Released August 25, 2019, this Reflection is about the reasons for writing about wisdom. If it’s born of experience, how can we transmit wisdom? And why even bother trying?
Wisdom. There is something about it, isn’t there? I mean, don’t we all seek it? Some say wisdom is so good that youth is wasted on the young. At the very least, we like to have experiences, and experience teaches us wisdom. Aren’t we all grateful for it when it arrives? Don’t we love to share it with one another?
A sharing. Of wisdom. How can that even be possible? By definition, wisdom is understanding gained through experience. You need to experience something before you can become wise. You cannot be told what wisdom is and expect to have a full understanding. To quote George Carlin, it’s like taping sandwiches to your body to defeat hunger.
And yet, here we are. Sharing wisdom. I mean, that is what every self-help book, every religion, every guru, and every teacher in the world is about. And regular folk, too. We all share wisdom, stories about what we learned about the world by going through experiences. And a lot of it is simply inexpressible. Hermann Hesse, in his book Journey to the East, said that much of wisdom is “incredible and incomprehensible” and yet we are paradoxically compelled into continually “attempt[ing] the seemingly impossible.”
The key to the sharing wisdom, as far as I can see, is not to take it at face value. We need to discern the wisdom that is correct for us, and the stuff that is not for us. We need to be able to discriminate. Usually, that’s pretty easy: the stuff not for us will seem like hokum. But when we have interpreted wisdom in our own way, are we ever truly done?
Death is the end of experience, at least the experience we have as human being. Therefore, I would say, wouldn’t death of the body be the death of wisdom?
What a waste. Thus the necessity of sharing. Isn’t it better that we share the things that we have learned, rather than taking them to our graves? I mean, we are creatures that give. Giving is part of what makes us human. We give of ourselves and the world takes care of us in return.
Unfortunately, it is also a natural inclination to create hierarchies. Whether a hierarchy of class in society, a hierarchy of people in corporations and governments, a hierarchy of teachers in the arts of life, we consider some people to be ‘better’ at things than others. Hierarchy, properly understood, is a system of judgment, of separation. And so it is open to abuses.
The thing that we so often fail to consider is that this whole thing we are living is one harmonious structure. We could not have our systems of dark, our rape, our pillage, or murder, without our systems of light, our love, our generosity, our selflessness. Neither of those things are right or wrong, they simply are. But the light, as I and many others have discovered, is true, whereas the shadow is entirely a lie. Further to this, a shadow could not exist without light, and yet light is not so bound. This metaphor has truth beyond ‘mere’ poetry.
The seeking after truth is a natural human inclination. We have the ability to do so, given our intellectual faculties. But it seems to me that the main place where we get caught up is in ascribing truth to the product of our intellectual faculties, rather than understanding our reasoning abilities themselves to be the truth. What I mean by that is that we get caught up in trying to get to a final answer, rather than simply enjoying the flow of life.
Discovering the truth of the present moment has been termed many things over the millennia, including my preferred way of referring to it: enlightenment. As far as I can see it, looks like this: it is different for every human being in many ways, and yet there are elements that are universal. Once seen, it cannot be denied – we cannot look away from it. Or, to use an analogy, I like to think of it like a ball and socket joint - once it happens, we’re locked in, in spite of any lingering fears that we might become unwise again.
Truth is love in its fullness. But our traditional understandings of love simply do not do it justice. It is the overwhelming force of the universe, and it is that which us unites us under the total shadow dance of apparent reality. We cannot escape love, nor can we ever be separated from it, just as the beach cannot escape nor be separate from the rising tide. It is at once with us and all around us.
If we are caught up in shadow, we balk at the sight of love. Our own shadowy elements feel the burn of the light and we react, usually poorly, at the stupefying power of it. There is a reason that Carl Jung told us that a human being needs to face her shadow in order to return to psychological wholeness. The things that we hate about ourselves are invariably those that set us free.
For me, I was a bit arrogant in my youth. Now I love myself entirely, but there is a difference between a head bowed low in awe of that which is within all of us and acting as its instrument, and a person who imagines himself separate and superior to his fellows. When I was younger, I simply thought I was smarter than everyone else and I reveled in it.
When I peeled back the layers of my own trauma, I found a hurt little boy who just wanted to love everyone and was ill-treated by the world. He was still there. The painful fire of wisdom, of forgiving and letting go all of the trespasses, real and imagined, allowed him to come back into the light. There is a reason that Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children. I left egotism behind when I did my forgiving and forgetting.
Yet, from time to time I will encounter those who assume that what I am doing is egotistical in some way. I know in the depths of my heart that it is not, and those criticisms do not bother me, because nothing I do these days is ‘me,’ the small me, the separated self whose heart hardened to the world in his youth. What I do now is purely from a place of undifferentiated Self, the thing that we all are, beneath all the noise. Nahko said it this way in his song Black as Night: “I am no master, I know nothing, I am a servant and I know something.” But I don’t think I know anything beyond that knowledge of my true identity and how to serve it.
To me, that is wisdom. The not knowing. The pure foolishness of life. I mean, that is the only rational conclusion one can come to in face of the irrational immensity of it all. So, what is one to do in a state of mystery, of being a fool for love?
Well, “do or do not, there is no try,” as Master Yoda said. And as long as we ‘try’ to do things, as long as we think that there is somewhere to get, we are only going to find ourselves plowing ever forward into darkness. If we just have the courage to do what in our hearts we know is right, we will find ourselves walking confidently in the light. Right, wrong, mistake – what the hell do those things even mean? What is right or wrong but a matter of perspective? What is a mistake but a nascent bit of wisdom? All of these ideas come from a place of judgment.
And if you’re judging, you’re not living.