The Sisyphus Conundrum

Ever get that feeling that you’re just pushing a big boulder up a hill, making no progress and losing motivation?

According to Greek mythology Sisyphus was forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill for eternity. Whenever he got close to the top he had to watch it roll back down to the bottom before starting again.

It was all in punishment for his ‘self-aggrandising craftiness and deceitfulness’.

He tricked the gods with short cuts and schemes to escape from Hades and further his own ambitions. Zeus eventually caught up with him in the end though. Placing him on this eternal treadmill in order to keep him too busy to plan another escape.

When reading around this I came across this barnstormer of a sentence from James Clement, suggesting that ‘Sisyphus personifies humanity and it’s disastrous pursuit of perfection by any means necessary, in which the great rock repeatedly rushing down the mount symbolises the accelerating pace of unsustainable civilisation toward cataclysmic collapse and cultural oblivion that ends each historical age and restarts the Sisyphean cycle.’

Life’s not that bad but I take the point. And in relating this back to the gym I can see how you could look at things in such a terminal way.

You show up at the start of every week ready to push that boulder and as the weeks and months pass by you get close to the peak, only for the boulder to fall back down.

That can be soul destroying and crush your motivation. Push, push, push, fall back down. Push, push, push, fall back down.

We can get too busy with the pushing to plot our own escape from the cycle. Maybe taking a slight side step and approaching things from a different angle will help?

Just subtle changes to what you’re doing. Remembering how Sisyphus got us into this mess in the first place though. If we’re always going for the short cut, skipping the crucial step or going for the quick option to the top we’ll come tumbling back down even quicker. So it’s a fine balancing act.

I’ll leave you with Albert Camus who suggests that there is a way out if we look for it.

It is during that return, that pause that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already sore itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy, yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks towards the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock…

… I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Chris ‘Struggle-on-and-enjoy-it’ Pinner