The wild wisdom of Zorba the Greek

One of my favorite reads of this year was Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. I love Zorba’s practical wisdom and zest for life. He manages to see the everything and everybody as a miracle worth celebrating, while also recognizing that we’re all just sacks of bones and flesh and flaws, and that everything we do is probably meaningless in the end. In many ways, he’s embodying the principles of inner work for me. If there’s a man who’s mastered the art of living in the present moment, it’s Zorba.

This book has made me laugh, feel sad, think deeply, and moved me in many more ways. In this episode, I share my favorite from the book—and hopefully inspire a few of you to read this beautiful story.

Zorba the Greek. First of all, you said, you just said a moment ago, you still haven’t read it. You have to read it. I highly recommend it. All right. It is an amazing book and it is written very well at times for my personal taste, maybe because I’m just not used to reading literature or reading better writing.

[00:00:28] It is a bit verbose in its language. Uh, at times it’s kind of like describe situations in two pages that I feel like two paragraphs would have been enough, but the it’s, it’s definitely written very beautifully. It’s very entertaining. It’s interesting. It’s captivating. It’s engaging. But more importantly than all that, that it’s just a fun book to read is that it has so much wisdom in it.

[00:01:02] And you can sense it as a reader, as you’re reading it, this, the main character Zorba the Greek, his side, such deep wisdom in the way that character is living the life that it’s, it. Touches you, and it changes you as you’re reading it. So it’s one of those really, I think really rare books that changes the reader or effects the reader and influences the reader in really tangible ways, not just intellectually.

[00:01:35] It makes you feel something, it might make you do something different about your life. Without it being obviously a kind of. A manual of like, self-help, here’s how to live a better life. Um, the book is a ton of fun and it’s very, very, it has a lot of deep wisdom in it. Um, I was reading it very fittingly while I spent a month in Greece, which probably makes it even more fun.

[00:02:06] I started reading in Berlin, so Berlin is not very Greek and it was fun and wise in Berlin. As well, so you don’t have to travel to Greece to read the book. Um, but I started reading it in Berlin. I read it for, for a few weeks in stood guard. So there’s less of a fun place. You’ve less of a place that has any similarity to Greece in Greek culture, but then I finished it and I read the main, main portions of it in Greece, which was kind of an edit little.

[00:02:39] You know, uh, edit little, uh, a bit on top of the enjoyment of reading. The book is just being in Greece and observing some level of Greek culture and, um, what Greeks call Meraki Meraki, which means a zest for life, you know, which, which is very much part of Greek culture. And I loved reading it and I learned a ton.

[00:03:08] I kind of reignited some, some of my Greekness, but also made me think deeply about how to live a good life. There’s like, um, there’s so many bits and pieces that stand out to me, like little moments in the storyline, little quotes, but I don’t really want to, I don’t want to read through pages. I don’t want to necessarily quote, quotes.

[00:03:35] Um, But I’d love to describe the main lessons that I’ve taken out of the book and the things that stand out to me now that it’s been, you know, a bit of time that has passed since I finished it. So first to, to give you the framing, this is, um, this story plays out in Crete on this Greek Island. And it describes two main characters.

[00:04:05] One is kind of his only named boss. So you don’t know the real name of this character and it’s written through the kind of first person through the boss’s eyes. And the boss is kind of this young guy that’s been living a very intellectual life. It’s kind of living a life in his mind, you know, being very idealistic, kind of reading the book, the big books of history, you know, reading about the philosophers of the world, reading about.

[00:04:44] No capitalism and communism and, and reading about all the big kind of philosophies and ways of thinking and being super into Buddhism and just being an, a young idealistic, probably somewhat privileged. Person that ended up somehow they don’t explain it in the book or to describe it in detail. Ended up, ended up somehow with a bit of money and kind of felt compelled to get on this adventure and try to go to creed and mine.

[00:05:20] Um, Mine or, or start an operation within a mine, a mining operation, not for gold, but for some other kind of, um, for some other, uh,

[00:05:38] Thing. I don’t even know the English word enough, a washed off kind of about the like, I dunno, metal or something. Um, and on his, the way to create, to start this operation and try to become quote unquote like a businessman, like for the first time to try to like use money, to make money, money, and involve himself in some more earthly matters.

[00:05:58] Um, he meets an old washed up. Um, Mark by life guy called Zorba kind of on a whim, convinces him to hire him and have him travel with him to create and have him, um, help set up this mining operation. And along the way, the boss realizes that he kind of deeply falls in love with SORBA. As a person and he kind of witnesses somebody that’s so opposite to himself.

[00:06:39] Somebody that has lived a thousand lives, somebody that is not in his head, not an idealist, not somebody that is a book warm, constantly reading and writing and thinking, but that has engaged with such zest and attack in life that his wisdom comes from a different place. His wisdom is. Coming alive through his life and through his actions.

[00:07:05] And he sort of like makes Zorba his almost spiritual leader, his leader for how to live a good life without telling them that. And they go on all kinds of adventures together because he sort of. And enable Zorba to take over control, not just of the mining operation, but also just like take all control over their life.

[00:07:29] Basically the friendships they make, the rhythm they have in their daily lives, the decisions they make. It’s sort of like the bosses realizing I’ve captured a rear, a very rare creature, and I’m just going to let this person. Do whatever they want. And I’m gonna go along for the adventure. And I feel like this adventure and this person’s going to change me.

[00:07:53] And so the entire book has this duality between the main character. That’s the boss, although the real main character Zorba, but the main character being the boss, which is kind of the reader and us as us as readers are like these. Overly idealistic, overly lost in our own thoughts, overly theoretical, overly cautious beings.

[00:08:16] And then there’s in star contrast this manifestation of everything that’s Greek, but also everything that’s truly alive in the world Zorba this character that lifts so differently from us to thinks and act so differently and kind of wows us and amazes us. And. Changes us, um, through kind of the adventures that the, those two to take on in the book.

[00:08:43] And if I had to summarize, you know, what makes Zorba as a character special is that he is this, he. Maybe more so than any other character I’ve ever encountered, either through literature or through any kind of other art form or through movies and stories. He mostly than any other character that I can remember embody somebody that is always living in the present moment, attacking life with everything he got.

[00:09:25] And that lives in this duality between every human is a miracle and life is a miracle and everything is a celebration. And on the flip side of that coin, being this hyper realist of thinking Schumann’s are just a bunch of bones and. You know, and, and, and, and meat and our week and our faulty and our limited and, uh, probably worthless and useless and meaningless at the end.

[00:10:02] And he lives that duality. So poetically and beautifully. And it’s so rare because usually you can only be in a one end of the spectrum. And so he’s like loves everything and everybody with. An incredible passion. And at the same time he sees through the worldly floss of people. It doesn’t idolize. He doesn’t, it doesn’t make the world be what he wants it to be.

[00:10:30] Maybe this is the beauty of it. He doesn’t have an ideology or an idea, or a philosophy or a belief system that he’s trying to make the world fit in so that he gets comfort. It doesn’t try to. Put people in a box of like, he takes things for what they are not more and not less than one side of him is amazed, truly amazed by how magical life is and how magical every single thing in life is.

[00:11:01] And sort of like he wakes up in the morning and this is a man that’s described as maybe already in his sixties that has been through many battles, has many scars. His hands always described these massive. Pause that all like that you could say, this is somebody that has worked really hard with their hands, their entire life.

[00:11:22] And they’re really scarred and big and like hardened. Um, but even in his sixties and even having lived through a very difficult, very laborious life. He will wake up in the morning and he will truly wake up as if he’s reborn. He will go outside, look at the song and be in all of what this thing is. What is this thing that shines in the sky?

[00:11:45] What is this thing that gives us warmth and lets things grow my God. Like he can really get lost in the magic of looking at things as if you seen them for the very first time. And he is. Puzzled by them. What is this thing? What is a bird like? There’s all these scenes where it’s basically like in on it’s like, what is this, this creature that flies and why is it, why do birds exist?

[00:12:12] You know, what is that? Why do they even exist? And why do they even do what they do? And at the same time, he’s sort of like a, you know, a man of pleasure, right? So. You know, he’s a womanizer. He is a musician, he’s a dancer. He’s somebody that will indulge in many pleasures. And at the same time, he’s a really hard worker.

[00:12:36] Uh, one, one, uh, beautiful scene is where, you know, he’s like kind of womanizing all these sleepy with all these women are trying to get in bed with this, like. Old lady in town that is this French lady that had stranded on that Island, you know, many decades ago and had been through many, many love relationships.

[00:12:55] And it wasn’t all that kind of a washed up past time. Beauty that now kind of was like a, just a curious creature in the, in the small village. And he instantly recognizes. That you know, her loneliness and her being overused and her not having a place and being sort of reared and lonely and kind of, um, you know, uh, a person with many problems and flaws.

[00:13:23] And in that weakness, he finds both beauty, but also an opportunity. He instantly like this is going to be my chick here. I’m going to sleep with his woman. I’m going to have this woman give me warmth and love and pleasure. I’m going to have this woman. Care for me and cook for me. Um, and he, you know, there’s, there’s one scene where, uh, some, some.

[00:13:46] Kid from the village is running towards the mine and, and Zorba is working really hard. He’s running the mine is, you know, giving instructions to all the men. And when you works, he really works. He attacks work with a passion and this kid runs to him to tell him some news from this woman that he’s sleeping with his Madame Cortez or whatever she’s called.

[00:14:06] And he, as the kid approaches him and tries to talk to him, he barks at the kittens like. Get lost. I’m working and the kids I will, but my dumb Gutierrez told me to come and tell you this news. And he’s like, the day’s full work the night is for pleasure. We’re working get lost. Right. And he has this kind of during the, when I work, I work.

[00:14:29] Like once in one scene, he describes a one part of the books he describes the day is masculine and it’s for work and productivity. The night is feminine. It’s full pleasure, you know, and for fun and indulgence and we don’t mix them two things up. So in the days super serious and he’s working right. And he’s attacking his tasks with your great purpose.

[00:14:51] And at night it turns into this like pleasure machine. That’s just out there to get into trouble. Right. And to, to experience as much joy as possible. And he doesn’t mix up the worlds. Um, and there’s a part of him that is like everything he does. He’s giving himself so much to these things. There’s no room to contemplate about the well is what I’m doing right now.

[00:15:22] Good. Should I have a little bit more fun right now when he is having fun? Should I be a bit more serious? He doesn’t mix these things. He’s fully there. A thousand percent is a part of the book. And I even use this in a fun situation two days ago with a friend where. He basically says, you know, right now, like Zorba, if Zorba Rameen, if you and Zorba went out drinking and you were drinking a bit too much and tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, let’s say you have the super important meeting, but you’re having a fun time.

[00:15:56] If you had told zebra is about, uh, maybe we should call it a night with a good time, but let’s call it a night because we have to wake up early and with work tomorrow at six, Zorba would be saying. Who cares about the poor devils Rameen and Zorba of tomorrow. Fuck them. That’s their problem. They’ll have to figure it out.

[00:16:17] Tonight’s Zorba and Rameen are having an amazing time. Why should we stop having fun to cater to the needs of our future selves? Fuck those guys. Those guys are going to be in trouble, but the guys that we are right now are in fun or enjoy. We’re going to go all out on this and then tomorrow. Tomorrow Zorba will have to pay the price, but that’s not today’s Zorbas problem, you know, and there is a magic, there’s a certain level of magic and wisdom in that.

[00:16:49] Um, it’s a reading the book. There’s so many moments where you have to laugh. You have to cry. It’s, it’s very deep and very dark and it’s not like all like Zorbas wisdom is a wisdom. I think part of why it spoke so much to me is that it’s a wisdom of a living being. It’s it’s a, it’s almost like an enlightened human versus an enlightened, you know, uh, a lot of the, the, the, the, the people that we eat from it seem more enlightened than us.

[00:17:19] Don’t seem human. To some degree, like when we read Buddha, when we read about the teachings of Jesus, but even when you read about what the Dalai Lama is, preaching or other monks are preaching spiritual leaders, a lot of them, their wisdom rings true, but it also sounds like this is the type of being that is transcended being a human with flaws and faults that has to deal with paying rent and.

[00:17:50] Have you made, made bad decisions and having family members that are troubled, then you know, it, it sounds like these beings that are just like have left humanity behind and being human behind and are now something more, something different. And there’s a beauty in that, like reading these lessons, learning from these people that there’s beauty and there’s wisdom there.

[00:18:15] The thing that I find special above Zorba as a character in the book is that. His wisdom is of this earth. His wisdom is lived in this world as a human being with many flaws, with many, um, limitations, just like you and I, it’s not better than us. It is maybe being us fully like fully squeezing all of life out of your life.

[00:18:50] As a human and both accepting your flaws and your troubles and your problems, and at the same time, celebrating once magic and potential and holiness. And it’s combined in a way in a mix that is exhilarating, but also is deep and true. It’s not that there’s some, some characters. That are very much standing for take risks, be adventurous, live a crazy life.

[00:19:25] But these characters, oftentimes these heroes, oftentimes they lack deepness. They lack a certain they’re usually the younger hero, but hero that has not failed has not been punished for his youthfulness has not paid. A price has not realized in the mirror and their own reflection, their own limitations and their flaws and, and the, the, the energy and zest that they attack life with comes from a certain youthful ignorance.

[00:19:57] That’s not to be found in Zorba. Zorba is not youthfully ignorant. He just chooses to be youthfully alive. He is wise and he’s experienced and he is. He knows who he is and he understands who people are and he’s not glamorizing or painting any rosy pictures. So he’s living in this very messy, very dirty, very limited world, but he, and he operates in that world very well, but he’s also.

[00:20:32] You cannot diminish his enthusiasm for life. You cannot diminish his enthusiasm and presence for the present moment. No matter how many times he has been hurt, how many, how many times he has failed? Um, he, he just, he just refuses. To cave in and become a lesser human to become a lesser being, to live a lesser life.

[00:21:04] It’s just like, yeah, there’s a couple of times there was a, was speaking that there’s like a thing that keeps popping up at, I keep losing it eventually I’m gonna find again, and then I’m going to be able to share it. Like, um, it was like a life philosophy that could be. Shared that comes out of the book.

[00:21:26] That could be exemplifying what I mean, but, um, there there’s real beauty to reading a human story and really like the, like the, the, Oh, here, here’s like one moment that I wanted to share. So this, this boss character, right? This is a very kind of kind and sweet person, very thoughtful. You can tell he has a big heart.

[00:21:55] He really cares is a big mind. He has read so much and he’s always deeply in thought and thoughtfulness always considering everybody in all the options. And it’s always very self-critical, but he has not engaged in life as much. So one part of it is that. They don’t say it, but it sounds like this boss character, man never we’re really engaged with women before, right.

[00:22:20] Or very in a very limited fashion, if at all. And Zorba has engaged very heavily with, with women in is, you know, not just a lover, but somebody that, somebody, again, that both admires woman with, with a deepness and a passion that is. Inspiring and looks at women. So critically, like here, here are how we can flop these beings are, and here’s how magical of goddesses they’re on their everything.

[00:22:53] And the same way he looks at men, he looks at man as like, here are the, the, the strength of the beauty and the magic of man. And he is kind of a dirt. They are and limited and stupid. And like, he, he can embody both things, but here they are in this village. And in this village, there’s a, um, as a woman, um, a widow that is like the beauty of the village is the Mo she’s the most beautiful woman in the village, but she’s not just beautiful.

[00:23:27] She’s unattainable. She has this. Elegance and arrogance full from the village’s perspective that nobody on in that village is good enough for her. So after her husband died, all the villages want her and desire her, but none of them can have her. So she becomes this like magical creature in the village that all the young men are deeply in love with.

[00:23:50] And all the old men are deeply desiring and just every man in the village wants her and every woman in the village, it’s her. And she’s removed from the village. She’s kind of like, not really participating in the village life. She’s doing her own thing. And the night they found out about this widow there and this like Greek, um, Tavern.

[00:24:16] And they’re listening to music and they’re drinking wine Zorba and his boss, and they’re engaging with the villagers. And then somebody brings up the widow and people respond and they bring up the story of like, eventually one of the man in the Tavern has to run out of the Tavern because he’s so heartbroken, even just talking and hearing about her breaks his heart, because she doesn’t want him.

[00:24:40] And. As zorbra here’s this, there’s a widow in this village and she’s beautiful. Nobody can have her. He is constantly signaling to his boss boss. We need to get out of the Tavern. I need to talk to you. We need to get the fuck outta here. And his boss just wants to stay there and keep philosophizing and talking.

[00:24:59] And eventually they get out of the Tavern and Zorba is looking at the bosses like this. There’s a widow. In this village, this is it. This is for you. This woman is your opportunity. You need, here’s what you need to do. And then he has all these schemes, you know, you’re gonna, uh, send her flowers and then tomorrow you’re going to walk Pyre house and knock on the door and ask if the flowers arrived and you’ll tell her I’m, you know, the boss that’s running the mine and Baba buying it.

[00:25:28] Then you’re gonna save. She has a glass of water because you’re really thirsty and you get in there and then you get in there, right? She’s like giving him all these like, tips on how to like get in bed with a widow. And his boss is like, listen, you know, I don’t want any trouble and this is not really my style and my thing.

[00:25:45] And no, I don’t want to do this. And then they go back and forth and basically the boss is telling me, listen, this, this, yeah, it must be this. Oh yes, of course. My fantasy also ran wild when I heard about this incredible, beautiful widow that everybody in the village wants and nobody can have, of course I’m a man, like, but.

[00:26:07] I really don’t want the trouble. And then Zorba gets really angry at him and is like, what do you mean? You don’t want the trouble? Like what, what the fuck does that mean? You don’t want the trouble boss being alive means being in trouble, like being dead. If you want no trouble, then death is the only option being alive means I’m doing your, your belts and looking for trouble.

[00:26:42] That’s the meaning of being alive. It’s like, you’re undoing your belt and you’re up there looking for trouble. And I had to laugh and that to me is like a beautiful moment that describes. Kind of those two characters. So maybe this is, you know, Zorba talking to all of us with like we walk through life and we’re always.

[00:27:02] Tinkering considering thinking hesitating. And when there’s things that we want, we’re always like, Hmm. You know, I don’t know. I, you know, I could try it, but there’s all these risks around it and there’s probably trouble on the other end of the door. And Zorba looks at all of us and is like, what the fuck are you guys talking about your life?

[00:27:24] You’re in trouble. You know, you’re not here to run away from it. You’re here to run towards it. Especially if it’s the trouble that is connected to you, chasing what you want in life, you’re going to have trouble one way or another either by running away from what you want or by running towards what you want might as well get into the goods, trouble, the trouble running towards what you want in life.

[00:27:48] And he doesn’t have that philosophy because he’s 12 or 14 or 18 years old. A man overconfident has never been rejected or never. He had failed marriages. He had failed relationships. He had been stabbed because he slept with the wrong wife. He had like a million troubles, you know, overall a very long life, but that didn’t make him want to.

[00:28:18] Submit to life and go, well, I’m just going to try to stay out of trouble because he internalized and deeply knew through the way he lived life and experienced life. That life is trouble. There’s no point in running away from it is there’s no point. If you get punished from adjusting your life and going, this didn’t feel good, solid, never engage in being alive again, just to avoid potentially sometimes getting burned.

[00:28:46] Right. He had all these burn marks all over his body and he was like, I lived the most amazing life you could ever live. And once in a while, I got burned in and suck, but not enough for all the pleasure and all the adventure, all the amazingness that I’ve experienced. And that’s kind of the, the art type of Zorba that I find.

[00:29:07] And I thought was inspiring because. It was not just wise and it was not just wild, right? It combined these two things, there was a wild wisdom that he embodies that frankly, I don’t see anywhere. We were living in this world where most of the things that one could recognize as wise seem unearthly, seem from another place.

[00:29:37] Seen. So sterile and so like, clean that they don’t seem used. There’s this? Oh, I could live a wise life and a happy fulfilled life, but then I cannot engage in humanity. I have to be some monk in some ropes that walks around this. Utopic environment where there’s just nature and sunshine and birds chirping.

[00:30:02] And I’m like, yes, everything is one. And one is everything. And I feel love because love is everything there is. And there’s, there’s a beauty in that. I understand that there’s a beauty, a soothing beauty in that, listening to these stories, reading these words, there’s a calming effect. There’s a truth in it as well.

[00:30:20] That’s like, yes. Oh, this feels good. But what I love more about Zorbas wisdom kind of wisdom was that it was, it felt real. It felt like the wisdom that you can attain by being really and fully alive, not by detaching, from reality in the world and people not by, you know, um, retreating from it to some. Far away monastery and co in contemplating in your thoughts in a meditative posture, but by being as alive as a human being can be, and being fully engaged in worth worldly affairs in showmance in humanity.

[00:31:10] Um, and I think that kind of wild wisdom. That is, uh, inspiring to me particularly, and it was beautifully to read this book. And I, I think I will read this book many, many more times. Um, there are so many golden nuggets, so many beautiful moments in the book, touching moments. It’s not just about partying and fooling around with women.

[00:31:39] It’s, it’s a million things. This book is about work. It’s about. War it’s about suffering. It’s about love. It’s about pain. It’s about betrayal. It’s about hope. It’s about. You know, everything like Zorba, okay. This is, this is the, the final thing that I’ll end from my little Zorba, the Greek book review on.

[00:32:02] And then if you don’t, if you don’t feel the urge at this point to download the book on Kindle or to order it on Amazon, or do I don’t even know if there’s an audio book version, there’s a movie. The movies are fine. It’s obviously not as good as the book, but if you can’t deal with books in any way, there’s a movie.

[00:32:18] With Anthony Quinn, um, that at least the capsule, it’s some of the, the, the magic of the book. If you don’t feel compelled to consume this book and be changed by it at this point, then nothing else that I’ll say will be really meaningful, useful to you. So I’ll end on this note,

[00:32:36] Zorba has like, there’s like multiple layers in which Zorba, um, communicates, as he says, He engages in many conversations with his boss, with the boss, right. And he talks to him and he uses words to explain things to him. And he uses his life as demonstration and, and a way to communicate. Here’s what I believe in.

[00:33:03] And you can see it by the way I made supper tonight. Oh, by the way, I worked in the mind today. Right. You can see these embodied wisdoms. And learn from it, by the way I live my life and I have fun and I love engaging in teaching and communicating, using words, but there’s a certain level where Zorba is like, now I’m getting to a point where, what I want to say, what I want to communicate.

[00:33:35] I cannot say with words anymore. And the next escalation to him is. This old instrument, like a bouzouki, it’s a, it’s another instrument, but it doesn’t really matter. Like, let’s say it’s the guitar or something. It’s like an old Greek instrument that he will pick up and he will start playing. And it’s sort of like at times he’s like he cannot use words or not.

[00:34:03] Sufficient enough anymore for him to say what his soul wants to say to you. So you run some picks up that instrument and sits down and start and let the instrument and the music say what he wants to say, right? And he talks about even the instrument is like a wild beast that you have to honor and love.

[00:34:22] And the way he picks up the instrument, the way he treats it, it’s almost like this is holding creature that is partially influenced by him, but partially kind of out of his control. And when words lack, he cannot say it to you and music. Lexi cannot play it to you. He dances it to you. It’s like at the highest level of this is such, there’s such depth, such intensity in insight, my soul of what I want to tell you that I cannot say with words, I cannot play it in music.

[00:34:58] I will dance it to you. And he like will jump up and start dancing in front of his boss to dance his emotions out, to share with his boss, teaches boss what he wants to teach him in a way that only through a dance he could communicate. This is so fucking deep, this such wisdom in it. It’s so beautiful.

[00:35:24] There’s so many moments in the book where he just jumps up and starts dancing. And it’s not just out of joy. You know, there is like a catastrophic moment where something terrible happens for Zorba and he just has to jump up, run outside and the boss follows him and looks at me and it’s like, the ocean and Zorba is dancing like a madman.

[00:35:43] Because it’s the only way that it can deal with that moment. Right. And, and communicate how he feels and, and speak through his soul. Um, so fucking amazing. This book is incredible. Zorba the Greek. I love it. And a highly recommended, and once you’ve read it, I want to hear all about how you experienced the book and what Zorba the Greek has taught you.

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