Snow, Shoveling, and Sisyphus

We have had more than our share of snow this year in Minneapolis. An early December storm brought nearly twenty inches. January offered us only three days without snow. In these most recent days, the air has again been thick with white flakes. Another foot of sand-like crystals has covered our world. We have been shoveling, and shoveling. This year, winter is demanding attention.

We might feel like Sisyphus who, for eternity, was condemned to push a boulder to the top of a mountain, only for it to roll to the bottom with every attempt. Like Sisyphus, we suffer because we want to get out of our situation. We measure what we want against what is. This is suffering.

We are a culture that is in constant yearning for what comes next or what we want instead. We yearn for the weather to be different, our job to be different, our looks to be different. At every turn we find dissatisfaction. Living within the boundaries of our hopes, we completely overlook the amazing, interesting life that we’re living Here and Now. Here and Now is where our True life takes place, and it is impossible to escape. Life cannot be different than it is right here, right now, but it is far more rich than the container of our concepts.

As humans, we are endowed with gifts of the intellect; memory, imagination, planning, calculation, measurement. These wonderful skills, however, become curses when our characterizations, assessments, and definitions are believed to be truth. We grasp at concepts. While shoveling, we compare the activity to not shoveling. For many, not shoveling is preferable. We reject this current situation, and imagine it to be snow-free, shovel-free. We’d rather be inside, and warm. We measure what remains left of the task, against our current definition of happiness. We anticipate and relish being finished even as we hear there’s more on the way. Our minds race ahead to ideas of what comes next. Surely it’s better, we think. This grasping at concepts and context is suffering.

We can be released from “shoveling,” even while shoveling. We can be released from “winter,” even when cold and snow are abundant. We can simply shovel, in spite of our ideas of shoveling and our yearning for the next season. This doesn’t mean to push away our ideas, explanations, measurements, and desires. When yearning for this moment to be another, simply notice the yearning and return to the activity. See, hear, smell, taste, touch with interest. There’s no need to yearn for yearning to cease, since it brings yet more dissatisfaction. With simple noticing, already the feel of the shovel in the hands, the cool flakes landing on cheeks, the deep breathing of exertion, can arise through the seeming barriers of the intellect and its held ideas of truth. Take an interest in shoveling. Take an interest in now. Snowflakes drift gently. Sunshine radiates through frigid air. Simply notice. This is to return to the activity that is our True life right here, right now.

© 2011 Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.

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