6 April 2010
Response to Copthorne Macdonald
a lot about wisdom lately, and relating it to my own life, I found a particular
section in Copthorne Macdonald's book, Getting a Life, to really
interest me. In chapter 20, speaking on "Real Happiness," Macdonald
touches on the appropriate way to deal with "an impulse of fear,
anger, hate, or craving" that we feel at any given time (104). He
later adds, "If we let the feelings remain without reacting to them
allowing them to stay, simply as messages on the notice-board of
mind they soon fade away completely" (104). Something I would've
liked to have asked Macdonald if there had been more time in our Skype
session, is how exactly I could go about doing just that.
April, 14 2010
Well, you did get a chance to ask your really great questions after all, and I'll respond the best I can.
First of all, I see wisdom as a continuum with really clueless and foolish at one and exceptionally wise at the other. Almost all of us are somewhere in between. We all have some of the qualities associated with wisdom, developed to a certain degree. You'd probably agree that most 20 year-olds are wiser than most 12 year olds. But as you say, this increase in wisdom has come out of additional life experience, and most importantly, making sense of that experience. I wouldn't expect any 20-year old to be as wise as an elder such as the grandparents you think so highly of. But although life experience is a necessary condition for wisdom, it is not sufficient. Older people, too, can be found at many places along that wisdom continuum. University of Florida wisdom researcher Monika Ardelt has studied older people, and she has observed that the wisest among them are people who have met serious challenges in their lives and overcome or transcended them. We all face life crises and difficult situations. Dealing with them in a positive way and going beyond them develops wisdom. Being diminished by them and retreating into feelings of victimhood does not.
Does studying wisdom make a person wiser? Maybe yes; maybe no. What I was attempting to do when I wrote Getting a Life was simply to get people thinking about a variety of common life situations and skillful and not-so-skillful ways of dealing with them. It was intended to be a mind-stirring book, and that is the way Dr. Nordstrom has been using it in the personal writing course. Cop doesn't have all the answers, but the life situations and issues I focused on are ones that most of us will encounter at some point in our lives. My assumption was that a little pre-need thinking about these things might be helpful.
How do we just remain with feelings without reacting to them? We do it by developing a sense of separateness or detachment between the observing quality of mind - awareness, subjective sensitivity, the sentient ground of mind, the subjective me and the brain-generated informational content of mind: perceptions, emotions, thoughts, feelings. And how do we do that? We do it by spending a lot of time just quietly watching how our mind works. Meditation is the general name applied to techniques for doing that. In another of my books, Toward Wisdom, I go into this at some length. If you don't mind reading on a computer screen, it is available for free download at http://www.wisdompage.com/ebooksinfo.html.
bookstore may still have printed copies of it. Also on The Wisdom Page
is a guided mindfulness meditation in streaming audio form. Listening
to it would give you a taste of the practice. It's at http://www.wisdompage.com/Audio/GuidedMeditation.html.
Meditation practice can help develop that little pause between impulse and action which can allow "sober second thought" to intervene.
Again, thanks so much for your letter and those great questions.
All the best,