The Trailhead Of The Path To Wisdom

Suppose that you’ve been knocked off your horse. Yesterday I call this an “existential opening.” Good.

Why good? Because (I argue) you cannot possibly be wise if you’ve never been knocked off your horse. The latter, if you let it, can set the search in motion.

Suppose after you got knocked off your horse that you thought, “I want to know myself.” Also pretty damn good.

Suppose, further, that you intuited that knowing thyself was somehow connected to knowing reality. Now we’re talkin’! Methinks we’re on a roll!

Then you might ask, “How does an inquiry into wisdom ever get underway?” Hey, I like your style. Let’s keep it up!

Immediately or soon enough, you’d bump into two figures standing at the trailhead of the path to wisdom. Their names? Self-deception and Intellectual Humility.

Keenly would you see that we human beings, yourself and myself included, have a propensity to deceive ourselves. We overlook our shortcomings, neglect our peccadillos, pass over our misunderstandings, all the while assuming that we know what it is that we’re talking about. Deception, here, is a broad category that covers lies, blindness, and bullshit. Therefore, the one seeking to step foot onto the path of wisdom would, of necessity I think, have to confront his or her own forms of self-deception, not to mention all the pain bodies (Eckhart Tolle) and shadows (Jung) that appear along the way. To even possibly know thyself, then, one must be intimately acquainted with what one is not but yet what one thought one was (neti neti: cf. Nisargadatta).

And that other figure again? Ah, yes, Intellectual Humility. Deep in your heart you must understand that all too often you haven’t the foggiest about something you used to think you knew all too well. You’re clueless. For, indeed, someone or some being may know much better than you, and this ought to be profoundly, also painfully humbling. Remember Elizabeth Bennett who, in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, upon realizing that she had misunderstood Darcy due to prejudice exclaims: “Till now I never knew myself.” Or remember Proverbs: “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Once these two lessons begin to sink in–voila!–the trailhead suddenly appears, and the path to wisdom begins to open up before you.