Salute to Sisyphus, Part II

Don’t get me wrong, my supervisor is a nice guy. He helped me secure the original part-time registration, gave me the teaching jobs when I arrived in England and even found me a place to stay. He helped in all the ways peripheral and central to the process, down to the punctuation and grammar in my writing, but on the content itself he had nothing to say. He said I ought to trust my instincts, but my instincts couldn’t do more than signal that something was wrong with the structure and the methodology of the project. I am all for independent study; I like the solitariness and the self-reliance encouraged in the UK system, but I am also increasingly acknowledging the need for dialogue, relations and negotiation with others. Without them, one is no more than a frog in a well. It was a bit like studying for a medical degree by only reading medical books — one cannot be expected to perform surgery after that.

Though I once blogged that I sometimes felt like a bag lady rummaging for scraps, I cannot really know whether the outcome would have been different or whether a more plotted route would have resulted in a difference in my thinking. That I was left to meander along on my own meant I found paths that might otherwise have remained hidden. That’s the way history works, isn’t it? The moment where you are now is the result of many previous moments, one building on the other, until the rocket reaches the moon or the egg lands on your face. Neither result is objectively greater than the other, only subjectively coloured by desire. It is not a question of which result is preferable, only which is preferable to you.

In the past few months, I’ve discovered dharma podcasts on the internet. A buddhist reverend from Los Angeles, who runs Urban Dharma, told this story in one edition of teaching a class of 7th graders about pain and suffering in the Buddhist context. Apparently, one girl put up her hand at the end of the talk and said she finally understood the difference between the two: ‘Suffering is when we don’t want the pain.’ In other words, accept the pain and there’s no suffering. That has stuck in my mind for several weeks. Trust a child to speak the truth.

So maybe Sisyphus pushes that rock up the hill because he simply does. Or as Albert Camus wrote:

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Maybe I can catch that rock before it hits the bottom and drag it up again.

Here’s Part I.

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