Wise from the inside out

On the one hand, wisdom isn’t something we have but is more the relationship existing between our true self and the world around us.

On the other hand, we cannot rely on others for our happiness – we must generate this within ourselves, and for this we must know what lies deep within.

It is knowing what lies deep within that allows us to hold these two thoughts together: wisdom appears when my deep and your deep meet.  This is not easy, as John O’Donohue points out:

“One of the sad things today is that so many people are frightened by the wonder of their own presence.  They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on for them.  This identity may be totally at variance with the wild energies that are rising inside in their souls.  Many of us get very afraid and we eventually compromise.  We settle for something that is safe, rather than engaging the danger and the wildness that is in our own hearts.”*

Too often we meet each other in our “lessness” rather than our “moreness.”  When we do not find the “me” we want to be, I suspect we refuse the “me” in each other.  If this language sounds strange it is indicative of the extent to which we have lost the means of self-reflection in our modern life.

In her thoughtful essay cum blog exploring how we find more reasons for excluding each other rather than including, Maria Popova  reflects:

‘Where Walt Whitman once invited us to celebrate the glorious multitudes we each contain and to welcome the wonder that comes from discovering one another’s multitudes afresh, we now cling to our identity-fragments, using them as badges and badgering artillery in confronting the templated identity-fragments of others.  (For instance, some of mine: woman, reader, immigrant, writer, queer, survivor of Communism.)’**

Whilst we must work against exclusion if we are to find a wiser world, we must also be careful not to create new exclusions – like my touch-screen gloves that, while allowing me to use touch-screen technology and keep my hands war – limit my contact to a finger and thumb on each hand:

‘The censors of yore have been replaced by the “sensitivity readers” of today, fraying the fabric of freedom — of speech, even of thought — from opposite ends, but fraying it nonetheless.  The safety of conformity to an old-guard mainstream has been supplanted by the safety of conformity to a new-order minority predicated on some fragment of identity, so that those within each new group (and sub-group, and sub-sub-group) are as harsh to judge and as fast to exclude “outsiders” (that is, those of unlike identity-fragments) from the conversation as the old mainstream once was in judging and excluding them.’**

Correctness sells us short every time:

‘In our effort to liberate, we have ended up imprisoning — imprisoning ourselves in the fractal infinity of our ever-subdividing identities, imprisoning each other in our exponentially multiplying varieties of otherness.’**

I didn’t know I’d be reading Popova’s thoughts when, yesterday,  I was conversing with my friend and mentor Alex McManus on this very thing.  It also just happens that I came upon these words from Alex this morning:

‘Love is the emergent capacity of empathetically including others within our own self-identity.  It is the context for all faith and love.^

This allowing others within our identity appears to be the most frightening thing of all to us for we struggle with it so much that we avoid going there because of what may be found.  As Brené Brown reflects on a disagreement she had with her husband:

‘Both of us were scared to embrace our own vulnerabilities, even knowing full well that vulnerability is the only path out of the shame storm and back to each other.’^^

Kosuke Koyama caught my attention when he remarked:

‘Straightness is not natural. […] It is technological.


Nature is full of curves that embrace curves; acute curves and gentle curves.  Curves produce irregular forms.  Straightness contains only fragments of straight line.  Human nature is made up of nature and un-nature, un-artificial and artificial.’*^

Koyama admits that he has no idea how a photocopier works but he can press a button and it copies for him:

‘I work only “superficially” from the outside.  It works for me.  Technology is increasingly making us outsiders.’*^

I found myself wondering whether our language for others is becoming more technological, straight, efficient, superficial, when we need it to be curved.

Koyama illustrates where we began today, of knowing my own deep self is only one end of the wisdom tension:

‘There is not point in crying out “I see myself.  As long as I see myself, I am not lost!”  Precisely then I am lost.  Strangely “I see myself” is a lost condition.  I must see myself among others.  Personality is not a static condition.  Personality is an event.  It takes place when there is a meeting between myself and others.’*^

I cannot be lost when you, I see.

(*John O’Donohue, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings:  A Gentle Corrective for the Epidemic of Politics Turning Us On Each Other and Ourselves.)
(**From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings:  A Gentle Corrective for the Epidemic of Politics Turning Us On Each Other and Ourselves.)
(^From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire – eBook version.)
(^^From Brené Brown’s Rising Strong.)
(*^From Kosuke Koyama’s Three Mile an Hour God.)


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