You see this futile endeavour, which I must perform for all time, is absurd. It is absurd rather like a Lewis Carroll story, or a playground rhyme. It is absurd in that it is crazy, meaningless and without end. But it is in the midst of all this that I have found my fate- I am rising above meaning. To help me explain how I do this, I would like to start by singing a song. It is called Topsy-turvy World.
If the butterfly courted the bee,
And the owl the porcupine;
If the churches were built in the sea,
And three times one was nine;
If the pony rode his master,
If the buttercups ate the cows,
If the cat had the dire disaster
To be worried, sir, by the mouse;
If mamma, sir, sold the baby
To a gypsy for half a crown;
If a gentleman, sir, was a lady,-
The world would be Upside-Down!
If any of these wonders
Should ever come about,
I should not consider them blunders,
For I should be Inside-Out!
- Lewis Carroll
Absurd! But as enjoyable as it is, I did sing it for a reason, and it is this: "If any of these wonders should ever come about, I should not consider them blunders, for I should be Inside-Out." And such is my position, Dear Friend. For wonders and the absurd are my everyday experience and I myself too, am a wonder, an absurdity. So you see I cannot consider what I experience or my situation a blunder, for I too am Inside-Out. The visions of a pony riding its master do seem crazy from outside the Topsy-turvy World, but from within it would not seem strange in the slightest. Likewise, pushing a stone up a mountain for all eternity may seem unfortunate to the rational mind, but from the perspective of the absurd mind (the natural mind) it is bliss.
I am happy with the absurdity because I understand quite well that this world is topsy-turvy. It is a mess of contradictions and paradoxes. Why, even God Himself is a hypocrite with his Goods and Evils- He professes universal love with His right hand while slapping man across the face with famine and war with His left. This can be quite disconcerting for man, who has made a religion of rationality, predictable phenomena and definite outcomes. Alas, the world is not that way Dear Friend. And we are not, either! It is a gross misunderstanding of ourselves to believe that we can reduce everything to rules and ways and laws.
Even mathematics, the pinnacle of all that is logical, is a system plagued by absurdity. The mathematician Kurt Gödel showed that however you set up a logical system, it must always contain undecidable statements. He used a mathematical version of the following statement to demonstrate his theorem:
"This sentence cannot be proven true."
If the above statement is false, then it can be proved true, thus it contradicts itself. So, the statement must then be true. But that means you cannot prove the statement! As you see Dear Friend, not even logic is safe from the facticity of the absurd!
When you were young, were you ever told a story about a strange place or character that scared you until your knees gave way? I was told many such stories, Dear Friend. Absurdity is not such a pleasant thing. And so it is with the world. Though, instead of three-headed monsters with legs for arms and arms for legs, we must contend with a meaningless universe with no absolute values. This idea may not frighten a child, but for the mind of a grown man it can be enough to reduce him to tears, or worse, insanity.
Without the guiding hand of an absolute entity to lead us and without the universal wisdom of eternal immutable laws, we are lost. Looking into the eyes of the vacuum we see nothing but blackness and feel that if our legs gave way we would fall and never see the bottom. But take heart Dear Friend. It is precisely the same unfounded fear we felt as children that freezes us now as we stare into the void. As children we are scared that perhaps such a monster exists, and worse we are scared of what it might mean for nothing to exist. What would happen to me? I can tell you that you have nothing to fear, as our parents told us we were just being silly, but this will not comfort you. After some time, experience, and a few peaks under the bed, Dear Friend, you will no longer be scared. On the contrary, you will sport an unflinching smile.
I cannot prove to you that there is nothing to fear, but I can perhaps tell you something of the absurd itself. When the gods condemned me to this futile existence I saw it as such. There was no purpose to my being, nor, I discovered, had there ever been. No matter how I thought of the situation, it was nothing but silliness. I cannot think of this punishment in terms of what it is, or what it is not. I cannot think of it at all in any rational way, for it is not a rational world. All I can do, Dear Friend, is feel. As I strain against the rock I feel its huge weight against my dirt-clogged hands and hardened shoulders. Heave! One foot closer to nothing. My face screwed up, my arms outstretched, the rock finally reaches the top of the mountain. And there it stops for just a moment before it starts to roll back down the mountain, gathering speed, before coming to rest at the foot of this, my home. And in the rich, lucid experience of my downward journey I feel a happiness that wells up in my throat and lifts the edges of my smile. Every inch of my skin feels like it is being caressed with silk.
To feel unhappy about this punishment of mine would be lunacy. What would the feeling be based on? Could I be unhappy with myself for disobeying the gods to begin with? No, for that would be like erecting a cage around myself, wrapping my hands around my neck and giving a good squeeze- doing the gods' deeds for them. No, none of that. I am not unhappy because, as Camus said, "Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth." Even if I were to be rid of this imprisonment, I would not be able to escape absurdity. Trying to escape fate is like running for your own shadow- it only tires you. And the irony of the situation is that this seemingly terrible existence is in fact greater than any heaven.
And you Dear Friend, walking down this mountain with me, are more like me than you might imagine. There is but one certainty in your life, and that is your death. It is your ultimate fate. Me myself, I am immortal, but instead I must heave this rock however. Details aside, we have this in common: our fate. Mine is the rock, yours is your death. In addition to this, our fates are both meaningless. Your death is the end of a life without purpose, as Macbeth realised:
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Raising the stone to the top of the mountain leads only to its descent back to the bottom, accomplishing nothing. You leave a trace in people's memories and the world of matter and forms. I push the rock up the groove in the mountain and it falls back, running along the same line. If you cannot look forward to eternity, Dear Friend, what have you?
More divine than any god is the freedom of the present moment- the now which is free for you to experience. The present moment is above the toils of the past and the worries of the future. It is a timeless place, forever escaping the clutches of the rational mind, which is far too slow, cumbersome and limited to be able to fathom its vastness. It is in the present moment that you will find absurdity at its most striking. Forms will move, noises will swarm, heat will radiate. You will notice the rational mind, in all its exuberance, reaching out into the wonders of the absurd, trying desperately to bring it down to the level of concepts. As if it ever could. The rational mind does this mostly out of fear, and partly out of curiosity, for the rational mind fears that which does not conform to understanding. But it tries in vain, and it might be best to let it know that its efforts to understand will go on without reward. The absurd, which pervades the present moment, swimming through it with no meaning or purpose, is no one's property. Those that try to own it, or command it, suffer the fate of Lucifer.
It is because you cannot contain the present moment that it delivers you from fate to happiness, Dear Friend. Like me, you have a fate that is immovable. It is not, however, insurmountable. For your fate does not exist in the future, your fate is with you here, in the present moment. And the present moment is absurd. And the absurd and happiness are two sons of the same earth.
I must leave you now, as we are approaching the base of the mountain. You too are now at the foot of your own mountain, and you have your own rock to heave. Do not run from your shadow, Dear Friend. Heave!