“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”
— Hermann Hesse
Wisdom is an elusive thing at best. It is not something that time gives you (would that it were). There are people of all ages who still insist on being grounded in their own unrecognized ignorance. It’s not something that can be given at all tho it is something that can accumulate around one. Wisdom is not a constant, often there are those who are wise in somethings at sometimes and foolish in others. The most important thing about wisdom that I’ve learned is that it is not something that anyone can claim for themselves, it is something that only another or others can recognize. I have an inherent mistrust of anyone who calls themselves wise. Tho I do believe we can often find wisdom in the words of another,even if the words are spoken by a fool.
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
— Albert Einstein
Knowledge is easy to come by these days. Our phones and our computers put a world of facts at our fingertips. Yet how much of what we know do we truly understand? It is one thing to know that a stove top that is in use is too hot to touch but to understand it you have to experience what it is to be burned. To me understanding is akin to the term grok that Robert Heinlein used in his novel “Stranger in a Strange Land”. It means to not only have knowledge of something but to become one with it, to have it live inside your skin. Most spiritual knowledge is only words and paradox without understanding. Once the understanding is reached than the paradoxes can be embraced. It is easy to be a know it all in today’s world. To truly give knowledge meaning tho we need to understand.
On the qabalistic Tree of Life, the second and third spheres (sephiras) are Cookman which means Wisdom and Binah Understanding. Wisdom is considered active and Understanding passive and sitting across on the same level of the tree means that they form a certain dichotomy. In between them is the hidden sphere D’aath which means Knowledge. The Path that joins the Three is that represented by the Empress card of the tarot which holds the meaning of the full-blown creative impulse. It fits rather well if you think of it as it takes wisdom used in a creative way to turn knowledge into understanding.
“There are lots of things a warrior can do at a certain time which he couldn’t do years before. Those things themselves did not change; what changed was his idea of himself.”
― Carlos Castaneda
When we’re younger, we have a strange mixture of foolhardiness and lack of confidence. We’ll do things to do things not worried about whether they work or not and tend to give up on things faster if they don’t work the first few times we do them. Other things we won’t try at all because we doubt that we have the expertise or knowledge to pull them off successfully. As we age and gain in knowledge and experience and perhaps even wisdom (if we’re lucky) we develop both more patience and more confidence. We are willing to make mistakes and try again after we’ve learned that very few mistakes are permanent. We have seen evidence that if we follow through on our intent, eventually we will be successful and perhaps that willingness to see something through is the beginning of wisdom.
“Only Art is Eternal Wisdom; what is not Art soon perishes. Art is the unconscious love of all things. ‘Learning’ will cease and Reality will become known when it comes to pass that every human being is an Artist.”
― Austin Osman Spare, Book of Pleasure in Plain English
What is art but the communication of one’s self through a medium? If this is true then any one who is expressing themselves is an artist. If a janitor is doing their job mindfully it can be art. A caregiver sharing their being with the people whom they help is an artist of the heart. Can anyone deny motherhood is an art? How about accountancy? I believe that a man or woman walking down the street can be an artist if they are engaging with their senses and surroundings. Any form of expression no matter how it may seem small and meaningless can be art if the person creating it is fully present. What kind of art do you make? Why don’t we make more?
“The charm dissolves apace,
And, as the morning steals upon the night,
Melting the darkness, so their rising senses
Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle
Their clearer reason.
Begins to swell: and the approaching tide
Will shortly fill the reasonable shores
That now lie foul and muddy.”
― William Shakespeare
Understanding is a precarious thing and coming to it may be torturous. Oft times we think we have a handle on things and at best it is a compromise. We’ve settled on a position because it is easier than accepting that the universe is a wondrous complicated place with no easy answers yet many competing right wrong ones. Most of us need more security than that it seems. So we make our compromise and choose our positions and argue for them as if they were absolute truth. We may even get into fights both verbal and physically over them.
Which belief is the right one? Who’s deity is stronger? Who has the right to what land and with what justification? Who has the right to retaliate and how hard and under what provocation? Who has the right to exist and under what circumstances? People who have made similar positional compromises band together and drag others along with them. Innocent bystanders get hurt in the process. The water becomes muddier and muddier and all hope of a greater understanding vanishes. Yet sometimes in the midst of all this there is hope.
People not fully indoctrinated to a position start to realize the folly of the extremists. Little by little they walk away from the conflict and seek a new better way of being. It may happen slowly at first with a conversation or two but somewhere in there remains the hope of clarity. Therein lies the road to wisdom that we are capable of. Until then innocence will always be threatened, if only our own.
“Information is just bits of knowledge.
Knowledge is putting them together.
Wisdom is transcending them.”
— Ram Dass
Please let me be wise and not know it.
For in the knowing I may give up
what has brought me there.
Let me know the pain within
and transcend it
so that I can show others how to do it for themselves
Please Show me how to embrace this planet
and those who dwell here.
For what use are facts and figures?
what use is knowing
if one cannot grant solace?
— G A Rosenberg
Click on images to see full-sized:
Will The Cave Hold That Which You Seek? by G A Rosenberg
“Every Choice eventually leads to wisdom”
— Dan Millman
One of the most difficult aspects about having teenage kids is the knowledge that they are at a point in their lives where their choices are their own and not all of them will be the ones that we would chose. At a certain point the training wheels are off and while we can help to guide, we can no longer direct. Sometimes knowing when our roles change can be difficult.
With my son I try to look back at my own teenage years. I did some amazingly screwed-up things and yet here I am. Each mistake brought me a bit closer to where I am today and gave me a bit more self-knowledge and understanding. . Some of them I had to repeat multiple times yet I like the life I have now so somehow all the ways that I learned to do it wrong have brought me to a place where I get it a bit more right everyday. I hope my son’s life will flow smoother than mine did at times and when it does I’ll celebrate and when it doesn’t I’ll be present. Our presence, our compassion and our love are the best gifts we can give to our kids. In this, I learned from the best.
“This I learned in the Mysterium: to take seriously every unknown wanderer who personally inhabits the inner world, since they are real because they are effectual.”
— C. G. Jung, The Red Book
In my mind live many beings. They populate my dreams and my imagination. Many have found their way into my art. When I am alone, I speak with them. Coyote tricks me into realizing how often I fight my own reflection. The Hanged Man tells me of reflection also and insight. The Creature in my Closet turns to mist to show me how insubstantial my fear is. Mother Cloud holds me to her breasts and calms my anxiety. Even the fox has his say for no one knows better than he how to escape tight spots.
The skeletal hand beckons and the Angel sings and then there is those tempting spirits. So many other make their appearance. Each one imparts their lessons, each one made necessary by the fact that they appear. The wisdom, comfort and occasional torment they offer all help me to become. While it appears to be a playful disassociation in reality it is anything but that. I realize that they are parts of me and that I contain them.
“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”
― Marcel Proust
There are a few truisms that have lodged themselves into my brain that I may have to unlearn some day. One of them is that Innocence is the price we pay for wisdom. Is it possible to be both innocent and wise? Perhaps… tho it seems that in order to learn some of the more painful life lessons opened to me I had to become aware of my own capacity for ugliness as well as beauty… and the capacity for the world to hold both as well. Of course I also learned that what may be ugly from one angle in one context can be exquisite from another and to appreciate it all. Of course on this journey to wisdom I am still learning. That may be the most beautiful fact of all.