In Greek mythology, Sisyphus has been punished for his sins to roll a huge boulder up a hill in the Afterlife, only to have the boulder roll back down to the bottom of the hill once he gets to the summit.
Sisyphus is believed to have been the founder and king of Corinth who was smart, cunning and ruthless. He had no regard for Gods or men and ruled with an iron fist.
Of all the escapades of Sisyphus, the two that stand out the most and probably drew the most ire from the Gods was when he imprisoned Hades, the God of Death and when he conned his way out of the Underworld.
He was so cunning that at his appointed time, Hades himself came for him. Well, Hades showed up with handcuffs and Sisyphus asked him to demonstrate them. You can imagine what happened. Hades handcuffed himself onto the wall and Sisyphus had the key! The God of Death in handcuffs! So, for a while, no one could die. Ares, the God of war, pissed off that wars were no fun anymore (no one died), went over to Casa de Sisyphus and freed Hades. After telling Sisyphus to report immediately to the Underworld, Hades promptly scurried away.
So Sisyphus had no choice but die. Before he did that though, he asked his wife not to bury him but to throw his body into the Town Square. She was also not to put a coin under his tongue. One uses the coin to pay the ferryman on the River Styx, so he can get you to the other side. Nothing is free, you see. Not even when you are dead.
The dear wife did that so when he showed up before Hades’ wife, the Queen Persephone in the Underworld, he was totally not ready. He claimed he wasn’t buried properly and had no coin. So he sweet-talked Persephone to let him back to alleviate all the mistakes his wife made! The nerve! Persephone obliged!
He returned to life where he promptly forgot about death and partied like it was 1999! For years!
Finally Zeus had it. Sisyphus had to go. Hades wasn’t risking another trip to Casa de Sisyphus. So this time, Hermes, the God of Transitions, more cunning than Sisyphus himself went to get him. Hermes hauled his behind down to Hades where he was sentenced to hard labor, rolling the boulder.
Which finally brings me to my point. Is there a moral to this story. Well, several. Don’t piss off the Gods, would be one. Another might be that all good things must come to an end.
I can imagine that, if the Gods punished a man, a King at that, they would give him a punishment that not only probably sought to break his spirit but also was unlike anything he was used to. So hard labor for a King would be a good punishment. But then, how do you break the spirit of someone so cunning? Someone so full of spirit? Someone who apparently is goal-oriented and a visionary? Well, you take the purpose out of their lives. You put them in a situation where their very existence has no meaning. Like rolling a boulder up a hill for it to come crashing back down once you reached the summit. For you to do it endlessly – no end in sight, ever!
For us mere mortals, isn’t that our very existence? Rolling boulders up the hill of life only to have then come down just when we hit the summit? Isn’t life a series of these fruitless trips?
The little victories in life are when we get to a ledge somewhere along the hill and rest. We look back at the distance we have traveled and pat ourselves on the back. Unlike Sisyphus, we do not know yet that the boulder is going to roll back down. We kid ourselves that once we get to the top, it’ll stay. So we labor to get this boulder up there. Sometimes we get to a summit and think we’ve made it. We look up and see another peak and keep rolling. That is our curse.
Maybe, the point of life should not be in where you get the boulder to. It should be in the experience. In the day to day. In the relationships and contacts one creates. In finding some joy in this endless task. In knowing that you can roll the boulder up.
Sisyphus has been doing it all these years. Something beside the curse must keep him going. Maybe, the knowledge that even if the boulder rolls down, he still can get it up there. That no matter how many time he has to do it, he can summon the strength of spirit to move it. Maybe he has discovered that as he rolls this boulder up there, the experience is much more rewarding, the very process more fulfilling than the goal.
The very few are those who live life like Sisyphus the King. For most of us, it’s the life of Sisyphus, the boulder-roller. Find your joy in your labor. If you do, let me know how you did it.