Contemplating Wisdom: Most Notably, Questions To And For Wisdom


What are some of the questions to which wisdom is the answer?

1.) At what does (my) life ultimately aim? 

A world-class athlete aims at victory, but victory is not wisdom. A business leader aims at success, but success is not wisdom. Neither have yet made the question of wisdom their foregoing concern. For undeniably this question–at what does life ultimately aim?–is a question of wisdom. It’s a question of wisdom as well as a question posed to wisdom. In this sense, it is a potent question for wisdom is what ‘takes up the question’ and wisdom is the answer to this question.

2.) I’m lost, or turned about. I can’t seem to find my bearings. I don’t have a sense of direction. How shall I find my way? 

Wisdom, I suggest, is not actually concerned with how questions. In the ‘eyes’ of wisdom, all how questions are really why or what questions. And, in fact, all why questions are reducible to what questions. The question here is essentially this one: what is it to find my way? What is to be found? Or even: what is it that I truly seek? 

A sense of direction is not a sufficient answer. For, again, what do I seek? To truly seek is to begin to set foot on some path, and that path is what provides me with a sense of direction.

But why isn’t wisdom concerned with why questions? It is, but each why is really a what. In this sense: if I ask, “Why am I living?,” I’m really asking, “What is it that is most essentially worth living for?” 

3.) I don’t know how to live my life. How do I?

Again, not a question of how specifically, for each how is just a reason to find a consultant, an advisor, a coach, or a therapist. To open oneself to the question of wisdom is to feel oneself splayed open and, in the proper sense, tenderized or vulnerable. 

Thus, the question can be reformulated: “What is that life that I long to live for?”

4.) I’m having an existential crisis. What is this?

Exactly. “What is happening?” is, at the broadest level, a question of wisdom.

5.) Something seems off or missing; I feel incomplete somehow. What is it that would make me whole or that would return me to wholeness?

Great question. The key word is “somehow.” A sense that life is mysterious is somehow bound up with the path of wisdom. And if wisdom is anything, it must be in conversation with wholeness. Is not a wiseman a whole? Is he not, in fact, the whole?

Wisdom leaves nothing out. It does not rest until it can rest in, and as, the whole from which or out of which it can bound forth in spontaneous or deliberate action. Wisdom leaps out of the whole without ever leaping away from the whole. 

But why does wisdom leap? Because awakening is the abiding in stillness while wisdom is the stillness-in-action. We don’t call someone wise unless we can see ‘the proof in the pudding.’ No wiseman has ever ‘sat on his hands.’ And yet, no wiseman was ever in a hurry. He is like the stillest water beneath the undulating waves: his actions are these rhythmical waves while his ‘being’ is this stillness, or composure, or boundless, stunningly quiet peace. 

Shared wisdom is peace in knowing of the kind that is, and can only be, experienced together.

Test Piece

I read this tweet fairly recently:

Crafting a social public persona is a prison. Best to face and deal with the pain, shame, and inadequacy that necessitates the creation of a social mask. The resulting authenticity and emergence of our true inner gifts, is infinitely more effective than a curated image anyhow.

Let us grant all these points. I have no truck with them, no objection. But is the one one who tweeted this wise? I don’t know, and I’m not sure that any of us could know simply by reading the above. But why is that? Quite clearly because we don’t yet know how he lives, how he conducts himself. What is his “inner landscape” actually like? Matthew puts it well: “Ye shall know them [i.e., true Christians] by their fruits.” Exactly! And those fruits are not “one-off deeds” like charity on Wednesday. Far from it. A true Christian would radiate with “that peace that surpasseth all understanding,” and thus a wise Christian would necessarily be a loving Christian. 

We cannot do much with what is written alone for the express reason that what is written alone cannot tell us anything substantive about the true source of that writing. Whereas when Jesus says, also in Matthew, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also,” dang somehow we know that he’s living what he says. In other words, what he is saying, right here, actually comes directly out of his living truth (or better: Living Truth). There is, quite simply, no doubt about it. 

Of course, we say, “Yes, because the wiseman doesn’t just ‘talk the talk’; he must ‘walk the walk.’” Well, sure, if we can pardon the cliche. But we need to be clear: the wiseman or a wise people walk the talk in a way that fully suggests, without even a shred of doubt, that they have fully integrated that walking talk into every fiber of their being.

Socrates was right: wisdom is an extremely high standard.