These words are from the chorus to a popular song by the Blues Brothers titled “Rawhide.” This melody provides the inner soundtrack of a cowboy’s hopes upon returning home from a cattle drive. The tune strikes a Sisyphean chord within me, setting the mood for today’s mythic message.
Just yesterday, I spoke with a partner about the power of narratives. He mentioned St. Augustine’s Confessions and Greek tragedies. Funnily enough, we were nerding out about people and stories: why, when, and how we tell them.
Where my partner mentioned stories in times of success and growth, I noted those stories we tell ourselves to survive or justify where we keep ourselves in life. Think of stereotyped dialogues from people in abusive relationships or staying connected to a loved one suffering from addiction. We spin stories to understand our circumstances and cope with the weirdness of reality.
Two days ago now, when queried on the comparative nature of truth and fiction, my favorite author remarked rather wisely. I’m not largely surprised about the wisdom in his reply. He’s a well-established figure in various literary formats, particularly fiction. His well-versedness merely accentuates his writer’s perspective on the strange connections between truth and fiction.
Fiction exists to convince us of reality’s strangeness.
The Man, The Myth, The Lesson
Most widely known for his eternal punishment in the underworld, Sisyphus represents most of us today. His repeated attempts to avoid death ultimately bring about pain and frustration. Although he does one-up the gods–in capturing Thanatos (Death), evading Hades, as well as compelling Hermes and Ares’ action–he still falls prey to the same thing most of us strangely avoid (Cartwright; “Sisyphus”).
It’s not our avoidance of death I see as strange but moreover how we avoid our ends. We deny inevitability daily, sometimes in productive ways. Most of the time though, we hold ourselves back. Camus vividly describes Sisyphus’s struggle,
“…one sees merely the whole effort of a body straining to raise the huge stone, to roll it, and push it up a slope a hundred times over; one sees the face screwed up, the cheek tight against the stone, the shoulder bracing the clay-covered mass, the foot wedging it, the fresh start with arms outstretched, the wholly human security of two earth-clotted hands.”
The very grittiness of is depiction reminds me of those moments when I feel burning muscles, straining in effort. In my case, I find my struggle is that of overcoming the boulder of my will, or lack thereof. In this excerpt, Camus portrays the weight and strain of the boulder upon Sisyphus. This represents the gods’ retribution for his mortal insolence. He didn’t necessarily choose to roll a boulder uphill; that was the gods’ punishment. Poor Sisyphus was damned to an eternal exercise in futility.
Unlike the figure of this Greek tragedy, we typically carry our boulders around with us. We tie ourselves down with shoulds, excuses, and all sorts of reasons not to. There’s a reason I selected this particular photo today. I’ve touched on vulnerability, or the openness to life, change, and newness, in the past. This isn’t about that.
Although we should have big rocks in our lives, they shouldn’t be holding us back or weighing upon us. The only intentional weight we should seek is ponderance in the heart. The boulders we choose to carry should be of our making, grander projects which serve as building blocks in our future dreams.
Otherwise, we are our boulders. We weigh ourselves down and hold ourselves back. More often than not, you are your own obstacle. This occurs in numerous ways. Maybe you’re stuck in a relationship, romantic or otherwise, you should’ve moved on from by now. Perhaps you’ve stayed in a position too long out of comfort. Maybe you’re afraid. You could even have others who wish to hold you back, for whatever reason. I guarantee you there are ways around others. Your perception of reality results from your agreement with others’ opinions and your self-beliefs.
Stop telling yourself stories to support the poor agreements you’ve made holding you back. Instead, work on rescripting what you tell yourself about who you are and what you can do. Changing the narrative can, in fact, change the storyteller. Or, at least expand your reality.
Camus, Albert. “The Myth of Sisyphus.” n.d.
Cartwright, Mark. “Sisyphus”. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2016, https://www.ancient.eu/sisyphus/. Accessed 11 Mar 2019.
“Sisyphus”. Pantheon.Org, 2019, https://pantheon.org/articles/s/sisyphus.html. Accessed 11 Mar 2019.