The Essence of Wisdom

In the spirit of yesterday’s consideration, I’d like to expand a little on what it means to “fight for life.” You’ve probably had the experience on occasion of having to reach deep down to overcome a challenge, problem or limitation. This feeling is part of the creative process and how you deal with this discomfort will go a long way in determining your trajectory in life.

I did a little caving in Eastern Europe when I was younger and I remember one particular “pinch” we had to pass that required a strong exhale to make my chest small enough to get through. It taught me an important lesson about maintaining forward movement in a creative cycle: sometimes you have to exhale, let go and push through to keep moving…even when every instinctive reaction in you is calling for retreat, or worse, panic.

The fighting of which I speak is not always externally obvious. At times fighting means relaxing more deeply into the assurance of being, the power of life itself. At others it might manifest visibly, where you surge ahead with all your might. Knowing when to employ which is one of the greatest skills you can ever learn. Knowing when to employ which is the very essence of wisdom.

You are capable of this wisdom. To reacquaint yourself with it you must get out of yourself. Getting out of yourself is accomplished in part by not throwing your weight behind every feeling that passes through your heart and every thought which passes through your mind. Take time to “try the spirits” as it was once put to determine their provenance.

If you act on every random feeling or thought without knowing from whence they come, you will move by fits and starts. If, however, you take time, let the process work out a little further, you’ll begin to see more clearly. You’ll see more clearly which doors lead to frustration and dead ends and which open to a brighter future.

You’ll have to fight against your programmed reactions initially, but habits of reaction can be retrained with diligence. If you find yourself in a panic, in the tumult of the unknown or the unfamiliar, breathe out, relax for a moment. Yield to the pressure and note what you feel. Where are the currents leading? Ask yourself: “What do I perceive that I was too panicked to notice before?”

Wisdom has not been removed from the earth, it is merely veiled from our sight by means of the working of the basic laws and principles which govern life. Work with life, fight for life and the veil will slowly but surely lift before your eyes and heart.

Know Thyself

Know Thyself by Alexander Pope

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast,
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such
Whether he thinks too little or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

I must confess a certain fascination with the riddle of the world proposed by Mr. Pope in this lovely poem. Plato once pointed to the means by which the riddle is solved in his Allegory of the Cave¬†and to my mind the “middle state” from which the pages of recorded history have been written has come to seem normal, but it is by no means natural.

If we content ourselves with the unsettling contradictions that abound in this middle state, I fear that our limited understanding of purpose will continue to lead to misguided and misapplied function. Despite eons of dedicated searching, human beings are no closer to knowing themselves – who they are, from whence they came and where they are going – and they continue to fight over which of the current theories is most accurate.

Are we, for instance, perfect beings who fell long ago? Are we a reincarnation, an iteration in a long chain of appearances in various forms on earth? Or are we simply the successful product, the latest and greatest version of a long line of evolutionary adaptations?

My own feeling is that human beings have long underestimated the role they are meant to play in the great cycles of creation that unfold on earth from day to day. They major in minors and prefer to wrestle over minutiae while leaving their larger responsibilities to chance.

If we are to solve this riddle, to rise out of the state described as “Chaos of thought and passion, all confused”, we must pierce the veil of false identity by shedding all vestiges of self-righteousness on the one hand and self-deprecation on the other. We must learn to come as we now are, warts and all, and accept one another as perfect (for the moment) starting points for what is yet to come.

That said, we must continue to set and accomplish high standards for ourselves while encouraging others to set and achieve high expectations for themselves. We’re in this together. Honest cooperation always trumps competition.

I believe that we can know ourselves, that we can assist others to know themselves. I am not convinced that we must labor perpetually in dark wisdom and rude greatness, in fact, I am confident that with the right approach we can rediscover the wisdom and greatness that was ours from the start.

Are you ready?

Morning dawns are you ready? by Gregg Hake

Mist rising from lake below
Air rich with summery scents
Infusing earth’s crescendo
Heart is filled with what presents.

All things made new
Not one refrain
Doth nature feign
I heed her cue.

My world today unfolds
A new song, a new day
Infused with fresh bouquet
This charge my life upholds.

Called to the Window

Facts are ventriloquists’ dummies. Sitting on a wise man’s knee they may be made to utter words of wisdom; elsewhere, they say nothing, or talk nonsense, or indulge in sheer diabolism.” ~ Aldous Huxley

Facts are helpful in that they provide clothing for the invisible spirit of inspiration. They mull about in the subconscious mind or even the collective unconscious waiting for their number to be called, ordered as it were by the impulse of spirit and called to the window by the conscious mind.

The mind, in and of itself, absent an awareness of its relationship to all that is and divorced from an understanding of its purpose is likely to call the numbers in a way that rationalizes that which is not fitting to make it seem reasonable. A mind conscious of right, however, would make the wise choice with the help of the inner voice deep within, and deliver the best possible combination of numbers to allow for an increase in blessing in the world beyond.


What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” – William Shakespeare

Since the beginning of recorded history, man has been curious about the world around him. His inquiry, fueled by the desire to understand his existence and purpose, is largely confined within two major frameworks: mythological/religious and scientific.

The myths and religious beliefs tend to evoke and emphasize both thought and feeling by way of elaborate and beautiful stories, music, art and more, while the scientific approach rests more squarely on the cold and hard intellectual facts of life. Advocates of the former direct their inquiry to the totality of the phenomena they seek to explain and favor answers which point to the whole of truth, while proponents of the latter prefer to examine, describe and understand the component parts of the whole with the goal of eventually finding answers to the same questions about life and existence.

The myths/religious belief systems give answers to the largest questions of life, such as “Who am I,” “Why am I here” and “Where am I going” while the scientific approach typically focuses on identifying concrete answers to questions significantly more limited in scope. What interests me most about these two approaches, however, is that they share a common goal: understanding.

In some ways the religious framework has provided more words and concepts to describe the invisible aspects of life, but certain branches of science, such as quantum physics, are working hard to the same end. Whether the twain shall meet I cannot be sure, as both approaches tend to crystallize that which is inherently flowing and therefore divide more than they connect using the analogy in yesterday’s post.

Is the gold rush for information going to end in a bust? Is it nothing more than a trip down the rabbit hole? Time will tell. Do the religious approaches thin the veil which divides wisdom and knowledge? It shall be shown.

In the meantime, we have limited symbols – words and concepts – made available to us by both approaches through which we can peer to find insight into absolute truth.

A New Standard

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.“- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The moment you become mesmerized by your circumstances is the moment you become powerless in relation to them. Every person on earth is possessed of a vast internal resource, an inexhaustible source of power, that is tapped most efficiently by the spile of character and moral fibre. That power is capable of both overcoming anything that comes your way and releasing you from anything that has already gone under the bridge of your experience.

Life is eternal. The forms it animates are temporal and as such, to life there is no death. If your identity is lodged at the level of the animated form – your body, mind and heart – your sense of mortality will haunt you and compel you in subtle yet powerful ways. If, on the other hand, you take the steps necessary to come to terms with your true identity, that is, the particular focus of life that you are, you will be free of the burden of mortality.

That freedom does not imply license. Immortality does not mean as many mistakenly assume that “you get to do it over anyway so why try?” In fact, when seen in the proper light that freedom should inspire an even greater sense of responsibility for living a meaningful and generative life. In essence, you will be ignited by the fire of immortality. Previous judgments about the nature of your circumstances will give way to a new vision, one that emphasizes openings over limitations, starting points over obstacles.

The fact that you only have so long to live will constrain to a new standard, one that sits between and above the typical responses of capitulation at one extreme and hedonism on the other. Implicit in this new standard of living is the equal treatment of responsibility and privilege. Moreover, this new standard obviates the need for both self-abnegation and self-promotion. It is the healthy, happy and fulfilling median.

What is happening in the world around you is of little import when you live radiantly. To get there, habits of reflexive thinking and reflective living must be broken and replaced with new habits that emphasize thinking and living from the inside-out, that is, originally and proactively.

If you spend your entire life reacting to the world around you, you will be ridden hard and put up wet. If, on the other hand, you awaken to the reality of life and just as importantly, to the reality of you, you will be freed from the shackles of merely existing and liberated to live life as it was meant to be lived!

Calm, Forward, Straight

As a living, breathing human being, you are an animate creature, capable of orienting in, being motivated by and coloring your expression with a wide variety of spirits. The spirit which compels or dominates your expression in any given moment gives evidence to the true centering of your heart, regardless of what you believe mentally to be your core concern. It is for this reason that it can rightly be said of most people that they worship they know not what.

Whether you claim to be (and may be in fact) more predominantly right or left-brained, the state of both heart and mind is a dominant factor in any deliberate, creative process. It matters not if you prefer a logical, sequential and rational approach or a random, intuitive and holistic approach if your heart and the cloud of emotions which clothe it, is troubled.

While I could and have provided many different examples of this principle over the years, I found another that may help drive the point home. The example is given in the context of training horses and riders, but it is easy to extrapolate the principle into specific application in any field of activity. General Decarpentry, in his fine book on classical horse training, Academic Equitation, writes:

And as for the “spirit” that should animate the student, the formula used by General L’Hotte to describe the spirit of dressage in the sequence of its aims can be applied to it: “Calm, Forward, Straight” (Calme, En Avant, Droit).

The most perfect calmness is essential in any dressage operation. However, despite its firmest determination, the rider will not always be able to avoid a shaking of his moral calm and he will never be able to recover instantly his physical calm once it has been ruffled by however slight and transient a loss of moral calm.

A flash of temper can be inwardly suppressed almost as soon as it is aroused, but its resulting effect on the rider’s nervous tension will persist for some time and, what is more important, for longer than the rider himself realizes. The horse, on the contrary, immediately feels this nervousness and immediately shares it, but needs a much longer time to forget than the rider. In this respect, the horse is gifted with an astonishingly delicate sensitivity, such that even the movements of his ears are a permanent indication of the “state of the horse’s soul” – if this expression can be allowed, which provide the rider with the means of perceiving a change in his own state of nerves, so slight that he may remain unaware of it, and even if the loss of calm is unrelated to the horse’s behavior.

Therefore, as soon as the rider feels any disturbance of his serenity, it is absolutely imperative to allow time for his own physical calm, which determines that of the horse, to be completely restored. A pause, a halt, provided that submission is not in question, is necessary before the lesson can be continued.

After some strong vexation, even if it has nothing to do with the horse, the trainer must be sufficiently wise to put the lesson off until the next day, and be content with a quiet hack.

I find the last sentence ironic in that many people confess to riding horses as a means of soothing their own nerves, of taking their minds off of “life.” Such an approach is a disservice to the horse and must be avoided if there is a genuine concern for its welfare.

In any case, the same pattern holds true in any and every situation you face in life. Substitute the horse for a student, employee, friend, lover, parishioner or political constituent and the principle continues to have immediate, practical application. Notice that General Decarpentry, whose work and writings are considered by dressage experts to be amongst the most important contributions to classical training in the twentieth century, does not mince words. He says that it is “absolutely imperative to allow time” for calm to be restored before continuing on. This is not a suggestion, it is an order! Anything less is the genesis of frenzy.

Many wonderful things in life have been destroyed by acting with a troubled heart. A troubled heart clouds the mind and therefore suppresses wisdom. It has a narcotic-like affect on consciousness, limiting both vision and perspective. A troubled heart focuses on and magnifies the limitations or blockages present and downplays and undervalues the means by which those limitations can be successfully and sustainably overcome.

“Mind over matter” is possible, but only with a cooperating heart.