Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of February 6, 2012

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(Sacred Impulses: Facet 7 of 8)

The very name of homo sapiens imputes wisdom to our species. But we know that not all people are wise. Indeed we find few who attain the higher levels of wisdom. Mere book learning, though useful and even necessary, is not enough. Mere longevity and experience are not enough. Intelligence and a high I.Q. bring great advantages, but not necessarily wisdom. Yet we recognize the immeasurable value of wisdom. Looking backward, we see the life mistakes we could have avoided and the opportunities we would not have missed, if we had been wiser in our choices, if we had understood ourselves and other people, if we had had the foresight to realize the long-term implications of our actions, and if we had acted accordingly. Looking forward, we want wisdom to inform our future actions. Wisdom is understanding combined with the ability to choose well. We can explore wisdom by looking at how it operates on the different levels of being.

At the lowest level we have arrogance, a perversion of wisdom. The arrogant assumes the mantle of, among other things, being wiser than everyone else. Such misplaced faith in one’s own presumed powers makes normal people flee from us, while the rest get angry or subservient. Believing that you already know, leaves no room for growth, for learning something new, for gaining new insight. The arrogant cannot choose well, for he is driven by his own self-centered illusions and self-oriented positions. Humility is a part of true wisdom.

At the level of half-aware living, wisdom, such as it is, takes the form of an accumulation of experience, raw facts and rote learning — all undigested. The years alone do not make us wise, nor does knowledge equate to wisdom. Major blind spots can persist: areas of our life that we ignore, either intentionally or unknowingly.

Some say that to become wise we must suffer. Suffering, if it is real, like physical pain or emotional grief, does tend to awaken us, to bring us here into this moment, to put us in contact with our life, however briefly. Out of that contact, self-knowledge grows and with it wisdom, for self-knowledge does lead to understanding. But suffering is not the only way to awaken and so is not a necessity for wisdom to grow. Our work at presence, puts us in contact with ourselves and teaches us self-knowledge. Taking the raw material of experience, whether inner or outer, and considering it, contemplating it, and experimenting with it, distills that experience into understanding. Maintaining contact with ourselves and with our life makes us skillful in the ordinary sense. Staying in contact with the practice of a craft, brings the skilled craftsman a portion of wisdom.

At the level of living consciously, the stillness of consciousness and the inner peace it brings set the stage for seeing and conscience. Seeing in this sense means to notice a situation and understand it, its causes and possible outcomes. Consciousness allows this because being in the conscious energy means being aware of the one continuous field of consciousness, which contains everything and everyone. A kind of unity comes, in which we know objects and situations from inside them, not just from their externals. This kind of perception is what we mean by understanding. More than mental words and categories to describe something, we know that thing directly. For example, we can learn a subject from a book and practice, but applying it or teaching it transforms our relationship with it from knowledge to understanding. This true expertise enables us to see. The chess master understands the whole situation almost immediately upon looking at the board

When we can see the most efficacious path, conscience enables us to choose that way over what may be easier paths. This then is wisdom, the ability to see and to do the right thing in any circumstance without overreacting, under-responding, shirking, backpedaling, or taking a wrong turn. This wisdom is a generalized skill that confers prudence and sound judgment.

Now we come to the source of wisdom. The Book of Proverbs offers the image of wisdom as present at creation and rejoicing before the Lord. This implies that wisdom has depth. One kind of perspective comes from long and varied life experience. Another kind altogether comes from seeing in depth, from opening to levels of being, to the spirit, beyond ordinary experience. This latter perspective carries with it a value system that discounts short-term material advantage and places a premium on life, creativity, and love, on the long-term good and on the spiritual. In touching the higher worlds, we are touched by wisdom.

How can we develop wisdom? Slowly to be sure, nevertheless we can work in that direction. We contemplate life, by noting the results of our and others’ actions. We notice our own motivations and tendencies and do not allow all our actions to be driven by the ingrained patterns of our personality. We follow the promptings of our conscience, doing the right thing regardless of whether it is personally pleasant or not. We practice patience. We consider the implications and ramifications of what we do or fail to do. We listen to our intuitions, but check to see if they are correct. We seek to live by eternal values while avoiding fixed positions. We seek to be present and to deepen our presence, because the deeper our state, the closer we are to wisdom.

For this week, increase your wisdom.


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