The Ancient Greek Path to Wellness
Can Plato and Pythagoras Offer Us Life-Saving Wellness Tips?
Posted Jun 02, 2011
In my new book How Plato and Pythagoras Can Save Your Life, I write that 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.
After all, you can't turn on a TV or flip through a magazine today without being bombarded by a variety of so-called "self-help" messages that are meant to show us ways to either feel better, look younger or make love longer; no matter where we turn the dial or flip the page, we see screaming infomercials promising 7 minute solutions to problems that took a lifetime to develop.
It's a media landscape that's full of splashy and seductive ads or carnival barking pitchmen offering the promised land of a better you in some simplistic easy-to-do numeric variation: 5 easy steps to flatter abs or 3 keys towards a better love life; yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen, step right up and learn the 7 secrets of emotional well-being!
Who's selling all of this self-help snake oil? Admittedly, some are sincere. Some. But most would give used car salesmen a bad name. And these disingenuous hucksters keep husckstering because the vulnerable keep buying as they cling to the false hope of magical cures just as a desperate gambler keeps rolling the dice convinced that the next roll will make everything alright.
But for the self-help incurables, the dice keep coming up snake eyes.
But just who are these vulnerable self-help seekers? To a varying degree, they're all of us; those of us who have felt lost and confused at some point in our lives as we drifted without a clear sense of identity nor any sense of meaning or purpose.
We then drift towards self-help cures and elixirs like some sad and lonely teenager drifts towards a toxic relationship. Some psychologists have dubbed this phenomenon "The Empty Self"; a hollow and empty person who looks for external solutions to what are essentially interior problems of meaning and self-concept.
And like sharks smelling blood in the water, the hucksters capitalize on this emptiness as they pounce with their 7 minute abs, 5 steps to love, 3 ways to inner peace and 1 sure way to secure your credit card number: your emptiness.
But if the real dilemma is an existential one-a crisis of being-then what good are 7 minute abs? If the issue is one of meaning and purpose, we don't need to look to infomercials and modern self-help books for answers; we need to look back in time to the people who first looked up at the night sky and asked "What is my purpose? What is the nature of existence? What is the nature of the universe?", because the ancient Greek philosophers developed a way of living and experiencing the world that was meant to help people align themselves with their higher purpose.
So, as I do in my book, allow me to offer a few wellness tips (6 tips towards wellness?) from the people who invented the love of wisdom as a means towards personal growth:
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.