Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Uncommon Wisdom

"Blossoms and Thorns"
- surprising beauty on a desert day -

The other day I found myself standing in the “Self-Help” section of a local bookstore and noticed that several titles in this section were categorized under the label: “Popular Wisdom.” For some reason that category struck me as being particularly odd. For the most part, books in the “popular wisdom” section offer readily-available, quick and easy advice about how to find happiness and success in life. In fact, there are volumes upon volumes of “advice books” popularly available nowadays - ten steps to a more vibrant personality, the 7 easy ways to shed unwanted pounds, the 5 keys to growing a more effective church.

The thing is that, at least from my experience, there is nothing about “wisdom” that can ever be “achieved” by a quick and easily-accessible formula, and wisdom isn’t ever some “thing” you can ever gain through “self-help” no matter how many books you may read.  I think that’s why the idea of “popular wisdom” struck me as being such an odd category in that bookstore - true wisdom is often quite contrary to commonly-held popular ideas.  For the most part, wisdom is quite uncommon.

A few thousand years ago, Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism observed:

The words of truth are always paradoxical

Richard Rohr, a contemporary Christian priest and author, said just about the same thing:

I am convinced that all true spirituality has the character of paradox to it,
precisely because it is always holding together the whole of all reality,
which is always both/and.
A paradox appears to be a contradiction, but it is not contradiction at all.
Paradox admits that every profound truth is countered by another.

I imagine that there are a lot of people nowadays who don’t even know what a paradox is and have a very difficult time thinking paradoxically. And yet, the more I think about it almost all spiritual wisdom is “uncommonly paradoxical,” and very often goes against the grain of popularly-accepted ideas.  A few examples immediately come to mind:

We are strong when we are weak

Our mistakes and failures allow us to recognize imperfection as innate to our human condition. When we embrace rather than hide our weakness we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to reach out to others and in these healing relationships we find enduring strength.

Be empty in order to be full.

When our minds are uncluttered, free of our own quick and easy answers, we have made a space for a wisdom that is greater than ourselves.

We find direction by embracing the questions.

There is no quick and easy road on the path of wisdom.  We find a deeper truth and a greater wisdom by “loving the questions” of life and by learning to live with the ambiguity and impermanence of whatever answers we might come up with.

Less is more

The less we cling onto and horde away, the less we desire and crave, the greater freedom we experience.  Perhaps another way of saying this is, the more we accumulate (ideas, things, ambitions) the greater the suffering, the less we accumulate the less we suffer.

In order to find your self you have to lose your self

In one sense this is probably the ultimate wisdom from which all other wisdom flows. We find our true self when we abandon what we popularly think of as our self. When we break out of the bonds of a bloated, isolated, protected ego and extend our lives in relationship and live for the common good, we become our “self.”  Paradoxically speaking, the best way to help yourself is not though “Self-Help.”

Wisdom is uncommon and truth is paradoxical – that’s probably why the way of wisdom is very often a road less traveled.