Looking, hearing, and speaking from the heart

Being honest with yourself and everyone else

Photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash

Plato, the great Greek philosopher of antiquity that lived 5th and 4th century BC, in his Republic argues that a person’s psyche (ψυχή) is the essence and the most important aspect of the individual. During Plato’s times, philosophy wasn’t so much scholastic and confined within the walls of academia, and instead sought to help us lead a philosophy of life understood as the art of living. Since this art is mostly about how to live and behave, consequently, the psyche plays a pivotal role as it decides how people will behave. They might behave skillfully and wisely according to the principles of their chosen philosophy of life or in the exact opposite way, and hence the reason for the central role of psychology in helping us achieve happiness and other goals.

The trichotomy of soul

A lot has happened in the field of both psychology and philosophy and we know much more about human behavior and motivations now than in the pre-Christ area. However, Plato’s theory of human psychology still remains more-or-less true and a good starting point. According to him, psyche is divided into three main parts:

  • The logistikon (λογιστικόν), that is related to reason and is supposed to regulate the entirety of the system
  • The thumetikon (θυμοειδές), that is related to our “spirited” or forward-energy moving part. This module is for instance activated when we feel angry and want to act upon the feeling
  • The epithumetikon (ἐπιθυμητικόν), that is related to our desires and appetites and its function is to produce and seek pleasure

According to Plato, we cause ourselves an injustice when these elements are imbalanced or, in other words, when one of the parts starts to interfere with the functions of the other two. By a careful application of logisticon we allow ourselves to rule through the love of learning.

Acquisition of knowledge appears to be one thing, but its actual execution is a completely different story. Various tools exist in the philosopher’s repertoire, but perhaps the most important is the mastery of self-control that leads to the state of temperance, which technically from Plato’s point of view is the appropriate measure of each part.

Listening to the voice of reason vs. the voice of the heart

There is no doubt that logic and reason must play an important role in regulating our life and allowing us to define and explore the columns on which our philosophy of life is based on. However, equally important is the role of the heart (understood as intuition, not a mere physiological organ) and direct experience.

A simple illustrative example here, is the so-called overview effect. You may choose to google “Earth from space” and look at the pictures on your laptop. But actually going to International Space Station and having a peek from the window there is not the same thing. The former might be interesting and awe-inspiring but it is not going to lead to a cognitive shift in awareness as reported by astronauts. Thus, an actual experience of something is not the same as intellectually comprehending about something. Precisely this is what is meant by the formerly mentioned role of the heart. It is not always about quantity. Sometimes it is about quality.

To be a vegetarian or not to be a vegetarian — this is a question

You have to be, first and foremost, true to yourself before you attempt to be like others want you to be. As part of this, you may have to pause and ask yourself what is true for you personally. There is a great deal of variability among people and what is true for one person doesn’t need to be so for another.

This is nicely exemplified by my foyer into the world of vegetarianism. It all started during a retreat during which I was inspired by my vegan colleagues with their diet and lifestyle. Without much deliberation, I’ve decided to jump into this way of life. Here was my mistake, because I have neither consulted rational logisticon nor appetitive epithumetikon. In this case, logisticon would attempt to establish whether there is evidence to suggest that a meat-free diet has health benefits or not, while epithumetikon would evaluate the bodily feeling and any burden associated with the change in regime. Although I’ve experienced some benefits of vegetarianism, such as the general feeling of lightness and boost in energy levels, over the 6 months I felt like something was “missing” as well. The outcome was that I “lapsed” into the non-vegetarian eating patterns. I haven’t become a full-blown bacon-lover by any means, but I started to allow myself to eat meat. After some deliberation that engaged both my head (i.e. evaluation of research) and my heart (i.e. evaluation of my bodily response and intuition), the decision was this: to be an 85% vegetarian: which means I am a devout vegetarian 6 days per week and carnivore 1 day a week.

What is your heart telling you?

Humans are very complex creatures, and I hope that I convinced you that not every aspect of our lives can be seen through purely mechanical googles. If the reason is the king, then make the heart and what is true to your heart a queen. This way you’ll remain honest with yourself and the people around you. If unsure what to do, by all means, do your scientific inquiries. But remember that these represent a single datum among the plethora of other possible sources of beneficial information. So, remember trying to experience things and asking the Universe. Then await the response patiently.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed it consider following me on Medium.