The diversity of history and thought has provided us with a wide array of building blocks to construct and make sense of our lives. A few highlights to revive the old memory:
- The Indian sages saw life as an ongoing cycle spinning like a wheel with experiences that mold us into our essential being. They provided us with our sense of the eternal self.
- The Chinese masters thought that Man should endeavor to be in harmony and balance with nature and community. They meticulously observed and recorded the order of things and unlocked many of the secrets of science and art hundreds of years before the West.
- The Abrahamic prophets identified our spiritual precepts and paved the way for these to be organized into monotheistic religions. They urged us to seek grace, pursue salvation and gain the immortality that comes with true belief.
- The Ancient Greek philosophers thought that Man should seek to create perfection in all things: Physical, Intellectual and Spiritual. They gave us our sense of art and Western forms of governance.
- The Roman prefects thought that greatest among men should rise above the fray to pursue their destiny. They used their military power, their prowess in commerce and their skills in engineering to shape the world to their will.
- Renaissance visionaries and Enlightenment revolutionaries found contradictions between what had been prescribed by the clergy and monarchy and what they discovered with their own eyes and instruments. They gave us objective inquiry, the exploration of unseen worlds, both material and scientific, to discern the universal laws that drive our machines and methods.
- Modernist intellectuals told us that there is no divine moral order or absolute reality, and asked us to consider our own biases towards others: Cultural, economic, sex and race. They gave us our sense of prudent skepticism and the voice to question authority.
- Contemporary artists and advertisers showed us images of our best self. They gave us our sense of Romantic love and personal fulfillment, and invited us to join the party.
Of course, these characterizations are generalities and distillations, and there are many more wisdom traditions that contribute to our understanding of the world. They are not mutually exclusive, and we seek them as much now as we did in the past. This is our inheritance, our treasure, our ability to make sense of things.
Standing on an imaginary balcony and looking down on civilization across time, we can see two common themes within the cozy confines of our own time and space. First, we want to grow to realize our potentiality and become our best possible version. Second, we want to be whole, fully one, complete with all the pieces to our puzzle.
The totality of human endeavor may be simply summarized this way – We seek to grow into wholeness.
We grow in all variety of genus and flower – Physical, psychological, social, financial and spiritual. Yet the creative principles that govern the structure and dynamics growth for all things, and the equities they produce, are only visible when made manifest by our actions. We are the gardeners of Eden. We did not create the energy or majesty that grows the natural world, seen or unseen, but through our mindfulness, care and skill we may nurture our plot to some desired paradise. We till, we plant, we weed, we harvest – we matter. We creativize – adding our own creativity to a more complex creating system. At our best and worst we deviate, the thesis and the antithesis, to create the synthesis, the better and the new. We are part of the structure and dynamics of growth. What we know and what we do are reciprocal. They move each other. This is the essence of enlightenment. Intelligence is the ability to perceive the hidden order while wisdom is the ability to act accordingly. We are existentially aware of our place in the world –free and responsible. Yet, we are neither the lords of creation nor their unwitting servants. We transform our world from within the world.