“Wisdom is dangerous. Love and beauty are too. Our culture has kept us away from them, and must do so to perpetuate the insanity we see all around us.”
Mankind has lost its way, which is why we now have plastic in our blood, lead in our bones, iron and mercury in our brains, says Nikos Patedakis, a philosopher on a mission to nudge us back onto the path of wisdom, where all of human endeavor is of service to life. The problem is that much human activity today serves narrow interests and agendas, not the common good. And while many of us pin our hopes on technology to solve the world’s problems, which we have largely caused, Nikos insists that “the solution to our problems is not a technological one, because … it’s a spiritual [issue].”
To grow spiritually, we need to open ourselves up to learning, and Nikos embodies the drive to achieve such growth through meaningful experiences, an eco-literate mindset, and consistent practice. Wisdom is a practice, as is love, and both are forms of each other, and manifestations of true understanding. But today, he laments, we tend to seek knowledge, not wisdom. Yet by acquiring, clinging to, and then teaching such fragments of knowledge, “we marginalise and distance ourselves from the very thing we are ultimately chasing: wisdom, meaning, purpose, and learning that will reconnect us to the sacred.” Fragmented knowledge is dangerous. According to Nikos, it’s like “we’re running around with a torch and think we have the sun in our hand.”
Nikos himself has practiced many things, having worked as a professional dance teacher and blackjack player, a negotiation trainer, a consultant for Fortune 500 companies, and an Alexander Technique teacher. Having pioneered wisdom-based learning at San Francisco State University and University of California, Santa Cruz, he left academia to become a consulting philosopher, educator, and Co-Director of the Haumea Ecoliteracy Programme. He also has a podcast called Dangerous Wisdom, the name inspired by Buddha’s advice to handle his teachings with the same care as a venomous snake.
Today, Nikos works as a consulting philosopher rooted in the ancient Greek orientation – as well as a friendly, neighborhood soul doctor, mentor, permaculture designer, and artist – applying the most powerful, holistic teachings of the wisdom traditions that influenced people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Quoting Epicurus, he says “Vain is the word of the philosopher that heals no suffering.” And so drawing from the arts and sciences, he helps professionals from all walks of life learn to think the way nature works and reconnect with the philosophical traditions of the world. Humility is a good starting point, knowing what you don’t know. In his experience, top performers are so committed, so hungry, they always want to learn more, from any source, and their willingness to learn makes them humble.
Nikos, too, is humble, being a serious “student of horses,” which have a culture of the wild. In their sacred presence, horses defy conquest consciousness so profoundly that even those who love horses get a little nervous because horses present an existential--and potentially humiliating--threat to the dominant culture and the human ego. Nikos sees horses as “part of the magic and mystery of the world,” incarnating dangerous wisdom, which makes them great teachers. To experience the magic of the horse, we need to heal and re-indigenize, renouncing what doesn’t work and learning to live a culture rooted in wisdom, love, and beauty, in a manner attuned to ecological and spiritual realities.
Nikos argues that Homo sapiens, a being originally rooted in wisdom, love, and beauty, has morphed into a destructive homo economicus, imposing a “conquest culture” intent on taming, shaping, and ultimately degrading our planet, creating “value” for ourselves at the expense of all other beings and our own interconnectedness with the cosmos. “This culture makes us into takers and the planet pays for our ignorance,” says Nikos. “The world can absorb a certain amount of ignorance. But things are now out of hand, so we need to think in a new way. We have become used to thinking in a certain way, but that way is out of sync with nature.”
Drive by agendas, such as development, growth, and innovation, we practice “spiritual materialism,” disconnecting us from reality and distorting it through a narrow view of conquest consciousness. In this epoch of “endarkenment,” business and political “leaders” even insist that our need for a thriving, just world is not “realistic,” even though we—and they—all know that our well-being depends on ecological health, that we are mutually interdependent, that our true culture is about belonging and interconnectedness to a greater whole, and that we will succeed most profoundly by cooperating and collaborating, re-attuned to our wisdom and “re-indigenized.”
Philosophy helps us paint an accurate picture of the cosmos and give us an awareness of our place in it. Education in the dominant conquest culture “protects” people from philosophy and art. As Nikos wryly comments: “It takes a dysfunctional education to have a dysfunctional culture. Otherwise, people wouldn’t put up with it.” We need to see the world with fresh eyes and an awakened heart. For Nikos, art and philosophy both foster this, offering insight and inspiration for the benefit of all citizens and the broader community of life.
Join us in conversation with this philosopher and purveyor of “dangerous wisdom.”
What a delightful question. From one perspective, it's really nice to not feel dead. From another perspective, if we die in the right way, it's awfully nice to feel dead.LoveWisdom (Philosophy) teaches us how to unleash our natural passion for life. Aliveness and aloveness is always available, because we ourselves are it. We forget. We all come alive and alove every time we remember, sometimes because a special being or a spacious moment helps us to come back. Our own awakened heart is where all beings come alive.LoveWisdom is also training for death. If we die before we die, then we never die. Isn't that funny? Perhaps it means, "What makes you come alive?" translates into, "What helps you die before you die?" or, "What helps you stop living like a zombie or a sleepwalker?" It's a lovely question, because joy itselftrue joyis the path to liberation. So is love, which is why aliveness and aloveness go completely together.
These seem to come rather often in some sensenot that my life resembles a pin-ball game or that I suffer from spiritual whiplash, but that, in general, practicing our life involves a series of surprising insights that seem to leave everything transformed. A moment of clarity, an insight of significance, can make us feel as if everything up to that point had involved some degree of rather pervasive confusion.The first experiences of philosophical insight struck me without full recognition of what they were. Our culture provides no real context for them. Even so, such experiences can start to shape our lives.At a particularly critical moment, I realized the wisdom traditions cannot be learned merely by reading and studying. We benefit immeasurably from studying, reading, discussing, and so on. Nevertheless, the turn toward a truly holistic sensibility, which means diligent practice in the broadest sense, marked a major pivot. The great mystery continues to pivot me.
We depend on kindness in so many forms that it's not easy to pick. I will share a story from childhood. As a boy, my best friend was a dog. One winter, while walking across a marsh, the ice broke and I fell in. I was quite stuck, and sinking fast. As I struggled in vain, beginning to feel a bit worried, my dog came over to me and stood still on solid ground while I used his body to pull myself out. I wouldn't have said my dog was the most intelligent dog everthough human beings generally lack the intelligence required to understand intelligence itself. All I know is that it seemed a beautiful act of kindness.
This is a funny question for a philosopher, since, as mentioned, philosophy is training for deathtraining for the bucket. So, the bucket list of every philosopher is short: Be fully ready for the bucket. We don't have to go anywhere special or do anything exotic for that. Indeed, people in general have too many exotic, resource-intensive things on their bucket list.
What we practice is what we realizeat the same time, we are originally free and spontaneous expressions of wisdom, love, and beauty, in a totally interwoven mystery.