My trip to Greece was wonderful; friendly hospitality of the people; wonderfully flavorful foods; mountainsides full of dormant olive trees; coastal fruit filled orange groves and the crystal clear blue water of the Aegean Sea. Wow, what a beautiful country and life giving sight. With all the sensory riches that this trip offered, there were two places that stood out for me and “touched my soul”. This sounds cliché, but the awareness that resulted from the experience changed my thinking in a way I did not expect. You know what I’m talking about if you have ever participated in the exercise where you are shown a picture of an old woman and then all of a sudden your perception shifts, and the same sketch reveals a beautiful young girl. In an instant everything you thought you knew got turned upside down and now you see things in a completely different way. The awareness is there forever, even if you are capable of seeing the old woman again, you will not be able to ignore the existence of the beautiful young girl. For me, this shift was prompted by a visit to a cave in the southeastern region of Argolis, Greece. It enriched my perception of time and revealed that the measure of my cultural competence is lower than I would have assigned myself. More importantly, this new outlook on time was a missing component to increasing peace in my life, a health habit I could benefit from.
I have always viewed myself as being relatively open minded and accepting of people’s cultural differences. Even though I may not know everything about a culture, I alleged I was open to learning and appreciating their ways. The Franchthi Cave, an archeological dig site that we visited, revealed to me that this was not entirely true. The attitudes and judgments I held about the importance and meaning of ‘time’ were not accepting of different cultural views. Briefly, my attitude could be summarized like this, ”time is mine, so do not waste my time, take my time or ruin my time unless you are prepared to provide something valuable in exchange for my time”. To me, time is a valuable commodity, one that I can choose to share with others or not. As well, others’ time must be honored as I would like my time honored. It is rude to be late, a blatant display of disrespect. Arriving too early is just as insolent, it assumes a triviality about the other’s life that they can give you time whenever you present yourself. The experience that changed my relationship with time was standing just 10 meters above the location of a community that existed “35,000 years BCE”.1,2 It was not just that they existed at that point in time, but they existed from that point perpetually through the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic time periods up to 3,000 BCE, and only ceased to exist there because the cave collapsed and they were forced to find another location for their community.1,4 A civilization that was established well enough to span tens of thousands of years created a glimpse, for the first time ever, of my life in proper scale. This new perspective made me realized the narcissistic inclination of the culture I was raised in and the inflated view of self which promoted the feeling that I had ownership of the time surrounding my life.
I was able to, or maybe compelled to put myself on the time continuum of the millennia of generations that used the Franchthi cave because of the advanced nature of their culture; it was apparent they were not so different from me. They cultivated crops and animals for food, and crafted tools in order to work more efficiently. They traded goods with other people, some as far away as the island of Melos, about 150 kilometers to the southeast. This showed use of seaworthy vessels and the ability to navigate the sea across long distances. These were not the grunting cavemen I picture when hearing of Paleolithic man. They were a civilized culture, demonstrating this in the care of the dead with burial sites that were found near the cave, even cremation burials.4
The evidence of diet consumed by the inhabitants of the cave was slightly different through the lithic time periods, but all have similarities to the Mediterranean diet we know today. Foods of the Paleolithic (33,000 – 9,000 BCE) time included “steppe ass” and land snail as the predominate meat source. The plants consumed were wild lentil, pistachio and almonds. During the Mesolithic (8700 – 7500 BCE) time period, the meat eaten was expanded to include red deer, pig and fish, including blue fin tuna, which suggested the ability to fish in the deep sea.3 The consumption of large land animals decreased during this period and evidence of plant remains in the cave increased.4 Analysis done on cutting tools found in the cave showed evidence that oats or barley may have been cultivated and cut. Neolithic (7200 – 3500 BCE) man’s diet introduced domestic herd animals, sheep and goats, as well as domestic wheat, barley and lentils, proving agriculture was present. Snails were a staple food source through all lithic periods and are thought to have been a cultivated food source in Upper Mesolithic and Neolithic times as the snail shells in the cave were larger than those of the surrounding area.4
Seeing how long the human race preceded me, changed my perspective and simultaneously shifted the importance I held on time. It was no longer just about me and the length of my life as much as it was belonging to a part of all time. The only way I can explain it would be using the example of a child around Christmas. When you are a child, Christmas is important to you. Your focus is on the excitement and joy that day will bring. Because your age and the length of a year are so similar, it seems that Christmas is a lifetime away. As Christmas approaches you may attempt to push time by going to bed earlier so the next day will arrive sooner. A futile effort, yet attempts are still made to push time forward. As an adult, the amount of time spent worrying about the arrival of certain day becomes less significant and trying to hurry time is replaced with enjoying the time you are passing through in the moment. My view of time was changed when I saw how small a piece of time I actually occupied as compared to the millennia of generations that had lived in the cave. This realistic scale of self was created by looking back at a 37,000-year-old culture from the cave and identifying with them as my ancestors. This heightened my awareness and cultural competence concerning time. Like the child, my desire had been to control time in my life. Controlling time was my attempt to moved myself more quickly toward the next moment of importance or connection instead of enjoying my life in the moment and appreciating the significance of my past.
The afternoon of that same day, we toured the Sanctuary of Asklepios or Asklepion of Epidauros. An Asklepion is a healing temple and the Asklepion of Epidauros is the first place Asklepios, son of Apollo, was worshiped as the God of Medicine. Apollo, the God of Music, Light and Truth was also credited with being the God of Healing and giving the science of medicine to man. People would travel long distance to have their ailments miraculously healed by the God of Medicine in Epidauros.1,5 The process of healing was a holistic approach, using exercise, rest, cleansing and nourishment for the physical body, wisdom and understanding for the intellect, laughter and entertainment for the emotions and prayer and worship of the Gods to increase faith and spiritual awareness. It was believed that practicing these activities would stimulate the body’s healing ability and assist the sick in regaining health.1,5
The sick that came to be healed first went through purification in the baths. The baths were fed by mineral springs in the area. This was said to be water from the Gods. This was for hygiene, as well as the mineral water contributing to the healing taking place at Asklepion of Epidauros. The sick would then rest in dormitories accompanied by the attendant that came with them. They were fed a ritual diet that varied depending on their wealth. It is theorized that the poor who came to seek healing from Asklepios would most likely eat a diet of barley paste and greens.1,6 The greens were probably similar to horta still eaten today. Horta, translates literally to mean weeds, which include, but are not limited to, wild spinach, fennel leaves, stinging nettles, poppy leaves, dandelion greens, purslane, amaranth, and beetroot leaves.7 The wealthy patients who came for healing needed more formal meals and probably shared with the priests, the sacrificed offerings from the altar. It was written that the thigh bone, entrails and some fat were all that was put on the altar as an offering and the rest was used for food, as well as the non-blood offerings of bread, milk, honey, fruit, grain and wine.6 Once the afflicted were cleansed, nourished and rested, they were entertained with theatrical and athletic performance or participation. Music, singing, poetry, prayer and meditation were other means of soothing and invigorating the healing properties of the body. Once ready they would enter the Abaton, the sleeping quarters for the sick only. They would sleep here until they were visited by the Gods in a dream and healed.
The purpose for the healing environment created at the Asklepion was reestablishing balance in life. The healing process focused on; resting the body; nourishing the body; reducing stress by putting the sick at ease; bringing them enjoyment and giving them opportunity for fulfillment and reflection on their circumstances and surrounds. As I have gone through my life I have learned that complete wellness comes from achieving health physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It was humbling to see this model practiced so clearly back in that time. This further reinforced the feeling from the Franchthi Cave, that these are my ancestors and I am connected to them still. Then the epiphany, we all are connected to them, which makes everyone my family.
I had been blind to this connection. The ignorance of which allowed me to disrupt the balance and peace in my own life with the illusion of being able to control time and judging others for not. This is destructive to health and wellness, the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish with my life. The incongruence of my actions, thoughts and emotions with my stated desire was revealed in Greece. Then appropriately, at the Asklepion of Epidauros the healing began. This experience has opened my mind and heart and created a more culturally competent individual, a little less capable of judgment and a better model for health and wellness.
My thanks to you Asklepios, God of Medicine, for all you have given me.
- (Takis, personal communication, January 2 – January 8, 2017)