The Meaning of Life
Dr. Nicholas Kostopoulos
“Life is now, you need to believe it.”
An interview by Kimon Frangakis
Source : Andro.gr [ http://www.andro.gr/zoi/doctor-nikolaos-kostopoulos/ ]
Appreciating his scientific background (he has studies and experience in classical medicine having also worked in the intensive care unit of a public hospital), the innocence of his speech and his light humor, I thought he was the ideal person to introduce you to our new column “ The meaning of life”. Similar columns with an existential background are “The meaning of style” and “The meaning of happiness” which I invite you to discover.
The doctor gave me the honor of meeting me at the Holistic Health Center, a prototype doctor’s office/ wellness center that he has created for medidation, yoga and holistic medicine. It is located in a beautiful modernist house with exposed cement in Kifissia that is surrounded by a quiet garden showered by “Mediterranean zen”. With the birds singing outside the window I pressed the recording button:
– How often do you feel nostalgic about or regret the past?
Almost not at all. The past is a foundation for the present and therefore I don’t feel that it is something that left and I suddenly found myself feeling nostalgic about. On the contrary, it is something that built me and continues me so I live it right now that we are talking as a part of myself. Of course, if something has finished permanently within me for one reason or another then I will let it leave. So nostalgia doesn’t have space to grow. Also regretting is not something that characterizes me. I have made mistakes of course but these mistakes in a way have built what I live at this moment. Of course what I always make sure of, is that if I have hurt someone, even without meaning to, to make peace with him or her. This I consider very important. As long as I live I don’t want to hurt someone from a mistake of mine. If he is hurt from his mistake I don’t mind. But if it is my mistake I want to make sure that I have apologized.
– Do you worry about tomorrow or do you have dreams that everything in the future at some point will be better?
I do not worry because worrying for me is wasted energy. Of course there are always problems but I prefer to devote my energy to how to solve these problems or how to lessen their impact. What is worrying? It is a reaction to reality. No, you need to focus your energy on how to create more peace. That is the first thing I have to say. The second is that things are not as bad as they seem! For example if at this moment someone has an accident on the street and breaks his foot, an ambulance comes, it takes him to the hospital even with a delay and there is someone there to fix it for him. 2,000 years ago the lion would come, eat you and you then had no more worries (laughter). So no, I don’t worry.
– Neither do you expect everything to be corrected in the future?
There never was a period in the life of mankind without let us say a conflict between good and bad, so what does it mean a correction in the future? To have a pink cloud come and permanently establish itself over our heads?
– How do you manage to live in the present without your thoughts running elsewhere?
There are several contributing factors to this. The one is in fact genetic. How the brain of a person acts has to do with his “wiring”. So personally I am lucky, I have good genes. My brain is not that anxious in that respect. Secondly it so happened that at 17 I started searching philosophy. I was very interested in why people are happy and why they become unhappy. So I started from a young age to train my mind to see what the reality of life is, now. And you know the present is a very strong element. We said before that the past doesn’t exist, it has finished. What we said, what we lived a minute ago have finished. And as for the future, it is a fantasy.
– You mean, there is only the now there isn’t anything else?
Exactly. In fact if you devote your whole heart to what you live now, you will have a corresponding development with the best possible “future”. That keeps me in the present. In addition in medicine you always have to be in the present. If you work in a hospital and three patients come you have to quickly decide whom you will see first and what good you can do. There is no time to waste thinking of the future or the past. So it is a matter of technique but also a matter of faith. Faith that life exists in this moment and I don’t want to daydream in the future or get stuck in the past. There are also medidation techniques but the main goal is to believe that life is now, that you are living this moment, not yesterday, or two minutes later.
– Have you felt truly happy?
For me the meaning of happiness is not something like a deep joy, a completion. It is something that flows. And now that we are talking there is a sense of happiness floating in the atmosphere. It is the sun that enters from the window, the plants in the garden, two people who are having a nice conversation.
– And that is enough.
Yes that is enough.
– We do not also need a cake and a golden watch.
What would you do with them? They will not give you happiness. If you see a baby being born, the first thing it does is that it smiles. Even if it can’t see yet. So happiness is a force that is in our nature. It is the force that we feel within us which drives us to do one thousand things externally in order to stay happy. However you don’t need to go somewhere else to find the happiness that is already inside you.
– So our default situation as we call it is that of happiness?
Exactly. And the closer you are to your nature, the more it springs up.
– And unhappiness?
I would say pain. Something happens, a tragedy, people suffer, you cannot not feel pain. It is completely human. You say an animal hurt on the road and you feel pain. As we said however about happiness, I don’t believe there is “bad luck”. I think life is so extremely abundant and even the biggest problem if you look at it in the right way has something to teach you. I remember when I was finishing my practice in London, I was looking from the window at Cavendish square and was watching a homeless man who was preparing his bed for the night. I was admiring how orderly he was, where he was putting his shoes, he had a ritual. He was happy. It showed.
– Do you remember what motivated you when you were a child?
Yes indeed, I remember very well. My nickname was “Why” because I was constantly asking why. And this constant enquiry was motivating me: why things are the way they are, why I am me, why I feel unhappy when I eat lentils, why I need to wait for the weekend to feel happy.
– They say that people who have many questions are not the happiest of people. Blessed are the simple minded…
Depending on the types of questions you have and the way that you search for answers. Because some answers are not logical. They are beyond logic. For example we are meeting at this moment. It is not a logical meeting if you think that for you to be born or for me to be born millions of years and births preceded ours. Simultaneously our meeting is completely logical. We are sitting here and talking nicely. If you accept both, simultaneously, then I believe that you are blessed.
– Can both the logical and non logical be true at the same time?
But they are! Of course, at the same time.
– Do you remember the promises you made for yourself when you were young and romantic?
I don’t remember giving myself any promises. I don’t believe in such promises. In fact I believe that our actions are determined partly only by what we consider to be our self. Our actions are determined by our current needs. What kind of promise can you sincerely make when at some point you may be required to steal to feed your child?
– Do you manage to enjoy the simple things in life and which are they for you?
Yes, thank God, very much so. I love contact with nature, a pleasant conversation with people with humor and truth… I very much like quiet. Everything starts from being quiet. Even in our conversation there is quiet and then vibration and then quiet again. Also the truth is when you are in medicine you are very appreciative of health. I am not worried whether I will go to the theater or the movie. I say can you walk? A miracle! Don’t worry where you will go. Can you see? Wonderful! Don’t worry exactly what you will see, theater or movie or something else. So medicine if you look at it from one side helps you become a philosopher. It reminds you every moment of everything we have and we don’t appreciate.
– Have you found a mechanism to remember that everything is passing, both the good and the bad.
I have not found a mechanism, life is like this. Everything is passing, like the sun which rises and then sets. I don’t need to do something.
– You mean the proof is around us.
The whole mechanism of the universe is like that. Every moment it changes. That is why one should stay in the moment and give the moment everything.
– How can we apply this universal example to our individual psychology? How can it help us not to be dissatisfied?
But we are the universe. We breathe constantly, that is the greatest proof that we are part of the universe and the universe is within us. We see the sun every day, we feel its warmth. The earth supports us constantly. We step on the earth. It is amazing. We just don’t connect that emotionally with this miracle that is constantly taking place because we don’t pay for it! It is priceless but we do not connect with it… If you connect even a little with it it is like eating honey. If you eat honey and feel its sweetness you don’t need anybody to tell you that honey is sweet. Honey is sweet; life is incredible sweet, as long as you appreciate it.
– You sound very low maintenance. Do you feel at all attached to the objects that surround you? If you suddenly had to leave everything behind, what would you try to save?
Of course, I would try to save something necessary for my family, an important document for example but I am not attached to objects. Maybe only with my bike! I love my bike; it is the most natural method of transportation. Also it is a childish tool. I like a saying, which says, “ you can’t buy happiness but you can buy a bike which is more or less the same thing!” It has the movement, it has the circles of the wheels which are symbols of harmony it has the sense of touch very strong. It makes you concentrate to keep your balance. It has so many characteristics that quiet your mind.
– It is a form of medidation.
Yes. By bicycling, balancing, your mind automatically touches the present.
– We often say that it is not worth being unhappy as long as we have our health. What do you do apart from biking in order to have health, wellness and long life? What do you do for yourself?
I very much like to move in nature. Nine out of ten mornings that I wake up I go up the mountain. The trees, the birds, the air give me an incredible peace. I also like medidation. First exercise a bit in nature and then medidating doing a little yoga, breathing.. Medidation is a part of myself. And I also very much like going by the church. Sitting a little bit, being peaceful, looking at the candles, listening to the psalms. Something else that keeps me in form is being creative. If I have a little time I try to devote it to research, to see what further I can contribute to medicine. And of course there is my family whom I enjoy tremendously, it gives me joy and health to spend time with my wife and our two children.
And what do you do for society as a whole? What do you offer to others?
First of all, I don’t believe that our self and society are two separate entities. I believe that only if I am happy and health can I serve others. I consider that an extremely important point. It is like the lemon tree. First it needs to absorb sun and water to give lemons afterwards, isn’t that true? For me to be healthy is also an example for my patients. From then on, socially, I do various things. Medicine itself is a social service. In addition the medicine I practice is not just looking at blood tests and writing a medicine. I am not interested in that. I am interested in the person who comes to me to help him solve the riddle of his life and to become well in general. The way in which I do this I believe is a service. I could easily see someone for ten minutes, make a classical diagnosis and let them leave but that would be stingy on my side.
– There is also a written notice in the waiting room, which says that you accept free visits from people with financial difficulties.
Now, the fact that I treat patients without pay both here and in India where I often go, is another side which however I prefer to keep silent. It is my personal relationship with the universe if you wish.
– So, do you believe you are a good person? And which are your greatest weaknesses?
I try to be a good person. I constantly try and I think we need to constantly try to be clearer, more peaceful because we do not know what the universe will bring us. That is natural. Like a tree which grows and goes towards the sky. It is our nature to be well, to want to offer something more around us. My weakness is that many times I may give a bit more energy from what is needed to people who do not use it properly. But it doesn’t matter.
– That is not any great weakness. Don’t you ever get angry?
Anger is a desire, which is not being fulfilled. I don’t have many desires because the universe is something, which is constantly unravelling and teaching us. If someone does something outrageous I try to be pleasantly surprised that I had not imagined it. There is no point in getting angry with him.
– What do you fear most?
Fear depends on the moment. Meaning that when you are well you don’t fear anything. You are even ready to leave life. If you start thinking a lot you fall.. You think what if there is an earthquake and the ceiling falls on my head, how will I breathe? And that is how fear comes. I think fear is an emotion that comes if the mind is working in a slightly wrong way. If the mind is working clearly then you live the moment without fear.
– Is it like what we were saying about worrying?
Exactly. Fear is an increased worry. If you are tired fear can come in but it is not the natural state of humans. So I am not afraid. If you tell me that I will leave for the sky I am okay. As I appeared ,I will disappear; it is in the program. It is not anything terrible. I sometimes say, do you know what the main cause of death is? It is not an illness. It is birth. This is the reality. If it is something from nature accept it, don’t analyze it logically. Your logic will go crazy. It’s like trying to count the stars. There is no point. Some things are beyond logic. Leave them like that. What else can you do?
– As you grow do you come to terms with deterioration or do you feel bitterness about lost time?
None at all. Deterioration is fun! Because you come to know other sides of yourself. At 18 you believe that you need to do everything and that darkens your mood. At 58 you say okay I will put energy there, I will not put energy there, you discriminate, focus. Kimon, deterioration is not real deterioration. Inside us we have energies. When we are little we want love, food, sleeping early… When we become 18 we want fire, interaction. It is this energy of the fire that lessens growing older, our desire to do amazing things lessens, but another more subtle energy increases which makes us accept things. An energy through which we can become more philosophical and in the end turn our energy exactly where it is needed.
– We have a different energy.
This is a finer energy! It doesn’t have the momentum which it had when we were 18 but it doesn’t matter. It is another form of energy that we are called to resonate with. Notice that it strenthens as the fire lessens. It is not a small thing.
– You don’t think about death?
No I don’t think about it at all. It is something completely natural and when it comes, it will come. We are ok.
– When you leave life do you believe you will have left a mark?
First of all, we will have left this interview which is excellent (laughter). Look, you can’t not leave a mark. But I don’t see that as a personal accomplishment though. Look at the sun, when it sets what has it left? It has left all the light that it gave in each living thing. So undeniably the existence of every person leaves something in its turn.
– So, it is not all in vain.
It is both in vain and not in vain! Together. If you look at it from one side, I can see 10,000 patients as long as I live. Compared to the 7.5 billion people it is nothing. It is good that it is nothing because when you realize that you relax. On the other hand, when you see someone, even one person, that is very important. And so, what we consider to be in vain and not in vain are just opinions of the mind. Life is beyond the mind. Beyond pointlessness or not as we understand it.
– Beyond the rational and the non rational we were talking about above.
Exactly. And this is the beauty of life. That it is exactly what it is. And it pulsates. All the rest are secondary logical explanations that we make. Attempts to control something that is not controllable.
– Is that why we are looking for life after death? Do you believe in hell and heaven? In reincarnation?
I don’t involve myself at all with these ideas. I think whether I believe or not is not very important. On the one hand, whatever will be will be and on the other, we have so much to do in this moment that for me to spend time on something that has no meaning would be a waste of time. Lets be involved with life as it is running in this moment. When I was a baby did I believe I would grow? What is the point? When I was a baby I drank milk. Now I do what I do. When I die I will see what happens! If we have an interview 200 years from now in Paradise I will tell you (laughter).
– What about life on other planets? What do you feel about that? Does it exist and if yes would you like to come into contact with it and for us as mankind to come into contact with it?
Really, I haven’t thought about it. For the following reason: The earth is so beautiful and interesting and needs so much energy and care… What is the point of destroying it and saying that we will go to another planet? Honestly, I don’t understand. If an alien wants to contact me I will be happy to. But I don’t put energy in such pursuits. I also believe the issues will be more or less the same. The mind will be the mind with its quirks whichever planet you are on.
– However maybe a contact with other planets would make life here more relative? Make us appreciate more what we were mentioning above? Or if it was proven beyond all doubt that there is not alien life again it would make us appreciate what we have and what we have accomplished since they are unique in the universe.
Everything is already relative and unique; all we need to do is look around us. 5 million years ago, a man mated with a woman and for that reason I am sitting here on this armchair. I don’t need to go to another planet to realize the relativity and uniqueness of my existence. I insist, I have a big passion for life on Earth. And many times the reference to other planets is like avoiding using all our energy with passion to solve what exists here on Earth.
– So what do you believe in – if you believe – metaphysically? Is there a God?
If I believe in the form of a grandfather with a beard who looks at us from above? Not at all. In the concept of an incredibly subtle energy though? Yes without doubt! At this moment we are speaking because we are alive. Where does this life come from? Let us call it “God” this incredible storage of energy that supplies us with life! So if you ask me is there God? I will answer is there a difference between a dead and a live body? Without any doubt. Where that energy springs from is the divine.
– Isn’t life just physical and chemical energy?
Any definition you give I will tell you it is beyond our control. Say it as you wish.
– Can you explain to us a bit more what is this subtle energy you call God?
At this moment I speak. I put energy. The neurotransmitters are running. To talk I need to have sugar in my blood. A little more subtle energy than speech. In order to drink my tea that I have in front of me, it means that I am thirsty. The message comes from the hypothalamus of my brain. Even more subtle energy. Now for all of these to work together I need to be alive. Life is the subtlest energy of all. Like electricity is the subtle energy of this telephone. Without electricity this telephone would be useless. This is what I mean by subtle energy. The high energy that feeds all the more gross energetic expressions.
– Why do you believe we come to life? Is there a meaning to our existence?
You see trees constantly growing which help the environment, life unfolding, a whole system mutually supporting itself. How can you not dance with this system? I believe life itself is the meaning. When we search if there is a meaning it is like we are limiting, narrowing life to our own mental limits. The meaning is limited. Life is wider than meaning. Meaning presupposes a brain. However our brain didn’t even exist when we were created as embryos and acquired life. So the brain in which the concepts exist cannot contain the life.
– So there is no general plan of existence, a master plan?
The idea of a masterplan reminds me of business, projects, something very structured. I believe the master plan is life itself. That is it, nothing else. Every moment that runs is the “master plan.” It is the now, it is the always, it is everything that is happening simultaneously.
– Isn’t it in our hands to give meaning to our existence?
It is in our hands to look for the truth in everything we do. Like in medicine when you search for the reason why someone gets sick: You mustn’t be satisfied with the first answer. Keep on going deeper, ever deeper. If you constantly search for the truth there is no way you will not find meaning in your life.
– Isn’t truth another mental construction like logic?
Truth as far as the meanings that we ascribe to her, yes. But if you see truth as a concept, it is something that stays constant. We say, do you love me truly? Which means: Will you always be constant? What stays constant in this universe? Only life itself. Everything else changes. Our body changes, everything changes. So truth at a grosser level has a meaning. At a more subtle level it becomes one with God. With life as it flows… The truth is something that doesn’t change. You don’t search for the truth, you follow it. It is like a ray of light which you follow. You don’t catch it.
How do you locate it?
You cannot find it like that specifically. But you can leave the shadows. As you leave the shadows you move towards the light.
– These sound like “beautiful words”.
I will tell you the following. At this moment we have a communication. I am trying to be as true as possible in everything I say. This is the truth. As simple as that. Nothing else.
– Is that enough? Because we have learned to search for the truth in a teleological way. For the judge to reach a conclusion, what really happened lets say.
The truth is this moment that is flowing. For me, philosophically speaking. And if you follow the moment that is flowing, of course you will make the right decision, both as a judge and as a doctor and as a father. The truth is now, not somewhere at the end as a result. Life is a now which is flowing, the truth. All the rest are fantasies and memories.
// Dr. Nicholas G. Kostopoulos graduated in 1984 from Athens Medical School. He worked in the Kidney Unit at the Naval Hospital of Athens, in the Intensive Care Unit of the Hospital of Lung Disease “Sotiria” and the Pulmonary Unit at Manchester Royal Infirmary in England. He is a member of the Association of Homeopathic Doctors in Greece and the UK. For ten years he practiced medicine at a private practice in London, combining Ayurveda and modern medicine. From December 1999, he manages the Holistic Health Center in Kifissia. Simultaneously together with Dr. Ashvin Barot they research psychosomatic diseases and the treatment of stress using the methods of Ayurvedic medicine. He is a member of the editorial review team of JAIM (Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine). He participates in international seminars and has given lectures in England, Ireland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Canada, Japan and India.