The Wisdom FAQ
If you are anything like me, and you see life as an exploration of humanity's rich (and sometimes not so rich!) depth and breadth of character . . . both in ourselves and in our species and planet generally, then you've probably wondered where all our learning and technology (for example) is taking us. Are we heading for an enlightened age? How can we, as individuals, become wiser? Here's a few insights . . . for what they're worth . . . which I hope may help you:
What IS wisdom?
It's just another word! Just another human concept that we've invented to try to help us make sense of this world of ours. Having been asking such questions for a couple of decades now, I'd suggest that wisdom isn't something you can define in words: although there may well me some wise words around from the various sages and enlightened teachers over the centuries. Wisdom is more a 'here and now' sense of knowing what's right; a peaceful, calm, certainty about something that has a deep ring of truth about it. It is perhaps another way of describing a transcendent way of thinking and Being.
The point about wisdom is that it goes much deeper than any words that might attempt to describe it, it takes into account far more than the original question and superficial factors that the conscious mind might come up with.
To be wise is to be 'in the flow', the Tao . . . to be at peace with oneself and everybody and everything else around . . . to see the bigger picture and to be able to act accordingly. When we have wisdom we just know what to do, without conscious thought or rational deduction. We might reflect on a question and allow intuition to come to us, we may use 'gut instinct' to bring wisdom to the forefront of our mind, but it comes more through us rather than from us. It is a truth from the collective consciousness, from God . . . if you prefer the word. Wisdom is a divine gift.
What's the difference between wisdom and intelligence?
That depends what you mean by intelligence! If we're talking about the intellect of genius or a broad intelligence that embraces Emotional Intelligence, for example then perhaps not much. But all too often by 'Intelligence', as for example measured by an IQ test, we're often talking about the ability to work things our quickly, to deduce A from B, to be able to reason things out logically. This is not wisdom. As soon as we focus on logical deduction or rational reasoning, we're predominately using only our left brains. Wisdom requires we use both left and right brains. Wisdom embraces emotional as well as intellectual truths. Wisdom is of the mind, body and soul. All too often intelligence is only of the mind: what Ken Wilbur in A Brief History of Everything calls 'Flatland' thinking: it has no depth.
What about 'knowledge', where does that fit in?
Knowledge too is another of those words that mean different things to different people. All too often it's used to mean information: facts and figures. When 'knowledge' means only in ideas and concepts that we've been taught and committed to memory then that is not true wisdom. If however, by knowledge, we're referring to facts and truths that we just know, through some inner sense of connection to a higher truth, then that's more like wisdom.
So how do we acquire wisdom . . . as opposed to knowledge or intelligence?
Ah! That's probably the real difference between them: wisdom needs to felt. It is an experiential thing. Reading about something and taking that subject in intellectual is one thing, but it's not enough. We have to engage with a subject emotionally, we have to know what it's like from within.
It comes from first-hand experience?
To some extent . . although it's quite possible to engage in an activity and still not really experience it: if, for example, we see and hear it and intellectualize it rather than entering into it 'mind, body and soul'. Wisdom requires a whole body involvement and engagement with the higher truth, with the divine source of wisdom.
Thus, it's a divine connection that's required to be wise . . . a tapping into the higher truth is more important than actually, personally, living an experience. A wise person knows the pain and suffering endured by the Jews during the war, for example, without having to put him or herself through it.
Are we born wise?
I would say that we're born with the capacity to be wise, with an inherent wisdom. But what happens to most of us is that the intrinsic wisdom within us is covered over by facts and figures and concepts and ideas . . and we've been conditioned to think only rationally and, all to often, to suppress or repress our feeling natures. Thus most of us have lost our connection to the divine wisdom.
However, as youngsters, before this negative conditioning sets in, our curiosity and wonder at life, is probably a sign of our natural tenancy to explore the world and to develop our wisdom. Innocence and naivety are perhaps undeveloped wisdom, the potential we all have to become truly wise beings. All to often though this spontaneity and joy for life is squashed or distorted by the societies and environments most of us have grown up in. The result is not wisdom, but ignorance.
What do you mean by ignorance?
Stuck minds. Limited thinking. An unwillingness to explore new possibilities and, often, a blind acceptance that what we're taught is all there is. Many would point to the results of growing up in a dictatorial regime, as examples of this. Brainwashing keeps us ignorant . . . of higher truths, or options outside what we've been conditioned to think of as 'the way things are'. The thing about ignorance is that it's only apparent from the outside: when we've been kept in a cocoon, or 'small world', that's all we know.
Ignorance is Bliss?
Exactly! What you've never had you never miss . . . whether it's a colour TV or a sense of freedom . . . such as the ability to choose what and how we think. But with such free-will denied and the mind conditioned to accept the life we have, the ignorant can be really happy with very little.
A wise person on the other hand, has the freedom to make his or her own choices, but may choose to live simply.
Detachment is Bliss?
. . . as Buddhists point out. The wise are detached. They know that anything is possible but are not attached to possessions nor ideals nor dreams. It's not what we have or don't have (even freedom!) that makes us wise, but our mental attitude to it all. So again, we need to be able to see through any brainwashing or other conditioning.
How can we do that?
The path to wisdom is about increased awareness: of how our mind does think and feel . . . and how this isn't always freely or naturally, because of habits and attitudes we've taken on board during our growing up. So, to become detached . . and thus more wise . . we have to consciously practice becoming aware: see my other FAQ on ways of doing this!
In practice we find that finding new, broader, perspectives on the things in day-to-day life that bother us, will help us in this process. If you suffer eyesight difficulties for example, try Conscious Seeing by Roberto Kaplan, O.D. Problems with health, relationships . . in fact anything . . can be used as opportunities to gain new awareness and thus become wiser. Hence the expression 'older and wiser': so long as we learn from what life throws at us. If we don't it'll keep repeating the lesson!
Do we ever become truly 'wise'?
Some would say that the likes of Jesus or Buddha, often referred to as 'Ascended Masters' had reached full enlightenment: i.e. ultimate wisdom. Given that, as many writers now report, we are living in a time of rapidly evolving consciousness, this state may well be possible for all of us: if we're prepared to face our demons as these true Masters did. However, wisdom is probably best considered a variable and in no way absolute. It is quite possible, for example to be wise in some aspects of life (say in spiritual philosophy) but ignorant in others . . say on relationships. In which case the budding sage will look at his weak areas. (For example as we'd do in The Key workshop).
Wise men however rarely describe themselves as such. That would be arrogant. A sign of true wisdom is humility. This, the way to become wise(r) is aspire to be humble, and to admit you know nothing.
By writing this, I've allowed my mind to become just a bit more aware of how this process work. Even after twenty off years of such undoing of my condition I know there's still much my mind distorts and thus lessons to learn. . . before I can see as the truly wise do.
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