I like to think that one of the reasons I still love teaching so much is that I expect my students to teach me as much as I teach them. That, my friends, has turned out to be very true this term.
I’ve been teaching a new writing course, focused on the Bhagavad Gita.We’ve also been reading some supplemental essays by a wide range of writers (later we’ll be reading a selection from the Yoga Sutras). One them is an essay by the existentialist writer, Albert Camus: “The Myth of Sisyphus.”
In that essay, Camus famously retells the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who, as punishment for defying the gods, is forced to roll a giant boulder up a hill, eternally. To Camus, Sisyphus is the embodiment of the absurd hero. He just gets the boulder up the hill, and, in spite of all his effort, it rolls back down. At the moment when he turns, he faces a choice, a choice of mind–the only kind of choice he has left. Camus imagines that he does not despair. He must feel joy in his effort, even joy that he must begin again.
So, many of my students are writing about how routine wears down our ability to feel joy, or be present in the moment. It seems like a natural place for them to go, since they’re students, and have been repeating pretty much the same routine for all of their lives. But they’re also reading the Bhagavad Gita, and it’s in the meeting place of these two texts that I’m learning the most from them.
Krishna, you may recall, defines “yoga” a lot of different ways, but one of His definitions is “skill in action” and “complete awareness.” I’m reading essays where my students point out that once action becomes routine, there is no yoga—no awareness=no skill.
They’re also writing about Krishna’s advice that Arjuna detach himself from the fruits of his actions. Sisyphus, of course, has no choice: His actions bear no fruit. So the only thing remaining to him is to focus only on his state of mind. Some of my students have pointed out that the “fruits” are illusions, so Sisyphus is a way to think about pure action. Mind. Blown.
As if I weren’t getting hit over the head hard enough, I was walking to my office the other day, chatting with a student. He asked me about my asana yoga practice. “You practice every day?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, “except Saturdays, and we get two bonus days off a month. Those are sweet.” “Wow,” he said, “You’re like Sisyphus.”
I managed to maintain my composure, but I had a very clear image of myself, once again standing at the front of my mat, with the giant boulder of the series in front of me, ready to push it up the hill one more time, habitually. Why am I practicing? Because it’s not a moon day or Saturday. That attitude, I decided, means the death for the true practice of yoga, right in that moment.
You can see where I’m going with this. The practice of Ashtanga must never become a matter of habit. Habit is not discipline—these things are mutually exclusive. Habit is mindless. Discipline leaves room for joy, because it’s a conscious decision to bring a certain kind of space or play to the action. I’m not condemned to practice. I choose to. And I must consciously choose to, every day.
Except Saturdays and moon days.
Posted by Bobbie