“Ancient wisdom is the medicine for the modern world.” – Don Howard
Mention the term “ancient wisdom” at a party, and people’s eyes will glaze over. Conversations on current events, entertainment, and sports are seen as more appropriate at a soirée.
Most people’s forays into ancient worlds ended with the high school paper they wrote on mummification in Ancient Egypt, or after completing a college elective in Greek and Roman Mythology.
If you’re skeptical about the relevance of ancient wisdom in modern-day life, the cure to your chronological myopia is to take on a cosmic perspective by simply looking up at the night sky.
On a clear, dark night, you can see roughly 6,000 stars in the sky. Your ancient predecessors saw the very same celestial skyscape. They marveled at the majestic constellation of Orion, one of the most recognizable constellations in the sky, they observed the waxing and waning of the moon, and they were mystified by the sudden appearance of comets and meteor showers.
In the absence of the scientific knowledge and technology we have today, ancient cultures developed myths and legends to explain cosmic objects. Whether they were constructing calendars, plotting the movement of the stars, or erecting structures to track the patterns and cycles of heavenly bodies, their reverence, awe, and fear are evident in their interpretations.
When you observe the hieroglyphics in the Karnak Temple in Luxor, or make sense of the Latin scriptures of The Book of Kells written by monks in Medieval Europe, what will emerge is a commonality in the themes surrounding life’s big questions, challenges, and opportunities.
Although the ideologies, characters, and mythologies are different from culture to culture, era to era, the unifying thread of the human experience connects us all. Our hearts, minds, and bodies still work in the same fundamental way, and we share the same hierarchy of needs and desires as our forebears.
Life has drastically changed from ancient times, but the basic intention of our ancestors still stays with us today: understanding our place in the Universe, making sense of our existence, building a sense of community, and the drive to survive and innovate.
Yet the quality of consciousness and the thought processes of the ancients were considerably higher than most people today. They had a depth, rawness, and untainted subjectivity in their analysis that’s rare to mimic in modern times. Life has become fast-paced, hectic, and overstimulating—fewer people now have the luxury to reflect and contemplate.
Times were simpler in the ancient world, and little changed over several generations. This provided the time and space to engage in a rich and complex interior life. Teresa of Ávila, a Spanish noblewoman who was drawn to covenant life in the Catholic church, captured the essence of the intricacies of this inner world in her book “The Interior Castle”:
“My head sounds just as if it were full of brimming rivers, and then as if all the water in those rivers came suddenly rushing downward; and a host of little birds seem to be whistling, not in the ears, but in the upper part of the head, where the higher part of the soul is said to be.”
The majority of the population lived in dire conditions due to the lack of modern conveniences and human rights, but there were wise sages—monks, saints, philosophers, guru’s, shamans, holy men, scholars—cloistered in spaces, penning enlightened ideas and erudite teachings that are still relevant today.
They laid the foundation for philosophy that is applicable to all aspects of living.