I’ve thinking a lot about rekindling the ancient.
About how we can bring back what was good in the ancient worldview, and teach it to people today.
I’m talking about the fundamental shift in values, from ancient to modernity to postmodernity. Ken Wilber talks about this a lot, and the distinction comes up in various other writers’ works too.
Meditation has had a bigger impact on my life than any other practice, and it is distinctly ancient. It has the hallmarks of being completely inclusive (no segregation), not reductionist and putting the soul (human experience) at the forefront.
It is an ancient practice, and yet it’s as relevant as ever. The greed, lust, fear and anxiety you soothe and improve are the same forces that drove men in ancient times, as they do today.
What is valuable in the ancient perspective? A holistic worldview. Not because holism is nice or worthy or noble, but because things just weren’t so chopped up in the first place. Gymnasiums were for mental as well as physical growth. Philosophers talked about morals, ontology, growth, the Good Life and meaning all in one stroke.
The questions all turned back towards: how can we live the Good Life? How can human beings flourish? Truly flourish, not just hack their productivity, or upgrade their morning routine, or take an online course, or learn a specific meditation.
With modernity, comes separation. Necessary separation, perhaps, for each discipline to grow and find itself. The good, the true and the beautiful went their own ways. Science, culture and nature were born.
The separation allowed focused work and exploration, and science came out on top. The amount we learned through the scientific method was unprecedented, and it has changed the life of everyone alive on this planet.
But the scientific, or more fundamentally, the materialist worldview came to rule and dictate to all other aspects. Gone was the soul. After being relegated to a psyche, it then morphed into a self, thin and physical. Estranged from any spiritual source or wider reality. Conditioned, fleeting, shallow.
It’s hard to appreciate the depth and subtlety of the ancient worldview now, because it is anathema to the modern way of thinking. Modern pursuits are inherently practical, aimed at exposing and revealing and taking apart. The holism and mind-centric focus of the ancient view is invisible. It doesn’t make sense. There is no bridge.
Unity is a curiosity, rather than the foundation of our lives. And with the advent of post-modernity, everything is relative. We all have beliefs, they are all equally true, and the best we can hope for is tolerance. No one should assume their view is more true than others. It is timid, complacent and weak. It is dependent on experts and other people delivering truth. It is completely cut off from the living reality we each are.
That all thoughts are equally true does have one interesting parallel to ancient thought. Parmenides would have emphasised that all thoughts have the same ontological value. Regardless of their content, they all equally participate in reality. No thought can be apart from that.
This is an exercise in moving beyond the apparent separation and representational nature of thought, to see each thought’s indivisibility with being. Like all important ancient rituals, it returns us to reality. Beyond appearances, to reality.
Appearances are not false or wrong, but they are just appearances. They are not reality. But they are not separate from reality, either. The tip of an iceberg is not the whole story, but it is still part of the reality of the iceberg.
Much of our personal strife comes through not being able to see things as appearances; constantly taking appearances to be reality. Constantly focusing on the content, on the colour, instead of the space and the wholeness in which it arises.
That is why we need to inject the ancient back into our thinking—so that we can once again recognise the unity and wholeness that come through participating in reality. The wholeness that is unconditional, that is independent of what you do, say or feel. The wholeness that animates you and for which you yearn and seek in a thousand partial pleasures.