By: Nadiya Shah
I stepped into Ancient Angora, the sacred sight in Old Athens that was the stomping grounds of Socrates. I walked around and saw the platform where so many of his famous conversations, documented in the writings of Plato, were given. The whole surrounding site was massive, encompassing several temples and functional structures of a time long past. Though all that was left were ruins and rubble, the local tourist board had taken care to properly denote what each segment was used for, as well as document pictorial reconstructions of what these buildings must have looked like over 2500 years ago.
I was searching for the temple of Ares. Having done my first ever written work as a graduate student on his symbols and mythology, I felt that his was energy that was particularly relevant to my spiritual explorations of the past year. That paper I wrote defined my experience of being in a foreign country, immersed in studies that I loved, and solidifying my budding love with my inner athlete. The planet Mars denotes Ares in the Sky. He is our athlete, our warrior, our determination and sacred cetainty within. I was eager to find him and be in the exact space where people many centuries early had come to offer thanks, gifts, and pleas for assistance. I was so eager that wondering around in hopes of finding his alter proved impossible, and I asked directions whenever I could, all in the hopes of moving a bit closer to Ares.
During my search I was stopped in my tracks by three high columns placed closely together, signifying the entrance to an ancient structure. On top of each were the remains of different figures. They appeared as deities to me. Even after centuries of abandon and inattention, the tending given to detail was still unmistakably revealed in the stone and marble. Their bodies still showed deeply sculpted muscle in their torso and thighs that had come to denote spiritual strength to the ancient Greeks. I turned to the signs to find out what I was looking at. It was the Gymnasium, where countless celebrated athletes of the time came to practise their sport. There were still circled stones where athletes entered into to test their strength with each other in wrestling, places where heavy rocks were strategically lifted and carried to build muscular strength as the early reflections of the sport of bodybuilding, and platforms where people performed various callisthenics as a prelude to flexibility and endurance training. As they did their routines and took on their physical challenges, all in the hopes of exceeding their current limits, they were surrounded by beautiful mountainous views in the distance, and temples with representations of significant gods and goddesses all around them.
I stopped to touch some of the rumble in the hopes of gaining a deeper understanding through my fingers and to more deeply engrave the commitment I have made to myself to live this path of spiritual strength and muscle in every area of my life.
As if in a trance, I returned to my senses and remembered that I needed to find Ares. I turned away from the collective of tourists to leave and walked 5 steps. I had to stop for the late summer Sun was searing in this part of the world. I turned my head to find a place to sit, and there was the sign I had yearned for. The single most important thing that had brought me to Greece. A stone carved with words in both English and Greek that said “Temple of Ares”. I exhaled and then I smiled. As if this place was waiting for me, I saw a small groove and sat down. I said “thank you” out loud, and then I cried.
I cried for the bond I felt with this ancient energy, a bond that was still relevant to the lives of so many to this present day. I cried because knowing this energy within myself has completely changed me for the better. I cried because I knew, in that moment, that I had received some ancient gifts right here in this modern era. Gifts that I am still experiencing to this day. Gifts that have left me transformed, and feeling more authentic than I ever have known myself to be. Though I remain a work in progress, and my life has shown me that, for me, true change involves what appear to be set backs and plateaus, I know I am better today for having cultivated this relationship with Ares then I was before he came into my active, conscious awareness. I look forward to our continued friendship and how it may change and empower me next.