Monday, May 16, 2011

Life is hard, Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed that by accepting that life is difficult, we have taken the first step to preparing ourselves for those difficult times. 

This is not a new concept. In fact, the first of the “Four Noble Truths” that Buddha taught is that “Life is Suffering.”

The Myth of Sisyphus is an essay by French philosopher Albert Camus. It analyzes the Greek myth of Sisyphus who was condemned to the underworld to roll a giant boulder up hill, only to have it roll back down and for him to start again. At the outset, all of us would think of this as the ultimate punishment. It would seem as if you could never reach a state of contentment. However, Camus argues that one could imagine Sisyphus happy. How could that be? He suggests that Sisyphus was able to find happiness only after he acknowledged the futility of his task. After that, he was freed to reach a state of contented acceptance.
Really? Happiness?
His task is not much different than the series of tasks that we all face in life.  We all have difficult tasks, whether it is in our jobs, our family, or simply our home life. We work hard to get these tasks done, and before long, there is a new task at hand. Just because our lives are taken up by a series of difficult tasks, is that a reason for despair? Are we to think of ourselves as condemned to the underworld? I think not.
Happiness is achieved by taking pride in the accomplishments of our individual achievements. Conversely, happiness is hard to find if all we do is focus on the fact that we have a lot of work ahead of us. In fact, it can be overwhelming to think of all the projects that need to be accomplished. There seems to be an infinite number of boulders to roll up the hill. In fact, there probably are. But, acceptance of that fact helps us to move on to something more important, which is doing a good job, and finding happiness at our current task. 
I like to think that Sisyphus focused on pushing the boulder up the hill each time like it was a new task. He could take pride in looking at the boulder sitting at the top of the hill. And by thinking this way, he was able to find happiness in a situation that seems awful.
Noted sculptor Donald Gialanella* was commissioned to sculpt an interpretation of the myth of Sisyphus, seen here. 
In it, Sisyphus is depicted holding a chain, in a never ending effort to hold up four solid granite slabs. Sisyphus must be proud to demonstrate that he is so strong that they never move. In the metaphorical sense, he is not really holding up the slabs. No, they are holding him up.



arthound said...

Great article! I enjoyed reading your unique thoughts on this myth which I too, have had the chance to interpret. I am Donald Gialanella, the artist who created the Sisyphus sculpture seen here. Commissioned for the garden of a writer's cottage in Newburyport MA , the figure depicts an alternate interpretation of the myth of Sisyphus. His never ending effort holds up four solid granite slabs that never reach equilibrium.

Christopher Roseberry said...

Thanks for the feedback! It is particularly gratifying to be appreciated by the artist from this post.