A Pinch of Sage

Perhaps because it’s been on my mind and attention wavelength, I see more and more book titles that promise to explain “What Really Matters,” or “What Matters Most.” I wish someone would explain it to me.  I have my own ideas on the subject of course, but I’ve never really been quite certain and I’m not beyond accepting good advice. Or bad advice for that matter. So, when someone counsels “follow your bliss,” where do you go if you have no idea how to find it? What really, REALLY matters is a question with movable parts with answers that differ from person to person and that change over time. At 16 it might have been getting that driver’s license, launching a career and conquering the world at 21. And for many Boomers it’s meeting expenses on a fixed income, ageing in place, or re-evaluating life’s purpose. I’m 67, young enough to enjoy relatively good health but old enough to be impressed by my shrinking time horizon, and I’d like to use my remaining days wisely. So oddly enough, I’ve decided the best way to create a wise, and hence well lived life, is by cultivating wisdom, and then let it do the driving. Sort of a spiritual GPS system.
Did you know The University of Chicago has a “Center for Practical Wisdom?” Its mission is “to deepen our scientific understanding of wisdom and its role in the decisions and choices that affect everyday life. We want to understand how an individual develops wisdom and the circumstances and situations in which people are most likely to make wise decisions.” Me too!
One of the leading wisdom theorists, Monica Ardelt has created a Three Dimensional Wisdom Scale, the tool most widely used by researchers. (I scored 4.1, just over the 4 point threshold for high wisdom).
One last bit of “science” which a fellow traveler might find useful, or at least entertaining. The VIA Inventory of Strengths asks 240 item questions designed to measure 24 character strengths and rank them in order of importance. It was primarily constructed by Martin Seligman, past President of the American Psychological Association and father of applied Positive Psychology. The test can be accessed at www.viacharacter.org , but I would suggest going through Seligman’s University of Pennsylvania website www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu . The idea is to concentrate on building character strengths rather than redressing weaknesses. My number one strength by the way was “Love of Learning.” You might find it interesting to consider yours.
Speaking of non-sequiturs, when asked to define pornography, Justice Potter Stewart famously said, “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.” The same might be said for wisdom, although the definitions have been piling up for thousands of years. I found myself consulting the usual suspects…lessons from mythology, teachings of the major world religions, the Six pre Socratic Sages, musings by stoic Roman Emperors, even viewed all the movies in the Star Wars series and recorded all of Master Jedi Yoda’s aphorisms. Studied and found a great deal of merit in the research findings and application of Positive Psychology and Cognitive Behavior Therapy as I consulted contemporary resources in philosophy, neurology, psychology, psychiatry, coaching and consulting. I also came across a fellow by the name of Syd Banks.
In 1973, Sydney Banks was an average working man, a welder with a 9 thgrade education, not a seeker of truth or wisdom. But at the age of 43 he experienced a profound and spiritual revelation while attending a marriage group counseling/seminar. He was unimpressed by the seminar, but had occasion to speak informally with a therapist also attending the event. He described himself to the therapist as an insecure mess, and was told “I’ve never heard such nonsense in all my life.” There’s no such thing as insecurity, it’s only Thought. That advice might have compounded insecurity for some, but for Banks it was like a weight had been lifted. A seemingly simple insight upon which to launch a spiritual journey, Banks learned not to believe everything he thought, that reality was created from the inside out, and that such insights came from an innate wisdom that is accessible to everyone. Something like a Zen student of many years finding “instant” understanding and enlightenment after watching ripples in a shallow pond. That’s the thing about epiphanies…they typically arrive suddenly, almost incidentally from somewhere beyond the intellect…to be experienced, not explained.
  Syd was all in. He quit his job and began preaching his insight, by example and by word of mouth. Friends and neighbors noticed his remarkable transformation. A community began to gravitate around him as word spread of how people’s understanding made them better spouses, parents, friends, siblings and members of the human race . The accolades caught the attention of two prominent psychologists who eventually incorporated Syd’s Understanding into their private practice of psychotherapy and community programming.  Roughly 40 years later, this insight has been successfully shared in hospitals, correctional institutions, social services, juvenile justice programs, drug and alcohol prevention and treatment, schools and multinational corporations, spreading from the United States into Canada, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Israel, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Spain, and coming soon to a theater near you!
Hope this doesn’t sound too much like the breathless enthusiasm of an apostle. But The Three Principles espoused by Banks resonate with me as well, (and basically have been taught for thousands of years) and I’m inclined to think that perhaps hundreds of years from now future generations may be referring to Sid Banks as Siddhartha.   So with Your permission, I’d like to wade a bit deeper into these philosophical weeds of Mind, Consciousness and Thought, share my thoughts and invite your own.