I know I have and never will be the smartest person around. After all, as Socrates said:
As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.
In the world, there is too much over confidence in what one knows and perhaps not enough of wanting to listen and learn from others. What I do know is that when I have thought that I know a lot about something, the world comes along and reminds me that I don’t. And this includes knowing myself.
At school, I was not setting the world of academia on fire. I was about as average as they come. I knew this and, occasionally, other would remind me. When I left school at 18, I was awarded a prize for sports coaching to young pupils. I had to choose a book to be awarded to me by the headmaster.
Others won won prizes for genuine excellence and were to go into the worlds of medicine or law. I was being rewarded for being a good chap – really I should have been presented with a copy of Where’s Wally and be done with it. But, wanting to show that I was perhaps not as dumb as I was, I chose a book from my University reading list that had just arrived in the post – Lucretius’s On the Nature of the Universe.
I chose it on the title alone. On the Nature of the Universe sounded immense. All I knew at the time that is was a Roman epic poem written by a philosopher for a philosophy class I would be starting in couple of months time. I can still remember the half-impressed, half-confused looks I received from former school friends and pupils as I was awarded me prize. They were probably thinking, “Is he really going to read that?”
And I did. A few months later, I was sat in a 9 am lecture, hungover and confused thumbing through this book trying to make sense of it all. Which of course I couldn’t. But it wasn’t until I was writing an essay about it that I had time to sit and reflect on it more that some of the ideas began to resonate with me.
Lucretius was a Roman philosopher and built upon the foundations of the Greek philosopher, Epicurus. The poem covers the atomic nature of the world and denounces the existence of the gods. It looks at the relationship between the mind, soul and body how they all work as one and a intertwined. Finally, it state that people live in accordance with nature and by design seek natural pleasure and absence of pain.
In fact, it recognises that, in the past, people were ‘wide-wandering like wild beasts’ and their needs were simple; warmth, shelter, food and water. And although we learned, adapted and created new ways of living in society and acquiring wealth, Lucretius states:
But if a man should guide his life by wisdom, His greatest riches are a frugal life And quiet mind. In that there’s no poverty.
It’s nearly twenty years since I first came across On the Nature of the Universe and for most of that time it’s been sat on my book shelf gathering dust. However, it is only now that I can appreciate its message. The simple, more frugal things are the most important and can give the greatest satisfaction.
Therefore we see that human nature’s need Are small indeed: things that take pain away, And such a simple pleasure can supply.
Modern life is so complex and confusing that we can all forget the simple, often most natural desires. It seems ironic that many of the advancements we’ve made bring with them more pain that pleasure. I have certainly fallen foul to this. I am beginning to filter through unnecessary burdens to help life more pleasurable.
Over the past few weeks, I have looked much more in Epicurus and his ideas and hope to put them more into daily practice and record how this has changed both my mindset and well being.