Things go wrong in our lives all the time. Often the moment we think a task is complete it all unravels and we have to start again. Sometimes our days seem crushingly similar, the situation we find ourselves in seems untenable, even pointless – get up, go to work, have dinner, go to bed. Rinse and repeat.
There is nothing new in these frustrations.
Greek mythology knew these feelings well and gave us a character called Sisyphus. Sisyphus was punished by the gods for trying to cheat death. His sentence was to push a rock up a hill for all eternity, every time he gets to the top of the hill the rock rolls to the bottom, and he must start again. It all feels pretty familiar.
But despite the relentless drudgery of his punishment, Albert Camus the Franco-Algerian philosopher, resistance fighter, and general all round cool dude, saw Sisyphus as a hero and a happy one at that. "One must imagine Sisyphus happy” Camus wrote "..the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart."
For Camus, man’s futile search for meaning and the "unreasonable silence" of the universe in response gives rise to what he termed the absurd. But despite this absurdity, Camus suggests we must imagine Sisyphus happy because he has made peace in accepting his fate. And while a dead French dude telling you life is meaningless might seem a bit depressing, particularly if you are reading this on a Sunday night, there are further lessons we can draw on from this myth.
Every time Sisyphus begins to push that stone up the mountain is another chance for him to do it better, to refine his technique, to put his whole self into what he is doing. Similarly, every day we get up is a new chance to start again and build on what we started the day before. It’s another chance to correct mistakes we’ve made in the past. Every missed rep is another chance to push the bar overhead and lock the elbows. Every lap of the track is a potential PB. We go again, but this time better.
Every time the stone rolls down the hill is a chance for Sisyphus to rest and recuperate, every time he gets to the top is an opportunity to admire the view. If we don’t like our situation and can change it, great. But if we can’t we need to acknowledge the limitations of our situation and look at what we can appreciate.
Camus wasn’t all doom, gloom and depressingly tedious manual labour. He enjoyed the sun, sea, and sports. He chased girls and met his friends for lunch and dinner. He found joy in the small things and that is something most of us can do regardless of our situation. Even if that just means meeting a friend for a brew or going for a walk and trying to find the beauty in whatever is close to our home or place of work. Even if that means taking online combat Zumba classes, do what works for you.
1400 years before Camus, Epictetus taught: “Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace”
This quote could be read as accepting the situation but for us, and in light of Camus’ interpretation of Sisyphus, the emphasis should be on welcoming events, seeing the opportunity they all present, and enjoying the little things.
PS... If you haven’t read Camus’ topical novel ‘The Plague’ you really should.