. The good conversationalist, we are told, should know how to keep the dialogue moving.

But even in the context of what we would call “small talk,” a well-timed pause is of great benefit; it not only allows for a moment of reflection, but gives a greater sense of intention to what will eventually be said.

In a potentially heated conversation, a befitting pause is not only beneficial, but vital. A deliberate pause can totally prevent fall out. In Kundalini Yoga, we talk a lot about the neutral mind. The simple act of waiting before speaking—for as long as you need to—can bring us there. Yet, as simple as it is, we forget to do it.

The neutral mind is the mind of the sage. It is the mind that stays cool, come what may. So called because it neutralizes our reactive tendency. Staying neutral is easier said than done. Yet we all know someone who is just naturally that way—unaffected by the things that throw most people into melt-down mode. The neutral mind allows you to step back rather than getting sucked into the drama.

This reservoir of calm, called the neutral mind, opens us up to our own intuition—that deep-rooted confidence and conviction that is quite outside of the senses. When our intuition is working, it is like a good radio antenna, which makes us more attuned to information that we don’t pick up through the noise of sense data.

The long, swollen pause is like Lao Tzu’s empty cup—it is that space which the universe can fill. The neutral mind is nonjudgmental. It listens without classifying or condemning. It has to, so that it can receive, rather than impose. And when it does, it’s like a trouble maker getting out of the way. That’s when a connection is made. That’s when the station is tuned in. That’s the state of no separation. That’s when we see through, to the other side of the words—the words that are so baffling: How could he say that??? That’s where we see the cry for help, attention, or  understanding—the true intention behind what is actually uttered (because, remember, people don’t always know how to say what they really want to say).

Finally, it is the neutral mind that is the bridge to reality itself, unfiltered by our triggers and reflexes, and all the story lines that give rise to them. It is pure and unspoiled by our criticism and preferences, and free of all the static that gets in the way of effective response and judgment. In short, it debars the reactive tendency.

As one of my teachers puts it, it is the neutral mind that allows us to see it and then un-see it. The pause is the way. But it takes courage because it means busting through what others expect of us, as well as our own old habits. But the rewards are well worth it because it is the key to effective communication.

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The Ego—What Is It?

Ego is a misconstrued phenomenon. I often forget this fact when I say something like, It felt ego-driven to me. And the person with whom I’m speaking will say something like, Really? You think he was arrogant? So, here, I offer a little portraiture of this elusive, oft-misunderstood, conceptual thing.

Ordinarily thought of as arrogance, in its subtler shades, ego is desire, attachments, expectations. It is greed. It is the picking and choosing mind. It is jumping to conclusions, clinging to positions, single-minded stubbornness. It is anger. It is pushing your agenda. And it is all grounded in fear. The ego is the insecure part of us that needs constant recognition, approval, reassurance, and flattery (of which there is never enough). Mostly, ego just needs to be right. It is ignorance. It is the dualistic mind. And because of the fear generated by its exaggerated sense of self, and because of its dogged fixation on meeting its needs, it is in a constant state of alienation, worry, and suspicion of others’ intents. When these pestilent mental states are painstakingly peeled away, layer by layer, the light of compassion shines through, and we find that in this new state of lightness, we are able to harmonize with our surroundings, enabling others to effortlessly harmonize with us.

(Excerpted from my book,  Buddha in the Classroom; Zen Wisdom to Inspire Teachers, 2011)

Death; An Eastern Perspective

I recently wrote an article for the well-known Buddhist magazine, Shambhala Sun. It currently appears on their blogspot: Sunpace. When the editors commented that it choked them up, it felt humbly gratifying, in that I knew the article was going to serve its purpose. It is a heartfelt and honest article about life and death. In it, I share my own recent experiences, along with Buddhist wisdom on the nature of life itself, rendering death as a part of its continuum.

Here it is, in part:

Gone, but here

After our 13 year-old poodle passed away last year, we couldn’t yet bring ourselves to give away his toys. After losing a loved one—whether human or pet—there’s a part of the mind that tricks itself into believing that the deceased one still cares about the material items left behind. Rather than do anything at the time, my husband tucked them away in a plastic storage bin.

The other day when I was putting sheets away, a hedgehog with a gnawed nose caught my eye. Soon I was finding all sorts of treasures—like the old tractor my son used to play with as a child and the tattered old baby blanket he dragged around until he started kindergarten.

There is a tendency to confer a different significance to these two different kinds of discoveries. The first event recalls a beloved pet that has passed away, and in its sense of finality, tends to evoke sadness. The second involves the belongings of a boy who has simply become a man and, as it isn’t shrouded with that same quality of finality, stirs up an agreeable sort of nostalgia.

While each of us will respond in our own personal ways to the challenging events of our lives, much has to do with our interpretations of them. My point is merely to suggest that with greater contemplation, the difference between events, such as the ones I’ve shared, is less distinct than imagined.

When I said goodbye to Simba on that day last year, it was not the same little doggy that once chewed those stuffed animals. And the man that came up to visit last weekend is not the same person that dragged that old blanket around until we’d hid it, 15 years ago. Neither are here, yet, in uncountable ways, both are infinitely here.

Birth and death, birth and death! When my Zen teacher repeats these words, it is because they reveal a great truth about existence. Neither is what we believe it to be. And despite the concrete definitions we accept by convention, neither is definable and neither refers, objectively, to any specific event. Those two words reveal the reality of life’s continuum.

We celebrate the occasion of a baby’s birth as a singular event and we mourn the death of a loved one as a final farewell to life. But both birth and death are present, unceasingly, at every moment of every life. We might only notice when we look back and note all the change that has taken place over time, or when something shakes us to such a degree that we’re thrown into shock — when we’re sure nothing will ever be the same again. But it’s at any moment that nothing will ever be the same again.

I recently saw a documentary about the American spiritual teacher, Ram Dass. In one scene, a young woman shares a dream in which she asks her recently deceased fiancé if she will ever find someone else to love…

Please finish the article at Sunspace! (Will open in a new window)

On Writing; Like Dumping Bricks

I have had this analogy of writing in my mind for quite a while. I’m finally putting it to print.

DUMPING
The delivery truck beeps as it reverses into what is about to become your new driveway. It lowers its bed and dumps its contents onto the dirt. A mountain of bricks now sits there, in a heap.

It’s like the beginning of a writing project. You first have to put your ideas down freely. In a very real sense, you are unloading. Driven on by the silent ingredient of faith, you are uninhibitedly saying what you want to say, without regard to style and without hesitation. This is important; it means you are not giving in to the temptation to edit, yet. It means you trust yourself enough to let go of the tendency to say things perfectly. You trust yourself enough to get out of your own way. Unloading freely allows you to clarify for yourself what it is you really want to say. Like the bricks, there is an order to writing. The raw material—the words and ideas—must first be dumped before it can be arranged.

ARRANGING
After the bricks are laid out, you begin to examine them. What have you got? Where do these belong? And those? You organize them by size and shape, you lay them out, you arrange them properly and you begin building your structure. In writing, this means you now have your raw material. You clarify ambiguities and eliminate vagueness. You move entire paragraphs, you rephrase, you cross out sentences and other bits that are found to be repetitive, redundant or extraneous.

DECORATING
After the bricks are properly arranged, you begin to add decorative elements. An arch, a spire, a well-placed tier. You chisel, you layer, you alternate pieces. You give it rhythm and color. And you clean up all the messy, oozing cement.

In writing terms, it is time to prettify it. You know exactly which points to stress and where to stress them. You doll it up. Or you don’t. You recruit useful analogies or poetic metaphors to give it flair. As a painter uses pigment to create a desired style, tone and mood, language is your medium. And this is where everyone wants to frolic right away, but just as we were told as kids, there’s a time and a place for everything. Trying to decorate too fast would be as absurd as trying to anchor a building’s terrace before laying the foundation for it.

As an aside, following a logical order counteracts what is known as “writer’s block,” which occurs when you get overly concerned with form and style too soon. You’ve got to have building blocks with which to build before you can shape them and polish them—before you can do anything at all.

At the Hazy Moon

There is a short excerpt from my book and an interview with me here, at the Hazy Moon Zen Center.

This old three-story, Victorian house is where I practice Zen-style meditation with my Sangha, or Zen Community, and where I meet with my teacher, at various steps along my journey back home.

“Zen Buddhism is a 2,500-year-old oral teaching carried forward one-to-one from teacher to student. It is rare to encounter a real Zen teacher. William Nyogen Yeo—our teacher, or Roshi—spent nearly three decades studying with the late Taizan Maezumi Roshi, who was widely regarded as the foremost Zen master of the twentieth century. Nyogen Roshi was the last of only a dozen disciples authorized by Maezumi Roshi to succeed him as a teacher.” (Hazy Moon)

I am fortunate to have found my way to Nyogen Yeo Roshi and to the Hazy Moon Zen Temple, where we practice meditation as a community.

The Mystery Realm

The philosophy of art was always one of my favorite classes, as a grad student. One evening, my favorite instructor was talking about the sublime—that quality of utter resplendence that so wholly defeats our capacity to contain it, describe it and formulate it in any way, that we find ourselves awestruck. It is a quality that supersedes language entirely.

In art, it is not found by examining the techniques of the artist. Vivaldi can give away his method and his tricks, but still no one will compose like Vivaldi. Renoir can explain his brushstrokes and color mixtures and still, all we’ve got is a good copy, which only makes good foodstuff for the philosophers, who can argue about whether a good copy is really art or not.

The understanding and the employment of technique can only, ever, take us so far. I was thinking about these things one night when I caught an interview with Jason Alexander, of Seinfeld fame. To the question of whether “technique can make you a good actor,” his reply was to the point: “No, it’ll make you a good technician.” It’ll make you a better actor, to be sure, but there’s a sort of magic to good art. There’s an indefinable something about the truly good artist.

Like the sublime, itself, there’s something you can’t explain about it. It’s the “it” factor. There’s a distinctiveness about the great artist that lies outside the qualities that we can enumerate.

Every instance of it is unique, like the finger print, every one of which looks the same to an untrained eye. But of all the billions of people that have ever existed and that will ever exist, there will never be two identical prints. Or the voice—each of which has its own resonance and tone.

Maybe that’s the key for the philosophers, as to the mystery of the good copy and the problem of calling it art. There is always the suspicion that something is missing. And I would suggest that it’s because the missing component is intangible—it too, is beyond the paint mixtures and brush strokes and techniques. It is creation itself. It is the idea behind it, it is the inspiration to do it and finally, it is the act of unfolding it into reality.

You are the universe unfolding, Zen says.

The artist unfolds a new reality by expressing the world in her mind’s eye, transcending all the while, her own experience, by revealing the one we share. She affords us a glimpse of our collective experience—she catches the ephemeral, like a dancing butterfly, and puts it to form as a subject for our gazing eye. She is a story teller. And it doesn’t much matter if it’s true, for our remembrance of anything is but a construction, subject entirely, to what we were able to apprehend and comprehend, at the time, to our maturity level, to our attention span and to our mood at the time. And as the future has not yet happened, what we take as true is always a creation in some sense.

It is the ineffable creative element that stops us short. It is the sublime. It is the realm of mystery.

Are Zen and Kundalini Yoga Compatible?


I shared some of my favorite Kundalini mantra music with a Buddhist friend the other day. He loved it, but then gingerly asked whether I “consider it to be compatible with Buddhism.” He asked about the music, but he was really asking about the paths, in general. “Maybe I should just forget about all that and just enjoy it for what it is,” he then mused. And did I have any thoughts?

Of course, I did! And he already knew the answer—”you said it,” I told him. “You should absolutely enjoy it because only the dualistic mind sees a difference. “All paths are one and truth is truth.”

I have another Buddhist friend—a musician—who grew up with gospel. To my best knowledge, he would never consider shunning this inspirational music that he loves so much, just because it’s Christian. What an idea! So, why wouldn’t it be fine to listen to Kundalini mantra music, as a Buddhist?

One thing is certain; gospel is Americana. It’s part of our cultural heritage and we look upon it with nostalgia. On a wider note, Buddhists, like any one else, listen to a variety of music, much of which has no spiritual association at all. So, I would propose that if music with no spiritual connotation is fine, that music with some spiritual connotation would be even better—even when that tradition differs from one’s own—because uplifting vibes are, well…nice.

The question of compatibility between two spiritual traditions smacks of the guilt many people still carry around from their childhoods, when their intimidating family religions forbade even a cursory glance at some other religion’s holy book.

But, both Buddhism and the Yogas are “inclusive,” rather than “exclusive,” which means one may practice alongside any other religious practice without conflict. And many do. Consider the many Buddhist meditation teachers who still consider themselves Jews (there is even a name for them: “Jubus”)—Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg are but a few. And everyone knows about Leonard Cohen, Steven Seagal, Robert Downy Jr., Richard Gere and Goldie Hawn. And with regard to Yoga, a better question would be: Who hasn’t tried at least some form of it?

Buddhism, and Zen in particular, is not predicated on any beliefs and if there’s no belief, there’s nothing to contradict. Thus, Zen complements any practice, spiritual or otherwise, like basketball—which is why Phil Jackson used Zen-style meditation as part of his training methods with The Lakers. Zen is, in the most basic sense, just meditation. It is the practice of waking up to the present moment; it is to “eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired.” So, it’s not surprising that training in such a discipline would improve performance in anything.

Perhaps my friend’s concern had more to do with the power of Kundalini mantra music. Known as Naad Yoga, it is spiritually potent. It is held that the human body is designed for transformation through its proper practice, but even if you don’t happen to believe that, it certainly won’t hurt you if you go ahead and chant anyway! (And less so, if you’re just listening.) It is understood, in all forms of Yoga, that we have a central energy channel, known as the sushmuna, by which prana flows. This energy is our life force, it is consciousness itself, and to awaken its flow is to awaken to our own infinite potential as humans. In Kundalini parlance, it is to awaken to the divine within. At the heart of this practice is mantra meditation, in which we vibrate that central channel as well as every cell in our body, as long as we are chanting from the heart and with the belly. It is understood that everything is vibration—even our state of mind, so we can either choose sounds that elevate, or not. Naad Yoga is the technology of doing just that.

And so, if it’s potent: all the better! 

Even though Zen is not oriented around vibrational technology, it does have another point in common with Kundalini Yoga Practice: mindful meditation. One of my teachers, Guru Singh, talks endlessly about the importance of staying in the “what is,” rather than in the “should be,” which is his way of reminding us to keep our heads out of the “picking and choosing mind.”

Sounds a lot like Zen talk to me!

Our outlook toward spiritual practice doesn’t have to be polemic. It’s not Zen versus Kundalini Yoga, any more than it’s Zen versus Judaism; they’re only separate in the divisive mind! One of the things I always liked about the Zendo was that there were Christians practicing next to Jews—at this level, none of that matters anymore. While one path is not necessarily better than another, one may be more appropriate for an individual, at a certain time, than another—that’s the idea behind the various Yogas, or spiritual paths, in India. The great sages recognized that no one path is “one size fits all.” We each have different temperaments and innumerable karmic circumstances that make up our lives. And it’s all in flux. Funny enough, if we weren’t allowed to grow and evolve, there’d be no Buddhism at all! Buddha himself, born a Hindu, wouldn’t be pigeonholed. He embraced his truth, and left the rest behind, settling himself somewhere in the middle of it all.

If acclimation and adaptation are necessary for a religion’s survival as a whole, how much more so for an individual in his own evolving, personal practice? Sometimes that means strands of different traditions get intermingled, the way Taoism and Buddhism did, in the hearts of the mystics in old China, creating the birth of Ch’an (Zen).

In this light, the whole idea of a “forever home” is questionable. But even so, only the seeker gets to choose. And with the right to proceed along the sequence that is right for her. The well-known American spiritual teachers, Ram Dass and Bhagavan Dass, both traveled along paths that were ever-expanding, each having received initiation from Buddhist and Yogic teachers—and the former started off Jewish. In Zen, as well, it’s not uncommon to venture into different forms of meditation, as found in the various schools of Zen, as well as in other Buddhist traditions, such as vipassana.

As a fun and hopefully useful analogy, look upon Zen as a wonderful broth—the foundation of every soup that ever was. Like broth, Zen is simple (which doesn’t mean easy) and unembellished. But, when you add potatoes, celery, spices and salt, you’ve got something different. Some will dig it, some won’t. To play with analogies further, Zen may be seen as an essential strand in the fabric of a rich spiritual life, as a concomitant part of a whole. And further still, think of it as a no-frills wooden boat, which, like any other boat, will carry you just fine to the other shore. Some boats are fancy, some are not, some go fast, some don’t and some rock more than others. How wonderful the differences are!

Through these analogies and commentary on my friend’s innocent question, I hope to have shown the beauty of each tradition, but most of all, that there’s no conflict between them—or with any other path.

On the Notion of a Perfect Teacher

   I watched a documentary about the American spiritual teacher, Ram Dass. His Be Here Now, has long been one of the staples on my book shelf. Now 80 years old, he talks candidly about the struggles he’s faced after his stroke. He confessed the moment when, on the verge of death, he failed to orient himself toward God. That’s the ultimate test, he explained, and according to him, he flunked it. “I still have a lot of work to do,” he says.

His honesty touched me. It is often assumed that those on a spiritual path don’t slip and fall. But as my Zen teacher has said, it’s not whether you fall or not, it’s how quickly you can get back up. In Yoga, we look at growth as it manifests in degrees and stages, the real measurement of which is entirely internal, and rarely consistent. Progress in anything, including life itself, is never a straight line. But what we do have, as seekers, is an ever keener insight into the difference between what our minds have concocted and reality itself; the tools needed to snap out of our delusion; a willingness to laugh about our own folly, and with time, perhaps, the courage to make things right.

As teachers, we can be hard on ourselves when we do find ourselves splashing around in the dark waters of old habits. At our final Yoga teacher-training weekend, Joey told us he had had an altercation with someone just before arriving. I was listening. I had just exchanged words with a demanding student.

We had both been rocked off center and we shared our feelings with the group. We were disappointed in ourselves. We were about to graduate as teachers of Kundalini Yoga. We both share a feeling of responsibility for maintaining the dignity and excellence of this tradition and part of how we do that is through our own conduct.

What happens, Joey asked, when this sort of thing happens and we’ve got to teach a class? Do you cancel? Of course not—what an idea! You go and you teach, our teacher said. And in this tradition, what that means, is that first, we “tune in.” You never know who will be there and what they will take away from the class. There might be someone in your class that day who will decide to become a teacher herself, or who will be so moved as to make some positive life-change. And chances are, you too, will forget all about whatever it was you left outside the door before you took your place on the teacher’s bench. And you did leave it outside the door!

Tuning in means going beyond ourselves to align with the greater wisdom we deliver as teachers. In this way, the teacher is more like a messenger than an originator. The teachings come through us, rather than from us, and have nothing to do with our individual personality or quirks. They go beyond the words that are spoken and are communicated subtly through our own presence.

The conventional, or western, or academic, notion of a teacher is of one that dispenses information and data. From our perspective as Yoga teachers, this reduces teaching to nothing more than a “professional trade.” As our own founding teacher, Yogi Bhajan, quipped, if we look upon teaching in such a shallow way, as merely a profession, “we will train many preachers, but no teachers.”

Our focus should be on getting out of our own way and on uplifting and guiding others, rather than on our own success or failure. Our obsession on perfection is just another ego trip. And that doesn’t mean we stop striving toward excellence—our very ability to develop excellence is directly proportional to our ability to stop striving. At least where that striving is tied up with our ideas and notions of who we should be. We had better simply let go of ourselves.

When we begin to do this, we begin to manifest a certain grace when we teach. Ironically, the very shift in the way we understand our duty as teachers, from one in which we recite information, to one in which we serve, is the first step toward inner transformation. But it takes faith and trust to relax into this role as a conduit of truth. To be entrusted with the task of serving, of being a source of light, makes it, most surely, a noble profession. As such, “to be a teacher is the ultimate human end,” Yogi Bhajan concludes.

Anyone who teaches to be a teacher rather than to serve, will fall. ~Yogi Bhajan

An Interview!

Interview with Donna Quesada
Author of Buddha in the Classroom; Zen Wisdom to Inspire Teachers

AJ: So take us through the process of this book. When did you first conceptualize the whole idea and how did it flow from there?

DQ: It was the fall semester of 2008. My spirit was declining and I was dragging myself to class each day. I started envisioning a series of vignettes in which I would consider burnout from the point of view of Zen. Little did I know, the coming semester would be the worst yet! It was almost serendipitous, though, because I had just bought a voice recorder, so I started recording myself on the way back to my car each day after class, and the stories just kept coming. Through them, my vision started to transform and as my vision transformed, so did my frustrations. In this book I share what turned out to be a collection of entertaining anecdotes—of the “clicky” girls that never stop talking, the angry guy, the iPod guy, etc., all of which are followed by the treasured eastern wisdom that inspired and lifted me out of my burnout.

AJ: It seems to me that you use the stories as a vehicle through which to intimate these zen lessons. Was that how you saw the book coming together?

DQ: Exactly! I don’t think I could have written it any other way because my spiritual practice is such a huge part of who I am and how I look at problems. Even the very notion of a “problem” makes me think of a famous quote by a Zen master: “Of course I have troubles—it’s just no problem!”

AJ: Can you go into a bit of detail about your background as a Zen Buddhist?

DQ: It was an instant love-affair. It started when I spied the cover of an Alan Watts book, sitting on a friend’s kitchen counter. It was The Wisdom of Insecurity, which at that time, had a groovy green and purple cover which caught my eye, while the title captured my imagination. I was intrigued by its ironic and surprising promise. I started temple-hopping and then got lucky enough to land myself in the classroom of a Japanese professor who taught zazen. The nine of us in the class actually got credit for staring at the wall for nearly an hour each day. But then again, it’s more challenging than the typical academic work my friends were doing in other classes. Years later, I would find my way to The Hazy Moon and to the last disciple of Taizan Maezumi Roshi, in a charming little zendo in Los Angeles, where I finally took my Zen vows. My Yoga practice was deepening alongside my Zen practice all the while—the two are an interwoven and integral part of my life today.

AJ: I was particularly struck with the non-religious feel of the book. It felt more like you and I were having a conversation over coffee, sharing fun stories here and there. Can you speak to that feel of the book for a bit?

DQ: I’m happy it feels that way to the reader! And I’m glad you mentioned the non-religious feel. It’s as I say in the preface, the wisdom is for everyone! Zen expects nothing and insists on no beliefs at all, so it doesn’t matter what the reader’s religious background (or lack thereof) is. That’s one of the interesting things about Zen temples—you walk in and find Christians practicing next to Jews! What Zen asks of you is that you be present for your life, and any discipline that helps us do that is doing us a great service.

AJ: Did you have a particular reader in mind as you were writing the book?

DQ: It’s funny. Everyone, but me, seemed to peg this book right away, as a book for teachers. But, I never thought of myself as someone who had a right to write a book for teachers. I never thought of myself—and still don’t—as an education expert. I only wanted to share these special, golden-nuggets of Zen and Yogic wisdom, alongside entertaining stories. I thought Zen enthusiasts would appreciate the elements that have only been heard in Dharma talks. But it is being marketed as a gift for teachers, and I now see that it can be of great service to teachers that are feeling the same way I felt. My hope now is that it inspires many!

AJ: What would you say is the “take home message” of your book?

DQ: To remember that we’re here to uplift others and that goes beyond the words and the whiteboard and even the grades. And we do that by shifting our perspective and by doing the opposite of what we’ve always been told to do in the west—by getting out of our heads and out of our own way! Our presence itself is a great teacher.

Interview with Amy Jacobowitz
freelance marketing
www.amyrose.us.

Excerpt from Buddha in the Classroom (Our Fixation on Passion)

Excerpt from Chapter 19—Passion; Accept, Adapt, and Abandon Hope

The real problem with our fixation on passion is the near certainty that even a blazing fire will dim with time.

Then what?

Even when passion is pursued and found, the affair won’t last forever. Passion changes. We change. A dancer friend recently shared with me the common experience among the cast members of a famous musical. Far from reveling in prideful accomplishment for having been part of one of the longest-running shows, they’re sick and tired physically, and mentally jaded. Many are dancing on old injuries, and are scarcely able to find the motivation to go onstage night after night; yet somehow they manage to put themselves into their postures and glissade, on tiptoe, onto the stage, one more time, because it’s how they make their living. It is the same motivation that gets most of the world to work every day.

It reminds me of the ancient Greek myth about Sisyphus: He is condemned by the gods to push a gigantic boulder up a hill, over and over, all day long, even as it continuously rolls to the bottom of its own weight as soon as he gets it to the top. The gods understood the futility of wasted labor, so assigning it was the perfect, wicked punishment. In retelling the story, the French philosopher Albert Camus likens the absurdity of the task to the everyday predicament of every single one of us, pushing our rocks in our own way, as we struggle to meet deadlines, deal with coworkers and bosses, and solve the problems that are part and parcel of any workday, anywhere.

But Camus was an optimist.

Despite his fate, it is Sisyphus himself who decides to be happy. He can whistle and hum happy songs while he pushes his rock, or he can lament and endlessly curse his fate. The irony is that as soon as he realizes the power inherent in his own reaction, he is liberated. He makes his fate his own. It is he alone who decides to be happy or miserable. In a nod to our own capacity for liberation, Camus says, “We must imagine Sisyphus smiling.”

Dharma: The Lesson for Teachers

Sisyphus’s existentialist smile resonates with the Buddhist reminder to let go. Sisyphus smiles because he accepts his fate. To let go is to accept. And through acceptance, Sisyphus liberates himself from his sentence. To accept is to simultaneously stop resisting. When you stop resisting, you are able to enjoy your experiences, which is to say, your life.

Accept, adapt, and abandon hope, Zen says…