Sisyphus (or 'Learning to Love the Stone')

My thoughts on the daily grind...

Sisyphus was the King of Ancient Corinth who irritated the King of the Gods, Zeus, by cheating death twice.

He accomplished this first by audaciously kidnapping Thanatos (the Greek version of the Grim Reaper) while a spirit in the underworld and chaining him up, briefly pausing death altogether.

Sisyphus released Thanatos in return for another shot at life, but he eventually found himself dead again.

This time, he charmed Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld, into briefly letting him return to the land of the living to ensure his wife was making the proper sacrifices in his memory, and then he tried to make a run for it.

Annoyed by his cunning and arrogance, Zeus devised a fairly brutal punishment for Sisyphus on his final return to the Underworld.

He doomed him to an eternity spent pushing an incredibly heavy boulder up a steep hill. Sinews straining, sweat dripping, Sisyphus would, each and every day, reach the top of the hill and be inches away from glory when the boulder would inevitably prove too much for him and crash back down the mountain.

A Sisyphean task has become shorthand for a job that will never be finished, no matter how hard one tries.

I’ve been feeling a little Sisyphean myself lately.

It’s easy for me to slip into a repetitive weekly routine of hitting the gym, trying to summon the energy to post on social media, write a song or two, keep the house tidy, and experiment with new ways of pushing my music out into the world.

All of this, of course, is bookended by my professional life as a musician playing the same songs every weekend in the same sorts of places for the same sorts of people. The same weddings, in the same venues, for the same brides and grooms.

The issue is that none of these activities come with any sort of conclusion. I’ll never stop going to the gym because I'd quickly get fat (now that my metabolism has tragically slowed) and have to work twice as hard to get back in shape.

I’ll never have written enough songs. Or, to rephrase slightly, no song I ever write will be as good as the best song I think I might write one day if I keep at it.

Every social media post becomes stale and old within a matter of days, and I’ll need to come up with something new. There are always dirty dishes collecting in the sink; there’s always more dirt to sweep.

As WB Yeats famously put it, ‘things fall apart.’

In some sense, this is the curse of living in a universe governed by entropy and the second law of thermodynamics.

Even in a closed system, energy will find a way to dissipate, and the system, without maintenance, will break down.

This means that even the most giant, ancient stars in our Universe will one day run out of fuel and implode.

Life, therefore, is a process of constant routine maintenance. Every heartbeat, every repetitive breath is an act of life support, a delaying of death.

All of which is a characteristically roundabout way of saying that to exist, in some sense, is to be Sisyphus. We must constantly push our own boulders up our own hills despite knowing that, ultimately, we’ll just be back doing it again tomorrow.

You never really ‘finish’ anything in life; you just decide to stop doing it.

Which means, probably, that the most important decision you can make is to choose your boulder wisely. Learn to love it. Enjoy the struggle.

But sometimes the struggle can be difficult to love.

Life can feel like a treadmill that never stops turning; each day is another tired step taken just to ensure you stay on.

Sisyphus was given his punishment for trying to cheat death, and I think there’s something in that worth exploring.

Maybe the gods reserve the hardest grind for those daring to do something a little out of the ordinary.

Who knows?

Keep dreaming,


Rob Jones & The Restless Dream

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