Being Sisyphus

Yesterday I wrote on Albert Camus’s book-length essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. He suggests that life is about fully confronting the absurdity of the human condition, engaging completely with life on your own terms, refusing to bow to either hope or despair.

Today I want to ask: is it really possible to live that way?

As I said, I don’t claim to fully understand Camus’s thought, but – at the risk of oversimplifying – it seems to me that he’s talking about a carpe diem kind of life, full of courage and energy and not limited by convention, able to look mortality squarely in the eye and keep on living.

But Camus doesn’t give much practical advice as to how to achieve this way of living. Is it really possible to achieve such an attitude by an act of will alone?

Partly, yes. Courage can be an act of will. I know because I have done things that terrified me, like jumping out of an airplane and getting an IV (I have a phobia of needles). It’s possible.

But each new fear requires new courage, and energy is limited. Trying to become Sisyphus by willpower seems exhausting.

Maybe there’s another path.

Regular readers are probably sick of hearing me yammer about Zen, but it really does seem to me that Zen is the means by which Camus’s ideal can be achieved in practice. To truly live in the moment, to suck life to the marrow, is the entire goal of Zen meditation. Enlightenment doesn’t mean eternal life, but it does mean an end to the fear of death. It means defying hope and despair alike in favor of something better: the now.

Or at least, so it seems to me. But then, I am badly out of my depth here.

No philosophy tomorrow, I promise.

6 responses to “Being Sisyphus

  1. Most of the times philosophy goes way above my head, but I am glad that I can understand your posts 🙂

    I am not sure if we can live Sisyphus way or not, but I try to neither be too happy nor too sad. Take things as they come. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel the extreme emotions. Just that I get a handle on them pretty soon and go on with the next second of the day once I am aware of the change.

  2. Aww. But Philosphy is so much fun 🙂

  3. Both of these posts remind me of the movie I Heart Huckabees, which I heartily recommend.

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