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  • Writer's pictureChris L. Carver PhD. LPC

Why push the rock? - Existentialism part I

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a former king who was cursed by Zeus to roll a giant rock to the top of steep hill, where it would roll down to the bottom causing him an eternity of frustration and useless toil (fun fact - some believed that the sun was the rock that Sisyphus rolled for all eternity - which makes this a bit of a brighter story).

French author Albert Camus, wrote of this in an essay titled "The Myth of Sisyphus". Camus viewed Sisyphus as an absurd hero. Why would he continue to push the rock when it would never stay at the top? What meaning can there possibly be in the ceaseless toil (this is the question of suicide)? It is my view that there has to be some sort of meaning that causes him to continue to push the rock, some purpose that makes it worth it.

I hate to break it to you dear reader, but you and I are all our own Sisyphus. Daily we push the rock, and get up the next day to push it again. Knowing that for all of our existence, the rock will be at the bottom of the hill waiting for us to toil again. From an existential viewpoint, we also know that there is no prize at the end that we can count on to say it was all worth it. We do it because we must, because we find some purpose in it.

How do we find the meaning in the toil? The purpose in the absurdity? Viktor Frankl wrote about this in his book "Man's Search for Meaning". Out of all the wonderful and life changing information in that book, I find two concepts profoundly useful on my own personal path though this life. Truly important things cannot be pursued, they must ensue. Meaning cannot be found, it must be created.

This is where I begin to feel hopeful. We cannot escape suffering. We cannot escape the rock. But we can choose how to respond. We can chase the important things in our lives until we exist no more, and we will not catch them. Money, power, success, regard, and in my view the most important of all, love/connection/relationship cannot be caught and wrestled into submission. What we can choose to do is act in the best way we can in any given moment. Do the best we can until we can do better, then do better. It is through this process that we create a life of meaning. It is through this process that we find hope and strength through suffering. Through the endless toil of pushing the rock.

As Camus said, "one must imagine Sisyphus happy". I know that in my life, I have found my happiest moments occur when I decide to continue to push that rock (whatever it may be at that time - work, relationships, death, loss, setbacks... a bad cup of coffee) in spite of my suffering. I believe that it is through this courageous process that we create the good life.

What do you think?

*This is part one of a to be determined (probably too many) series containing my rambling thoughts regarding existentialism and life. Thank you for reading!

-Chris Carver

(All original thoughts copyright Chris Carver 2020. All unoriginal thoughts and ideas are either attributed or non-claimed. If you decide to share (and thank you for that), please link and attribute to the author of this post.)

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