The Living Spirit of Ancient Greece: A Correspondence

By Valia Maheras and Jim Belderis
[The following excerpts from a correspondence between a member of our editorial staff, Jim Belderis, and his cousin in Greece, Valia Maheras, illustrate how the philosophy of the ancients can come alive for people in their own everyday spirituality. — Ed.]

Thessalonica, September 20, 1995

Dear Jim:

This summer something very beautiful happened to me. The eyes of my soul were opened! My husband comes from a town in the mountains where there was a fairly large earthquake, and many buildings were destroyed. We went there to help his friends and relatives. And we entered a world of enchantment. Tiny villages with stone houses, ancient ruins, the grandeur of nature — but the most inspiring of all were the people. They were warm, kindhearted, optimistic. And I felt that I belonged there. I felt that I had lived there before and had left my heart there, and after all this time I had found it again. I know now that this is the way I want to live, doing things that have meaning, things that are really important to people and to nature. But every time I discuss these things with my friends in the city, I get the impression that they think I'm naive, and they try to defend their way of life.


Pasadena, November 4, 1995

Dear Valia:

I was especially struck by your description of the people you went to help, and how they ended up helping you even more. There is something very deep within us that binds us all together. It is this deeper part of us that makes us warm and kindhearted to our fellow human beings. It is also that part of us that recognizes the "atmosphere" of people and places. Of course most people are not concerned with these matters and would doubt their reality. This is the message of Plato's parable of the Cave: most people do not see the real light because they have always lived in the shadows of their mind. Imagine what it would be like if we lived our entire lives in a cave and had never seen the real light. We would be afraid to leave. So Plato describes someone who had the courage to find a way out of the Cave, even though all his friends doubted him. When he finally gets out and sees the real light, it is so beautiful that he wants to stay in it forever. But he has compassion for those who still live in the shadows, and he realizes that he must go back to help them find a way out. When he returns to the cave, he leaves his heart behind in the true light, and no one believes him when he describes the light. If we were in his position, what could we do? Well, we could learn another way to tell people that there is another, much more important reality: we could learn how to live the light. So in our normal everyday routine of home and work, the people we touch can see the light in our eyes, feel the light in our hearts, and know we are trying to see the world in a different way.


Thessalonica, December 9, 1995

Dear Jim:

I was very moved by your description of Plato's Cave. These are things that are very hard for me to describe to you. It is when I read the ancient texts that I have the feeling of fulfillment, satisfaction, and spiritual joy. There are so many writings by philosophers, historians, lyrical poets, and also physicians, mathematicians, astronomers, and engineers, who write with such perfection and richness of expression about all the wonders of the cosmos, both esoteric and exoteric. I feel that something magical happened at that time on this small corner of the world, that the bright ideas of the future were integrated here in the past of Greece, and that this wonder has spread throughout the world and we today are discovering the seeds of it everywhere. I had the good fortune to hear some very beautiful ideas from my professors at the University. But in truth, there is only one idea that anyone can take away from this entire treasury of thought. It is as you wrote to me: as if you had seen the Light and then, whatever happened to you, you still carried it within you. It is a gift that we share, that no one can take from us, a tiny seed that sprouts within us and grows and unfolds its roots, stretching them out to all those who live around us.


Pasadena, January 9, 1996

Dear Valia:

It is indeed a beautiful experience to exchange thoughts about the inner life. It strengthens the idea that our true being is very deep and we are connected by invisible bonds. Perhaps our most essential human need is to be continually reminded of our intimate connection with each other. That must be why we venerate the ancient philosophers who wrote about this with such conviction. I am especially attracted to the simplicity of Socrates who told us that philosophy begins when we learn to question our set ways of thinking, when a person asks "What do I mean by 'myself'?" "How can I know what is good for myself?" I have long wondered why Socrates did not claim to have any wisdom — all he claimed was that he sought it with love. But as I write this I have the feeling that true wisdom is not something that anyone has. Wisdom is precisely the process of seeking truth everywhere — seeking it with love. In this way, we follow life with affection, we care for each person and each moment, and our minds are open to a special kind of creativity: we fashion our thoughts and actions to work in harmony with nature and with our fellow human beings. This of course is impossible to do all the time. The mind fills with anxiety, expectation, disappointment, and we trade our care for what is happening for the illusions in our minds. The best we can do is to gently return to an open mind and a caring heart, over and over again. I believe this openness and caring is the Light. We always have it within us, and when we share it with others it brightens their lives. It shines on the dark seeds of the Light within them and awakens them to new life.


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