Saturday, March 16, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 16, 2019 - The Difference Between Pushing and Pulling

What does it feel like to bang your head against a wall? Does it hurt? Assuming the answer is yes, why do we keep doing it? I love the old maxim which defines the word “crazy” as doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. And yet we do that all the time.

In love, we are constantly finding ourselves in this mode. In work, in friendships, in our life’s ambitions, we are taught that we must keep pushing forward. Keep pushing, keep striving, never give up. It’s good advice to a degree. But a bit of finesse is warranted. The danger is in pushing so hard you fall over, or worse, get nowhere.

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was king of Ephyra. He was a horrible man. Arrogant, deceitful, ambitious and homicidal. He did everything he could to push against the world and the tide of human progress in favor of his own ego and comfort. He even caused death itself to temporarily cease after he tricked Hades into chaining himself to the underworld. Tempting the wrath of Zeus, he was finally defeated and consigned to an eternity of pushing a boulder up a hill. The rock would spring from his grip and roll back to the bottom the moment he was nearing the top. Every time. Forever.

To this day, that mythological punishment is referred to in the form of a metaphor. The Sisyphean task. The definition of “crazy.” The pounding of one’s head against a wall. Forever.

But we love this. In fact, our culture encourages us as a duty to our own honor that we must keep on pushing at all costs and never give up. We in turn mistakenly apply those notions to things which simply cannot be. We apply this degree of persistence because that which resists us must perish. We must conquer. We must control. We must win. But are we playing by the wrong rules or are we playing the wrong game?

Zeus was satisfied by the cleverness of the punishment he gave to King Sisyphus because the king was not wise enough to ever give up. Zeus knew that he would be maddened by the perpetual failure long before he could ever wear himself out climbing the hill again and again. His punishment was near-perfect. There was an undiscovered loophole. Had Sisyphus ever realized it, Zeus would have been defeated.

What if Sisyphus had suddenly decided to no longer roll the boulder up the hill? What if he allowed himself to simply fail, to just give up? He would be doing so at the risk of moral defeat by Zeus, at least that’s what he would believe. In that moment he would be technically allowing Zeus to win. Yet we know who the real winner would be. It would be the one who stops pushing. But the one who stops pushing wouldn’t know that it would be a winning strategy until he lets go of his ego enough to attempt it. He’d have to have courage and a willingness to risk failure. Still determination, yes. But applied to a different game altogether.

Zeus would have been enraged to be beaten at his own game had Sisyphus ever woken to the idea of simply letting go. So what if the rock sits at the bottom of the hill? I happen to know personally a large boulder which sits quite contentedly in the valley at the bottom of its former hilltop home. I can see it on the town square from my church office window. It is today a monument to resolution and community resolve which no longer needs to sit atop the hill in order to be loved.

The moral of the story? Stop pushing. Know what it is that you want and then allow it to be rather than force it. Let it be pulled toward you. Allow yourself to be pulled toward it. Let go. There may be ways in which you are pulled toward different places than you would have imagined in order to have what you desire. Sisyphus wanted rest, Zeus wanted revenge. Sisyphus needed to change the game he was playing from Zeus’ to his own.

This is the practice of non-resistance. It is the most difficult one of all because it is disguised behind our need to push and control. It is a belief that we must keep pushing this boulder because it keeps falling back down. But that is a conclusion of the ego which is mistaking the rules of the game. In fact, it is grossly mistaken about the very nature of the game itself. The boulder is not the one making the rules. It is the hill.

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