Endings. With the closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics and with foreshortened days come clear reminders of transition and change. It is hard not to feel a sense of sadness and loss. Like a pendulum stilled at its apex of motion, poised to accelerate anew, we cherish the last idle days of summer ease before picking up the pace. The re-entry and return to school, to work, to routines… and to transitions and adjustments. Endings…and beginnings… and opportunities.
Wisdom Imparted by the Greeks.
The Olympics sparks the image of competition, but also the potential it provides for global sharing and unity. When we think of the Olympics, we think perhaps of the kotinos, the ancient olive branch interwoven to crown the victor in triumph. More likely, we think of the contemporary Olympic emblem of five interlocking rings, symbolizing the five continents of the globe and the virtues of passion, faith, triumph, hard work, and sportsmanship. Through the power of the modern media and technology, this contemporary symbol, created in 1913 by Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, is recognized today immediately and universally throughout the globe.
Symbols are powerful. Bridging language and culture, they touch a universal chord. If we cannot credit the Ancient Greeks for the modern Olympic 5-Rings, we can certainly acknowledge their appreciation of excellence and their contribution of the Games. We can also thank them for their understanding of health and healing, which they passed down to us, along with the symbol of the caduceus.
|The caduceus, a serpent encircling a leafy tree branch, was meant by the Greeks to be a symbol of higher knowledge. It served as a reminder to its citizens that health was the reward for those who could successfully balance and integrate the polar extreme forces of natural healing with intervention type medicine. To the Greeks, the staff, rigid and uncompromising, represented Aesculapius and aggressive intervention. In contrast, the slithering serpent denoted Hygaea, Mother Nature and the power of natural healing. Hygaea’s feminine energy promised health|
(viewed as the norm) to all who followed the laws of Mother Nature. Male energy, symbolized by Aesculapius, saw disease as the result of a disregard for natural laws and a state that required aggressive intervention. To the Greeks, both were complementary, with health seen as a state of reasonable balance, acceptance, and attunement with the opposing forces and dualities in nature and human nature.
Time has tarnished this powerful symbol. Today, with the caduceus standing as the universally-recognized symbol of allopathic medicine, we seem to have largely forgotten the other part of the Ancient Greek message: to abide by nature and its natural laws for health and healing. How convenient it is to reach for Tylenol to suppress a headache rather than to query ourselves as to its cause.
Today, as the Olympic embers of 2008 smolder and die, we might think again of the wisdom of the Greeks. How timely it is, for in these times of seasonal ending and beginning, we also face the fresh challenges of preserving not only our own health, but also the health of our planet. As we look into the fall and our own personal challenges, ever-present is the disturbing awareness of the environmental “health” issues facing our world.
As the caduceus reminds us that the health of the individual rests with a successful integration of allopathic (Western/intervention) medicine and the innate healing powers of nature, so too may we apply the wisdom of the caduceus as we ponder solutions for the health of our globe: At the current crossroads, we may well have the perfect crosscurrents of science and skilled technology on one hand, and the burgeoning “back to nature” and sustainable farming efforts on the other to create a proper balance of the old and new in a judicious and successful way. Science is fast at work to find ways to curb global warming, but measures will require not only international cooperation but also prescience in understanding the potential environmental repercussions of such strategies.
Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren’t there before. ….Margaret J. Wheatley
Modern technology, which gives us the power of the internet to link all around the globe efficiently and instantaneously, provides tremendous potential and hope. For many tasks today, we can readily trade the keyboard for the car keys or airline travel. Through the internet, we can research foods, recipes, and health topics, take a yoga class on line, research solar panels, and even download instructions for planting a backyard organic garden…all without traveling from the comfort of our home. The internet brings the possibilities for global cooperation and for individual participation to save energy, and to find ways that we each may strive to preserve our planet.
There is no energy crisis, only a crisis of ignorance. — Buckminister Fuller
The wisdom of the Ancient Greek caduceus has much to offer, even today. Just as 2,500 years ago, we still struggle to balance the opposing forces in nature and in human nature, along with the old and the new. Man creates problems, and then spends the rest of his life solving them. May we as a global people unite in ways great and small, to succeed once again.