Pushing Our Boulders

The other day I read After Dark by Haruki Murakami. It’s a short novel of intertwining encounters set one night in Tokyo between the hours of midnight and dawn. It is very dialogue driven with moments of captivating surrealism. I’d definitely recommend it.

A conversation that stood out to me was when one of the characters recounts a myth about three brothers who washed up on an island in Hawaii. I couldn’t find it online so I assume Murakami himself made it up. It went like this:

“Three brothers went out fishing and got caught in a storm. They drifted on the ocean for a long time until they washed up on the shore of an uninhabited island. It was a beautiful island with coconuts growing there and tons of fruit on the trees, and a big, high mountain in the middle. The night they got there, a god appeared in their dreams and said, ‘A little farther down the shore, you will find three big, round boulders. I want each of you to push his boulder as far as he likes. The place you stop pushing your boulder is where you will live. The higher you go, the more of the world you will be able to see from your home. It’s entirely up to you how far you want to push your boulder.

The three brothers found three boulders on the shore just as the god had said they would. And they started pushing them along as the god told them to. Now these were huge, heavy boulders, so rolling them was hard, and pushing them up an incline took an enormous effort. The youngest brother quit first. He said, ‘Brothers, this place is good enough for me. It’s close to the shore, and I can catch fish. It has everything I need to go on living. I don’t mind if I can’t see that much of the world from here.’ His two elder brothers pressed on, but when they were midway up the mountain, the second brother quit. He said, ‘Brother, this place is good enough for me. There is plenty of fruit here. It has everything I need to go on living. I don’t mind if I can’t see that much of the world from here.’The eldest brother continued walking up the mountain. The trail grew increasingly narrow and steep, but he did not quit. He had great powers of perseverance, and he wanted to see as much of the world as he possibly could, so he kept rolling the boulder with all his might. He went on for months, hardly eating or drinking, until he had rolled the boulder to the very peak of the high mountain. There he stopped and surveyed the world. Now he could see more of the world than anyone. This was the place he would live—where no grass grew, where no birds flew. For water, he could only lick the ice and frost. For food, he could only gnaw on moss. Be he had no regrets, because now he could look out over the whole world. And so, even today, his great, round boulder is perched on the peak of that mountain on an island in Hawaii.”

The moral of the story being:

“If you really want to know something, you have to be willing to pay the price”

The story resonated a lot with me. I am currently pushing my own boulder through life and I have no idea where I should stop. There is so much to see and do on this earth. So many people to meet. So many experiences to have. But I am very aware that with great experiences comes great sacrifices.

How many relationships and experiences am I missing out on by not exploring as much as possible? But on the other hand, how would my current relationships suffer if I keep pushing my boulder to the highest peak? I am sure there is a very sound argument to be made in favour of quality over quantity.

Are the lives that are chosen by the two younger brothers the most sensible? Surely nobody wants to go all the way to Hawaii to stay alive licking frost and eating moss. However the eldest brother couldn’t curb his curiosity to see as much of the world as possible, no matter how big the price was he had to pay.

Is life about expanding the interval or just doing one’s best to enjoy it? So many questions I know! But I’d love your opinions on this subject.

boulder drawing

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21 thoughts on “Pushing Our Boulders

  1. Intriguing and thoughtful post, thank you! I’d probably be the first or second brother, since I have always been content with little things. I think when it comes down to it, no matter where you are in life, if you feel satisfied with your surroundings then you will be happy. It is good to push yourself and gain new experiences, but at the same time don’t torture yourself with the thought of “I could be doing so much more” or the feeling of “I’m not achieving enough”. In the end, the only person you have to please is yourself.

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    1. I feel this way most of the time as well. I am more than content with the little things. However there are always some days where I can’t curb the “I could be doing so much more” and “I’m not achieving enough” thoughts. And it gets hard! But you’re totally right, the only person you have to please is yourself. You shouldn’t be pushing the boulder for the sake of pushing the boulder.

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  2. We can’t experience it all in one lifetime. Therefore we come here more than once. Each lifetime we take along a programm which triggers us in certain moments or situaitons, which gives us dreams and skills. We have preferences for certain things and don’t like others. That way set our priorities and decide what we want to experience. We don’t need to have it all and we don’t need to have it all. But if we feel the urge to try something out, to ask someone for a date, or to just start something new we should do it. Because otherwise we never know. Feeling a burning for something is a sign that it might be part of our programm and therefore worthwhile to give it a try.

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      1. I believe in reincarnation. And I believe that we set our goals for each incarnation. We come here to experience ourselves and the physical world. But there is so much to explore and to experience. So many roles to play. We cannot do it all within 80 years. For example we cannot be parents on one hand but also want to experience a lifetime without having children on our own. I don’t believe that we have to come for karma. But I believe that we want to come again for something we did not work out yet. But I believe that it is our decision. This might not fit with many religions. And I don’t want to offend anyone. It is just what I feel and believe in.

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        1. That is a very interesting belief! I certainly hope you’re right. Life is way too short to experience everything in one go.
          Have you read a short story called ‘The Egg’? Your comment just reminded me of it. It’s one of my favourites I have read online and it brings up some of the issues you mentioned. I think you’d like it if you haven’t, here’s a link: http://www.galactanet.com/oneoff/theegg_mod.html
          Let me know what you think!

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          1. I just read the story. It is an amazing story and displays an even bigger picture of everything. I love it and I love how it is explained that we are all one and how we treat ourselves the way we treat othrers. We are all aspects of the on and only, but still unique enough to play an individual role. The gift of life is greatest gift and contents everything we wish for. How loved must we be! Thank you for sharing this wonderful story with me. ❤

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  3. I struggle with this concept a lot, because many of my dreams and career aspirations involve travel. For me, chasing my dreams means leaving relationships behind, which is never easy. I don’t have a right answer, but I’d like to think that the most important relationships will still be there when I return. Maybe I need to leave to discover which relationships are most important? Only one way to find out!

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  4. A blast from the past:

    “All Sisyphus’ silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is a thing Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to its silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when 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 (a lot more fun to read than Sartre)

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  5. I remember reading a forum comment by someone who said that the reason she enjoyed X profession (and it’s a stereotypically hard one to get into and train for) was that she could meet and interact with similarly motivated and interesting people.

    Then again, I’ve met those in that profession who seem to have significantly less emotional life quality than those outside, so who knows?

    There are no easy answers to this question, in my opinion. I think it’s good to have different influences and hear different perspectives and be able to take a holistic approach to life.

    What may suit us at one stage of our life may not suit us in another.

    I think I have a strong capacity for being happy with little, but also I think I’d regret it if I was 55 and looking back and thinking “I didn’t hit my boundaries in that”.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I completely agree with all of this!

      I think this just shows how different every person is. And how there isn’t a universal answer for happiness. We just have to do what makes us happy in the moment.

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  6. HI Kristian-
    First let me comment on this wonderful post. It is a lesson that MANY could take head of. To me the story says that you don’t always have to have the biggest or the best of everything to be happy. Appreciate the journey to the place you choose because happiness isn’t always at the top of the hill. That’s my husband lovely pessimistic, narcissist that he is. I tried to tell him enjoy what we have – many, many wonderful things (not just stuff) that we are fortunate to have, but nope he is always looking at the top of the hill because he’s only mediocre at pushing that ball up the hill. I hope his tongue doesn’t get stuck to the ice up there-LOL

    Secondly I wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the Inspiring Blogger Award. I think it is so refreshing to see a young man (yeah i’m getting up there) who has such insight into people, relationships and life. I enjoy your blog and many others as well so CONGRATULATIONS- Blogger you inspire me. Go to my Award page and see the details. Hugs to you-Chely

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    1. Hi Chely,
      Thank you for such a great comment! I can totally emphasise with your husband. My goal in life is to be content with being one of the first two brothers who stopped pushing their boulders half way up the hill. I think that no matter where you are in life, if you feel satisfied with your surroundings then you will be happy.

      And thank you again for the nomination and the kind description of my blog on your post. It really made me smile. I am very honoured!

      Take care,
      Kristian

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a thought-provoking post. You have linked the story of the three brothers with the boulders to your own aspirations in life really well. I suppose many of the things we do in life must be weighed up and carefully balanced. Only you can make the ultimate decision as to whether pursuing your craving to travel will hinder/harm relationships you have already formed. Yet if you give up your dream, will you regret it for ever? Compromise is not always the answer, either. It all comes down to making difficult decisions.

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