People from all around the ancient Mediterranean world would visit the oracle located around Delphi, in Greece.
The Delphic Oracle was associated with a number of famous inscriptions. Among the most well-known are:
Know thyself! γνῶθι σεαυτόν
None too much! μηδὲν ἄγαν
Hey, we’re no oracles ourselves, but we think the Oracle might have been onto something there.
We love questions and problems here at Symposium Great Books Institute, and to these we offer what we call a “reading remedy”, perhaps less cryptic than our mystic brethren of yore, but – we hope – no less powerful.
We offer this as a free personalized service for our community of readers.
We recently received many responses to our invitation: what is the greatest challenge you find in learning outside schooling? Here is one, posted with kind permission.
Query/Problem: “I have never been able to find my talents.”
What is talent?
The first thing to do is make sure we know what our most basic terms mean, in this case, what talent is. What is it? How do we know when we have a talent? Let’s suppose by talent we mean a special gift, or a special ability, that allows you to learn how to do something easily, and quickly, without much effort.
Hey, anything that cuts out work sounds great.
But in our culture, more is perhaps made of “talent” than needs to be.
We know that talent is not everything, whether in the arts, sports or business.
You’ll find common story in all three sectors the following scenario: the person who has to work three times as hard ends up living a more fulfilling life, than the talented person. Why? Because the person who outworks them all will take nothing for granted, that is, they will pay more attention to details and problems that the person with talent can easily overlook.
Also: our overvaluation of talent is probably a product of a way of thinking that sees the attainment of happiness as being on the side of specialization and job function. That is, your talent is measured by what job you get.
What this means: you could have hidden talents that have nothing to do with the job world per se. For example, your talent could be listening, or patience, or great hugs (why not?), or cooking delicious desserts.
But beyond this, we would like to pose an alternative path to consider: what if happiness and fulfillment is on the side – not of finding your niche or specialty or talent – but rather of cultivating your whole soul, your mind and heart, all of your native capacities and powers?
This view goes against the grain of our common way of thinking, but it is a fruitful one to explore for anyone interested in the question of talent and happiness.
Here is a vision from Friedrich Nietzsche that could help give you a sense of one path to explore. This is a selection from Three Metamorphoses of Spirit from Thus Spake Zarathustra. I’ve attached a PDF of the whole reading to this email for your enjoyment.
Your reading remedy:
Three metamorphoses of the spirit I name for you: how the spirit becomes a camel, and the camel a lion, and finally the lion a child…
…But tell me, of what is the child capable that even the lion is not? Why must the preying lion still become a child? The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a wheel rolling out of itself, a first movement, a sacred yes-saying. Yes, for the game of creation a sacred yes-saying is required…
Μανθάνων μὴ κάμνε
(manthanone mei kamnei)
Never tire of learning!
One Way to Work with this Reading:
Here is one powerful contemplative method you can work with reading, in order to begin to unlock its healing properties. I’ve been working with it for years now. Feel free to adjust as it feels right to you.
1. Before doing anything with the text, cultivate stillness and silence in a way that is comfortable for you, but also a touch inspiring. I like to invoke the directions – N, E, W, S, Zenith (Above) and (Nadir) Below, and withdraw my awareness from time and space for a few moments. Finding your way to cultivate stillness and silence may take a little time and experimentation, but you can do it. Different places and different times will bring a different spirit to your reading. Have fun exploring these differences. To do this practice, I sometimes like to sit in a rocking chair, near a big window with north facing light. You could also sit on the floor or at a table, or go to a park, or find a nook in a wonderful old library – some place or area you feel called to, where interruptions might be minimized.
2. After cultivating stillness and silence, be resolved to listen, to only listen, and to catch all of what you read. This is the stage of deep listening. Every word counts. Reread the passage several times, and let the words sink into your memory. Savor them. Don’t hurry the process, take your time. Certain words or phrases will be more vivid than others. But try to be open to the whole of the passage, without judgement. Memorizing the words will come naturally, like re-reading a poem many times, and can help you in the next stage of your work.
3. After deep listening, the next stage is to seek understanding. We seek understanding by questioning. Question everything. I invite you to consider that your questions are real – not made up – and the possibility of arriving at insight that changes your life is likewise a real possibility. Think about the words and let questions come to you. You don’t have to force the questions, but listen to your own voice. This is a very spontaneous process, and cannot be systematized. Come to terms with the passage, trying to comprehend it as it might comprehend itself. You are, in a way, engaged at this stage in a dialogue with the author. Nothing compels you to accept the words of the author except your own sense of the truth. During this stage, you’ll have the opportunity to reread the passage many times, comparing it with your own understanding of it.
4. Return to stillness and silence. Stillness and silence is good mental hygiene. Feel the words and the activity you have just engaged in resounding inside you. Explore the experience and breathe.
5. Now take up your original problem or question, reflect on what you have just undergone and write in a journal. A journal has the power to help promote our growth in mind and heart. What have you learned from this passage? Set a timer for something short and manageable, say 10 minutes, to jot down a few things you can explore at length at a later time.
After practicing this even once, you may start to come across other passages that connect to your problem. Follow your nose, place other passages at the center of this practice. Keep a record of your journey. I know if you pursue your answer you will find it. Feel free to email us with any questions and to share any insights, and I’ll be sure to respond.