Tuesday 3 April 2012

Review: The Power of Then - Sages of the Past

Living in our modern world, with big cities, television, the internet and fast transport, it is easy to think that the problems people encountered in the past were very different from those we face today. How can the advice of people living in the middle ages, or ancient Greece or Rome, be of any use in helping us in our everyday lives in the 21st century?

A new book called The Power of Then: How the Sages of the Past Can Help Us in Our Everyday Livesby James Bremner shows that despite living in different ages and even different cultures, people are really not that dissimilar. The insights gained throughout history can still inspire us now.

The Power of Then looks at 16 people who not only had fascinating lives, but whose words of wisdom resonate down the ages. Some are recognised sages such as Ancient Greek philosopher Plato. His allegory about prisoners in a cave who can only see the reflections of reality from shadows cast on the walls could well be talking about those of us so addicted to sitting in front of the TV that we fail to go out, get a life and see the world as it truly is.

But James Bremner doesn't only look at well-known great thinkers. The very first chapter of The Power of Then is about Margery Kempe, a medieval house wife who can shed light on what to do if you face a mid-life crisis. Despite living in the 15th century, when travel was far less easy than it is today and women had considerably fewer rights, at the age of 40 Margery Kempe went travelling. She spent the rest of her life going all over the world on pilgrimages and is an example that we don't have to stay stuck in a boring job or dull routine if we don't want to.

Of course, sometimes monotonous chores are necessary. And 17th century friar Brother Lawrence can offer some advice about how to turn the most tedious tasks into time for pleasant thoughts and meditations to fill our days with happiness rather than boredom.

Others looked at in the book include American writer Henry David Thoreau who found beauty in solitude; Mother Julian of Norwich who offered the consolation that even in times of trouble "all shall be well"; psychologist Carl Jung who taught us to embrace our shadows;10th century nun Hildegard of Bingen whose visions of "green energy" could be embraced as much by modern pagans and eco-warriors as by Christians; and  poet William Blake whose words can still help us open the doors of perception and see the world with fresh eyes.

Publisher Hay House says on its website: "As the old saying goes, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’. Even though many of the problems we encounter today may seem to be phenomena of the modern world, they have in fact been encountered and addressed by wise men and women for centuries. In The Power of Then Bremner applies the teachings of sages of the past, and the lessons of their lives, to the everyday problems - emotional, mental and spiritual - that continue to beset us. It has long frustrated Bremner that the wisdom of the past has not been more widely applied to the problems of everyday life. As he explains: 'Sir Isaac Newton, referring to his achievements, once wrote: ‘If I have seen further it is only be standing on the shoulders of giants’. I like to think that the lives and hard-won wisdom of the sages of the past can also lift us up and enable us to look down on our difficulties with a different, more creative perspective.'"

The Power of Then: How the Sages of the Past Can Help Us in Our Everyday Lives is written in an engaging style, with chapters that are short enough to read on the average bus journey into work yet sufficiently thought-provoking that you'll find yourself mulling the ideas over all day long.

The Power of Then: How the Sages of the Past Can Help Us in Our Everyday Lives


chilledchimp said...

This sounds like an interesting book. Julian of Norwich was such a positive and inspiring woman. We visited the church on the site of her cell in Norwich last year. "All manner of things shall be well" isn't a bad philosophy to live by - it'll all turn out all right in the end.

Denise Turner said...

Hi Not sure if you've seen this, it might be good for your blog? about someone trying to destroy the holly at Glastonbury

Badwitch said...

Thanks very much for posting the link. I did blog about the holy thorn tree being vandalised some time ago, but I hadn't seen this recent post on the BBC website.

vivienne said...

sounds an interesting book, Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor , has some sage words relevant even today too xx

Antony said...

Sounds like an interesting book! I might have to pick it up.

A x

-blessed holy socks, the non-perishable-zealot said...

Hate to tell ya this, girl, but you'll someday croak. Thus, it doesn't matter if you're a witch (that just gets you deeper in the Abyss), you must face your Divine Judgment someday. Doesn't matter if you don't believe; does Jesus care if you haven't read the rulebook when you've had all this time? Fear not, miss gorgeous. HEAR YE! O HEAR YE!! Wanna be at my BIG-ol, kick-ass, party-hardy celebrating our resurrection for maaany eons in Heaven? A profusion of peace, eternal plethora of paradise, palm trees, 72ish degrees, fuzzy navels, pink, picturesque-portions-we-possess, without price, nor passwords, nor plastic? You’re more than welcome; you’re most invited --- God only gives bawls to those who see the need for humility.