Here is a familiar enough occurrence: you set off on a journey toward a desired destination, perhaps a state of mind, perhaps a bodily accomplishment, a state of excellence in some manner, shape, form or fashion; you make good time, you travel many miles; you amaze yourself with your speed and the distance covered; you are exhilarated by the heights you now experience; you are no longer bound to the earth, the air is cleaner, more invigorating; you congratulate yourself on your journey thus far; you look back on how far you’ve come, on all those you left behind; the solitude of this seldom traveled road strikes you as splendid; you dare to dream of the now-visible goal.
And then, the upward gradient ceases; the plateau begins; the steps grow more measured, more tedious; the miles covered shrink slowly to yards and inches; the feet drag; the euphoria is gone, replaced by ennui; the formerly clean air is still so, but it has a staleness all its own; the novelty, the thrill, is gone. The goal is still visible, but now obscured by the dust kicked up by your dragging feet; the certainty about its attainment is now replaced by a nagging, persistent, doubt over the wisdom of ever having started this journey. The virtuousness that was once the consequence of declining indulgences now strikes you as a foolishness all of its own; what price this sustained flagellation, this persistent self-denial?
And so, you weaken, you hesitate, you seek diversion, an easier slope. The most facile of those is the path downward, the amble downhill. On it, the pace is greater; the wind presses hard against you, refreshing you once again. Soon enough, you are back in the lowlands. You refuse, guiltily, to look up at the tops again; you declined them once, why remind yourself of that turning away?
But soon, you find the air stifling; the oppression that animated you once returns; all is cumbersome. Whence the lightness, the fleet-footedness you had felt in the highlands? You remember the ascent, the coolness, the euphoria, the shedding of all that was heavy and bore you down. You remember the weightlessness, the sense of endless possibility. You regret the escape, the diversion, the flinching and turning away. You resolve to make the journey again.
And so you set off, rolling your rock back up the hill. Those familiar feelings return; you remember why you thought this was a good idea. You remind yourself the plateau awaits; you await its appearance warily; you stiffen your spine in anticipation. But when it does appear, a familiar feeling, a familiar dismay asserts itself. Soon enough, an old path downward is traversed.
Later, after the disgust of the defeat and the claustrophobia of the lower reaches have sent you back, yet again, on your old ascent, as you head upward, you realize that this is what you really wanted, the exultation of the pulling away, the steepness of the first few steps, the first movements upward. That elusive goal, its shape and location often obscured, only served to motivate the first journey. From then on, what you truly craved was the initial ascension, which had the most acute slopes of all, where you made the most accelerated, tangible progress. Not for you the long plodding, slow, grind to the end; you always only sought only the path that made you feel the most fleet-footed.
You don’t really mind being a Sisyphus of sorts.
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