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Eudaimonia, Cold Concrete and the Purpose of Life!

Occasionally I stumble across truths that are so simple yet so raw and powerful they stop me right then and there in my tracks, like running headlong into the surprise of cold concrete. Dazed and confused, it takes time to gather myself back up only to find I’m not the same, nor the world neither.

This happened to me recently when I came across the following; the purpose of life is not to survive it.

Let me write that again.

The purpose of life is not to survive it.

What??!! Is your head hurting yet?!

In some ways, this statement is so obvious. Of course we all know that we and everyone else dies even if we secretly believe we may somehow be exempt or at the very least in control of when and how we do. Death is reserved for those that have failed in some way – the stupid, reckless, lazy, fat, addicted, the elderly. People who dropped their guard, who let themselves go. Of course there are the outliers, those folks that are tragically unlucky, in the wrong place at the wrong time, victims of crime, reclaimed by angels at young ages following terminal illness. These examples do little to deter us or sometimes even enhance the dedicated hyper vigilance we must put in to stay a survivor. All that colossal energy on policing and protecting. All the anxiety and fear about what will happen to us and to our loved ones if we don’t.

There is an intriguing Greek word ‘Eudaimonia’ that invites us to consider an approach to the living of life that places desire, pleasure, virtue and happiness at its core – not as trivial things to do to occupy our time but as the way to perpetually engage with the world, with ourselves and with others. A eudaimoniac life is a well-lived one. It requires us to live it well, whatever we choose to do but not because we will win or gain as a result. If there is a reward it is the satisfaction that comes from engaging, in having done something well to the best of our abilities, an experience and a knowing that cannot be undone or taken away by anyone or anything, even or especially on our deathbed.

the eudaimoniac 10 of Pentacles

Of course we can get into a rich but perhaps endless debate about what ‘well’ or ‘well enough’ is meant to mean. We could then try to create a framework, standards to uphold and criteria upon which to measure our performance against. But how could my life ever be well lived if it meant living someone else’s version of it? For how can I venture into the extent of how well I can do or be if someone or something else is setting the parameters and the limits?

This may seem subtle but I think it’s so important to grasp, it may even be critical because one of the tragedies of our times is that whilst we carry on living as if the purpose of life is to survive it, we are wide-open to being manipulated by inner and external forces that prey on the fear and anxiety that generates. It is not the fear of dying that is so widespread it is the dreadful anticipation of having failed. We all have our cultural versions of trying to deal conceptually with the consequences of this whether it be visions of hell, karma accrued for the next lifetime or an eternity in the void.

The antidote to all of this lies in our willingness and enthusiasm for living life well, our own life, not anyone else’s. In that process and on that journey is revealed, I believe, the truth of who we are, the being that does not require the subjugation or annihilation of other beings in order to breathe easy. The being who is simply gainfully employed in being itself.

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