What really is wisdom? In our modern world, the word wisdom has been thrown around so much, that it’s hard to distinguish any one meaning. Perhaps the most modern adopted concept is the spiritual belief that “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing” (as cited in Chung, 2015, para. 1). This spiritual perspective of wisdom also echoes the modern concept of enlightenment, in which one is re-born from the ashes of reality. Moreover, wisdom and enlightenment are intertwined into an esteemed – and dare I say privileged – package. Yes – I did say privileged. It is not unfamiliar to anyone who hears the word wisdom to imagine an enlightened Buddhist monk meditating on a mountain or a famous spiritual teacher who claims to have the answers to life. There is a common notion that those who possess ultimate wisdom have a higher perspective and understanding of reality. Consequently, they are held on a pedestal or even idolized at times. Within this concept of wisdom, it is more difficult to view the average person as equally able or wise.
However, any person regardless of looks, career, wealth, or even intelligence can attain both wisdom and enlightenment. For example, the following is a story my friend Tracy told me I a couple weeks ago. While we were at a meditation, Tracy began sharing about a book she read called Sacred Contracts, if I remember the title correctly. The book was about the spiritual contracts we write before we decide to enter into this lifetime. This includes certain things like your family setup and some of your personal setup too. In a particular story she was sharing from the book, one man who reached enlightenment had come back as an alcoholic in another lifetime in order to help teach his family compassion. In fact, according to a medium, he was one of the most enlightened people she had ever met. It just goes to show that enlightenment really isn’t what people expect it to look like – and neither is wisdom. The average person in disheveled clothing may be just as wise or enlightened as a Buddhist monk or spiritual teacher.
So, does that mean that Socrates is right? Is it in fact true that we really know nothing? In my humble opinion, no. This line of thinking discredits a lot of our potential and ability. It’s a rather disempowering thought. I contemplate whether the quote’s true intent is simply to emphasize the importance of an open mind and the value of curiosity for learning.
In contrast to Socrates, Confucius states that wisdom is marked three methods:
- First, by reflection, which is noblest
- Second, by imitation, which is easiest
- And third, by experience, which is the bitterest (as cited in Kan, 2015, para. 7).
When I read the first method, Thoreau immediately came to mind, as his book Walden consisted almost entirely of pure reflection and his insights gained from them. Reflection was not only a tool for him to understand himself and the people around him, but to try and understand the deeper meanings and purpose of life.
While I think Confucius’s concept of wisdom is a more fair evaluation, the error I see is in his third method – experience. The idea that wisdom is gained by experience excludes and devalues the wisdom of one of most wise age-groups – children. For example, at another meditation some weeks ago, my friend Della was sharing about the value of what children have to teach us. As she was sharing her story, she told us about an occasion in which she reprimanded and yelled at her son in a harsh manner that she later regretted and didn’t know how to let go of. In the moments that followed as she was playing with her son, her son noticed her shift in energy and asked her, Mommy, are you happy?” He then went on to say, “I’m happy, I want you to be happy too”. In that huge moment, she was completely taken aback by her son’s ability to let go of what just happened and forgive her, when she could not do so herself. She realized that her son was teaching her how to let go and forgive herself.
The open, forgiving, carefree nature of her son is what many people commonly attribute to the wisdom of children and their ability to be in the moment. Children further have a profound ability to be playful with their learning and to take on the world with unconditional love. I have always said to myself that love will conquer all. It is my belief that love is at the core of all existence and that creation itself is made with love. Thus, children’s and their capacity for love also have the ability to tune into the interconnected nature of life itself. That is an awful lot of wisdom coming from a person who has had fewer experiences in life than a middle aged man or an elderly person!
Aside from this conflict in Confucius’ third method of wisdom, there is also conflict in both the first and second. For example, his first method of reflection is a skill and level of brain development that many young children have yet fully developed. Furthermore, Confucius’ second method of imitation holds truth with children’s learning style, but does not account, for example, for the lessons in which Della’s son was teaching her. For this reason, Confucius’ model offers as a stepping stone to a more wholesome understanding of wisdom, but lacks necessary flexibility. Reflection, imitation, and experience more accurately describe pathway knowledge. Thus, it seems that while Socrates’ model centers on enlightenment, Confucius’ model of wisdom focuses on knowledge as the definition of wisdom.
Along with Socrates and Confucius, a third definition of wisdom comes from Buddha. Buddha states, “Wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind” (as cited in Mitchell, 2012, para. 6). Gandhi also utilized this wisdom in his movements of non-violent resistance. By maintaining a pure and peaceful mind, he was able to stay strong in his objective and keep his followers on the same path. Even in times of injustice and even when he was savagely beat, Gandhi did not turn to hatred and violence. Perhaps because he knew that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” (as cited in Dear, 2015, para. 11). Instead, he used a pure and peaceful mind as his strongest weapon.
Moreover, I also relate a pure and peaceful mind to a state of flow. When I am in flow – whether I am painting, drawing, singing, dancing, hooping, writing, or sometimes while meditating – my mind is still and time gently fades away. I am at ease; I feel one with universal consciousness and the love that vibrates within everything. This connection is amazing. Everyone has experienced it in some form or another at varying degrees, whether they are aware of it or not. Some people experience it while driving or playing or a sport. Others experience it while cooking or crocheting. It is no coincidence that some of our deepest or most profound thoughts come in our “pure and peaceful” minds during these states of flow. My friend and I share an artistic flow during the silent hours of night. So did Vincent van Gogh who viewed nighttime as “more alive and more richly colored than the day” (as cited in Trachtman, 2008, para. 2). It is lying in bed in the middle of the night, that some people most often achieve a pure and peaceful mind in an enduring state of flow.
In analyzing all three definitions of wisdom, it seems that Buddha’s seems to be the most inclusive of the others. For example, a pure and peaceful mind reflects the enlightenment concept of Socrates’ wisdom, while a pure and peaceful mind also aligns with the element of reflection in Confucius’ wisdom. In taking a step back and categorizing the three definitions of wisdom, they can be understood as:
- Socrates: wisdom = enlightenment
- Confucius: wisdom = knowledge
- Buddha: wisdom = flow
Since all of these definitions vary in some respect, the goal in redefining wisdom is to seek a common thread. A common thread that connects enlightenment, knowledge, and flow is help. All of these things are help and guidance in some form or another. Therefore, in the best way possible, I believe true wisdom is help or guidance. In times of hardship and peril, this is what people often seek in the wisdom of friends and family members. When you think about it, any time we seek wisdom we are usually seeking this help. This help can come in many forms, whether is it the cautioning words of a friend who has been down the same road or an insightful thought that seems to plant itself in your head in the middle of the day. That is help too. In my experience, this is help from the spirit realm. This can come also come in the form of signs being put in your path.
For example, I have been seeing butterflies everywhere since June of this past summer. Others could say this is a coincidence, but the circumstances are too ridiculously strange to be a mere coincidence. On one recent occasion, I was shopping for Christmas cookie cutters and in the midst of dozens of stocking, wreath, star, tree, and gingerbread shapes was a single butterfly, magically misplaced to be right in front of my eyes in the middle of the store’s Christmas haven. This isn’t the only occasion. I have been experiencing it consistently since my trip to Vermont this past June. More specifically, it started happening at a very exact moment. I was walking on a garden trail with my friend when I noticed a small yellow butterfly fly past us. I turned to her and asked, “Do you think Mary is watching us on our little adventure?” She told me yes. As we continued to walk the trail, more yellow butterflies appeared and my friend said it was Mary. Since that day, and that question, Mary has been making herself known to me in the form of a butterfly everywhere I go.
Mary was an old lady with purple hair. I met her about five years ago. She started out as my counselor and quickly grew into my best friend, my adopted grandmother, and an incredible mentor. The teachings and tools she has given me, along with the laughs and love she has shared, have been invaluable. Since she passed, I have been seeking her guidance again for transitions I am going through in my life. Little did I know, she heard me and wanted to remind me she was still with me. She has been giving me this help and guidance in the form of butterflies.
Moreover, the spirit of the butterfly is of transformation and change. From a caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly, it learns how to grow and transition from one stage to the next with grace, beauty, and flight. Thus, it is my experience that help and guidance was coming to me from the animal kingdom itself, through the wisdom of butterflies. I am going through many life changes right now as I am creating shifts that align more with my highest good and life purpose. The butterflies are helping me along this journey.
Along with butterflies, I’ve also been receiving a lot of angel numbers. Angel numbers are messages from your angel guides in the form of numbers, and relates to the topic of numerology. When I first started seeing angel numbers back in august, the number 111 kept appearing to me consistently. After looking up the number back in August, I learned that the number 1 related to new beginnings and in the repeated sequence of 111, this property is enhanced and the sequence signifies a powerful number for manifesting and manifestation. 111 also serves as a reminder to be aware of your thoughts as persistent thoughts manifest your reality. In addition, 111 signifies that this is also particularly strong at this time.
At the time that this number came to me, I was jobless for the first time in years. My whole life had literally flipped upside down. My boyfriend and I had experienced two bug infestations that migrated to our apartment from the surrounding complex, we were forced to break our lease and move out because it was no longer habitable (what’s worse is that the complex knew about the infestation but didn’t tell us before we moved in), I had to move back home and had issues with my family, he had to stay at a friend’s, I lost my job that I loved, my financial situation turned very bad, and our relationship was on the verge of crashing. It was a lot! The universe ordered a serious change for me and with little warning!
Soon enough, I started seeing 111. On the verge of a meltdown, I began practicing affirmations, as the number 111 suggested, and focused on aligning my thoughts with my highest good and what I desired. Miraculously – no joke – in a matter of 3 weeks or so, I had lined up 4 jobs, all completely different and more aligned with what I wanted! Suddenly, I had found myself from the position of having no options, to having too many! It was incredible. I was blessed with a bounty of new beginnings, just as the number 111 described. More importantly, I started to establish a deeper and more intimate relationship with my angel guides who continue to guide me and offer me help.
More recently, I had someone from my past come back into my life. This person and I had unresolved feelings between us that were left when we went our separate ways for college. Being in a current relationship, this was very stressful and confusing for me. However, there was something I needed to learn; otherwise this person would not be coming back up for me. The angel number 555 started coming up for me a lot, and I learned that it had to do with letting go of the old. Once I realized I had to let go of this person, I realized why I was still holding on to him in the first place and what some of those feelings really were. My angel guides helped me through this transition by allowing me to see what I needed to let go of.
Both the butterflies and angel numbers were, and still are, help and guidance that I receive. They are true wisdom that has been learned and shared with me. I also receive help and guidance from my friends, family, and even strangers. When my friend Della was receiving the wisdom of her son, it was help that allowed her to move past herself. Help and guidance comes in many forms and from people of all sorts. The flexibility of this concept makes it applicable to any modern definition of wisdom, thus, allowing for a new universal understanding of what wisdom truly is within any context. As mentioned before, Socrates, Confucius and Buddha all had different definitions of wisdom that each aligned with enlightenment, knowledge, or flow. While each of these concepts failed in completely honoring one of the others, help and guidance successfully incorporates all three into a newly shaped understanding of wisdom. Interestingly, despite the differences between Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, or even Gandhi and Thoreau, all of them still offered wisdom to my understanding of what wisdom really is. In other words, all offered help. Just as I’ve redefined wisdom as help and guidance, it is this very help and guidance from Socrates, Confucius, Buddha that I needed in order to redefine it.
Chung, K. (2015, Sep 12). The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. Retrieved from http://mhttp://marketingtrw.com/blog/the-only-true-wisdom-is-in-knowing-you-know-nothing-socratessocrates-quote-art/
Dear, J. (2015, Dec 3). An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Retrieved from http://thhttp://theeasleyprogress.com/opinion/columns/2423/an-eye-for-an-eye-makes-the-whole-world-bworld-blind
Kan, Q. (2015, July 14). 12 famous Confucius quotes on education and learning. Retrieved from http://whttp://www.open.edu/openlearn/education/12-famous-confucius-quotes-on-education-and-learand-learning
Mitchell, T. A. (2012, Aug 22). Light wisdom inspired by a sea of vietnamese lanterns. Retrieved from httfrom http://triciaannemitchell.com/tag/buddha/
Trachtman, P. (2008, Jan). Van Gogh’s night visions. Retrieved from http://whttp://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/van-goghs-night-visions-131900002/?no-ist
© 2015 Kelly Sinacori