Life is an experience. There is no way to avoid the experiences life presents. We are affected by the weather, by what we eat or don’t eat, by having a home or being homeless, by the quality of the air, the water, and the thoughts in our minds. We are affected by the news, social media, movies, books, the games we play, the conversations we have, and the communities to which we belong. Interdependence is a truth and there is nothing we can do about it other than develop skillful discernment.
Sometimes we get the impression that being wise means being perfect or not making any mistakes. Striving for perfection is considered a sound business goal, a necessity in education, and a religious ideal, but that striving in and of itself is unwise. Many times, it seems we have only two choices- be 100% right or guilty and a failure for being wrong. Neither of these choices are particularly logical.
Everything changes. What was wonderful and beautiful one day might be on the compost heap another day, like the flowers from a birthday or anniversary. Wisdom comes from the ability to respond to life and adjust our response when the results require it. Life has cycles. Sometimes we have lots of energy- physically, mentally, or emotionally- and sometimes we are unmotivated and just plain tired. Wise decisions come from seeing what is needed where we are.
Of course, the modern world of work and family, doesn’t allow for cycles. If we enter a time of low energy we are expected to find a way to bring that energy up to the level we are being paid to uphold. If we enter a time of quiet or contemplative thought people are asking us what’s wrong. When someone is experiencing grief, there is an expectation that it can only last for so long and then it needs to be gone. And if old memory upsets arise we are told the past is past and needs to be forgotten. No wonder so many modern people end up with a drug or alcohol problem.
So, what can a spiritual person do? The first possibility is noticing if we are responding to life or reacting to life. When shit happens we probably have an internal reaction to that shit. This is called an emotional arising. If we act on that emotion it is often a mistake. To respond, we must develop a pause. Whatever emotions we experience, even the most desirable and wonderful kind, like love or joy, require a pause before a decision is made. The pause can be three minutes, three hours, three days, or three weeks. It needs to be long enough that we can emotionally move out of arising into contemplation. We enter contemplation to ask questions. How does this opportunity fit into my overall life goals? What will I need to change to engage this energy, and will those changes be beneficial over the long haul? Sometimes, we might ask what does this (thing, idea, emotion) have to do with peace? How will this create more love for everyone? We can even ask- What would Jesus do? Or Buddha? Or any Great Being that we admire. Or perhaps use my personal favorite- Will this matter after I’m dead?
An excellent way to determine wisdom in decision making is a simple statement- Results Matter! If we don’t like the results we need a better plan. If a better plan doesn’t do it we need to drop it. We can have the best of intentions and then discover that the results have created suffering for ourselves or others. That means we made a mistake. Most mistakes are not fatal. Life is about learning by trying and doing and making lots of mistakes along the way. When we truly understand this, we can begin to be with what is. This is wisdom on the spiritual path.
I vow to be with what is:
if there’s a cost, I choose to pay it.
If there’s a need, I choose to give.
If there’s pain, I choose to feel.
If there’s sorrow, I choose to grieve.
When burning, I choose heat.
When calm, I choose peace.
When starving, I choose hunger.
When happy, I choose joy.
Whom I encounter, I choose to meet.
What I shoulder, I choose to bear.
When it’s my birth, I choose to live.
When it’s my death, I choose to die.
Where this takes me, I choose to go.
Being with what is, I respond to what is.
Wisdom is often confused with knowledge. We are taught that if we know facts and lots of them we will be happier and wiser. Knowledge that is not practical and that doesn’t help us to be better human beings doesn’t lead to wisdom. Sometimes, it’s even unnecessary information. Maybe it’s information that we are unable to do anything about like the suffering of people in war zones around the world. Constant knowledge of those facts can lead to emotional suffering or the callousness to feel nothing. How much news or social media we chose to expose ourselves to on any given day requires a decision in wisdom.
Sometimes facts are irrelevant. Let’s take the example of a Hindu yogi who lived most of his life in a small forest monastery and was much sought after for his holiness and spiritual wisdom, but didn’t understand that the Earth was round. “It’s always looked flat to me,” was his response when told this fact and he was uninterested in changing his mind.
Often the wisest person is the one who has a simple formula for life. We can adopt one of these for ourselves or create our own statement that keeps us steady on the Path of Wisdom.
“Even the smallest person has a contribution to make.”
“Love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart and your own mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
“Give to others only what you are willing to receive yourself”
“Today, I will do what I can.”
“My actions are my only possession. I am the heir to my deeds. My deeds are the ground on which I stand.”
“The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.”