By Alex Chong Do Thompson
According to Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king in modern-day Corinth and a renowned trickster of both men and gods alike.
He famously escaped death by convincing Hades, the god of the underworld, to put on a set of hand cuffs in order to show him how they worked. Once Hades was locked up, Sisyphus threw him in a closet, and continued living his life as if nothing had happened.
In spite of his cunning, however, Sisyphus did eventually die, and his soul was sent to Tartarus, the ancient Greek version of hell. As punishment for his crimes, he was condemned to spend eternity rolling a heavy boulder up a hill each day only to have it roll down again once it got to the top.
It was a grueling task. Between the boredom of doing the same thing every day, and the back-breaking labor of pushing a boulder, I imagine that Sisyphus endured great suffering. In this way, his story is an excellent metaphor for our lives.
We all have boulders (suffering) that we deal with every day.
Perhaps it’s a job we hate. Perhaps it’s poor finances or a body that doesn’t work the way it should. Often times, we can change our circumstances, and alleviate discomfort. But sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we’re like Sisyphus; left with no other choice but to roll a giant rock uphill each day.
In our weaker moments, we try to hide from our pain. We close our eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist; we numb ourselves with television, bad food, social media, etc. in the hopes that we can find an escape. But these are temporary solutions that leave us feeling unsatisfied. In spite of our best efforts, the boulder is always there.
Other times, we grit our teeth and suffer violently. We rage against the boulder as we push it up the hill. We curse as waves of grief and frustration wash over us with each step. And when we finally reach the summit—only to have the rock slip from our fingers—we stand there for a moment and we wonder why life is so hard.
In contrast, Rev. Gyomay Kubose implored his students to take responsibility for their suffering. It sounds harsh, but this is the Buddhist view on dealing with mental anguish. We don’t try to escape it, and we don’t get bent out of shape about it. Instead, we take responsibility for our pain. We put it under a microscope, and we study it. We tear it apart until we find the root cause of our anguish (hurt feelings, disappointment, fear, etc.), and then we learn to be at peace with those feelings.
Once we accept the boulders in our lives, a shift occurs in our thinking.
Our pains lessen as we stop piling emotional baggage on top of them. The job sucks, but we tolerate it. Finances are tight, but we make it work. Our lives get a little bit better because we’ve trained our minds to stop making things worse.
Over time, we may even learn to appreciate the experience, unpleasant though it may be, and laugh a little at our plight. After all, life can only be exactly what it is, and it’s funny each time we think it can/should be different. Finally, we begin to enjoy life not in spite of our suffering, but because of it. Because this pain, this struggle, this constant fight, is the juice that life is made from. It’s how we know we’re alive.
Thus, we end our suffering not by trying to escape it, but by learning to embrace it.
Editor: John Lee Pendall
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