Lessons from the Myth of Sisyphus
As Greek mythology have it, King Sisyphus of Ephyra (the modern day Corinth) was cursed to perform the menial task of rolling a huge rock up a steep hill that will only ALMOST reach the top only to roll downhill so that Sisyphus have to push it uphill again for all of eternity.
Well, it all started when Death came to claim Sisyphus at the end of his life but the cunning king tricked Death (Hades) into putting the chains of death on himself. Hades realized too late that he was tricked as Sisyphus fled the underworld. With the God of Death being chained, humans enjoyed a brief age of immortality. This ticked off Zeus, who condemned Sisyphus to pushing a huge rock up a steep hill for eternity.
What Can We Learn From the Myth of Sisyphus?
Aren’t we all Sisyphus? Condemned to being born to roll our rocks up a hill? How can our life be more than just monotonous repetitive days strung together leading to our death?
Albert Camus 1942 essay on Sisyphus gives some indication that our lives are not merely one of futile and hopeless labor.
Lesson 1: Find Your Own Meaning in Your Life and Pursue Happiness
Camus equates the Myth of Sisyphus to life’s endless struggle to achieve goals and dreams that are essentially meaningless because the ultimate outcome of life is death.
Perhaps the inevitability of the rock rolling downhill symbolizes death as a foregone conclusion. Yet, like Sisyphus we continue our struggles through life – to make ends meet, to collect accolades and to make meaning of life – before it all ends.
And, like Sisyphus, we somehow manage to find meaning and joy in pushing our “rock” uphill over and over again. If you have not found the joy and meaning in your life or your daily tasks, you will have to find it. On your own.
Joy and meaning only resides in your mind. You will not find it out there in the universe. You can only find it within you. Camus proposes that we can only truly be happy once we accept our life and fate as entirely our own. Thus, finding joy in your struggles is the best way to live.
Lesson 2: We Are Ultimately Responsible for Our Own Happiness
We assume that Sisyphus having to return to the bottom of the hill to start pushing the rock up all over again is executed in agony and pain. Who knows? Maybe he found joy in his task.
Turn your labors into a labor of love. Find passion in what you do or do something you are passionate about.
Then pushing the rock uphill will turn from burden to joy. You know the rock will roll down again and again but it will not supplant your joy. If you are able to find joy and passion in your labors, you will find that, as Camus puts it, “the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart”.
Lesson 3: What You Do with Your Time Here is Completely Up To You
The rock is Sisyphus’ responsibility. His calling. There’s no way he will abandon it. No matter the pain and agony, he has taken up the challenge to roll it uphill again and again. He has all the time in the world to perform his task. He has decided to stick to it.
“One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” Camus says. Because he has found joy and meaning in his task and decided to dedicate all his time to his task.
If you have identified your calling, passion or whatever you choose to call it, then fervently work at it. Pursue it. You are free to choose what you want to do with your time here. Do choose wisely.