Becoming Aphrodite in an Athenian World
“Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life.
But poetry, beauty, romance, love…these are what we stay alive for.”
— Dead Poets Society (1989)
Deny it all you want, but this world still prizes the masculine. But I’m not speaking about men in particular here, or any specified gender at all.
By “masculine”, I refer to the Greco-Roman goddess Athena, and all that she has historically exemplified. She is the go-getter of what she wants, the strategizer, the thinker, the mental faculty and sharp intellect. She is what’s practical and within reason, and she is the extrovert who isn’t afraid to chase, to pursue, to hunt. The masculine way of living is rigid, rule-following, and focused on conquering battles of the external and real world — battles like career advancement, prestigious titles of status, and the upgrading of hard skills. They are the battles that I was taught to pursue, to hyper-fixate on, because they were seemingly the only battles that mattered.
And in this real world, the “Athenas” are well prized and praised. Consider every motivational speaker that has come to be: They speak of the hustle, they speak of the victory and glory over winning the battles of this material world (money, recognition, a certain status), they speak of the go-go-go lifestyle, of being a relentless hunter for the extrinsic things you desire. And without that type of assertion we would honestly get nowhere, so I adore all that Athena stands for, and recognize her for her importance in our lives. Without motivation, assertion, discipline, and productivity, this essay would not exist.
But in this hyper-masculine way of living, we have forgotten to balance ourselves out with more so feminine ways of being. We have forgotten about Aphrodite, and all that she has symbolized. How to:
- Value intuition as much as our intellect
- Remain soft and emotionally cognizant
- Allow room for creative expression without perfectionism
- Allow for things to unfold in their own, paced timing (without over-controlling the process).
(Note: Living with femininity has very little to do with your self-identified gender. You don’t have to identify as a woman in order to live in feminine ways.)
Ultimately, it means conquering the battles of our internal world, rather than the external — conquering our own emotional ups-and-downs, growing past old lessons, and cultivating our greatest self. It’s bringing human connection to the forefront, and nurturing what’s in and around us.
To live in such a state of unpredictability, dynamism, and no restrictions is to live in a state of femininity, and it’s not a state that we’re very comfortable with. There has been no room for Venus in the way our world has been moving, thus far. There has been no room for us to be softer, allowing, human — and to be so meant weakness and incompetency.
There’s no room for us to be feminine;
soft, allowing, and human— to be so would be considered weakness and incompetency.
But this can change.
We’ve spent the last few ages emphasizing the masculine and material accumulation, above all else. Emphasizing (glorified) workoholism, the American Dream, hustling to get ahead, and rising to status and honour. But within this past year alone, so much of humanity has fallen apart, to the point where it would be an injustice to go back to doing things the way we’ve always done.
Right now, I believe that humanity stands at a crossroads where we must decide: Will we continue with our old ways of being, or give birth to newer conditions of life?
I cannot say for sure what the rest of the world will decide to do, when all the chaos and upheaval slowly comes to an end. But I can tell you the smaller, individual changes that you may decide for yourself, should you choose to live a life with more gentleness, slowness, and pause. I can tell you the smaller things that you can exercise within your own little bubble and daily routine, which is ultimately within your control.
10 Ways to Welcome Aphrodite in Day-to-Day Living
1. Prioritize connection as much as career ambition:
“Work, or love?”
I was always expected to answer “work”, as the trademark feminist that I was. Of course my work means the world to me. It’ll be the legacy that I create for myself, it’ll be my mark on the world.
But as someone who prides herself in her workoholism and addiction for progress, I’ve failed so many of my friends and family — Never returning back missed calls, skipping out on important celebrations because my As were too important, texting back weeks later or not at all, and completely isolating myself for days on end to get an essay done. Work was always number one.
But when I sat with myself one day and wondered if it were to all end tomorrow, I’d hate myself for never trying enough for the people I loved. I’d hate myself for never paying attention to my grandma’s reminiscent rambles about her husband, or the way my dad’s voice elevates when he talks about ancient history. I’d despise myself for never paying attention to how my mom tries so hard for everyone, or the little head-bobble thing my cousin does when he’s listening to a song he really likes. It’d kill me to know that I never got to know those things about them, that I never spent enough of my days with them, telling them how loved they are and always will be.
To become Aphrodite, understand that opportunities and grades will come and go — but when people are gone, they don’t come back.
So next time someone asks you “work or love?”, don’t be afraid to respond: “I’ll have both”.
2. Step away from mediocrity — Aphrodite only accepts the finest.
If you don’t like the book, you don’t have to finish it. If you don’t like the program you’re in, switch majors. If you’re not really feeling your date, wish them a good night and catch the next bus home.
And when it comes to people? I have very little tolerance these days for half-hearted connections, where there’s a half-baked respect involved, or half-baked interest. No more forced interests, no more walking into rooms where I’m hardly welcome, and no more convincing of others that I’m worthier of kinder expressions.
3. Skip your air-tight timelines.
In final year of university, I had a pretty timeline hanging up on my dorm room wall. It was a map of where I was going to be — the following year, 3 years after that, and by the 5-year mark. According to the map, by now, I was supposed to have graduated from speech therapy school, married, and settled down in my own condo downtown.
Call it poor planning, call it “a change of heart”, call it “life likes to throw curveballs at you to keep things interesting” — but none of those things came to be. I switched my career path entirely and decided I didn’t want to be a speech therapist after all, I pushed off the idea of marriage because I wanted to experiment a bit more, and I’m certainly nowhere near to settling down in one chosen spot. But today, I’m all the happier for it.
We’re so desperately attached to these mental, egoic constructs of what we think our lives ought to look like, what we ought to be. Clinging to an air-tight sealed timeline gives us no room to breathe, no space for adventure. What are we in such a rush for, anyways? Who are we trying to impress?
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having an idea as to where you want to go, but understand that you’re allowed to be directed off course (in fact, more often than not, you will be taken on “detours” and delayed routes). But instead of being terrified of the unpredicted changes to your “perfect” plans, have fun with where the world wants to take you. This is the key point here: Learn to become playful in a sense. Play with the unknown and unchartered waters that you’d never even considered.
4. Do less, with more focus.
We’re so used to having 12 tabs open on our laptops and in our own heads, and driving to meeting rooms with a hand cramming lunch in our mouths, while the other hand steers.
Coinciding with the previous point — it seems like we’re all in such a rush to get everything done, everything figured out, right here and right now. Why? Who the hell are we trying to impress, to the point we’re willing to drive ourselves to insanity and back?
I don’t want you multi-tasking. If you’re going to cook, focus on the materials, ingredients, the wok, the ladle in front of you. If you’re watching something on Youtube, focus on the content displayed instead of trying to read the comments section simultaneously. If you’re writing out your to-do list for the day, keep the list to 4 items at most. This way, you’re shifting away from an overreaching, obsessive productivity to conscientious productivity.
When we’re with a new lover, we’re so focused on everything about them in that moment: their hazy eyes, the shabbiness of their hair, the ring to their voices. We’re not taken by anything else. And just like those romanticized, rose-colored moments, marinate yourself completely in the present, in its full entirety, without half-heartedness.
Do it justice.
5. Your art, passion projects, and craft matters — Bring it to the forefront.
Historically speaking, Athena does patron the arts and literature. However, I’m not speaking about the arts itself. I’m talking about us prioritizing the act of creation, as a part of our schedules. When I’ve asked people what they’ve been up to in quarantine, almost everyone responded with:
- “I’ve been really getting into cooking lately.”
- “I decided to pick up that old film camera and try some photography.”
- “I’ve finally worked up the courage to start that podcast.”
- “I got back into painting these days.”
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, where greater priorities ought to be brought to the forefront of our lives, we ran into the arms of art, seeking it for comfort. It’s like we needed creative expression. Without it, we were aimless.
Up until now, artistic expression and crafts were viewed as nothing more than a nice sidepiece to have in our lives, outside of our main 9–5. But increasingly, I realize that we’re starting to see it as a necessity of sorts; a crutch to keep ourselves sane.
It doesn’t have to be your “calling”, your purpose, or your life legacy. Take that type of pressure off your shoulders — it’s paralyzing. It just needs to be something that you can lose yourself in, no matter how many hours go past. And if you have no idea what that is, don’t be afraid to start experimenting. Trial and error is the only way to know.
6. Create, without seeking perfectionism or applause.
“I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares”.
I remember coming across this statement from filmmaker Saul Bass, and I remember thinking how nothing could be truer to Venus than this.
“I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares”.
Creation for creation’s sake. Creating out of sheer love and passion for the artistry — not because there’s a crowd out there to wow and impress. Not because I need to be known as some A-grade writer, dancer, painter, and whatnot, within this lifetime. My writing can have its grammar slip-ups. It’s fine. My artwork can go unnoticed on the internet, it’s fine. You can screw up a note here and there when learning the violin, it’s fine.
Your creations don’t have to be perfect or applauded, and neither do you. Just have fun with it, and the right ones will love you all the more. Ironically, good art is usually selfish art — art that’s solely created out of a desire to create.
Don’t try too hard.
7. Locate your sense of self: Where does it lie?
This might come as absolutely terrifying news to you, but the truth is, there is very little we really do have control over. Our external situations and circumstances can change at any moment, whether you’re ready for it or not. It’s scary, and the global pandemic only highlighted that.
For the past decade, I was driven by extrinsic motivators. I wanted the dream home, the dream boy, the dream stage, the dream job. So when I ended up facing rejection from schools and people, I’d break apart from the core. I had no idea what to do with myself.
When you build your sense of self and worth on the extrinsic, when your foundation lies in the external plane, what on Earth will you do when you don’t get what you want? When you don’t get accepted into that grad program? Or if the love of your life decides to walk out on you one night, and your company declares bankrupt? The common reaction is to wither. We collapse when things aren’t going well in our external circumstances, and we’re on a high when things are going well around us. And just like ragdolls on a rollercoaster, we spend our entire lives being flung from lows to highs, ups and downs, with no sense of calm middle-ground.
This is what happens when your entire worth and joy is built off of the external world. But your career, your creations, your money, your home, your fame, your beauty, your community — all of that is temporary. It won’t last forever, because it’s not meant to. Some day, we’ll have to let go of everything we hold in our hands, until one day, we must let go of our physical body in just the same way.
The only remedy is to transition your sense of home, safety, and self, within yourself. This is a practice that takes years, maybe lifetimes to master, but it’s a goal worthy of our pursuit.
8. Acquire the art of nurture— for yourself, your plants, and the people you love.
My household had a sacred Tulasi plant, for quite some time now. It was gifted to us by my relatives. In Hinduism, Tulasi plants are known for their holiness, and seen as an earthly manifestation of Goddess Lakshmi. In other words, the plant ought to be revered like it’s the Goddess herself.
So you can imagine how heartbroken I was, when I saw the plant withering to bare branches when it once danced with green youth. I called my Uncle in India, asking him if we did anything wrong. “Did we fail to fulfill its needs in some way? Did we fail to take care of it in the way it had to be taken care of?”.
This is the level of sensitivity, the types of questions, that I want you to start asking of yourself, your loved ones around you, and your houseplants alike. Just like the Tulasi, we all have niche demands, wants, and ways of being nourished. So few of us take the time to learn what those needs are, and how different they look from one person to another. So few of us know how to water ourselves and those we love.
How do you, your houseplants, and your community need to be tended to, in order to stay alive and well?
9. Learn how to cook to mother yourself.
Speaking of nurturing, I had to narrow in on learning how to feed ourselves well. I spent my undergraduate years in University eating at untimely hours, eating recklessly, or not eating on some days at all. What I ate and whether I ate or not — none of that mattered to me, because I didn’t matter to me.
It took one Covid-positive test result to shake me to my core, and start parenting myself a bit more. My health was at a breaking point this past year, and it suddenly dawned on me: Nothing, nothing comes before our health.(And I mean all forms of course; physical, mental, and emotional).
Above all else, learning to cook for yourself is learning how to mother yourself. And this is toughest and greatest thing you’ll ever learn, especially if you didn’t grow up with a parental figure who exemplified what this nurture looked like. But that makes it all the more important that you conquer this pattern, and start being the parent that you needed for yourself, all along.
10. Monitor your emotional cues as well as the physical.
During the pandemic, we were taught how to monitor our physical symptoms with utmost attention. Are you feeling lightheaded? Out of breath? Do you have dry coughs or a wet cough? And I wish we’re taught how to monitor out emotions that course throughout our bodies, with the same amount of rigor. What emotions are running through you right now? Anger? Anxiousness? Tense-ness of some sort? Boredom? Exhaustion?
It’s being able to stop for a minute, ask ourselves what and how we’re feeling in the moment, and question where it’s stemming from. It’s working on allowing our emotions to exist, without enabling them, without getting consumed by them whole. It’s being able to observe passing emotions like they’re passing clouds in a sky, without judgement or critique, or hating that they’re real.
It’s also paying heed to our gut feelings and intuitive nudges. Every time I chose to ignore that small voice in my head, I’ve regretted it every single time. A large reason why we hear that voice and choose to ignore it, is because we don’t think that intuition is as valid as factual-based intellect. It’s the same reason why we still struggle to see mental health as health, or why we roll our eyes at people who say “I don’t know, something just feels off”.
If only we could value our emotional cues as much as the physiological.
At the precipice of global grief, recovery, and the crucial junctures it brings us towards, I hope we remember how critical the feminine was in a time of need and pain. How we all desperately turned towards the arts, human connection, poetry, and sentiment.
How we all become Aphrodite when we finally realize: We don’t have forever.