In the 4th century BC Aristotle gave a series of lectures in Athens that became know as the Nicomachean Ethics. It is here that he introduced the word “Eudaimonia” which is now translated to mean human flourishing – the innate potential of each individual to live a life of enduring happiness, penetrating wisdom, optimal well-being, and authentic love and compassion. Of course Aristotle was not alone in this view of the possible heights of the human condition. Wise woman and men through time and across diverse cultures have spoken of this very same pinnacle of human existence. With a universal voice they spoke of this uniquely human possibility, while simultaneously pointing out the veils of mental misunderstandings and emotional disturbances that must be surmounted before this potential can be realized.
In his Parable of the Cave Plato describes this promise of human flourishing as well as the veils of confusion and ignorance that obscure its realization. He speaks about both our enslavement to tenacious mental conditioning and the potential breakthrough to the “True, the Good and the Beautiful,” his description of human flourishing. The East they express this in a similar parable. They say it is as if we are born and live on a gem-encrusted island yet, blinded by our confusion and ignorance, we are unable to see the riches that lie beneath our feet. We leave our island-home at the end of life empty-handed, even though great wealth is right beneath our feet.
So if this natural treasure of happiness, wisdom, and love resides in each of us, why can’t we see or experience it? Why does it seem so scarce and inaccessible? Why do we exert so much energy and effort scavenging in the outer world for a mere facsimile called pleasure, which is transient at best and at worst suffering-in-disguise? Why don’t we go directly to the source, to the center of our being where the great treasures of life are naturally, permanently, and brilliantly present? The answer is quite simple. Out of habit we have learned to search for the good and benevolent life in the wrong place, the outer world. That is why we can never find what we are searching for regardless of the effort and persistence we bring to our search.
We learned this powerful and unsatisfying mental habit a long time ago. We mistakenly learned to reach outside of our self for happiness and serenity, wisdom and compassion, health and healing, and wholeness and love. This tendency is so deeply ingrained that it feels like a natural instinct. Even when our outer gaze fails to truly satisfy our longing, we automatically, without reflection, respond with greater striving and effort. We don’t know what else to do. We rarely question our learned dependence on the outer world. We have an intractable faith that it will give us what we need, if we only try hard enough. It is this intractable self-righteous habit that denies us access to the authentic qualities of human flourishing that are already and have always been seamlessly interwoven within our authentic self.
Fortunately, the wise ones who came before us left a road map to human flourishing. They have shown us the way to move beyond “normal” life to a noble life that fulfills our evolutionary destiny. They have left us a step-by-step instruction manual for the attainment of human flourishing. Those instructions reflect the universal teachings of all wise philosophies and religions throughout time and across diverse cultures.
The question for each of us is how to take this journey and who to rely on as a trustworthy guide. In our time, when there are a plethora of workshops, seminars, books, and “guides,” this is not an easy choice. Some of these offerings reflect authentic wisdom, while others do not. Perhaps it is best to turn toward the traditions whose detailed knowledge and practices are alive today, having stood the test of time. Of these there are few rather than many. Similarly, there are few teachers who are well trained and “walk the talk,” yet they are more available today than even a few years ago.
The investment in a time-tested inner path and wise spiritual guides is a critical choice which can potentially save years, if not a lifetime. So take your time. When you decide upon the right path and teacher you will be off on the adventure of a lifetime. That adventure is a journey to the last frontier to be explored by humankind. It is a glorious journey of body, mind and spirit towards the perfect of human life. Choose well and pack your pack your bags with enthusiasm, perseverance, and devotion.