Existentialist Badge of Honor
What a beautiful day. The sun is shining on the morning dew, and the grass is as green as the eyes of a hopelessly in love mermaid staring up through the shadows of the seaweed.
How could we ask for anything more?
But we do, right? We’re always wondering “How can I make my life better?” It’s weird, too, because there is a multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on telling us that we should improve ourselves, day in and day out. We eat it up. We want to be better, most of us.
Like most I’m trying to better myself in the realms of health, wealth, and wisdom. But occasionally my twenty odd years of Zen practice kick me in the head and say “Hey man, there is nothing you can do to be more than you are already.” It’s like Thich Nhat Hahn scolding me for spilling milk. I feel abashed.
Yeah — no matter what we do it does sometimes seem like we are all Sisyphus, that crafty Greek King that was punished by Zeus (for being a huge jerk) to endlessly roll a huge boulder up a mountain in the underworld. Zeus was so pissed at Sisy that he charmed the boulder to always roll down that big ol hill before Sisyphus got to the top, this ensuring a constant chain of events that hung like a noose around the metaphysical neck of the dastardly old king.
The myth speaks to our hubris as humans: How dare we think ourselves more clever than the ineffable ways of God? And in doing so, we doom ourselves to constant loops of destruction and recreation.
Sometime we look backward and assume indigenous cultures were better at life than we are now. Human being always like to look back and say things were better back than! But perhaps they were.
I know for a fact that if we had a tenth of the respect that the indigenous cultures of the Earth had and have for Nature we probably wouldn’t be were were are today. But we also probably wouldn’t have Ipads or coffeemakers.
Would we enjoy a life without those things? Knowing humanities history, we would of course adapt to whatever circumstances presented themselves. We are really good at that stuff.
Camus the Existentialist philosopher wrote a whole book about Sisyphus as a metaphor for the human plight.
“Likewise and during every day of an unillustrious life, time carries us. But a moment always comes when we have to carry it. We live on the future: “tomorrow,” “later on,” “when you have made your way,” “you will understand when you are old enough.” Such irrelevancies are wonderful, for, after all, it’s a matter of dying. Yet a day comes when a man notices or says that he is thirty. Thus he asserts his youth. But simultaneously he situates himself in relation to time. He takes his place in it. He admits that he stands at a certain point on a curve that he acknowledges having to travel to its end. He belongs to time, and by the horror that seizes him, he recognizes his worst enemy. Tomorrow, he was longing for tomorrow, whereas everything in him ought to reject it. That revolt of the flesh is the absurd.”
So the idea that Camus was picking away at with his great brain was that every single one of us faces the same task that Sisyphus is charged with, and that we each have to create meaning out of this plight.
I think you can choose a number of ways to go about doing so — political, religious, spiritual, artistic, social, and so on and on. It is actually the endless variations of tackling this task that creates a nexus of beauty within the human situation.
We are all of us beautiful beyond measure in that we put one foot in front of the other and take on the mantle of creating a life with a meaning or purpose.
But obviously ideas only go so far. Placing our hopes and dreams in the future or yearning for the past will get us exactly nowhere.
So my suggestion for the day is to turn up some Led Zeppelin or your favorite tunes and work in the garden until you have a good coating of dirt in the cracked skin of your hands as your very own personal existential badge of honor.