I don’t really tell many people about my tattoos, because well… it’s a bit fkn hipster isn’t it?
However I think there’s one in particular that carries a message I hope someone will take some value from in these absurd times:
My most recent tattoo, done by the amazing @uglyink the last time he was in Melbourne, depicts the Greek “Hero” Sisyphus who, as a punishment from the gods, is banished to an impossible task: To push a massive boulder to the top of a mountain. Ultimately, the task is designed by the gods to be impossible, and thus Sisyphus is doomed to struggle, endure and fail for eternity.
This, as a metaphor for life, seems pretty dark.
However the Absurdist* philosopher Albert Camus, in his work “The Myth Of Sisyphus” states that we’re looking at this picture all wrong. Who are you to assume that just because his entire destiny is to struggle and fail, that Sisyphus feels badly about that. Why not feel happy? Thus Camus’ famous closing line; “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Many of you will know that I’m a huge fan of Stoicism as a practical philosophy. In fact, Marcus Aurelius (“The Last Good Emperor of Rome”), and one of the OG foundation Stoics, was one of the main reasons Rome managed to hold up at all during the Plague.
One of the key tenants in Stoicism is well summarised by Viktor Frankl is his book “A Man’s Search for Meaning”;
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”**
This is a message I hold very highly.
It’s also a message that’s too often used as a throw away line to make people feel better, a “this too shall pass” sentiment. But I feel like that washes over a deeper, more crucial message, and that is this; You shouldn’t wish for this to pass.
By attempt to survive, endure or just “get through” your situation right now until better days come, remove the power, responsibility and ownership that comes from FULLY embracing this period. Not trying to weather the storm but embodying the storm, becoming the rivers. (Sorry, that was a little dramatic).
To throw it back to Sisyphus a la Camus;
“There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night.”…”If the descent is thus sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy.”
That’s important. If it IS POSSIBLE to do something in sorrow, so it is equally possible to do it in joy.
*After each time he fails and he watches the rock roll back to the bottom of the mountain*
“It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me.”
That pause where Sisyphus decides whether or not he will try again to complete his hopeless task.
“At each of those moments, where he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.”
ie. You are only as great, or as weak as the composure and resolve with which you accept your fate. Your rock. We all have one, and once you’re through that rock. I promise there will be another. Such is life.
“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again.
“One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
*The acceptance that life is inherently absurd (irrational and conflicting) in nature. Think Existentialism but less “life is meaningless” and somewhere closer to a cross between Socrates (the original comment troll), and Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker “you wouldn’t get it” (minus the psychopathic, murderous steak).
And much more amicable than both.
**My absolute favourite book. Highly recommended. Although Frankl wasn’t a Stoic, his sentiments mirror a lot of concepts from the early Stoics. His philosophy leans towards Existentialism layered with his form of psychotherapy called Logotherapy.