By Sophia Godkin PhD
No matter who you are, no matter where you go, no matter what you do and who you do it with, there is wisdom awaiting you at every turn. Our world is overflowing with wisdom for life, if only we stop to look, listen, and learn. So if you find yourself yearning to understand yourself and life more deeply, to make better life choices each time, and to have the clarity, patience, and insight to live a purposeful, meaningful life, here are 7 ways that you can garner wisdom throughout every day:
Read the words of those who have come before. In the countless stacks of library shelves lies some of the greatest wisdom we know. From the greatest philosophers of our time (Plato, Aristotle, Dostoyevsky, Laozi) to the world’s leading psychologists (Freud, Jung, Ellis, Rogers, Kinsey), we have inherited a wealth of wisdom by which to understand and live our lives. So whether it be the Tao Te Ching, The Republic, The Interpretation of Dreams, or Man and His Symbols, pick up a text that is sure to rattle and expand your self-view and world-view. When we read the words of those luminaries who have come before us, we are easily transported to a time and space that is different than our own, enabling us to engage a perspective that too is different than our own. With each page, there is the potential for learning, for opening of mind and heart, and for forming new neural connections and patterns of thought. With each page, there is connection, relation, and resonance with someone who is not physically present with us but whose view of life resembles, and perhaps, expands on, our own. With each page, most importantly, there is a growing understanding and knowing that although it was different then, the questions that we yearn to have answered and the things that really matter to us in life remain evermore the same.
Go outside. We and she (mother nature) are one. So when seeking wisdom, look no further than mother nature. Every life experience that we have and every life lesson that we learn she mimics and shows us as we are ready to receive it. Take for example the “c” word. Change. So many of us humans fear it, yet it is part of the natural cycle of life. Just one look at mother nature reveals the ever-changing nature of life. Leaves on trees mature and change color just before they fall to the Earth. And it is in these moments, days, and months just before they fall that they are at their greatest potential and shining their brightest. What if we humans, like trees, would embrace, rather the fear, the aging process? What if we, like trees, knew that it only gets better as we get older, that we understand more and therefore have more to give? The next time you feel jolted when you sense the “c” word coming near and feel tempted to resist its accompaniments, just remember the pure wisdom that is contained in the natural cycle of life.
Let a mentor guide you on your way. What a relief it is to know that no matter what you want to do in life, someone has attempted something similar before you. Oftentimes, this person has not done exactly what you have set out to do (you are, after all, a trailblazer and trendsetter) but what they have done required a similar level of fearlessness, faith, and determination. So seek out that person who achieved their dreams when no one thought they would, that person who was the first in their family to go the distance, or that person who knows everything there is to know about that topic you find so interesting that not many others do. Talk to them, ask them questions, and revel in gratitude for the wisdom of those who have walked the path before you. Seek out opportunities to spend time with them, observe them, and learn from them in an official or unofficial mentor-mentee capacity, and let their guidance paint for you a picture of what’s possible, knowing all the while that your path will be one-of-a-kind.
Tune in to your body. There is wisdom that is universal and then there is wisdom that is you-niversal, ie that is dedicated to and arises from the universe inside of you. It is the voice that allows you to discern what is right for him or her from what is right for you. It is the voice that says yes even when your conscious intellect is listing all the reasons to say no. It is the voice that gently suggests let’s pause, this may not be safe when your feet are racing forward towards the sign that reads safe zone: proceed without caution. And it is this very voice that lives inside your body and that has been gifted to you as a source of internal, enduring wisdom. So tune in to this wisdom that your intuition awards you regularly. Pause and check in with your body. Ask yourself “What do I feel physically when I think of making this decision?” Is there a nervous sensation that appears in your stomach, a pressure that emanates in your chest, or a fluttering sensation all of a sudden present in your heart? Does your body feel instantly closed off, heavy, and in a state of resistance? Or does it feel light, open, and as if moving towards something? Take note of the sensations present in your body in response to what you are thinking about and know that this is your inner guidance system and your true source of wisdom far more reliable and trustworthy than the rationale of your thinking mind. Connect and build trust with it regularly for it is your largest source of power beyond any book, pro-con list, or word of advice.
Spend time with the elderly. Sure, grandma and grandpa are often a source of plenty of gifts, hugs, and kisses. But beyond that, they are a source of true wisdom – the kind that comes only from having lived (see #7). It’s likely that the elders in your life – whether it be a grandparent, parent, neighbor, colleague, or friend – have learned a thing or two about happiness, health, love, and life throughout their time on earth. They have a perspective that many of us don’t yet have, spurred by an ability to look back on life in its near-entirety and see the progression of many of life’s learnings from ignorance to assumed, partial or faux intellectual understanding on to full, felt understanding through lived experience. Because of their own lived failures, victories, hopes, regrets, ups-and-downs, they likely have in mind and heart certain ideas about the ways of being and behaving that help and those that hurt, about the things in our day-to-day life that are and are not worth our attention, sweat, and tears, and certainly about what really makes life worth living. And from this wisdom, many will have emerged more open-hearted and loving than they’d been 30, 40, 50, or 60 years prior, making their life view one of the most worthwhile of all to hear and heed if you so choose. So talk to the elders in your life and really listen to what they have to say. Respect and appreciate them for the people they are, ignore the often unspoken misconception that “older people have less value and cannot contribute to society as they once did,” and be truly present to their stories and the lessons and love contained within them.
Meditate. Wisdom is at the heart of who we are, and at the heart of wisdom is being able to take a different perspective, to understand something from another’s point of view. The only thing that can prevent or halt the expression of wisdom is a firm holding on to our thoughts and beliefs. The only thing, then, that can readily reveal wisdom is a letting go of identification with the thoughts in our mind – a skill that meditation has been touted for instilling in people all over the world in decades and centuries past. You see, as Anaïs Nin writes, “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Being aware of this tendency, we can begin to loosen our grip of all the thoughts that come and go in our mind, telling us who we are, who they are, who’s right, and who’s wrong, and we can begin to see beyond ourselves, moving to understand others like never before. So take a few moments each day to sit or lay in silence, to observe the sounds around you and the thoughts within you, noticing yourself as the observer of, and not one and the same as, these thoughts. As you identify more and more with the feeling of your breath and less and less with your thinking mind, the door to understanding yourself and others will be open wide and the surefire path to gaining wisdom will be laid out before you.
Live. You can’t get around it. Though there are many opportunities to gain wisdom in each day, there is nothing that begets wisdom quite like living. So go out there and live. Take risks. Meet new people. Do something you’ve never done before. Make mistakes. Wonder. Take a chance. Fail. Laugh. Cry. Fall. Get back up. Say one thing and mean another. Do one thing and wish you’d done another. Gain faith. Lose faith. Regain faith. Do something that scares you. Kiss. Hug. Fight. Make up. Then rinse and repeat as many times as necessary, for life is wisdom incarnate itself. Thanks to the experience we call life, we are incessantly learning, growing, and becoming ever wiser as our souls expand, deepen, and evolve, inviting us to let pure love flow in and to come closer to the truth of who we are. Without it, this evolution would not be possible.
Wisdom is best shared with others. So go on, share this article with the ones you love.