Sophrosyne

This week I thought we’d examine the Greek word/philosophy of sophrosyne and how it applies to living with a chronic illness. The word was first introduced during a daily post on my favourite mindfulness app. I did some subsequent research and really felt it aligned well with many of my personal beliefs and values, as well as research I’ve read in other areas concerning both physical and mental health. So, I’m bringing this concept to all of you, because I think we can all learn from it and apply it to our lives in meaningful ways.

The Greek goddess of discretion, temperance, and moderation. Image from: https://greekerthanthegreeks.com/2015/04/the-greeks-had-word-for-it-sophrosyne.html

Let’s start with the meaning of the work. Sophrosyne was a Greek goddess of discretion, temperance, and moderation. Many people really hone in on the moderation part of this, and it’s sometimes considered “mindful moderation” when talked about currently. In Greek times, it also meant “excellence of character and soundness of mind” which is what created a “well-balanced” person. Moving forward in time, there are ties to Catholicism, in which moderation is considered the final of the cardinal virtues. Jumping ahead again, Nietzche considered moderation or self-control a virtue which could be extended to self-knowledge. It is the perfect union of self-knowledge and self-restraint, thus the moderation bit. And now, as my parents have always said “moderation rules the nation,” where they referring to sophrosyne? It would appear so.

We all have many opportunities to practice moderation. How well do you do?

Why is this important, or rather, how can it help Spoonies and Chronic Illness Warriors? Well, lots of ways actually. Moderation generally requires us to be mindful of what we’re doing. We can moderate our food intake, for example, if we pay attention to how many chips we just ate, or with drinking as in how many beers we just drank. For chronic illness, this type of mindful moderation helps with self-care (which if you’re a premium content subscriber you know has benefits for physical well-being, emotional well-being, intellectual well-being, social well-being, spiritual well-being, and even work well-being). It also can help with medication management (because we know if we took our medication/properly), with emotional regulation (how we deal with our emotions so they are effective), and can decrease stress (we’re not putting ourselves into stressful situations and can recognize when we are in them, giving us the opportunity to turn away). On top of this, the mindfulness piece has a number of benefits for mental and physical health, many of which I’ve blogged about – but you can also listen to on this podcast episode.

Engaging in mindful moderation can have many benefits to health.

So, how can we practice sophrosyne in our lives? Moderation isn’t always the easiest thing to do, especially if it’s not something we’re used to. Here are three ways:

  1. Practice regular mindfulness – this could be formal meditation, mindful eating, mindful walking, or really doing anything while being fully present in the moment.
  2. Relaxation – using techniques to help keep us calm make it easier to engage in mindful moderation. Again, formal meditation works, as does breathing and progressive muscle relaxation exercise, journaling (I like the gratitude journal personally), or going to therapy to talk about our problems.
  3. Emotional Regulation – by learning and practicing emotional regulation skills we become less likely to be impulsive, and therefore, more likely to be able to engage in moderation.

I started a meditation and mindfulness channel on YouTube that currently has meditations, relaxation exercises, and grounding techniques. I will be adding more informal practices in the coming weeks. You can check out the channel here. Like and subscribe so I can keep bringing more content to it.

New mindfulness practices added weekly.

I’m going to continue to try my best to live the ideal of sophrosyne because I can see the benefits it can have and does have on my life, including my chronic illness and my mental health. I hope it can do the same for you, as you keep making the most of it!

Santosha

I was doing a meditation recently (through my favourite meditation app) and the meditation teacher brought up of the concept of Santosha, which is a Sanskrit word that essentially translates to contentment. After doing the meditation I decided to look a little more into the word and it’s meaning because I think contentment is a really hard concept for many people to practice (myself included) and especially for those with chronic illness.

What is contentment exactly? The dictionary defines it as a “state of happiness and satisfaction.” It can be viewed as being positive even when things are difficult. Now I know I can hear some groans. Yes, positivity isn’t a cure for anything, disease or otherwise. And no, I’m not saying one needs to be positive 24/7. In fact there is some psychological research that states that too much positivity is counterproductive. However, what I mean here is not just giving up on life because of its difficulties (and let’s face it, every human faces difficulties… those of us with chronic illness might just face a few more). Instead we look to find how our difficulties and challenges can lead us to personal growth. My own personal growth journey has included riding the waves of the good and the bad and learning to to (mostly) be content with my life as I have made changes. Yes, I get sad, depressed, anxious, anger, angry, frustrated, and the whole variety of human emotions. I also try to find the good in my experiences, come up with plans, and change and grow as necessary.

Can you spot me up there?

How do we practice the concept of santosha? I think it begins with mindfulness, through practices like meditations, body scans, yoga, breathwork, and so on, that keep us in tune with the present. Because anxiety is worrying about the future and depression is ruminating about the past. We can’t change the past and the future hasn’t come to fruition just yet.

  • practice positivity as much as you can and remember that making assumptions about yourself, others, the world, your illness, etc. can hinder your own personal growth.
  • be purposeful in your actions and put your best effort into everything you do, even if you’re not well enough to do much.
  • control what you can, and let go of what you can’t, or as with mindfulness – just keep breathing.
  • remember that contentment supports compassion, including self-compassion, which you definitely need if you’re a chronic illness warrior.
  • be grateful for the good things in your life because even at it’s worst, there’s usually at least one thing you can be grateful for.
  • serenity goes with contentment and giving up the excess, the things you don’t need, may help with that.
Content.

I am 100% not saying that this is easy to practice. Nor am I suggesting that it can be (or should be) done all of the time. I do think that there is some benefit in it though. Being content with ourselves, circumstances, whatever, doesn’t mean we can’t change and grow, but rather may facilitate it instead. As always friends, keep making the most of it.