Despite thousands of years in the making, we’re still desperate to escape our material prisons. We work like dogs to break free of the 9-5 drudge, then we blow off steam in excess. This attitude towards life echoes the ancient Gnostic sects, and we could really learn a thing or two from them before we burn out for good.
So, first of all, who were ‘The Gnostics’?
The Gnostics were a religious sect that existed around 2nd Century AD Rome. Much like the ancient Greek philosophy of Plato, the Gnostics believed that the material world was essentially bad and that we could all be having a much better time back in the realm of spirit; floating around on clouds and chilling with the big G-O-D.
This Docetism (a kind of dualism that separates spirit from matter) caused the Gnostics to see their physical body as pretty much useless, causing them to behave in some pretty kooky ways.
But since the Gnostics weren’t an organised religion as such, they tended to disagree on how exactly we should treat this useless body of ours.
In general, the Gnostics all believed that they were special and that all they had to do was acquire “gnosis” (Greek for knowledge) and they could shortcut it up to the pearly gates and leave all the shit and strife of the material world behind them.
But on the actual how-to of this, they disagreed pretty drastically.
Essentially, the Gnostics were split into two camps:
On the one hand, you had the Gnostics who believed that since their bodies were like big clumsy meat prisons, they had no obligation to look after themselves physically.
They lived lives of asceticism and denied themselves of their basic human needs. Basically meaning, they were some pretty hardcore guys who didn’t eat, sleep or fuck much at all. They sound like a blast, right?
But on the other side, you had the Gnostics who believed that, “sure, our bodies mean nothing to us, so we may as well enjoy them. Let’s eat, sleep and fuck whoever, whatever and wherever we please”.
These were the party animals. The libertarians. The guys you want to have at your party, but who then stick around well past their welcome until you have to physically remove them, drink in hand.
So, at this point you might be asking, what does this have to do with burning out in the 21st Century?
Well my busy friend, it’s only been a mere two thousand years, but we STILL can’t seem to get it right. We’re constantly battling the pressures of work, life, our beliefs, our hobbies, our friends.
There’s only so much one can fit into a day.
We’re still lacking that all-important balance that keeps teetering on the edge between staying in for the tenth night in a row to “get a little extra work done” or saying “fuck this” and knocking back martinis on a sticky dancefloor until your face goes numb and you’ve forgotten where you live, let alone what you actually want to be doing with your life.
It’s this intense pressure of rising to our full potential that seems to throw us off.
We dream of a better life where we have time to chillax and read and take a bubble bath in the clouds, surrounded by cherubim playing harps, sprinkling us with joy and wellness.
Or something like that.
And ultimately, for many of us, this dream seems so out of reach, that we either work ourselves to the bone trying to achieve it, or we give up before we’ve even tried and drown our sorrows in excess.
The Gnostics all believed they had something more inside them, something big and exciting – a little piece of spirit.
A sliver of God.
They believed that if only they could awaken this spirit inside them, they could return to the source and escape the suffering of the material world.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way at times.
The material world can seriously suck sometimes.
My workload is insane. I pile on project after project, trying to get to the place I think I should be. My drive to reach this imaginary higher plane of existence is so strong I’ll happily forgo my health and relationships to get it.
It’s like I believe that if I put in all the hard work now, I’ll be free to do whatever I please at some point later.
But where exactly is that point?
How do I know when I’ve reached this “gnosis”? This place where everything is easy and the demands of the material world no longer tug at my sleeve, distracting me from what I truly want?
And then there’s the flip side. Tired of all the trying, I’m like a kettle that’s whistling erratically. If you leave me too long, I’m going to boil over.
I can’t keep going that way.
Not so long ago, my escape from all the effort would be to let loose and party till dawn. My only goal was to reach this higher plane where everything is ok, so I never let myself just relax and enjoy life, meaning the only way to release the pressure would be to live it large and destroy some brain cells in the process.
Not so clever, right?
The Gnostics had some pretty great ideas, but balance was not their strong point, and we still haven’t learnt from their mistakes.
Whether it’s enlightenment you seek, or just a better life, more money, more free time, the way to achieve it is to avoid the Gnostic way.
The Gnostics were essentially seeking oneness with God, but by focussing entirely on the goal, they missed all the exciting bits along the way.
All the times when God was there in a tree or a smile. Those were passed by in a bid to get to where they wanted to be.
They missed out on the journey.
The way to get what you want isn’t through hard work alone.
Nor is it found at the bottom of a bottle.
Getting to this higher place IS your life. There must be value in the journey, otherwise what’s the point in living?
If you spend every second working, or letting off steam from working, not only do you miss all the incredible moments along the way, you’re ultimately heading for burn out.
And that’s precisely what we don’t want.
So how do we get past the struggle?
Well, for one thing, many of the Gnostics believed they were special, and that only they had access to the higher spiritual realm. But I don’t agree.
We’ve all got the potential to be better than we are today.
But being better isn’t necessarily about trying. It happens naturally.
God, or spirit, or the universe doesn’t care how hard we try.
There are people the world over who have worked harder than most and still got nowhere. How do they feel? Was it worth the struggle? Did they miss out on experiences to focus on their goals? Did they find the time to enjoy their lives?
At some point, you must learn to surrender.
Surrender to what will be.
The thing the Gnostics got the most wrong, is that they thought God needed them to be something that they were not.
They believed that they had to behave a certain way, or try really hard in order to ascend to their full potential.
Life doesn’t work like that.
You are already exactly where you need to be, and you’ll just carry on the same way.
Sure, you’ll achieve things and change and grow. But ultimately, your life is right now, and if you don’t stop to smell the roses, you’ll have wasted what God (or whoever you believe in) has given you.
Finding a balance between work and play is our generation’s main issue.
Like the Gnostics, we want so badly to leave the material world of struggle and strife, but we forget that this is all part of the plan.
Our existence seems dull, so we want something better, something different. But we need to learn to let it happen.
Our lives will still continue if we take a moment to just be.
Life is right now. Not tomorrow. Not next year.
Do you think that all the Gnostics got what they wanted and ascended to a higher place? Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t. But if they had paused for a second to look around them, they’d have realised that they’d already made it. They were already surrounded by the love of God.
They just failed to see it.
So by all means, work hard on your goals. Go out and blow off steam.
But remember that the fun is in the doing, and if you’re constantly looking to the future to some ideal that may or may not come to be, you’re going to miss out on some pretty awesome times.
Trust that everything will go the way it should for you.
And remember to enjoy the ride.
Featured image: www.wallpaperscraft.com
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