OK, so most of us have heard that Plato was a pretty smart and groovy toga-wearing ancient Greek with some pretty trippy ideas, but what life-saving tips can such and old-school philosopher possibly offer the ipod generation?
Sure, embracing a certain philosophy might help a person to better understand their world and their sense of purpose within that world, but can applying ancient Greek philosophy into your life actually save your life? The short answer: Yes. Because if your in a rut, or if your life lacks purpose and meaning, then you're just one of the millions of people who are the walking dead—poor souls who are sleep-walking their way through their lives.
Plato teaches us how to wake up.
And most people aren't just asleep, but they're stressed out as well. As far as societies go, we're one anxious, depressed and self-medicating mess. Those of us who work on the front-lines in the mental health field know this all too well; others need only to take a careful look around the social-cultural landscape to appreciate that our collective mental health is not too, well, healthy.
And things seem to be getting worse. According to Dr. Steven Ilardi, the University of Kansas psychologist, researcher and author of The Depression Cure (Da Capo, 2009) "Americans are 10 times more likely to have depressive illness than they were 60 years ago...and a recent study found the rate of depression has more than doubled in just the past decade".
Globally, things aren't much better; according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 450 million people worldwide are directly affected by mental disorders and disabilities and that by 2030 depression will top the list of all other health conditions as the number one financial burden around the world.
Why? Why are we getting more stressed out and more depressed?
Dr. Ilardi thinks that he's found the answer: Increased rates of depression (not to mention other mental health woes like anxiety and addiction) are a byproduct of our modernized, industrialized and urbanized lives. It seems that our love affair with the gadgets, gizmos and the comforts of being a highly technologically evolved society have put us on a never-ending treadmill of overworking, under-sleeping and hyper-stressing as we exhaustedly lunge towards the "American Dream". Yes America, our need for i-Phones, plasma TVs and a bigger house is killing us.
The solution? Un-plug and wake up. Live a more thoughtful and engaged life!
Unfortunately, we've turned into a self-absorbed rather than a self-reflective society; a narcissistic "Me Generation" on steroids that's fixated only on our own superficial "feel-good" betterment. But Plato (and his predecessor Pythagoras) had it figured out. They understood that to live a fully awakened life, one had to better understand the nature of the universe and, indeed, of reality itself.
The Greeks were all about understanding—and experiencing—that true nature of reality, beyond what was just accessible to our five senses. For them, philosophy wasn't just some sort of dry and academic way of thinking, but a way of life that could properly "tune" a person (Pythagoras believed that a person was like a musical instrument that needed to be properly tuned in order to be in alignment with the larger cosmic symphony) .
In what became known as the Bios Pythagorikos (the Pythagorean way of life), a healthy mind, body, and spirit were nurtured ("tuned") via rigorous physical exercise, a strict diet, daily meditational walks, lessons on ethics and character, as well as deep contemplative meditations on math, music, cosmology, and philosophy. Once a person's mind and body were properly tuned, they were then able to awaken to not only the deeper levels of reality, but to their life's purpose as well.
In my research that was presented at the 2007 APA conference (and that's also described in my book How Plato and Pythagoras Can Save Your Life, Conari, 2011), I presented my data that indicated that people who engaged in this very holistic way of living and thinking had experienced meaningful shifts in their lives and in their awareness. They had woken up.
So allow me to offer a few tips that can lead to your awakening that come straight from the people who invented the love of wisdom:
(I'm also offering a virtual class at the en*theos Academy this June that teaches people how to wake up as well: http://www.entheos.com/academy/courses/The-Greek-Miracle-How-Plato-Can-Save-Your-Life ):
Start each day with a quiet reflective or contemplative walk.
Pythagoras believed that people needed to take some time each morning to center themselves before engaging with other people: "it was essential to not meet anyone until their own soul was in order and they were composed in their intellect".
Take several minutes each evening to look up at the night sky and just...wonder.
Plato is quoted as saying that "all philosophy begins in wonder". Indeed, the ancient Greeks were obsessed with cosmology-the study of the nature of the universe. When we contemplate the heavens with contemplative awe, an amazing shift can happen within an individual.
Take several minutes a day to try an experience the world around you without the use of your senses or your rational, reasoning mind; instead, just try and experience your environment.
The Greeks felt that our senses trapped us into the illusion that the sensory world (which is fleeting) is ALL that there is; they believed that there were deeper, eternal aspects of reality that couldn't be experienced unless we got past the illusory trap of our senses.
To paraphrase Spike Lee: "Do the Right Thing".
The Greeks believed that character mattered! It was essential to live an honest and esteem-able life of integrity and virtue. They believed that in order to achieve our highest potential, we need to live correctly. We all know in most instances what the "right thing" is; Pythagoras and Plato believed that we must act on that knowledge and DO the right thing.
Do a five-minute music meditation each day where you listen to stringed, non-vocal music; attempt to "experience" the music in a non-rational way. In fact, try and become the music.
Pythagoras believed that the entire universe was vibrational and that we, as humans, could be "tuned" to be in sync with that larger rhythm. For that reason, his disciples would listen to the music/vibration of the lyre as a means to re-tune themselves.
Value moderation in everything.
The mind/body is our purest instrument; Pythagoras felt that we needed to treat it accordingly.
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