There exists a single quality, a single skill, that feeds into every other personal trait that you want and have. Not confident? Bothered by little things easily? Upset because you feel like you aren’t good at anything? Every single one of these problems and more can be addressed actively, by you, by addressing one potent aspect of yourself. Wisdom.
Ha. Wisdom? Isn’t that just information you get from being old? Well… kind of. And no – let me explain to you one useful interpretation of wisdom, why it’s useful, and how to actively gain it.
True, wisdom isn’t a particularly glamorous concept, at least not in modern society. It’s seemingly much more important to be intelligent, successful or assertive and, while these traits might be valuable in our results-oriented world, wisdom is far more broadly practical. That is to say, wisdom can be applied to every possible area of life – what more reason could you need to care about something? Once you begin to develop wisdom you realise how much it will benefit you – making decisions becomes easier, problems won’t bother you as they once did, and the surrounding world gains a clarity you never knew it had. Once you understand how important it is, how much it will help you in your life and how you can intentionally learn it, you’ll appreciate it way more.
But won’t wisdom come regardless, with time?
Yes and no. Time is one factor to gaining wisdom, but only because the more time you have lived, the more experiences you’ve had. The other factor is openness – you have to be open to gaining wisdom to actually gain it – and that’s where this article comes in. Imagine if rather than wait for wisdom-teaching experiences to happen, you were able to actively search out those experiences.
That’s what I want to teach you here. Not wisdom itself, but the way to find it.
First, let’s take a look at the distinction between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is information you can gain easily, by choice. Learning new things in our world is as simple as reading a Wikipedia page or a book a few times, and then maybe explain it to someone else. Knowledge also encompasses skills, such as how to play a musical instrument, how to start a fire, or the directions to your house. Similarly, there are levels of knowledge. If I only study a book on how to swim, I may have the theoretical knowledge, but I lack the physical ability and the physiological mental pattern of what swimming means. Wisdom actually fits into this conception of knowledge pretty neatly – it’s a form of knowledge, a skill like many others we perform in life. And yet, it can also be found existing within every one of these other activities. Thus, wisdom goes by another name: The Art of Living. Wisdom is the deeper level of knowledge that can only be attained through an individual’s accumulation of experiences, through seeing and feeling and reacting to things yourself, through your eyes, in your world. But what does that actually mean? What does it mean to learn new things through experience?
Let’s make an assumption here. One backed up by science, and a couple of millenia of Eastern thought.
There is no duality of mind and body
They are one and the same. Let me explain. Every thought, feeling, reaction in the mind exists as a sensation on or in the body. It may be a biochemical reaction, or the presence of heat, or a cut on the skin, or anxiety, or hunger. All these sensations are occurring within the mind and within the body – a single and unified entity. The subconscious mind monitors these sensations at every moment and, when one gets powerful enough, it breaks through into the conscious mind. Thus, what we think of as the body is a gateway into our subconscious. In a way – it is our subconscious. Hunger, pain, fear, bliss – any mental experience you can consider will exist somewhere on your body as a sensation, and will be adding to your accumulation of experiences stored in the subconscious mind.
This is the source of true wisdom – the collection of our lives that exists inside the subconscious mind as chains of sensations and reactions. As we experience more things we begin to gain an understanding of their significance within life. We can be told and taught a million things but without experiencing them for ourselves the knowledge simply exists on the surface level. Let’s look at a simple example. At the age of five I was as enamored by fire as I am now, and I knew that fire was dangerous, and hot. The connection that had not taken place, however, was that a black piece of charcoal could be hot. The events that occurred following the moment I picked up what I thought to be a cold piece of charcoal have been forever burned into my mind. If we analyse why, we can see that the physical sensation of intense pain that occurred in my mind became connected with the specific experience of picking up a hot charcoal. The wisdom not to pick up a potentially hot coal was transferred to my subconscious and, when specifically similar situations arose, the conditioned response of pain was recorded through negative reactions to sensation. Later experiences of burning my hand on other things, or pain in general, were added to the first. Thus the wisdom (basic though it is), that it is better not to pick up something that might be very hot or cause pain, was formed. This physiological knowledge forms a network with intellectual knowledge such as: hot = pain, fire = hot, metal + fire = hot. This can be broken into three steps:
- Initial experience (reaction to sensations)- severe pain – black charcoal can be hot
- Broadening and strengthening (understanding the wisdom through other related experiences and applying it in other areas) – metal, an oven, water etc. Are all things that can be hot sometimes, like black charcoal near a fire. Touching these things when they are hot hurts.
- Assimilation (placement into existing network of knowledge) – black coals can be hot sometimes, like water if it’s been boiling. Fire is hot all the time, fire creates coals that are red which can turn black after some time. Depending on how long they have been cooling is the factor determining how hot they are and if you can pick them up, not their colour. Black charcoal can be used to start new fires. Etc. Etc.
This example is simple, and obvious. Gaining the wisdom of how heat relates to pain and fire is very easy. Let’s try and understand it on a more complex level. The idea that fire is hot and dangerous is one that is agreed upon by society, what about something that directly opposes the messages that we learn early on in life?
Get ready for a ride…
Unintentionally, we learn that failure is a bad thing. You should not fail because to fail results in: disappointed parents -> bad highschool results -> a bad job -> a failed life -> loneliness and other painful things. These reactions are understood as negative sensations in the body/mind such as sadness, shame and self-loathing.
This is not the truth if we can observe failure in the context of reality.
That is, a large number of very successful people in the world have actually experienced more failure in their lives than the average person, because they faced the fear and tried. If someone fails, they expect to react as though in pain, they expect to be set back. While partially true, this is a reaction to the expectation rather than to the real experience.
Thus, incorrect conclusions to the fear of failure can form: if you try, and fail, you become a failure, so don’t try – avoid the pain. Let’s take a look at children who are able to coast through school without trying very hard, for example. They have never significantly failed in a relatively low stakes environment – school. The moment they arrive to University or work, higher stakes environments, approaching new challenges may become very difficult. They may often decide not to put effort in, out of fear that if they do, and if they don’t do well, they are intrinsically a failure. This set of beliefs is insidious. It pulls the mat from beneath your feat before you even begin. But there is an alternative.
When we fail enough times and respond by trying again, we experience a new sensation-reaction couplet. Success and self-assurance. We learn that our work does not define us, that if we work hard we are more likely to succeed, and that success can only come after learning the lessons that failure brings. We can only gain the wisdom that failure is not a bad thing after we experience the sensations of failure enough times that we learn they do not catastrophically connect to our identity – they are temporary and they are learning opportunities.
This wisdom becomes integrated with our knowledge of what it means to work hard, to not give up, to push ourselves and our very identities. The more situations we fail in and respond positively to, the more experiences we accumulate and the broader the resulting lessons – don’t give up. When you have GRIT you will be far more likely to accumulate new valuable experiences that will be encoded in you mind as wisdom. You will succeed more than had you responded to the sensation of failure with aversion or hopelessness.
But what about…
So what about the original understanding? The one that failure is something to avoid? Didn’t we learn this through the experience of living as well? Isn’t that a kind of wisdom?Nope. This idea is not wisdom. Wisdom can only be created through direct experience of events and the idea that failure should be avoided is one that only exists with lack of experience. Without repeated exposure to an experience no wisdom can be formed, only expectations and assumptions. In this way wisdom de-conditions your natural fears and expectations. This is also why wisdom cannot be taught. We cannot have experienced the sensations of another person, and thus our body-minds cannot be changed, unless we feel events for ourselves, through our own consciousness.
Though, while you cannot be taught wisdom itself, you can be taught the ways to gaining wisdom. Based on the information in this article so far the answer is pretty clear:
Have repeated difficult experiences.
Often throughout life it’s easy to try and avoid discomfort. The more discomfort we avoid the better we feel, right? Sure, in the short term. What school doesn’t tell you is that the longer you avoid that discomfort, the more uncomfortable you will become. This avoided discomfort will grow until the inevitable existential crisis bursts forth uncontrollably. All of your previous hidden away pain will arise to the surface as mental illness, or meaninglessness, or high risk activities. The mid life crisis is a perfect example of this. Often the responses to the accumulated pains of life that are observed include: buying fancy cars, gambling, extra-marital affairs, addictions, self loathing, mood swings, and sometimes suicide. Not really worth all the avoided discomfort, is it?
Would you like to prevent yourself acting this way when you reach 40? Gain wisdom now. Face your fears, your insecurities and yourself, head-on. Here are some requirements to gaining wisdom:
Have a growth mindset
Learn that every difficulty you experience is an opportunity to grow, gain wisdom and become a better version of yourself. The growth mindset itself is a form of wisdom, which is good because that means you can cultivate it. Don’t think of challenges in your life as barriers you have to pass, but mountains you get to climb. Even when you’re feeling down, your mental state is a challenge to overcome (or something to accept and let pass with patience – a possible response to the challenge).
Gain related knowledge
While knowledge is not wisdom, it can still help pull you in the right direction. Learning about philosophy, psychology and human decision making are all ways to gain insight into the wisdom of other people that you can work to gain yourself. Be wary, though. Sometimes we retreat into knowledge due to fear, thinking that the more we know, the less we hurt. Like many things, knowledge can simply be a temporary salve, a distraction from the real issues.
Seek out healthy discomfort
When you accept discomfort as a natural and changing part of life, you react a lot less negatively. Think back to every hard experience you’ve ever had and you’ll realise how valuable they were to creating who you are today. Instead of avoiding the hard things, start facing them head-on, with a growth mindset. Engage with yourself and create the environment for growth. When you do this, it makes the inevitable and unavoidable vicissitudes of life actually surmountable.
We are humans. We are wrong. A lot. You’re probably wrong right now. I’m probably wrong right now. If you’re humble and realise how hot you are not, it gives you the potential to grow even more. And that’s where the openness comes in. Be open to growth, be open to change, be open to being wrong and move forward.
What all this means is that you can become an Artisan of Life, and you can choose to do so. You can craft the environment around you with the intention of gaining wisdom and experience. Look where your are heading right now in life. Are you doing it because it’s the easy option? Or are you doing it because you know the environment will challenge you to adapt, it will challenge you to grow, and as a result – you will gain wisdom.
You will suffer in life regardless of what you do. Either you can futilely try to avoid it or you can face it. Your choice.
Question yourself if you choose wisdom. Live life with more awareness if you choose wisdom. Change yourself if you choose wisdom.
Comment some suggestions about ideas you have to gain wisdom and whether or not you are pushing yourself.
I love you a lot because you have intrinsic value to me, I hope you know that. I want you to flourish, I want you to be happy, and I want you to feel love. I don’t care if I sound like a dork, because I want you to know how much I care. If you would like to support my project, visit the Support tab.