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Sisyphus. What's Your Rock?

Have you ever felt that you were in an absurd situation? We all have. The ultimate absurd situation was that of Sisyphus, in the Grecian myth of Sisyphus. Some of you may not know the myth; so let me summarize it for you.

Sisyphus was a condemned man. The Olympian gods sentenced him to spend eternity rolling a boulder up a high mountain. As any great rock would, as soon as he let go of it at the top, its weight and gravity forced it to roll back down into the valley below. Sisyphus had to climb down the mountain and roll the rock back up again. Each time Sisyphus and the stone reached the top, it rolled back down again. And each time, Sisyphus rolled it back up. This was an endless chore. Sisyphus was doomed to a life of everlasting futility since he was immortal. If this myth does not sound absurd, what does?

There are many flavors and shades of the absurd. Anything that seems to be contrary to reason or sense may qualify. I have found that life is filled with the absurd. Patients reveal their personal absurdities all the time, it seems like some patients just live in an absurd world. Fortunately, the myth of Sisyphus makes it agonizingly clear that living an immortal life of absurdity is far worse than living a mortal one. It should be everyone's goal to live an absurd-free life, but if they cannot, or will not, then sadly death probably becomes a welcomed escape when their time comes.

I believe abusive relationships are absurd. Abuse can be physical, emotional or both. Regardless of its form, to endure a relationship of abuse is absurd. I have seen many women and some men, in the past and present, who accept living in abusive marriages or abusive exclusive-intimate-communions. They say that they are trying to work things out; at the same time, they cannot conceive of their life being any different since their partner fails to make any changes. All of them seem like rational people in every other aspect of their lives. Despite their hopes and expectations of changing the other person's misdeeds, the other person rarely cares. What makes matters more bizarre is that their personal private relationship is the center stone of their life. Relationships are not the only place we find absurdity; people have expectations for justice, peace, salvation, balance, and harmony. Unfortunately, the universe seldom delivers our expectations, or cares for that matter, making the whole of life absurd.

In disturbed personal relationships, the stress, or tension, between what is and what is/was expected causes illness of one kind or another. Most times, patients ask, "Why"? They want to know why their rational perspective is not received well by the other person. They want to know why they are miserable. They want to know why they are ill. Despite their quests for explanations, for an accountable justification that makes their absurd situations comprehensible, they just end up with more "Why?" questions. The "Whys" are infinite.

After their biology is fine tuned by hormone adjustments, dietary changes, and immune modifications they begin to experience some physical normalcy. Do they then begin to feel that their relationship disturbance is making them physically ill? Do they see Sisyphus in themselves, pushing the rock up the mountain, only to have it crashing down after it reaches the top? Now the repetitious patterns of abuse begin to show through their denial and low self-esteem. Then they realize there are three choices.

The first choice is to stay in the relationship, devote themselves so completely to accepting the abuse that they feel happy about pushing the rock up over and over again. The second choice is to resent the relationship, making "resentment" their purpose for living. Many people live in resentment until the end. Both of these options are in themselves absurd, but they will give a purpose and meaning for living; hopefully, the acceptance of the way it is will reduce the risk of significant illness claiming lives prematurely. The third choice is to get out of the relationship – a freedom they have, since the gods did not curse them to an everlasting life of futility and abuse.

Regardless of their choice, they must expand their sense of morality in one way or another in order to choose any of three. The first choice requires that they accept abuse joyfully. The second choice requires that they accept resentment joyfully. The third choice requires that they accept divorce (whether from a person or a situation) joyfully. In the end, we find the meaning of life in our lives or not at all. Life in itself is its own meaning; psychological or philosophical reflection does not give us meaning. An interesting corollary is that psychological or philosophical reflection may in itself be a disease; it may keep us living in situations that are harmful and detrimental to ourselves because we think that it's what we are supposed to do. In these situations, death is imagined as a welcomed calm in the daily storm of existence. Some people realize that their seemingly futile life is not everlasting. Their life may not have borne fruit, but their salvation is that the life they're in is not forever -- perhaps they even believe that there is something on the other side of death that is much more glorious and rewarding than anything they can experience in their personal relationships while alive.

How often have you grabbed a huge rock and started pushing it up a mountain? How often have you watched it roll back down after you got to the top? Have you ever stayed at the top of the mountain and just walked away, leaving the rock to be pushed by someone else who doesn't know better? It takes courage to walk away and find the meaning of your life in your life's experience, leaving the rock alone at the bottom of the valley. Do you have the courage? I think you do, I hope you think you do. And do it.

Posted by Katie Reed at 4:24 PM
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