What does the story of Sisyphus have to tell us, 2000-plus years after the fact?
To those who don’t know the legend, Sisyphus was a king who dared to trick the gods and believed that he was smarter than Zeus. He chained Death (Hades/Thanatos) in place of being bound himself, and in doing so caused a brief stoppage of death. When he himself was then sent to the Underworld, his punishment for his aggrandised hubris was to forever push a boulder to the top of a mountain.¬†However in this case, Zeus had enchanted the boulder so that it always ran away from him before he crested the heights. As a result, the adjective “Sisyphean” can be used to denote a task that can never be completed.
The tales of Greek mythology are excellent anecdotal examples to draw from with regards to life lessons applicable to the modern-day. I am sure I shall refer back to them on many occasions in posts to come. We live in a period of such immense change that it is hard to feel anchored in a sense of personal identity. It is easy to be swept up in the pace of life dictated by the changes happening around us, drawn by the current down the route that everyone around you is taking and forget that every person’s path up the mountain is different.
Life is, in effect, Sisyphean.
There is no end result. It’s not a game, there aren’t levels and there isn’t a final boss. Life just is. It is a phenomena borne out of a miracle of scientific chance/coincidence/higher power (dependent on your belief system) and regardless of what scripture you delve into, there is no goal beyond the moral guidelines of a “good life”, treating others how you expect to be treated, exploring and experiencing.
But as Albert Camus was quoted as saying, “the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Life is not about destinations, it is about journeys. If you set goals, that is an excellent way of achieving what you set out to do – there are many books on the subject (The Magic of Thinking Big, The Power of Habit, 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People to name but a few) and many things to achieve in life. But Tony Robbins remarked very astutely that there are two parts to life, the Science of Success/Achievement and the Art of Fulfilment.
Achievement or “success” as it is commonly defined is indeed a science – there is a formula, a well-trodden path to achieve such. Work hard, get a good job, earn money, have a family, produce rather than consume, put out content to the world, be able to afford whatever you want in life and live happy ever after.
Fulfilment, however, is an art. It requires lateral thinking, and real self-analysis. It explains why highly successful people such as Kurt Cobain and Chester Bennington commit suicide despite their fame and fortune, and why the poorest of people can be remarkably happy with their lives and their lot (such as Lionel Shriver).
Be happy being Sisyphus. Embrace the arguably pointless adventure that is life, learn about both the science of success and the art of fulfilment, walk the path whether it be one you follow or one of your own making and go forth into the fray to find what you want out of life. Then fight like hell to make sure you get it, and once you’ve got a hold of the prize grasp it with both hands, and never let it go.


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