Mindful Impact Story Series: The Story of Tantalus with a Mindfulness Perspective

The feast and the crime

Tantalus and Mindfulness Image 1Tantalus, a mortal son of Zeus, was king of the ancient kingdom of Lydia and was loved by his people. His popularity led to him being favoured by the gods who invited him up to Mount Olympus to dine with him. The gods shared their food and drink, ambrosia and nectar. He knew his people would love him even more if he could share these delights with them, so he took some back with him to his kingdom. However, he didn’t ask permission and the gods don’t like being stolen from nor do they appreciate their delicacies being shared with mortals.

Tantalus was punished with death and his own private hell in the afterlife. He was made to stand in a pool of cool pure drinking water, beneath a fruit tree with low branches. Sound ok so far?

The punishment

Tantalus and Mindfulness Image 2However, whenever he reached for the fruit, the branches would move away, just out of his reach, and whenever he bent down to drink, the water would recede.

Tantalus was left eternally, to this day, grasping and reaching, unable to fulfil his desires.

This punishment along with his name gave us the English word ‘tantalised’-  torment or tease (someone) with the sight or promise of something that is unobtainable.

A mindfulness perspective

The tale of Tantalus serves as a metaphor for the human condition of perpetual craving and the suffering it brings. Mindfulness teaches us to be present in the moment and to accept our current experiences without excessive attachment or aversion. In Tantalus’s case, his constant reaching for what is just beyond his grasp symbolizes the endless cycle of desire and dissatisfaction.

Additionally, Tantalus’s predicament highlights the human tendency to be dissatisfied with what we have and to constantly desire more, often to our detriment.  If he could stop and pay attention to his default habit of craving. If he could accept that he was dead and therefore didn’t need to eat or drink. Then he could find the value of contentment and the peace that comes from appreciating the present moment, rather than being perpetually fixated on unattainable desires.


The story of Tantalus, highlights the themes of desire, consequence, and the importance of living in the present moment with awareness and gratitude. It serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked desire and the wisdom of cultivating a mindful approach to life.

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