I love to meditate. I think it's a wonderful way to quiet ones mind, and to become closer to the Theoi. Although it has been a long time since the last one, I have even shared some of my meditations on this blog. When I first progressed into Hellenismos over a year ago (can you believe it has already been over a year since the start of this blog? I sure can't!), I was sure I would have to leave the practice behind. It seemed logical to me that the ancient Hellenes would not have meditated. Thankfully, I was very wrong.

The ancient Hellenes were there for the birth of Buddhism. Bactrain (Βακτριανή) was a region northwest of India which Alexander the Great occupied between 331 and 325 BC. Legend says that two merchant brothers from Bactrian, named Tapassu and Bhallika, visited the Buddha and became his disciples. The legend states that they then returned to Bactria and spread the Buddha's teaching. It seems like some of the Hellenes who visited the region became inspired by the emerging teachings, and when they returned home, they took the teachings with them. Meditation techniques would have been included.

Several philosophers, such as Pyrrho, Anaxarchus and Onesicritus, are said to have accompanied Alxander in his eastern campaigns. During the months they were exposed to Indian philosophy and Buddhist teachings. Pyrrho (360-270 BC) eventually returned to Hellas and became the first Skeptic and the founder of the school named Pyrrhonism, whose teachings also included a lot of Buddhist thought.

The Stoics also practiced forms of meditation, aimed at living in the present moment. Most famously, these teachings were recorded by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in his aptly titled 'meditations'. Especially from these writings, it is clear that ancient meditation had very little to do with chakra's, mindfulness and other modern conventions. Meditation was a way of centering, a philosophical tool to become a better person. Although quoting a roman man to describe Hellenic practices is always dangerous, I will risk an example from Aurelius none the less:

"Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away."

'Contemplation' is perhaps a less confusing term to use to describe the practice the ancient Hellenes would have considered meditation. This removes the modern sphere of influence from the phenomenon. Plotinus (Πλωτῖνος), who was an Hellenic philosopher who lived from around 204/5 CE to 270 CE, was greatly inspired by Plato's theories of contemplation as a form of betterment of the self. It is said that Plotinus loathed his own body, and preferred to be outside of it as much as possible. As he became inspired by Platonism, he distrusted the material, seeing it as a shadow of the real world. Meditation, or better, contemplation, was one of his most valued tools.

"Sleeplessly alert--Apollo tells--pure of soul, ever striving towards the divine which he loved with all his being, he laboured strenuously to free himself and rise above the bitter waves of this blood-drenched life: and this is why to Plotinus--God-like and lifting himself often, by the ways of meditation and by the methods Plato teaches in the Banquet, to the first and all-transcendent God--that God appeared, the God who has neither shape nor form but sits enthroned above the Intellectual-Principle and all the Intellectual-Sphere." [23]

In my practice, meditation is a combination between modern and ancient views upon the practice; visualization, like the meditations I have posted before on the blog, is one part of it, but contemplating my life and ways to better myself is another part--a bigger part. It always has been. In our busy lives, it's often hard to take time solely for yourself. I run into that problem often. As such, meditation--even just a few minutes a day--is very helpful. It seems the ancient Hellenic philosophers at least agreed.