I appreciate the four pillars that Arianna Huffington advocates in her new book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, but one of them - wisdom - will have a hard time thriving. She defines wisdom as reconnecting with one's inner world, which seems totally correct. But this is also the great obstacle that wisdom faces. Someone once said, with a degree of cynicism, that 99% of people spend 99% of their time not facing reality.
As exaggerated as that sounds, the percentage may be accurate when it comes to facing the reality represented by the world's wisdom traditions. The reality they described is "in here." It lies closer than breathing. To contact it is to transcend the struggle, sorrow, and hurts of life. This promise links Christ and Buddha, as different as their teaching might appear.
But few people turn inward with any consistency, because when they do, they meet not the Kingdom of Heaven, which lies within, according to Jesus. Instead, they meet formidable obstacles - old wounds, repressed memories, negative emotions, and most difficult of all, a scene of disorganization and impulsiveness that refuses to offer up the peace, love, and calm that is the beginning of wisdom. As difficult as outer life can be, for centuries people have preferred to confront it, rather than seek the inner alternative.
Only those individuals who have had a dramatic wake-up call, such as the one Arianna describes in her own life, find an opening for wisdom, and that usually happens through some crisis or catastrophe that suddenly makes the outer world flat, distasteful, or seriously disappointing. I'm totally supportive of wake-up calls, but waiting for one can take decades, and meanwhile the brain - which is crucial to every experience, including inner experience - has become so conditioned to outer life that the obstacles that block the inner life are firmly in place.
Without a wake-up call, the whole point of the world's wisdom traditions is missed. This comes down to one overriding truth: the spiritual life is the best life one can live. It doesn't represent an escape, denial, or renunciation of outer life. Spirituality means living from the level of highest consciousness, and only then do you actually see reality for what it is. The world of the five senses delivers only a collection of perceptions, and untrustworthy ones at that. Behind the scenes, consciousness creates, governs, and organizes everything in existence, from the cosmos to the next thought you are going to have.
Short of a wake-up call (which, to be frank, is usually temporary in its effect), wisdom is important because it takes away the key illusions that create suffering. There are many descriptions of these illusions in the Indian tradition, but let me encapsulate them in modern language.
- The illusion that you are your body. The body presents a localized image in time and space that prevents you from seeing that you are infinite and unbounded.
- The illusion that matter creates mind. This illusion diverts you from another fact of your being, that you are essentially an expression of consciousness, and once you realize your essence, the possibilities that unfold are limitless.
- The illusion that death is something fearful that ends your life. This illusion prevents you from seeing that death is enfolded in the eternal process of life.
Many other illusions branch off from these, such as the illusion that life is random, that pleasure can protect you from pain, that repressing your fears makes them go away, and so on. The cynic who said that people spend 99% of their time avoiding reality should have been more compassionate - and wiser - reframing his thought to get closer to the truth. Ninety-nine percent of the time we don't see the path to reality. Once told that there is more to reality than the outer picture of the physical world, people don't forget it. They crave higher reality, as it is usually called - a better term would simply be reality.
The world is incredibly fortunate that a small band of sages, saints, and seers obeyed the subtle force known as "the pull of the self." This force exists in everyone; otherwise we wouldn't value truth, beauty, compassion, love, inspiration, intuition, and wisdom itself. All of these require paying attention to messages from the inner world. They also lie behind a wise saying: to succeed in life, it is better to feel your way than to think your way. For those of us not born with great sensitivity to "the pull of the self," there are time-tested methods for becoming more aware, including meditation, contemplation, self-reflection, and prayer.
In Thrive, Arianna has made a real contribution by alerting readers to a third metric for success, and I believe that much of her message can be crystallized in a single sentence: "Human existence will never change until we realize that wisdom offers the best way to live, because reconnecting with inner awareness is the key to every other transformation that is necessary - indeed, to every other transformation that is possible. "
Read more posts about Thrive from featured HuffPost contributors here.