There are days when I feel that life is like a Sisyphean task. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a crafty king who was given a life-long punishment of pushing a large rock up a hill.
When he reached the top, the rock would roll down the hill, and Sisyphus would have to roll it up the hill again, only to have it roll down again. The cycle would repeat itself for all eternity, which gave rise to the term ‘Sisyphean task’ for tasks that are endless and meaningless.
In many ways, many aspects of life are like that, aren’t they? No matter how hard we try, often it seems that many of our efforts are in vain. Yet, we feel compelled to do it, over and over again, for reasons too complicated to decipher.
In my life as a writer, I know many people who feel the same way. Examples are those who are caring for a chronically ill loved one, working in a job they loathe, trying new business ventures despite repeated failures, loving an unfaithful partner or others. Like Sisyphus, we feel trapped in our circumstances, as if life itself was a cruel punishment.
Fortunately, I’ve now found a way to evade my Sisyphean cloud of gloom.
On days when I feel blue, nothing beats heading outdoors and getting close to Nature. Whether it is digging, weeding, pruning or planting, gardening helps me put things in its proper perspective, allowing me to see life in all its simplicity.
The thing is, plants don’t lie.
They grow when the conditions are right, thrive when they are given what they need; wilt and die when they lack the basics such as water and sunlight. Give them more tender, loving care and they reward you with delightful flowers and fruits.
You can forget about KPIs, deadlines, expectations, standard operating procedures, performance indexes and the lot. Nature laughs at these man-made regulations that only serve to complicate our lives.
Try planting a shade-lover in a sunny spot and tell it ‘challenge yourself to take the heat!’.
Or load fertilizers on a tree and command it to fruit overnight.
Or tell your flowers not to wilt for another month when your mother-in-law comes to visit.
Calm and uncomplaining, the plant or flowers will still wilt and die. No pretenses, no Herculean effort to break out of the plant cycle to become what it is not.
That’s why plant and animal life are the barometers of environmental pollution in many parts of the world. Scientists and environmentalists have every reason to be alarmed when a plant that used to grow in abundance in a particular area has suddenly disappeared, because it shows that the surrounding environment have become too toxic for their survival.
How does it relate to us as humans, you ask?
As the superior species, humans have inevitably made our lives more complex than necessary. We don’t live for the day; we linger in yesterday’s memories and project plans for future. All these accumulate into one big burden, not unlike Sisyphus’ rock. Yes, it helps us adapt to our ever-changing environment, but at what price? Stress, pain, disease, unhappiness perhaps?
So the next time life gets you down, try talking to a plant or a tree. Seriously.
It may not be able to reply you in human language, but you may just get the answers you seek. Call it going back to basics, answering the call of Mother Earth or whatever you wish, but there’s no denying it: Nature knows best.