Those who know me will know that I had a life before becoming a movement coach! And a part of that previous life involved the formal study of Philosophy.

People may be surprised to learn that the study of philosophy is NOT a pathway to having deep thoughts about being employed. Far from it.

In fact, in all that I’ve done in my life so far I can say with absolute authority that what I learned during a five year study of philosophy gave me the single most important body of knowledge I could ever have hoped to have acquired.

And I like to share. So lucky you!

My take on the history of western philosophy is that it has been a little lopsided in a number of ways. And not just in obvious ways. Like, that philosophy has been the intellectual privilege of white, heterosexual (at least publicly), religious males. Western philosophy has certainly been all off that.

But the ‘lopsidedness’ that really interests me has been the disciplines apparent aversion towards the importance of the physical body in truth seeking and meaning making and an almost myopic preoccupation with our capacity for REASON!

‘Man (sic) is a rational animal’, says Aristotle. Our ability to Reason is often said to be what distinguishes us from our mammalian kin. Or at least that has been the prevailing thesis. [Aristotle is the guy on the left (middle) wearing the lovely blue wrap in the picture below.]

And this thesis has stuck around and been followed for centuries!

All the philosophical heavyweights establish Reason as a human’s most valuable capacity. It is said that our capacity for Reason is the only way we can find or arrive at certainty. At least logical or mathematical certainty.

The human body, with all its vagaries and subjective senses can be duped. The information gathered by our body can be hoodwinked by an illusion and we’ll never EVER agree on the taste of something. But in reason? Ahhhh! In Reason we can arrive at certainty.

Honestly, I think a lot of philosophers either did not get drunk often enough to appreciate just how wayward the mind can get after a few sherbets or did not exercise enough. Or both.

This overwhelming preoccupation with Reason. Which becomes a preoccupation with Mind. And then the presumption (or assumption) that mind IS brain is an almost seamless thread running through the most popular thinkers up until the late twentieth century.

Descartes famous dictum, “I think therefore I am.” Is the penultimate declaration of the centrality of a rational mind. A statement which argues that the one and only guarantee of my existence is the fact that I cannot doubt that I’m thinking. I could be a ‘brain in a jar’, living a dream (Matrix anyone?), but that fact that I am thinking MUST mean that I AM!

But this focus on Reason and Mind as the location of valuable information has had the effect that when life takes a  turn for the worst we almost exclusively turn to the disciplines of the mind for help: counselors, psychologists and the like. Which is fine, but there is something missing here. And what is missing is vitally important in our pursuit of happiness.

You have to dig around in the philosophical ‘dirt’ to find a different perspective that knocks Reason off its pedestal.

But when you go digging. As I did. You find that deep within the substructure of western philosophy is a steady undercurrent of thought where the importance of the body never lost its vitality or value.

Early in my studies I happened upon a little known, and little read, minor entry in a small piece of work by Michel Foucault (1926-1984); a French philosopher and historian. In that work there appeared, almost as a passing idea, a revelation that had a lasting impact on me.

And that was this.

Foucault identifies ONE of the foundational edicts of Greek philosophy and Greek life. Namely: gnothi sauton, “Know thyself.” Reportedly transcribed above the entrance to the Oracle of Delphi.

The Delphi was the person you went to for advice when the ancient Greek equivalent of Wikki was no longer of any help!

Over centuries the pithy chestnut, ‘Know Thyself’, becomes ‘know your self’. And while the idea of a self identity is as ancient as the Hellenistic age, the idea that there is a separate, exploreable entity called a ‘self’ that can be (or ought to be) the subject of a personalized objective investigation is really only a very modern creation and preoccupation.

Foucault observes that the western philosophical tradition picks up on this idea of the SELF and inflates it’s importance.

But more important that this, Foucault notes that Know Thyself was not the only important edict to follow when trying to live a model Greek life. The was another equally important piece of life-advice: epimelesthai sautou, “to take care of yourself”, “to be concerned with yourself”.

This second principle acted as a rule for social and personal conduct and for the art of life. I’ll say that again for effect. For the ART OF LIFE!

The idea of taking care of your self included concern for one’s diet, sleep, the health of friendships and relationships, one’s physical fitness and general happiness, or eudaemonia in Greek.

This second idea, ‘Take care of yourself’, may have receded into the intellectual background but it was of critical importance to living a balanced, full and happy life! In the history of self-care, we’ve emphasised the idea of Know Thyself and almost entirely forgotten about the equally important notion of Taking Care of One’s Self’.

So maybe when things are not going so well. Maybe the answer is to not solely try and psychologise the situation; to rationalise the problem and seek to Know Thyself. Maybe the more complete answer to some of life’s problems is to seek to Know Thyself while at the same time actively doing things that are way more immediate and practical, which is simply, to take CARE of yourself.

Damien Norris is the founder and senior whole-body movement and lifestyle coach at The Wilding Project (LINK), Perth Western Australia.

Recently featured in TEDxPerth (LINK), Damien teaches children, young people, adults and seniors how to move and live a full life!

Olympic Fun & Fitness and The Wilding Project like Rewilding is dedicated to a movement rich life. Programs like Gymnastics, GymFIT, FootyEDGE, Parkour, Workplace Athletes, ActiveAgers and more all follow a simple philosophy, “Learn to move well and then never stop.”

Damien Norris