Seeking Calm Waters in a Chaotic World
During this difficult time, it seems the world has come together in ways unseen in order to fight the novel Covid-19 coronavirus crisis. In the end – in the After Times – we hope/we trust we will come out the other side, stronger, better, and more compassionate towards one another and our planet.
It is the first time in our lives, that our generation has witnessed something like this – a complete shut down of society against an unseen enemy without discretion. However, it is not the first time in history humanity has endured similar calamities – and we have lessons to learn here…
In ancient times, many plagues devastated societies across civilizations. There were few boundaries, few protocols, and no cures. Their best defense against the ravages of these sorts of pestilence was to institute citywide “quarantines” – which in Latin translates as 40-days of isolation. Sometimes, only some quarters or singular towns were isolated if the disease was caught early enough – but even these isolations weren’t enough to stop the spread of fear.
Unbound fear rampaged through the countryside, and across nations, when even the strong and powerful were not immune. For example, in classical Greece, Pericles was general, leader, orator, and supreme patron of the arts, aka the ‘first citizen’ of democratic Athens during the height of its glory. He died in 429 BCE, due to the typhus plague that killed nearly one third of the city’s 250, 000 citizens.
It was the worst case of plague throughout Classical Greece, believed to have originated in sub-Saharan Africa. It then traveled up the Nile to the ports of ancient Egypt, embarking from there on ships of trade, landing at Athens’ port of Piraeus. The history of plagues follows a remarkably similar story up to this day, in the way a virus spreads, unseen, across borders and boundaries.
Aside from quarantines, what did ancient peoples do? They did try various medical interventions, in the form of tinctures, teas and herbs – especially those espoused by the disciples of Asclepius, god of medicine. Sometimes these seemed to work but it was never possible to confirm whether they did or not? However, most of their ancient advice remains to this day: stay apart; seek sunshine and exercise; rest well; eat well; sleep.
The ancients also oftentimes turned to their gods for solace. They knew better, however, than to ask their gods to “save” them for they knew if they caught the plague, they would likely succumb. Rather, they turned to their gods for some sense of doing something: to pray, to sacrifice, to gift, and to maintain discipline.
The Homeric code on how to appease the gods was not religion as we know it in modern times. Rather, for the Greeks, it was more about doing something – i.e. how you acted in the social sphere counted. What was most important to the Greeks was the observance of the rites, i.e. nomos arkhaios, as the Greek religion was one based on communal orthopraxy (the right way) vs. orthodoxy (the right word).
Therefore, the ancient Greeks focused on the practice of their “religion,” vs. simply praying and putting faith in the gods. For example, the Greek belief in Hades was neither good nor bad, but rather it is where your shade/soul would go after crossing the river Styx.
The very least the ancients could do when someone succumbed to the disease, was to place two coins on the eyelids of the dead to pay Charon, the ferryman, for safe passage across the Styx. Once in Hades, your shade would rush to be reunited with your ancestors and then wait for your beloved to join you upon their passage.
There was also the concept of Elysium, i.e. the blessed isles – where heroes would go upon death, according to Homer.
In classical Greece the concept had evolved as a place where the “good” folks would go after crossing the Styx, which became a comfort. [Don’t ask me how the reunion of shades would come about if one were in Hades and the other in Elysium?]
Overall, it didn’t really matter which god or goddess you preferred to invoke in your practice – what mattered was to be active in your practice, and in ancient Greece, there were many, many, gods and goddesses to choose from that could speak more or better to your inner self. Many chose the god or goddess more closely associated with their City or island; rather than a deity that more closely related to their character. It was just easier that way, and it often feels good to belong to a group rather than to fly solo – although this sort of independence was never frowned upon in ancient Greece.
Athens was particularly blessed with deities to choose from – the supreme choice being Athena vs. Poseidon. Both Olympians vied to be benefactor of the City, when Athena offered the olive branch to the citizens winning their favour over Poseidon’s protection from the sea. However, Athenians also knew well that the Aegean Sea was their lifeblood, so to appease Poseidon they built a temple sanctuary to him at Cape Sounion, just south of the city, dating from at least the Archaic era as early as 8th c. BCE.
The temple site was rebuilt several times through the centuries, however, due to the ravages of earthquakes and wars. What remains today are classical ruins dating back to 440 BCE. Everyone who has visited and continues to visit here comes away with a sense of awe – a sense of place being somehow closer to the divine. Even Lord Byron, visiting here on his Grand Tour during the early 19th c. CE wrote this in his poem Isles of Greece:
Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep…
One of the key benefits of this location is the sense of serenity one feels. Up high under the temple shadows at the edge of the cliff looking at the Aegean horizon as the sea breeze blows your hair across your face is simply sublime. Take a deep breath of the saltwater breeze and raise your closed eyelids to the sun. Stand here awhile, alone in your own sun salutation and recover your equilibrium. This is what I do every time I’ve been blessed to visit.
Even on stormy days, when the sea rages below, you feel safe in the hug of the temple site. I swear the Greeks knew exactly where to build the temples of their gods! On these sorts of stormy days, praying for calm waters, one might think to invoke Poseidon – but the ancients called instead on his consort, Amphitrite, a Neraid, aka mermaid, descended from the even more ancient line of the Titan gods and goddesses. Her voice alone was said to calm Poseidon’s rage.
Sailors especially revered Amphitrite, the ancient goddess of the sea and calm waters. Her exotic image was often carved as a figurehead on the bows of their ships to ensure smooth sailing.
In the end, we will come out the other side of this #coronocrisis2020, and find our own calm waters in the After Times – but this is also a good time to reflect on what kind of world we want to resume? This global pause has shown how quickly the planet can regenerate when the factories close down. This crisis has also shown how interdependent humanity is across the board for our survival – but we don’t just want to survive, do we? Don’t we all want to thrive?
This shelter in place with our families and loved ones has also brought about precious moments because we were forced to stay home together. For many, it has been an unexpected blessing; for others, not so much – such as for those stuck at home alone, even without a pet; but especially for those enduring domestic abuse. In times like these, some sort of internal practice – be it prayer, yoga &/or meditation, often helps.
Thankfully, the Internet is another outlet, and for once has lived up to its hype bringing people together across various platforms. Book clubs have gone online. Family reunions are also online. All forms of exercise, and especially yoga, are available online – with studios and beloved teachers around the world providing offerings for free or by donation.
People are reaching out and actually calling their family and friends vs. simply sending texts. Coffee dates have gone to FaceTime; business meetings are on Zoom; schools have transferred their curriculum online, taught by their teachers on Google Groups – and these are just a few of the platforms available for use to make social connections and keep society in contact and in tact. For those of us WFH, we welcomed spouses and kids into our daily routines, and somehow made it work.
For the most part, folks began to show utmost respect to those of us deemed essential workers, over and above health care and the front lines. We finally realized how much we count on our farmers and grocery workers; our truck drivers, waste management and road crews.
Unfortunately, some people in some places hoarded essential supplies like foodstuffs, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, paper products and toilet paper. Most people, however, respected the elderly and reached out to their neighbours, containing what they shopped for to what was needed for themselves and their families.
#BeKind #StayHome #StaySafe #StrongerTogether are trending, and I can only hope that these sorts of mantras come to define our refreshed society. Aside from #stayhome – because some day our #physicaldistancing mandates will come to an end when the virus plays its course across our species, or when a cure is found, whichever comes first. At this time, we will be encouraged to return to work and to return to meeting one another in public spaces once again. Lets hope that when we do resume our lives we realize that what is most precious is our health, our families and all our friends.
Lets also hope that during this pause we have also identified, nourished and explored our creative and soul space. It is vital for our humanity to thrive that these faculties are validated once more. In times like these, when I need my inner vitality to flourish, I seek to practice some Kundalini or yoga Nidra, perhaps, or any style of yoga. I go for walks with my husband. I read a long unread novel. I paint a long unfinished canvas. I write this. He sings and plays the piano – or the saxophone. We practice together:
Vivid dreams, the experts say, are also indicative, apparently, during containment in times like these. Historically, so much great art, and scientific breakthroughs were made during plagues of the past. For example, Galileo postulated the centrality of the sun in the cosmos; Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear’ and Newton developed his theory of gravity – all while self-isolating during various pandemics in centuries past.
For me, oftentimes, my dreams are visited with scenes of Greece, past and present. Of sunshine, shorelines, temples, gods and goddesses galore. I love these colours, and I hope to paint my life with them forever. I hope the same for you.
Once this is all over, we hope you choose to come visit Greece with us on a future bucket-list level #yogadventure offering. Come dream in the land of the gods with us.
Come thrive with us.