El Dorado, the lost city of gold. For centuries, the idea of El Dorado has captivated the imagination as a place of vast wealth and undiscovered mystery. In the 16th century, it was believed that El Dorado was ruled by a native king of the Muisca people known as the ‘Gilded One’ whose ceremonial initiation rite involved covering himself in gold dust and sailing on a raft out into the middle of a sacred lake where he then washed the gold from his body while his attendants threw gold trinkets and precious stones into the water as an offering to the gods (For more check out a great overview ‘The Search for El Dorado’ by M R Reese). Over time the idea of El Dorado has merged with a bigger idea–the Lost City.
Like the Lost City of Atlantis (first mentioned in a fictional work by Plato) which fell out of favour with the gods and famously sank into the sea, or the hidden Buddhist kingdom of Shambhala, a Pure Land where all inhabitants are enlightened, El Dorado captivates us for a reason much deeper and more valuable than simply gold. It seems to me that this yearning we still have for undiscovered places, lost treasure, ancient secrets are about something much more profound.
In a world of easy travel, of Googlemaps and satellite imagery, we still love the idea of the Lost City because deep down we know there is a greater mystery to life which we still haven’t discovered. Something inside of us knows…the Lost City is still out there…somewhere…
Perhaps we just need the right map? Yes, maps are a beautiful thing and a personal passion of mine (check out my previous post Maps for Life). But I think we also know we can’t search for El Dorado with our satnav.
What we need instead is a map like this…
On our search for adventure, hidden treasure and the Lost City, we have always tended to look out into the world. It has rarely occurred to us to look within…to search with curiosity the deep ocean of our mind, to carve out pathways through the jungle of our own thoughts, to delve beyond what we can see at first glance… It has rarely occurred to us that the Lost City might be inside of us.
While European explorers sailed the oceans and mapped the world, while adventurers searched for mythic cities of gold and lost treasures of the ancient world, there was another society who took a different approach.
As Robert Thurman has written in Inner Revolution, “Unlike in the modern West, where efforts are directed outwardly, toward material progress, in Tibet, energies were directed inwardly, toward progress in the development of an inner universe, towards spiritual progress.” In other words, at the same time that explorers like Sir Walter Raleigh were drawing maps to El Dorado, Tibetan explorers were mapping out the wild hidden places of the mind.
To reach that place of true treasure and hidden wisdom, perhaps we simply need to rely on a different kind of map. And we need to look in the one place we haven’t fully explored…inside ourselves. After all, for the Muisca people who originally inspired the myth of El Dorado, gold represented the energy contained in Chiminigagua, the creative principle of all that exists…El Dorado was a spiritual practice, not a mundane one.
So maybe the Lost City really is still out there waiting for us. Perhaps we simply need to put on our walking boots and set out into the wilds of our inner world still unknown…