Category Archives: Wisdom
I was reading an excerpt from a book by #LaurenceFreeman this past week. One sentence has stuck with me; “Answers are not what we need. What we need are questions which cannot be answered.” I read and reread this selection many times.
We live in a world, perhaps humanity is made this way by our cultures and societies, in which answers are what we seek and find. While certainly, we would want answers, conclusions, discoveries, of the sort which would end poverty, crime, diseases, however, the most important answers are the ones which cannot be answered.
This is a paradox. Answers comfort us, direct us, help us find our way in the world. However, answers do not lead us to the most important of all truths. God, for example, is by definition, one who cannot be fully and completely known. The deeper we dig to find knowledge of God the more questions we find. It is the same with our existence, our purpose our place in the universe.
Silence as the answer to life’s biggest questions. Many say if you cannot or will not look for the answer then why ask the question? It is when we are able to be still and silent in our souls with the greatest questions unanswered that we find the path of wisdom.
“The rain is coming! Be ready!” That’s the message I heard from the weather forecasters this morning. As each hour ticked away the chances of rain increased.
I knew the grass needed mowing and cutting wet grass is bad for your mower and your lawn. I rushed outside a little after 8:30 AM and began. I finished it in a couple of hours and hurried inside to collect the trash to take to the dump before the rain began to fall. On my way I drove into a small shower and thought; “This is it!” but nothing else happened. I got back home put up the trash cans, let the dog out, looked at the gray ominous skies and knew it was about to downpour. Nothing.
A couple of hours later it finally rained, a nice shower, but nothing like I, and the weather channel, anticipated. I was thankful for the rain but couldn’t help but wonder; “Where’s the rain that was promised? Why did I hurry to the dump? Mow the grass so early?”
Wisdom tells us suffering comes from the difference between our anticipation of life and what life ends up being. The gap is where the struggle takes place. Living in anticipation instead of acceptance is the difference between turmoil and peace.
A wise master received a university professor who came to inquire about true wisdom. The master served her tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until she no longer could restrain herself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” said the master, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you wisdom unless you first empty your cup?”
This is one of my favorite wisdom parables. It is a great reminder that we can become so full of ourselves, our opinions, our convictions, our beliefs, and our ego that we are unable to receive something new, different, exciting or growth producing.
To come to each day with an empty cup and allowing it to be filled with each experience, every person, circumstances, and situations is to be a true student of wisdom.
What We Know –
Wisdom begins when we realize we know nothing.
Philosophers tell us that everything changes, doesn’t stay the same. Mountains wear down, skies fall, mighty trees topple and the greatest among people are but a wisp of wind, sound, and fury signifying nothing.
Reducing our ego is one of the hardest wisdom disciplines. One of my favorite wisdom proverbs says; “Take compliments and criticisms with equal value.” Too often we believe the good and ignore the not so good. It’s easy to focus on what others like about us. We wrap ourselves in the words of friends, families, even those whose positivity drips off their tongue like poison, people who see us mere objects to use to further their objectives. Ego builds us up only to be pulled out from under us by someone with a bigger, stronger ego. We fight back and when one take on another, no one wins and out of control egos only destroy never heal.
Humility is wisdom’s greatest and most difficult lesson. Saying; “No” to puffery and stroking; “Yes” to a self-awareness that leads us to a place where our egos are not bruised, or quickly heal, from a careless word, a selfish act, a purposeful plan to defame, defraud, demolish. Wisdom tells us; “Smaller egos take less time to heal because the wound isn’t as big.”
Socrates once said; “There is true joy (bliss) when we realize we know, and are, nothing.”
Intersections of Life –
On my way to the county jail, there is a long stretch of highway that has only one traffic signal which hangs about midway to the jail. There are flashing lights which tell drivers to prepare to stop. Each time I approach this intersection I begin to look for the flashing lights. I know that if I get past the sign with the flashing lights I don’t have to worry about the traffic signal turning red and having to stop. This afternoon I approached the sign, it never flashed me and I was able to sail on through the traffic light.
After finishing my class at the jail I had to run and errand and I turned on the road which would take me to my destination. It wasn’t long before some flashing lights caught my attention. They were warning me of construction ahead and to be ready for delays. It only seemed like forever until I was able to make it through this particular intersection.
It seems the road of life has a way of balancing out. For every unexpected joy, there is sorrow. For unplanned blessings there are hardships. For every intersection you sail through another one will take and test your patience.
The secret isn’t figuring out how to hit all the lights green, non-flashing, but to accept both with equal measure. It’s not an easy discipline to learn but one which will relieve much suffering.
Nipping At Our Heels –
Monday I watched the documentary; “Weiner.”(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTpnBDu6Y6Q) It is the story of Anthony Weiner’s rise and fall on the political landscape not once, but twice, both times because of a sexting scandal. Anthony Weiner is a flawed character that could come straight from a Greek Tragedy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_tragedy). The sexting wouldn’t work but the narcissism, short-sightedness, being your own worst enemy, destroying everyone and everything you love, certainly would make a fitting template.
The question I came away from the documentary is; “Why?” Why would a person who is obviously charismatic, appears to care for the people of his community, is by all accounts a decent person, except of course the giant gorilla in the room…his addiction to receiving attention no matter the damage, and there’s the answer.
In the end, it cost him the mayoral race of New York, his reputation (again), his marriage and his child. He’s now a television mercenary, for hire to anyone who’ll interview him, put him on a TV show panel, feed his need to be in the spotlight.
Wisdom teaches us the demons of pride, envy, wrath, gluttony (the insatiable want of things), lust, sloth (laziness), and greed are always nipping at our heels waiting for us to think we’re invincible, can control them to sink their teeth into our soul and destroy us and everything we love, hold dear.
The Obstacle is the Path –
This morning, on my way to Fayetteville, Tennessee, I came across a couch in the middle of a 4 way stop intersection. It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion; “That doesn’t belong there!” It had obviously been dropped out of a vehicle because it was broken in half and the feet and cushions were scattered. I cautiously drove around the couch, and through the intersection, continuing on my journey wondering who dropped it, why and that someone should pick up the unsightly mess before some body gets hurt.
A few more miles down the road a baby deer hopped onto the road while its sibling stayed off to the side. I slowed down and thought; “What a beautiful sight!” and proceeded cautiously in case the one, not on the road, decided it wanted to be reunited with its sibling. I soaked in the beauty of nature, wondered where its mother was and was thankful for being present at that time and place.
Two sights, two different responses.
I reflected on how we decide what should and should not be on our road of life. For the unwanted, ugly, messy thing we judge as not worthy, we try to avoid it and want it gone. To others, which we deem as beautiful and worthy, we are thankful and count ourselves blessed to enjoy the wonderment of life.
Wisdom teaches us to accept all things on the road of life. We are not to judge which is good or bad, positive or negative, but to allow the possibility of everything to teach and guide us. It is only when we stop slapping labels on things, (including people) and accept each experience with open minds, hearts, and spirits that we can appreciate, find the mystery and beauty in all obstacles on the road of life.
“The obstacle is the path.” -Wisdom Proverb
Wherever You Go –
I have a friend who was struggling. Several years ago he was miserable in his personal, vocational, and spiritual life. He was looking for a change that would solve his malaise. We sat in a restaurant and talked about what he was needing and why. Finally, he decided he needed a new job. “I don’t get along or agree with the vision of the current leadership. Every time I walk into those offices I get a pit in my stomach. Finding another position with a place in a new state might be exactly what I need.” In silence, we ate our food and then I told him; “Remember, no matter what you do, where you go or live, who you are here is who you’ll be there. You always bring yourself with you.”
The hardest changes we make in our life are ourselves. One of the biggest temptations we battle is the lie; “What’s wrong is outside of us, not within.” Until we understand the way forward is to travel inside we’ll never find what we seek.
Most wisdom teachers will tell us; “The only peace you’ll find is the peace you bring with you.” and “If you’re not at peace where you are you’ll never be at peace wherever you go.”
Best of Teachers –
I come across many types of animals traveling the back roads of South Central Tennessee. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen turkeys, deer, turtles, armadillos, and most recently two dogs walking in the middle of the road without a care in the world. I slowed down and honked the horn, multiple times. Finally, one decided to heed the warning and move out of the way, the other, however, just increased its pace. I am sure, it felt that it was moving fast but for me, it was still too slow. I honked again and as we passed another street that turned off to the right the dog went one way and I the other. He never wavered from staying in the middle of the road he was traveling.
I increased my speed, continued on to my destination, shook my head, and smiled. Most canines like the first scurry at the first sign of trouble but the other knew where he was going and nothing, not even truck weighing thousands of pounds, with a driver in a hurry was going to deter it.
I think the dog could teach me multiple lessons about life’s journey, determination, and more.
A famous wisdom teacher said; “I’ve learned many lessons of wisdom from the best of teachers; all of them cats.”
Today I had to make a most difficult decision. It’s been coming for a long while but sometimes its easier to put off uncomfortable choices than to ultimately choose, especially when your decision cannot be undone. Our Golden Retriever, Belle, came into our lives almost 15 years ago. She has been a faithful companion, a good friend and has given us unconditional love in many ways. The last couple of years she’s lost her hearing, vision, her back legs became extremely weak and she’s had trouble standing. These issues along with heart, breathing and other difficult health maladies have greatly diminished her quality of life. The past few weeks she’s taken a major turn for the worse; not being able to stand without assistance, stopped eating and so we made the decision to take her to the vet one last time to be euthanized.
This morning I took her outside and we walked around the yard. I snapped a few pictures, petted her, talked to her and tried to let her know I’ve appreciated the blessing of her companionship. I helped her into the truck and on the way to the veterinarian continued to tell her how much she’s meant to me and stroked her head. She looked so tired and worn out. Arriving, we slowly walked into the waiting room and a few moments later were put in a room where we said; “Goodbye.”
Life is about transition. Bidding farewell to loved ones, furry and human, is never easy. However, it’s what needed to be done. To hang on any longer would’ve been selfish and cruel. As I sat alone with her in the room gently running my hand across her face one last time, I could hear the receptionist answering phones, folk walking back and forth down the hall. Laughter and life continued on the other side of the door. I got up, left the room and walked outside into the beautiful sunlight.
One of the most difficult parts of our journey is coming to grips with the damage inflicted upon our lives and the lives of others by our own ego. The persistent pursuit of what we want, what we desire, what we demand lays waste to even the noblest of intentions.
Self awareness can be a terrible discipline. It forces us to admit, confess, come to grips and try to tame our worst habits, fantasies and demons. Seeing who we are, what we’re capable of and the lengths we’ll go to try and re-make others and the world in our own image is frightening, humiliating and humbling. However, only when we acknowledge the monster within can it be conquered, tamed and transformed.
A friend of mine posted a religiously provocative question/statement recently on Facebook. It was designed to get a rise, a visceral reaction out of people and it did. Another friend was drawn into the fray and I found myself sad and disappointed at the negative outcome such public feuds too often de-evolve into.
Genuine truth seekers, wisdom lovers are rarely involved in these “conversations”, debates. Wisdom is not found among shouts, declarations, proclamations but in quiet conversations with ears, hearts, spirits open and mouths closed. Too often, well meaning but naive folks mistake opinions and loudness for true wisdom which can only be found in stillness and silence.
Where is the line between arrogance and confidence? How do we know when we’ve crossed that line? If we’re asking these questions does that mean we should look behind us for the line between arrogance and confidence has been crossed?
I’ve been thinking about a quote from Aristotle;
“The mark of a wise mind is the ability to think a thought without necessarily believing it to be true.”
Too often we are too sure of our opinions, confident in our viewpoints, certain of our judgments. We like to believe that our thoughts are rational, logical, consistent with knowledge and wisdom, that we know the “truth.” The problem of course is that if we all believe we know truth, a lot of us are sure to be disappointed when/if the truth ever reveals itself.
Wisdom’s twin is not knowledge but rather self-awareness. It is the understanding and accepting of how our environment, religion, culture, experiences, have shaped each idea, assumption, assertion we make about ourselves and the world around us. Separating ourselves from these influences is next to impossible but recognizing the affect they have upon our lives is not.
When we recognize our conditioned thoughts, we become more aware of the possibility of “other’s realities.” It is in this realization that Plato’s maxim; “I am wise because I know I know nothing,” is understood.
One of the most surprising discoveries on the path of wisdom is the realization that our greatest struggle, obstacle to peace and contentment is found within not without.
When we are young we are convinced we could right the world if given the chance and the power but as we mature and grow in truth we realize we cannot oftentimes even right ourselves.
There was a time when I could pinpoint and point out every flaw in my enemy. However, the deeper I journey into the dark places of my shadow self, see my own shallowness, selfishness and sinfulness, the more grace and empathy color the lenses by which I see others.
Hatred, strife, discord, the making of others into our foes is distraction. We have no peace outside of ourselves because we have not found it within.
A brother questioned Abba Poemen in this way, ‘My thoughts trouble me, making me put my sins aside, and concern myself with my brother’s faults.’
The old man told him the following story about Abba Dioscorus, ‘In his cell he wept over himself, while his disciple was sitting in another cell. When the latter came to see the old man he asked him, “Father, why are you weeping?” “I am weeping over my sins,” the old man answered him. Then his disciple said, “You do not have any sins, Father.” The old man replied, “Truly, my child, if I were allowed to see my sins, three or four men would not be enough to weep for them.”
A few things about the road to truth…
It’s long. The way of wisdom and truth isn’t a “day trip.” Sometimes you journey a great distance to arrive at a place you’ve already been. Its long stretches of nothing before you realize nothing is nothing and everything is nothing.
There are many exits, diversions, excursions, interruptions. The way of truth and wisdom is relentless. At times you long for a place to stop, be distracted, escape, if only for a season. Too often, however, for too many, a season lasts a lifetime.
There’s not much traffic. There isn’t much congestion on this highway. Moments of mass calamity, cultural chaos, close encounters with death, epiphanies may crowd the road at times but it doesn’t last long.
The longer you travel the less concerned you are with where it leads. Eventually it dawns on you the trip, on this side of eternity, has no stopping point. There is no arrival. Each day brings new understanding, revelation and enlightenment.
“Truth isn’t the destination but the journey.”
Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast which included an interview with a rock climber….
This gentleman relayed a story of how he was climbing and reached a high, dangerous spot. While he was carefully maneuvering his way up and through this difficult place a bird came into view and hovered just beyond his reach.
At first he felt the bird was mocking him for being so high up and having no wings. However, the more he stared at the floating creature the more he thought the bird was encouraging him to let go, to fly, to soar. The climber knew he couldn’t but for a moment he was tempted, for a moment he believed he could.
As I listened to this interview I reflected on how all of us are tethered to our reality. We have been fastened with beliefs, upbringing, cultural norms, societal controls.
Some of these attachments are ways the world traps us. It convinces us that to break free, ignore them, would be some form of suicide. We are kept earth bound through fear and control.
Others are anchors, grips into something deeper, more real, solid and unchanging.
Wisdom helps us discover which of these ties can be severed so that we can soar and those we need to hold onto so we don’t drift endlessly or plummet into peril.
It is a paradox but so is life.
This painting is named; “The Astonishment of Sisoes.”
It is both a commentary and a contemplation on death, not only of man, but of earthly empires.
It was painted following the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century and shows St. Sisoes, at the tomb of Alexander the Great, standing over the bones of this once great ruler, with the following inscription:
“SISOES, THE GREAT ASCETIC, BEFORE THE TOMB, OF ALEXANDER, KING OF THE GREEKS,WHO WAS ONCE COVERED IN GLORY.
ASTONISHED, HE MOURNS FOR THE RAVAGES OF TIME AND THE TRANSCIENCE OF GLORY, AND TEARFULLY DECLAIMS THUS:
‘THE MERE SIGHT OF YOUR TOMB, DISMAYS ME AND CAUSES MY HEART TO SHED TEARS, AS I CONTEMPLATE THE DEBT WE, ALL MEN, OWE.
HOW CAN I POSSIBLY STAND IT? OH, DEATH! WHO CAN EVADE YOU?‘”
“A brother asked Abba Rufus, ‘What is interior peace, and what use is it?’
The old man said, ‘Interior peace means to remain sitting in one’s cell with fear and knowledge of God, holding far off the remembrance of wrongs suffered and pride of spirit.
Such interior peace brings forth all the virtues, preserves the monk from the burning darts of the enemy, and does not allow him to be wounded by them.
Yes, brother, acquire it. Keep in mind your future death, remembering that you do not know at what hour the thief will come. Likewise be watchful over your soul.‘