Imagine an eternity spent straining to push a heavy boulder uphill, agonizing through each step, inching your way up the incline, only to reach the top and have your load careen back to the base of the hill, where you were forced to begin the whole process once more. Such was the fate of Sisyphus, king of Ephyra, who angered Zeus and was sentenced to this laborious and defeating task.
It's difficult to conceive of a worse fate. Constant fruitless labor, massive amounts of energy expended in utter waste, a singular focus that will never amount to success. Perhaps emulating Zeus, or perhaps simply playing out the destiny of a toxic patriarchy, modern society has crafted a Sisyphean fate for women, a destiny seemingly similar, but in fact far more fruitless. Turns out, Sisyphus had it easy.
Our Greek king had an actual boulder, a round object that could, at least in theory, be rolled to the top of the hill, where it would be free to capture momentum and rocket down the other side. Women are also attempting to climb a hill, pushing a burden before them. But our burden is a massive oak tree, with roots that reach miles down into the earth. Our shoulders bruised and bloody, we push and shove against the tree, never making an inch of progress.
Society whispers, and in many cases shouts, that this object is a boulder, and that womanhood is defined by our ability to move it up the mountainside. We are offered no rest. To step away from our task is the most heavily judged of sins. A woman who is not pushing her burden up the incline is cold, selfish, a terrible mother and an utterly undesirable partner.
At times we wonder, is this really possible? It doesn't FEEL possible. I think I may be pushing against something that cannot be moved. But the messages are clear: it's a boulder. It's your boulder. Keep pushing. You can do it! This is what a good mom does, how a wife shows up for her partner, where a good woman spends her time and energy. Push, sister, push! You've got this!
And so, weary beyond exhaustion, aching beneath our bones and into our souls, we reapply ourselves. We push, not only against the burden, but against the voice in our heart that is screaming at us, the part that desperately wants us to the see the truth--that this is all an illusion, a sick punishment that we will never escape by trying to "do it right." We continue heaving and grinding, and we repeat the messages we hear from outside. It's a boulder. Moving it is your job, and more than that, it's the measure of your worth as a woman. You should be able to get it up the hill.
All the while, through all of the effort, we feel the gauzy disconnect of the hallucination. We see the fuzzy edges where the supposedly clear picture looks warped, we sense the misalignment between our desires and the task we've been told will fulfill them. And all the while, we struggle with the feeling that we are dismal failures...horrible women, blundering mothers, unworthy and unlovable humans, because we can’t make it up the hill.
Sisyphus had a task that was made impossible by the gods. The task women have been assigned is impossible by nature. The mighty oak, intractable and immovable, resists all efforts, no matter how passionate or dedicated. There is no maneuvering what is not ours to move. And this is the Sisyphean task laid at the feet of women...advance that which cannot be shifted with your power, create that which can only be created by another. Do this, and you will be crowned with the ultimate label: good. Fail, and we have a crown of a thousand thorns for you: greedy, selfish, uncaring, perverted, cold, unnatural, bitch.
And so we try. We try with all of our might. And make no mistake, the might of a woman is considerable. We focus nearly all of our energy and attention on this goal, to the exclusion of all else. We structure our lives around it, yoke our worth to it, and use it as the sole platform from which we make decisions. We remain at the base of the hill, shoulder firmly planted against the tree, feet digging into the soil, and we strive to gain Just. One. Inch. Day after day, year after year, we try to complete this impossible task: to make others happy, to secure their emotional world and ensure that their every need is met. We ache to control the emotions and outcomes of those around us, as this is what we've been told we are to do, the task which a good woman should be able to accomplish.
In a tragedy beyond even the masterful Greek's conception, women have been saddled with this task which not only saps our strength and energy, but which perpetuates the emotional and spiritual imbalances that keep our world and her people stuck in war, hatred, sickness, and struggle. The more we try to perform our impossible imperative, the more intractable it becomes. The more we strive to control what we cannot influence, the less control remains in the hands of those who could create the very change we strive for. The harder we push against the oak, the deeper run its roots.
Women are exhausted, and for good reason. Even Sisyphus had the minor victory of gaining ground, the brief rest as his burden trundled back down the mountain to return to its starting place. We are beyond tired because, no matter how we use our minds to attempt compliance with the message of the boulder, in our hearts we know the truth: what we're doing isn't working. It isn't working for us, it isn't working for our families. It isn't working, at all.
Reality check...if women could make everyone happy, we would all BE happy! All healthy humans, male or female, seek approval from and connection with others. It's part of our biological imperative for survival. Humans are social animals, we need one another to survive, and we are neurologically geared to attempt to please one another. Beyond this, divine feminine energy is the energy of connection, cooperation, tribe. Were it within the power of women to forcibly create the happiness of our tribe, suffering would already be a story in history books.
Where did biology meet mythology? When did the natural human instinct to care for and engage with others become twisted into the futile mission that now cripples women? I don't know the exact date, the phase of the moon or the year on the calendar when the shift took place, but it happened at the precise moment when desire morphed into responsibility. When women's desire to see others healthy and content was warped into their duty, the stage was set. The tree sprung forth in this moment, fully formed with roots reaching earth's center. In the same moment, they myth that the tree could be moved sprung forth as well, as was handed to Woman as her crowing glory. Do this, the story suddenly read, and you will be revered as all that is good and feminine.
From feminine energy comes much that can support another in happiness--a listening ear, the passing on of valuable skills, a sense of connection and community, an unfailing support system, a safe space to which one can return after bravely exploring the world. When women were free to offer these blessings to others who were responsible for their own outcomes (happiness, success, etc), we were powerful allies, indeed. Children developed independence and interdependence, mates provided different but equal support, communities thrived.
In the moment that the story changed, when women became responsible for the outcomes of others, the power of this energy was dissipated. Each of us must create our own results; nothing more or less is possible. Each human generates emotion from their own thoughts, takes action or chooses inaction based on their own mind, and generates their reality via this dependable chain reaction. Nothing another does--no matter how deeply they may love us or how much good they desire for us--can change this. Each person generates their own feelings, chooses their own actions, and experiences their own self-made reality. There is no other option.
Where once women could offer valuable interaction that supported this process, they were now impotent. Given responsibility for what they could not change, they were no longer able to offer support for change in any way. Once the teachers of the lessons that enabled their tribe to understand this vital aspect of humanity, women found themselves with their hands tied. Unable to reach out and offer support in the creation of happiness and health among their people, women were reduced to the endless toil of trying to create for others what they could only make themselves. Few would be jealous of Sisyphus, save Woman.
Women cannot make their partners happy, nor can they ensure any version of success for their children. Alone, as we currently strive, we are incapable of creating happy homes and close-knit families, not because we have failed in our role as women, but because these creations are dependent on the choices of all of the individuals in our homes and families. They are not solely ours to create. Our role as a leader in the process of creation has been demented and diminished.
Yet the imperative remains--it's a boulder. It's your boulder. And you just need to push harder. Take on more responsibility, sacrifice more of yourself. Give more, do more, try more, love more. Shove harder. You can do it!
But you know you can't do it. Your mind may not want to admit this truth. Why would you? To accept this is also to accept society's judgement that you have failed in the preeminent feminine imperative. But your heart knows the truth. The harder you try to make your partner happy, the more strained your marriage becomes. The more you pour into your children, the more they expect and the less they invest in themselves. In between frenzied bouts of pushing (the tree up and your truth down), you'd like to lay down at the foot of that tree and dissolve into wracking, gut-wrenching sobs. But that might make someone uncomfortable. So you just keep pushing.
I'm writing this today to ask you, to beg you, to stop. I know what your mind says. I know how you've been programmed to think, how you imagine the crown of thorns will feel. But you are attempting a task that can never be completed. Not because you are a failure, but because it's simply not possible. It can't be done. And in the worst of ironies, what you could be doing to help those around you thrive and shine, what actually might stack the deck in favor of happiness for everyone you love, is going undone because of your deep and unyielding commitment to those very same people.
That's the darkest chapter in our Sisyphean tale, the pages where it's written that we continue pushing against that tree, we continue telling ourselves that it's a boulder and we will move it (damn it!), because we want with all of our hearts to help, to heal, to uplift. We want our partners, children, parents, and friends to feel safe and supported. We want them to be happy (damn it!). And our commitment to the false tale that we can make that happen is actually stripping them of their personal power, the only true path to their happiness and success.
I'm not asking you to stop solely for yourself. I am asking you to stop for them. Because as long as you continue trying to do for your loved ones what only they can do for themselves, they will not do for themselves. They will continue waiting for you to do it, for you to create happiness, confidence, growth, and competence for them. And since you cannot...they will go without.
This is the heart of darkness that lies at the center of the myth women are living. The perversion of feminine energy has stripped us of our power to support others as they thrive, and simultaneously imprisoned men and children in a cell where they wait endlessly for their female keepers to arrive and feed them through the bars. They will never escape, just as you will never rest, until you stop.
Try it out, right now. Even for only a moment. Stop trying to make other people happy. Stop trying to manage the unfolding of events to the benefit of others. Stop pretending you can make choices for the people that you love. Sit down. Take a breath. Give your tribe a moment to consider creating happiness and success for themselves. Observe what happens with a neutral eye. See the truth behind the myth, see what you've been tricked into creating.
Sit beneath the tree and acknowledge that you cannot move it, that it was never yours to move. Be here without judgement, without chastising yourself for spending so much time and energy on a apocryphal undertaking, without anger towards the system that set you to this inviable task. Sit and rest, because from here on out, you write the story. This is the moment where myth becomes verisimilitude, where the accepted truth (which was a lie) becomes your truth.
And this is where the revolt begins. You are not alone in this f'd up fairy tale. The whole of society, and more importantly your people, are here with you. You are not the only one who believed it was your job to make everything happen for everyone. This is a collective myth, an unspoken and unrealized agreement between all of us. If you want off the crazy train, if you want to empower your tribe to be well and truly powerful, to ensure they have a shot at true and lasting happiness, you're going to have to break that agreement.
There will be mutiny. There will be name-calling. There will be confusion and hurt feelings and an uproar that can be heard for miles. You will be offered the crown of thorns. It will hurt to put it on. But in this way, your time spent pushing that immovable load has prepared you well. Hard work? You know it. Dedication? A part of your daily life. And enough love for those people to do literally anything to see them through? Yeah, you've got that.
So step away from the "boulder," woman. Lead your loved ones away from this masochistic myth. This is what the strength of a woman is meant for. Not for wasting, for endless expending on fruitless labor, but for truly caring for our tribe. When you stop holding up your people, they will learn to uphold themselves. They will learn from you. You will go first, and you will show them the way. You will dry their tears and listen to their confusion and frustration and send them out, again and again, to learn their lessons, always there in your own sovereignty when they return.
By watching you take responsibility for your own happiness and success, your tribe will learn how to do the same. And as you heal your own wounds from the months and years of pushing against that immovable burden, so, too, you heal the collective. No amount of pushing against the supposed boulder will change the story. Only when you see the myth for what it is and commit to writing a new tale will you ensure freedom. For yourself, yes, but also for those you've meant to serve all these years, for those you've mistakenly hobbled with the same traitorous twist on femininity.
Sisyphus did have it easy. He had no choice. There was no arguing with the gods, and his sentence was eternal. He never had to consider what it would cost to turn his back on the boulder, to walk away from the mountain, to change the story. Before you is a choice that he never had to grapple with. But this task was given to Woman for a reason. Birth is what we do. We are built to endure the pain of creation, to carry families and fortunes forward. Our hearts and bodies reflect one another, and in both we are blessed to shed what no longer nourishes while building anew with grace.
Sisyphus had it easy, but we have it made. For generations we've built our strength against the mighty oak. For decades we have proven we will do anything, even attempt the impossible, to ensure that our people are well and well-loved. Now, more than ever, we are prepared to lead our tribe forward, to be the first to create a new reality where happiness and fulfillment are to be expected for all. Now, when we push harder, the burden will move. Now, at last, we can rest, and when we once again push forward, we will lead our tribe to the top of the mountain. Lead on, sister; I'll be right behind you.
PS...the Sisyphean task of carrying responsibility for others is a primary reason that the vast majority of women feel burned out, even when they try to follow prescribed advice (get more exercise, take up yoga, organize your schedule, etc). Changing this narrative is part of the Banishing Burnout program that will begin January 17th, 2022. If you see yourself in this tale and you would like support in turning away from the myth, please consider joining me.