Tag Archives: Ancient Greece

Inhale, Exhale: On Mindfulness, Ancient Greece, & The Now

delphicoracle

The Oracle at Delphi. “Know Thyself”

 

You must plunge beneath your crowded thoughts and calmly contemplate the higher realities with pure, focused attention. If you do this, a state of inspired serenity will remain with you throughout your life, shaping your character and benefiting you in so many ways — Empedocles, ancient Greek sage.

Though we generally, and rightfully it seems, attribute the origins of meditation to Eastern tradition, this quote by Empedocles suggests similar practices were present in ancient Greece. There is evidence of a certain mindfulness taught in Plato’s Academy, and philosophy, which the ancient Greeks are often credited with inventing, requires an inward gaze while contemplating the outer universe. Let us not forget the words Know thyself inscribed at the Oracle of Delphi, the world’s navel according to the ancients. All this is to say that as a Greek-American with an interest in attaining inner peace, I find inspiration in the notion that my ancestors followed similar pursuits. It’s with them in mind that I have recently incorporated a new ritual into my morning routine.

Minutes after waking, before checking social media, prior to rising for breakfast and preparing for the day’s writing session, with eyes closed I sit at the edge of my bed and simply breathe. I focus my mind on the present moment–the carpet beneath my feet, the drone of distant traffic beyond my window, the warbling birds gathered in the trees. With each inhalation I ground myself in the present moment, letting any residual thoughts of past or future evaporate, and with each exhalation I radiate calm. After five or so minutes, I open my eyes to a new clarity and tranquility.

Now, let me clarify that I’m not some New Age bohemian committed to levitating above my mattress. In the past I couldn’t help regard the term “meditation” with a smirk. But, as a person who tends to ruminate a bit too much on potential hardships yet to come, and often finds it difficult to accept the things I cannot change, this simple five minute routine offers some genuine solace. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale into the the here-and-now.
Anxiety runs in the family. Both my yiayias, may their beautiful souls rest in peace, struggled with the affliction, their minds ever-churning with What if’s? That question, the What if of it all, too often plagues me as well. It’s kept me up at night, and it has also inspired my writing. Now I ask myself what if I can just enjoy the moment? What if what comes next is better than expected?

Since writing in itself is a meditative experience, as is any other artistic practice, perhaps this new routine of mine is just an extension of my work. I know that we Greek men, in our proverbial stance of Mediterranean machismo, frequently strut about with our chests puffed. As foreign as it will initially feel to exhale, and deflate those prominent torsos, we might find that it brings us into the present while simultaneously providing a link to those who came before us.