Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Ancient Wisdom & New Year’s Resolutions

by Caroline Lawrence

I read ancient authors almost daily and am always surprised by how relevant they are. (Usually!) Here are my ten New Year’s resolutions based on ancient authors, some with links to advice for modern application. Maybe some of them will inspire you, too!

1. Examine Your Life – Socrates (Greek 5th century BC)
Socrates famously said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ The bleak midwinter is the yearly equivalent of four in the morning, when all our fears rise to the surface of consciousness. Don’t push them back down. Take them out and examine them one by one. One way to do this is something like Morning Pages where you write a stream of consciousness first thing. Check out a 3-minute clip HERE.

2. Know Thyself. – Anonymous (Greek 6th century BC)
This slogan was written in Greek on temple of Apollo at Delphi. It’s not entirely sure who first coined it but many philosophers have echoed it ever since. According to Yuval Noah Harari, algorithms already know more about us than we do ourselves. (Watch a revelatory interview with Harari HERE). Until they make the ‘Know Thyself’ app, I’m going to constantly ask myself why I’m taking certain actions from little (online purchases) to big (the nature of my next project). 

3. Let Your Food Be Medicine – Hippocrates (Greek 5th century BC)
The reason we make New Year’s Resolutions now is because of the two weeks of overindulgence we’ve just experienced, telling ourselves ‘It’s the holidays... Let the regime go for a while.’ That’s fine. That’s why winter is a time for feasting. And why Lent is a time for fasting. Two and a half thousand years ago the ‘father of medicine’ urged people to eat for health, but fasts were also part of the ancient health regime. Sometimes a lack of food is good for the body and lets it recover. I started the new year with a ‘diatritos’, a three day fast, and will try to fast for a couple of days each month. HERE is a short introduction to fasting.

4. Withdraw into Yourself as Far as You Can – Seneca (Latin 1st century AD)
Recede in te ipsum, quantum potes. (Letters 7.8) The first century AD Roman Stoic philosopher seemed to be talking about something like meditation or mindfulness. I’m going to try to meditate every day and take stock, even if only for a few minutes. Try a short 3-minute version HERE

5. Always Be On Your Guard – Marcus Aurelius (Greek 2nd century AD)
Wise words from the second century AD Stoic philosopher and emperor. The full quote is this. ‘The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, you should always be on your guard.’ (Meditations 7.61) Whether on the streets of London or posting on Twitter, I’m going to try to be alert to danger and let my intuition warn me. 

6. Take Power Naps – Pliny (Latin 1st AD)
He was a most ready sleeper, insomuch that he would sometimes, whilst in the midst of his studies, fall off and then wake up again… [After lunch] he generally took a cold bath, then some light refreshment and a little nap. After this, as if it had been a new day, he studied till supper-time… Pliny Letters 27. As I get older, I am learning to take power naps before they take me. Read Pliny the Younger’s account of his Uncle’s daily routine HERE

7. Keep Fit – Juvenal (Latin 1st AD)
Mens sana in corpore sano can be translated as ‘a healthy mental outlook in a fit body’. You don’t have to join a gym or invest in new trainers. We all know the ways to increase daily movement like getting off the tube a stop earlier or taking the stairs instead of a lift. I love walking but my knee is getting a bit stiff so I’ve now started to supplement walking with a short yoga session first thing in the comfort of my own home via YouTube or DVD. My favourite is Rodney Yee

8. Hurry Slowly – Augustus via Suetonius (Latin 1st AD)
I do things quickly. Sometimes too quickly. The Roman historian Suetonius, in De vita Caesarum, tells that Augustus deplored rashness in a military commander, thus σπεῦδε βραδέως or festina lente in Latin was one of his favourite sayings. I resolve to be quick but not impulsive. 

9. Treat Others As You Would Like to be Treated – Jesus (Greek 1st AD)
In Matthew 7:12, Jesus states the so-called Golden Rule which he got from Hillel the Elder, a first century BC Jewish sage. We know it in our heads (and hearts) but it goes against the survival instinct of our reptile brain. I had a revelation recently while teaching John Truby’s seven beat plot structure, which includes the Desire and the Opponent. We often consider people as opponents or barriers to things we want, but in Gods eyes it is the people who are important, not the things we want. 

10. Delight Yourself in the LORD... – King David (Hebrew 10th century BC)
...And He will give you the desires of your heart completes the promise. We can be overwhelmed by the suffering and stupidity in the world around us, and be tempted to despair. But we live lives of greater comfort and luxury than almost any generation before us. I am going to count my blessings, say thank you to the Universe and delight myself in God and His creation. For me, this verse from Psalm 37 is the most important resolution of all. 

Gnothi Sauton = Gnothi Seauton = Know Thyself


Claire said...

What a great post - thank you!

abigail brieson said...

All wonderful and vibrant thoughts to begin the new year. I suspect at one time I shall fail at one or more; I must find a 'failure is but a temporaty setback' quote or something of the sort for encouragement.

Penny Dolan said...

A wise collection for this time of the year. Thank you,