STORIES OF WILLOW contd…..

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OF CAMELS, AND SISYPHUS IN THE FOUNTAIN

Stretched out across the grass, Willow gazed up at the sun and smiled into the clear, very brightest of bright blue skies!  Sunlight glistened in the fountain before her, and danced across the surface of the stream that ran along the borders of the meadow.  It would have been very easy for her to fall asleep right here, but Willow was wide awake today.  Something about the sun always filled her with energy.  Willow had spent most of the morning chasing her new companion, a handsome, big brown dog, all around the meadow, down to the stream and back up to the fountain again.  Not knowing the dog’s name, Willow simply called him “Dog”, with which he seemed perfectly happy.  Collected from outside of Jay’s giant Oak Tree, Dog usually accompanied Willow to the meadow these days – happy to play in the sunshine, and content to lie beside Willow in silence for as long as she wished to stay there. At this very moment, Dog lay panting gently beside her, half awake, half asleep, and every bit as relaxed as Willow was in the sun.

From experience, Willow knew that Dog could speak.  Unlikely as this was, she knew it to be true.  However, Dog had not spoken to her once, since that very strange and very wonderful day, which was quite a while ago now.  Preferring to bark, chase birds up into the trees, and jump into the stream to chase fish and frogs on very hot days, Dog generally behaved as any good dog normally would. 

Willow had asked Jay if she knew where Dog had come from, but Jay had replied pretty much as Dog had, saying only that he had always been there.  Willow just hadn’t seen him before.  No matter, Willow found herself growing increasingly fond of Dog, and was always happy to have the company on days such as these. Having rested in the sunshine awhile, Willow raised herself up onto her elbows, and, gazing into the fountain, addressed something that was very much on her mind on this day.

“I had some very odd dreams last night, Dog.”

Despite being fairly sure Dog would not answer her, Willow was content just to chat away to her furry, big, brown friend, quite convinced that whether he replied or not, Dog heard and understood her perfectly.

“You won’t believe it!” she continued.  “Of all the strangest things in the world, last night, I dreamed of a camel!!”

Noticeably, Dog pricked up his ears, and turned his head a little more towards her.

It was true.  A really tall, light brown camel, with his two toed feet, and long knobbly legs moving all over the place, this camel had indeed loped his gangly way across the landscape of Willow’s dreams!

“He was rather beautiful, but in a very strange sort of way!  He had the hugest eye’s, and the longest eyelashes I have ever seen!  He walked slowly, Dog, because he had this huge hump on his back!  I wonder why a camel has to carry such a heavy load on his back like that!”

In fact, in her dream, Willow had asked the camel this very question!  The camel had not replied.  Rather, gazing dreamily into the distance, the camel had opened his very large mouth, licked his lips, wrinkled his huge, flat nose, and loped off across the landscape towards something that shimmered in the distance.

“It looked like a lake, Dog!  But it couldn’t have been a lake at all!!  We were in a desert!  It made me rather sad.  In fact, it made me rather want to cry.  He was such a beautiful camel, Dog.  Why, why did he have to carry what he needed on his back like that!  It looked so dreadfully heavy!”

Willow had noticed that Dog had stopped panting.  Was he listening to all that Willow said?  Well, he didn’t answer, and, truth be told, Willow rather wished he would.

“The worst of it was, Dog, that I knew very well that when the camel reached that shimmering light in the distance, there would be nothing there!”

Dog, moving only very slightly indeed, placed a paw on Willow’s hand, and closed his eyes.

Willow thought that she heard that camels needed to carry water, in a hump, on their backs.  She had also heard that this was not true. If she thought carefully about it, she was sure she remembered that camels need to carry their fat on their backs rather than to have fat all over their bodies.  This way, she had heard, camels were able to survive the heat in the desert. Nevertheless, it seemed very sad to Willow that any creature should have to carry what it most needed for survival, on its back – as one might carry a burden.  Why, wondered Willow, should what one most needs in life, be a burden!  Heavy, and not at all easy to travel with, that hump of camels seemed most unfair to Willow.

Turning her eyes back to the sky, and her thoughts away from the camel, Willow released her mind from things she could not understand, and squinted into the sunshine.

“You don’t care about camels, do you Dog!”  Willow laughed, and jumped up.  “I’m going to the fountain for a swim!”

Stripping down to her pink vest, and bright yellow shorts, Willow raced toward the fountain, eager for the water, and keen to dive deep into the cool, swirling light!  After a swim in the fountain, Willow always felt revived, happy, and a great deal more at ease with herself.  Still more than a little perturbed by her dream, Willow knew that all the very odd sadness she felt about the camel, would soon be washed away.

WAIT!!  Stopping short, right at the edge of the fountain, Willow became aware that something was moving  upward, from deep within the water!!  Stepping back, Willow watched as the figure of a man appeared before her.  A very beautiful, tall man, was moving steadily, deliberately, slowly, up through the fountain!!  Having appeared from beneath the water, this man seemed to be pushing something ahead of him, straining as he pushed this object up towards the light.

Dog barked, and Willow spun around to see he was standing right behind her, also watching the man in the fountain.  Most especially, Dog’s eyes appeared to be fixed on the huge boulder-shaped object this man was pushing.  No sooner had he reached the top of the fountain, than the boulder fell from his hands, and back down to the depths below.  The man dived down after it, disappearing immediately from sight.  Within moments, the huge boulder appeared again, pushed up towards the light, by this beautiful, tall man.

Willow and Dog stood and watched this man repeat this action, over and over again, as the sun moved slowly across the sky.  A familiar sadness began to fill Willow’s heart.  Transfixed by what she was seeing, Willow felt tears of frustration fill her eyes, and a strong resistance to what she was seeing bubbled up from somewhere deep inside her belly!

“Oh NO!  Dog, why is he doing this?”cried Willow.  “Dog, this is just like the camel!  The camel carried such a burden on his back, and walked towards what he thought was water…but it was nothing!  Now, this beautiful man….this beautiful man keeps dropping his boulder, and has to keep trying to get it up and out into the light, again, and again!  But it’s useless, Dog!  It is so useless!”

Dog rubbed his chin against Willow’s leg, growling softly.

“NO, Dog!! You need to talk to me!!  Please talk to me, and tell my why he is doing this!  It is so meaningless – so hopeless, Dog!  WHY!! Why does he keep on doing this?”

Dog, licking Willow’s hand, turned and slowly walked away from the fountain, towards the edge of the meadow.

“Where are you going, Dog?  Come back!  Don’t leave me here to watch this man!  I cannot bear it!  It’s making me dizzy! DOG!! Come back!!”

In fact, Willow was feeling quite sick, and increasingly distressed by what she could see.  Standing still, staring intently into the fountain, willing the boulder to reach the top in order for it to be released out into the sky, Willow felt herself utterly exhausted and drained by the toil of this beautiful man.

His toil seemed to endless – so relentless -up, and down, and up, and down, the man and the boulder came and went.  Each time he appeared, the man visibly strained to reach the top of the fountain.  Down the boulder fell, and, no sooner had he vanished after it to the depths of the water, than up they came again.  The boulder first, pushed upwards by this beautiful figure of a man.  Down it fell again…..

Dog was barking frantically now, calling to Willow to come away.  Gratefully, Willow turned her gaze away from the fountain, toward Dog.  Dog was waiting for her – barking, and wagging his tail, he called her to hurry!  Stopping to grab her purple hoody, Willow pulled on her jeans, and, with only the briefest backward glance at the man in the fountain, she raced to the edge of the meadow.  Following Dog out into the surrounding woods, Willow quickly realised that they were making their way toward the giant Oak Tree, and Jay.

“Goodness, gracious me!  Are you alright, Willow?”  Jay, having turned to greet Willow as entered the room, was clearly very alarmed to see tears streaming down Willow’s face.

“You are shaking, Willow.  What on earth has happened to you?”

Settling down on the small stool beside Jay’s desk, Willow reached deep inside herself to find the words with which to explain what she had experienced.  Starting with the camel, Willow found herself increasing distressed as she explained the sadness she had felt watching this camel lope its way across her dreams – laden with the weight of what it needed to survive.

“Why, Jay?  Why does a came have to carry what it needs, as such a heavy burden?”

“This is the way camels are made, dear.” replied Jay.  “Camels are just plain and simply made that way.  They are really splendid creatures, you know, Willow.  Tough, strong, and very able to look after themselves.”

“Hmmmm….” Willow was barely consoled.

“Did the camel look sad to you, Willow?”

Willow thought about this for a moment.  Imaging him licking his big, soft lips, and wrinkling his funny, flat nose, actually made Willow smile a little.  Then, after consideration, she replied.

“Resigned, Jay.  The camel looked resigned to his predicament.”

“Oh yes.”  Gazing ahead of her into space, Jay smiled softly.  “Camels are very accustomed to being the way the are.”

“But, he headed off towards the water, Jay! Only…only it wasn’t water!  There was nothing there!”

Jay paused for a moment before she replied.

“Willow, did you see the water, or did the camel see it?”

“Ummmmm….well, I saw it….but the camel was walking towards it…”

“Do you really think the camel is not accustomed to finding that there is actually nothing there, Willow?”

“Then why walk there, Jay?  Why make all that effort at all?”

“That is a good question, Willow.  I don’t have an answer to that.  However, please rest assured, there are many such illusions in a desert such as the one you describe, Willow.  I am very certain that your camel was well accustomed to seeing such things, only to discover those things aren’t really there at all.”

“Yes…but…”

“It was his choice, Willow, to walk toward that illusion in the sand.  His choice.  The camel is a noble, stately creature.  You really should respect his choices.”

Unconvinced, but feeling a little calmer about the camel in her dreams, Willow turned her thoughts towards the fountain:

“But then, then the man, Jay! This beautiful, strong, handsome man – endlessly pushing this boulder up the fountain, and getting nowhere! WHY?  Why did he keep on doing this, Jay?  It was so pointless….”

Jay paused for quite a while, before answering:

“I’m sorry to say this, dear, but I’m afraid futility and absurdity play a part in all our lives.  You are a little young to know this fully yet, but it’s nothing to worry about.  It’s just part of being human.  Now, don’t worry yourself with it too much, Willow.”

Willow was worried.  Very worried.  If life was full of pointless, futile exercises then what lay in store for her, she wondered.  Picturing the man she had seen in the fountain, Willow sighed a very deep sigh.

“Perhaps you might think about it this way, Willow. Perhaps you might think about what is in the mind of the man, as he turns to go back down again, for the boulder….”

Willow frowned, puzzled and bewildered by this thought.

“I can’t get him out of my mind, Jay.  Every time I close my eyes, I see this man…”

Jay, turning to face Willow directly, looked deeply into her wide, tearful eyes, and replied:

“ Mind over matter, Willow.  Dear, try to change your mind about what you see, when you see this man. Think, rather, of how this man, despite the seeming futility of his task, returns to it. Consider what may be in his mind, or in his heart, in the moment of his returning down to retrieve the boulder.  In this way, rather than seeing him as “saddened” by the frustration of his task, change your mind, and see him as “happy” to continue. Try it, dear, just try it,and see what happens.”

None of this made any sense to Willow at all.  It was sad, no matter which way she looked at it.

“There are things about the figure in the fountain that you cannot possibly know, Willow.  What you are seeing, is the utter nonsense in what he appears to be doing.  But, what you don’t see, is what is truly in his heart.  Go back to the the fountain, Willow – try to see if you can see him differently.  I am fairly certain you will.”

“But…how can I see this man as “happy” in any way?  How?

“Willow, perhaps this  man realises the futility of his task.  Perhaps, he accepts it.  Perhaps, in acknowledging, and not denying the frustration of his task, it makes the futility of it a little less distressing for him, than it appears to you.”

Jay often said things that made very little sense to Willow.  This was one of those times.  However, experience told Willow that seeing things the way Jay suggested you see them, always made them better.

What was at the bottom of the fountain, wondered Willow. Indeed, where did it come from at all? Most fountains had a visible source from whence they came. When the fountain was visible to Willow, it was just there. Rising from the earth as though by magic, the fountain revealed nothing of where it sprang from. Where did it go when it wasn’t there, wondered Willow. How big was the fountain, wondered Willow. Big enough to contain a whole man, and his boulder, yet not too big for her to jump safely into, whenever she wanted a swim. The dimensions of the fountain were a mystery to Willow. Right now, what concerned Willow most, was where did the boulder fall to when it fell?

Clear that she would receive no direct answer to her questions, Willow was impatient to try what Jay had asked of her. Whatever the tenuous reality of the fountain actually was, or wasn’t, Willow had been given a suggestion by Jay, and she needed to follow through on it. 

“I shall go right now then, Jay.  I shall try to see the man and his boulder differently.”

Heading slowly back to the meadow, Willow secretly hoped that the man would no longer be there.  Either that, or, perhaps he would be sitting happily in the dusk, on the grass beside the fountain, with the big boulder on the ground in front of him, happily watching the sun, as it set behind the forest that surrounded the meadow.  Willow thought she would hug him, if she saw that, but she rather doubted that she would.  Dog padded along beside her, and Willow was very glad of his company.

As they approached the fountain, Willow could immediately see that the man continued his task, just in the way he had been doing when last she had seen him.  Finding herself a nice, smooth patch of thick, dark green grass, Willow sat down to consider a task of her own.  The task of placing her mind over the  matter of what she saw.

Closing her eyes tightly, Willow re-opened them slowly, and gazed at this beautiful man.  Now, rather than seeing him as tormented, Willow began to see him as a man, not struggling with what he was doing, but a man who fully accepted the futility of his situation, and who showed not visible signs of distress, despite the apparent melancholy of his task.

“Dog!  The man is fading!!  I can hardly see him anymore, Dog!  Is it over?  It is really over, now?”

“In your ability to think over and above what you saw, Willow, you released your vision of this man.  In ceasing your own struggle against futility, you set yourself free!”

Spinning around towards the voice she had heard, all Willow could see was Dog, his head resting on both his front paws, and his eyes blinking sleepily into the fading sun.

“Did you speak to me, Dog?  Are you speaking to me again?”

He wont answer me, smiled Willow.  He is never going to answer me, on demand!  Goodness, what a challenging day this had been!  Rising to leave, Willow whistled for Dog to follow her, and headed off out of the meadow, keen to be home before dark.

Stooping over to pick up a piece of rubbish someone had carelessly left on the grass, Willow gasped at what she saw!  There, clearly depicted on a small, beige box, stood the very camel Willow had seen in her dreams.

 

 

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REFLECTIONS ON THE TRIUMPH OF CONCIOUSNESS OVER FUTILITY

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For a variety of reasons, I have recently been called upon to consider the absurdity, and the tragedy, of the story of Sisyphus.  When my mother first painted the above, beautiful work of art, I, as a young child, asked her what it meant.  (Well, I asked her this about everything she painted as it happens, but this painting, in particular, truly captured this child’s imagination.)  My mother replied that it was a painting of Sisyphus – a man condemned by the gods to ceaselessly roll a rock to the top of a mountain, only to watch it fall.  Time and time again he was to repeat this act, for all eternity.  I found this concept deeply distressing, and turned away from it.  Happily, at that time, my mind simply shut down on a concept it was, then, far too young to grasp.

I have come to this place now, from where I am willing, and able, to consider this story anew, as follows:

According to Wikipedia, Albert Camus, the French, Nobel Prize winning author and philosopher, gave rise to the philosophy known as Absurdism.  It is to Camus I now turn in search of words that may calm my greatly troubled thoughts on matters of futile labours, and the absurdity of repeating patterns of behaviour throughout one’s life, as though striving towards an end that simply cannot be reached.

Camus tells us that if Homer were to be believed, Sisyphus was the “wisest of mortals.”  According to another tradition, he was far from this, “disposed to practice the profession of a highwayman.”  Camus sees no contradiction in this.  Thus, for a variety of reasons, none of which I am going to elaborate on here, Camus was condemned to a fate in the underworld that my mother described, grabbed by the god Mercury, and led forcibly to his rock that awaited him there.

Camus describes Sisyphus as the “Absurd Hero”, for it was his hatred of death, and his passion for life, equally, that led him to the penalty in which he is fated to exert himself toward accomplishing nothing for all eternity.  I consider this now, and ask the reader:  do you not know of people who do such a thing?  People who, through earthly passions, needs, drives and desires of many different kinds, exert themselves in futile persuits throughout their lives, accomplishing nothing.  I do.

On reading the story again, I am granted a vision of something I certainly had not considered before.  Camus discusses the matter of Sisyphus returning down the summit of the mountain to retrieve his rock from the plain below.

“I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end.  That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of conciousness.  At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate.  He is stronger than his rock.”  Albert Camus.

Camus continues to suggest that if this story is tragic, it is because Sisyphus is conscious.  “Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him?”

And here, at last, I find some comfort in the words Camus continues with now:

“When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy arises in a man’s heart:  this is the rock’s victory, this is the rock itself.  The boundless grief is too heavy to bear.  These are our nights of Gethsemane.  But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged.”

Well now, I like that.  A lot!  And it gets better…honestly, it does! But, I shall opt out here, and leave the reader to investigate further into the story Camus tells so well, should you feel so inclined.  You may not, of course.  It is a very personal matter for me, that I am drawn to consider futility, absurdity, and yes, heroic struggles to no end.  There are many words within all that Albert Camus writes here, from which I draw comfort, and fresh ways of seeing.  Not least of all, for example, these:

“At that subtle moment when a man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death.  Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go.  The rock is still rolling. 

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.”  Albert Camus.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Well, this is what I wanted to share today of Albert Camus on the subject of Sisyphus.  Later today, I shall post my own version of this story in STORIES OF WILLOW contd….under the title: “OF CAMELS, AND SISYPHUS IN THE FOUNTAIN.”

Please read, enjoy, and comment on all.

 

 

 

Among many things, in his writing of the Myth of  Sisyphus, Albert Camus proposes the following:   “..crushing truths perish from being acknowledged.”