You may not realize this, but you are Sisyphus.
Who’s Sisyphus? He’s an ancient Greek guy who was condemned by the gods to roll a huge rock up a mountain, only to see it repeatedly roll back down again.
How are you Sisyphus? I know you’re not an ancient Greek guy, but you’re just like him. Day in and day out you go to work, looking forward to the weekend, only to begin again on Monday. The things you build are fated to crumble into ruin; then in time, even the ruins will be gone. The people you heal will die. The ones you educate will forget everything they ever knew. Everyone you love will leave you. Despite everything you do to stay healthy, sickness will triumph. When you’re a child, you thought it would be great to drive a car. Then, when you got a car, you were miserable if you didn’t get a girlfriend. You thought you’d be happy when you finished school and started work; but no sooner did you start work than you looked forward to retirement. You want this, and you want that; but when you get any of it, you just want something else. That’s you, rolling the boulder up the mountain, only to watch it roll back down again. That’s all of us.
You’re Sisyphus when you expect things to be fair, but they’re not. When you want to be happy, but happiness eludes you. When you want truth, but truth is hard to find. When you want to matter, but the universe doesn’t give a crap.
So, what can you do about being Sisyphus? Why bother? Is there any way of making it all less futile?
Well, no; but you do have choices:
- You can go into a trance and be so intent on rolling your boulder up the mountain, or whatever it is you do, that you don’t think about how pointless it is. That works a lot of the time. The important thing is to stay busy and not give yourself a chance to think.That’s like saying the reason you roll the boulder, is so you don’t have to think about the futility of rolling the boulder. Once you learn you’re Sisyphus, you can’t just unlearn it. You can’t be busy all the time. Every day you have to go to sleep and it’s then that the awareness of being Sisyphus will creep in.
- You could be a cat. A cat has it easier. Cats live life directly, sitting in the sun, licking their fur, catching a mouse now and then, and never questioning life. Cats never say, “Is this what I should be doing? What is the point of sitting in the sun? It’s not fair that I have to eat mice when people can open cans of tuna.” If cats have those questions and those thoughts, we never hear about them.Oh, right. You can’t be a cat. It’s too late, you’re already a human. Never mind. Just keep rolling your boulder up the mountain and hope in your next life, you’ll be a cat.
- Trusting in the afterlife can be an option. Maybe it all seems pointless now, but that’s because we don’t know everything. Perhaps there’s more to know, so go on rolling the boulder in hopes that the purpose of it all will be revealed in the end.That’s a little like ordering something online, and not being told whether you’ll ever get it. You can believe that if you like. If you do, I have a bridge I can sell you. I’ll deliver it later.
- You could say that life is meaningful, despite the apparent meaninglessness. People pick things up and put them down at gyms all the time. It looks meaningless, but they believe it has a purpose. Religion is often used to provide meaning. People say that God gives you all the meaning you’ll ever need. It’s all there in the Bible. You just have to believe in Him.Treating religion like it has all the answers just kicks the can down the road. Eventually, you arrive at questions no one has answers to. Questions like: Where did God come from? How can I know anything about God? And, when people talk or write about God, how do I know they’re right? You can’t have all the answers given to you. Eventually, you confront the mystery and have to admit you’re Sisyphus.
- You can get angry, blame gravity, the mountain, the whole world, and the laws of physics for not doing what you want.Gravity, the mountain, the whole world, and the laws of physics will not listen; or if they do, they will not respond.
- Refuse to do any work. Care nothing for truth and fairness. If the world isn’t going to give a crap, don’t give one, either. Eliminate desire.In other words, conduct a demonstration for the cause of nothingness. Do you see the paradox in that? Getting angry is a lot of work. You can’t eliminate desire without desiring to eliminate desire. You can’t proclaim there is no such thing as truth without proclaiming that as a truth.
- You could blame yourself. The rock only rolled down the mountain because I didn’t place it at the top in the right way. I’ll go get it and try it again until I learn to do it properly.OK, let me know how that works.
- Get into it. Make it your thing. Shout, “I am Sisyphus, King of Futility.”So am I, and you, and you and you. We are all kings in this land.
- Laugh at the world’s absurd nature. As long as the human condition is a joke: ludicrous, marred by imperfection; then you no longer are treating it like a puzzle, seeking a clever solution. Linger and laugh in the incongruous gap between the way the world is and the way you wish it to be. Extract pleasure from what gives everyone else frustration and pain.If it’s a comedy, then it’s a black comedy. It’s a dark humor that doesn’t deny the pain.
- Love the labor, love the sweat, love the leisurely walk down the mountain.What’s there not to love?
- Keep it in perspective. My rock is smaller than yours. My mountain, not as high.
But what if it isn’t?
- If you’re going to die anyway, get it over with and save yourself the trouble.But there’s still something you love about life, or something you fear about death.
It should be noted that, according to the myth, the crime that Sisyphus committed was that he wanted to live forever. The Gods granted him his wish; but told him he had to roll his boulder up the mountain as long as he lives. Maybe that’s the whole point. If you’re going to live life, then you have to do so on life’s terms. You can’t say the world should take its orders from you. You also can’t say that when the world screws you over you won’t have some feelings about it. Those are the terms. Accept them.