The Ouroboros is a symbol that depicts a serpent or a dragon biting its own tail, forming a ring. It is the symbol of cyclicality – something that is in a constant cycle of rebirth through the three steps of creation, maintenance and destruction.
The concept of a serpent devouring itself likely stems from the ancient belief that a snake shedding its skin is the act of leaving an old, inferior body to be reborn into a better, new body. The ancient Greeks explained that the Ouroboros connects its beginning (mouth) and end (tail) to form a metaphor for the link between life and death. By forming a circle, the Ouroboros has no beginning and no end; it is an infinite, linear path that cycles endlessly. Because of this, the Ouroboros is also the symbol of infinity, immortality and the cycle of time. An alternate ancient explanation for the Ouroboros is that because it eats itself, it will ultimately end up as nothing.
The Ouroboros was an important symbol in medieval alchemy. Alchemists used the symbol “O” to represent the Ouroboros. To the alchemists, the Ouroboros was an entity that did not place importance in the two natural processes of creation and destruction, but the often-neglected third force – maintenance. This neutral process is the connection between the start and end of anything. Alchemists knew that in any chemical reaction, the process is just as important as the starting ingredients and the final product. The Ouroboros also represented “everything” and “perfection” to alchemists as it connected its own beginning and end. Because of this, the Ouroboros came to represent the Philosopher’s stone.
Perhaps the most relevant application of the Ouroboros to us is the concept of rebirth and cycling. Nothing in nature is permanent. Matter changes states, chemicals react and species evolve. We too are never permanent. There is always room for change – to destroy what you do not like about yourself, create something better and then maintain that state until the next cycle comes. As much as it is important to know to love who you are, it is vital that you continuously recycle, refine and develop yourself to become the person that you are truly happy to call “me”.
Everyone goes through a tough time at least once in their lives. As modern life is ideal for stress to build, it is easy to get weighed down by fatigue and negativity. Pent-up stress is the cause of all ill health and one cannot lead a healthy life without overcoming their stress.
Although everyone has a unique method of overcoming stress, there are some very effective generic methods of stress relief. Some examples include hobbies, laughter yoga and meditation, but the method that will be introduced here is progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR.
PMR is very simple and doesn’t take up much time, making it a useful way of relieving stress for busy people.
- Sit back comfortably, close your eyes and rid yourself of all thoughts.
- Breathe in slowly and deeply and then breathe out. Concentrate on your breathing.
- Relax all the muscles in your body into a jelly-like state.
- Squeeze both hands into a fist as hard as possible for 5 seconds, then release.
- Rest 5 seconds and then repeat twice more.
- After three cycles of contraction and relaxation, repeat with your arm muscles.
- Apply the same three cycles on your feet, legs, abdomen, chest, neck and head.
The key principle of PMR is achieving complete relaxation by concentrating all your energy into one spot then releasing it. Furthermore, concentrating on your slow breathing has a meditation effect, resting both your mind and body. Once you are relaxed from head to toe, you will feel all the fatigue in your body disappear.
There is no greater enemy than stress. Therefore, it is best to have your own defence mechanism against it, but it also very useful to know a few general methods.
Now, try the progressive muscle relaxation on yourself to resolve all the stress that accumulated over the day.
Two psychologists, Bob Josephs and Pran Mehta, performed an interesting experiment studying the how extroverted and introverted people react differently to a rigged game. They told a pair of participants to play a game where they had to draw lines to connect numbers in sequence as they popped up in a grid. They also told them that it was to study their spatial awareness and intelligence. The pair were given the game in a competitive setting at the same time so one could tell if they were “winning” or not.
The grid could be easily rigged to determine who would win. Josephs and Mehta posited that men and women with high testosterone levels would have high confidence in their spatial awareness, while those with low testosterone would be the opposite.
What they found was quite interesting.
When those with high confidence in their abilities lost a game, they were more distressed relative to when they won (as measure by their cortisol, a stress hormone, level). Those with low confidence were more distressed when they won a game.
Furthermore, after winning a game these participants would show a fall in their ability to reason and solve logic problems.
The reason behind this perplexing result is likely to be a cause of “mismatch”. It has been hypothesised that human beings are very protective of their self-identity and when this is challenged, they try stubbornly to rationalise their identity even if it means a negative outcome. For example, a person who believes they are not creative will dress and act to show this trait, even if it means others will see him in a negative light.
In the case of the game, the participants were confused as they won the game when they believed they would do badly.
This same effect has been found in studies looking at pay raises. Those with self-esteem issues are less likely to be satisfied with a raise as they feel that “they do not deserve it”. They are also more likely to quit after a raise rather than before. It is quite possible that this would also apply to students with low self-esteem, as they would expect lower grades and (subconsciously) actively achieve lower grades to satisfy their self-identity.