Pushing it uphill

Do you know about the Myth of Sisyphus? In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned by Zeus to push a heavy boulder up a mountain, but when he almost reached the top, the boulder would roll back to the bottom and Sisyphus would have to start all over again… forever. This seems to be a bleak picture of unending futility without hope. But is it? The French philosopher Albert Camus argued that “the struggle itself is a enough to fill our hearts, so we must imagine Sisyphus to be happy.”

This myth has always intrigued me because I see a quite a Buddhist slant to it. If we are in the middle of doing something, especially boring repetitive daily grind stuff, but at that moment we are just wishing that we were doing something else, then that way of thinking can only make us unhappy. So if I’m doing some boring everyday task, like washing the dishes, but I’m thinking I’d rather be writing my blog or reading a book or enjoying a cuppa, then I’m not really engaged in that present moment – I’m just wishing I was in some other alternative reality, which then makes me feel annoyed or dissatisfied with the present reality. However, the fact is that right in that moment of washing the dishes no other reality exists – this washing-the-dishes is the only reality and reading-a-book is just my imagination pulling me into some other non-existent world. In other words, what you are doing right now is totally real, so why not enjoy it?

When you think about it, it’s not the task itself that is boring and annoying, it’s the way we think about it that makes us feel dissatisfied. And if your mind is full of thinking about being somewhere else, then you miss the chance of finding something wonderful that might be right there in front of you, but it might pass by you because you are not really fully aware and present to see it. If I’m doing the dishes, I like to see the rainbows formed in the soap bubbles, or listen to the birds singing outside, or feel the warmth of the water on my hands. This is a meditation. Sometimes, if I’m able to stay present in the washing-the-dishes reality, I feel a great sense of gratitude for this gift of water from the tap, the satisfaction of having had a lovely meal, the good fortune to live in a place where I have the freedom to be safely in my own kitchen doing a simple task like washing the dishes. How lucky I am! And so doing the dishes suddenly makes me feel really happy.

If we can start with small meditations like this about daily tasks that seem to take up our time, even the seemingly endless boring repetitions of getting in the car and driving to work or taking the kids to school, when we’d rather be doing something else, then gradually this will encompass our whole lives, so that everything we do can be made into fruitful uplifting experiences that can fill us with joy. In this way, it doesn’t matter what kind of life you live, you can be happy. It is only the wishing-I-was-somewhere-else that makes us unhappy. So this is how I can imagine that even Sisyphus can be happy.

Sharing a cuppa

my hands
warmed by the cup
become the potter’s 

It’s a beautiful sunny winter morning here at Wabi’an, so I decided to sit out in the garden with a cup of fragrant soba-cha (buckwheat tea) and listen to the thousands of bees busily collecting nectar from the flowers in the grevillea bushes. They made me feel deliciously lazy!

As I sat there listening to the bees, I enjoyed feeling the warmth of the tea heating up the cup and traveling into my fingers which were really cold from the brisk winter air. I took a moment to imbibe not just the warm smoky taste of the buckwheat tea, but its popcorn-like fragrance, as well as the visual pleasure of the green-brown glaze of the teacup through the clear straw-coloured tea. And, in this way, all my senses seemed to be absorbed in this moment of tea-ness which was ‘delicious’ on so many levels.

I also enjoyed the texture, shape and feel of the cup as I wrapped my hands around it. This cup is one of my favourites – it was made by a Japanese artist who lives in an artist’s community in a small village in the mountains near Koyasan, where I was ordained. The cup was a special gift from a fellow nun from my home temple, Muryoko’in, and although Buddhists are not supposed to be “attached” to the material world, I treasure this cup.

Then, in my moment of tea-ness, I suddenly felt that my hands were holding this cup in exactly the way that the potter had intended when he made it, and I felt too that his own hands were held in just such a way when he fashioned the cup. At that moment, with the warmth of tea coming through the cup, I felt the warmth of the potter’s own hands as he had so carefully caressed and shaped this cup from its raw state that had come out of the earth. The unknown potter had gifted me this moment of profound awareness that engaged all my senses and connected me with his creative spirit and with the earth herself. I was deeply grateful to him and said a prayer of thanks for our connection.

Do you have a favourite cup? What is its story? Next time you make yourself a cuppa, take a moment to feel the connection to the creator of the cup and, through that person’s hands, connect to the earth. I can assure you it is at the same time a very grounding as well as uplifting experience – and it’s right there for us to experience at any time of the day!


I wrote the little introductory poem as a ‘haiku’ – a very brief form of traditional Japanese poetry in which the experience of a single moment is encapsulated in three brief lines. Try it!

Soba-cha is a delicious tea made from roasted buckwheat – I don’t know if its available outside of Japan, but if you can find it it’s very healthy and tasty.

I highly recommend a book called “The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty” by Soetsu Yanagi, which explores the value and essence of art by craftsmen who remain unknown, and how “objects are born, not made”. Wonderful book!