“Wisdom is directly proportional to the size of the group you take responsibility for.”
I have been wondering about wisdom. As part of an elder’s circle I’ve been thinking about what constitutes the wisdom in this group of human beings. I don’t think I understand what I’ve noticed, but I think I’ve got a part of it, and if that is true, I think that there is something here for all of us. Here is what I mean.
It is true I’ve found perspective being amongst these people. I can see a lot of things I couldn’t see before, or could only see dimly, partially. My sight is sharpened as it is failing, but this isn’t the source of the wisdom. I can see the way the years have brought some things into focus, and that is good, but it isn’t what has moved folks to go beyond themselves. Sight, seeing the bigger picture, certainly is edifying, it brings about a change in consciousness, but it doesn’t go all the way to wisdom.
What is it — what moves a person into a realm that goes beyond conventional ways of knowing? As I sit with these folks I sense the presence of a broader way of knowing, of feeling. I can feel it. It is in the group, sometimes it comes out of someone’s mouth, behavior, or demeanor. Sometimes it sits over, or amongst us, like an atmosphere, about to storm through us, or someone amongst us. Sometimes it is ripe in the silence. Sometimes I am suddenly pierced, something in another’s words, or quietness, takes me away, and simultaneously delivers a chastened, or healed, heart. I want to cry, to exalt, to exclaim my undeserved privilege. Sometimes it just hurts so good.
I have been after this experience for a long time. For me, it started in a community-building workshop, in 1986. I felt something, a presence I knew was bigger than the group gathered that spring day. It included all of us, was somehow of us, but went way beyond us. I had the audacity to believe then that whatever it was, was something that could be integrated and made a regular experience of the world. I’m glad I had that impulse because it has kept my butt sitting in large circles paying attention and trying to learn. Now I’ve had enough experiences of what I’ve come to call communitas that I can tell when it’s present and when to shut up and listen real hard.
And I’ve been changed. I don’t know how much is a result of the stroke (though I do recommend near death experiences), and how much the world appearing as a circle changed me, but I do know the combination created some kind of strange hybrid awareness. Now I’m always in a circle, always feeling my self, extending out in disconcerting and overwhelming ways. I’d say I simply like it, if my circle of caring didn’t bring in so much human suffering. The Universe now is my circle, and I am just a part of it, trying to act consistent with the whole, and failing magnificently. Practicing being part of the circle has disrupted my life, so much that I no longer think it mine, and delivered me into a circle I intuited, but really had no idea about.
Oh, but I’m trying to write about wisdom, not about circles. I can’t help it, they seem to be linked in my mind. Its like, when I’m in the circle of elders, being in a gold mine, and discovering there are many rich, untapped veins, just calling out to be explored. I feel the rush of sudden wealth and an urge to share such abundance. The location of this mine is a secret though. Strangely it can be sensed, but remains hidden, right here in the midst of us. I can feel its presence, know its here, feel the wealth it implies, and am helpless to go there, to cavort in our shared wealth, until more of us open the doors. Which doors? Our doors, whatever that means.
Wisdom, of the sort that is present in the elder’s circle, is an emergent quality. It becomes manifest as we invest in each other. Not the passive kind of investment we’ve been taught, like into stocks, but a more active, even interactive kind of investing, of shared knowing, caring and responsibility. I really believe that it has been my investment in the others of the circle that has made the circle come to life for me. And, I know the circle, especially the big, unpredictable, other-populated, never safe, circle delivered me more fully into the wonderful mystery of Life.
What is wisdom? I don’t know, maybe its like pornography. Didn’t one famous, but now forgotten justice of the Supreme Court once say, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.” Yes, I think wisdom is like that, but I can’t help but feel it is more likely another group of humans, motivated by something more exquisite and elusive than pornography, that create it. Unlike pornography, it probably starts between the ears but goes to the heart instead of the loins.
I’m sure that one dimension of this experience relates to the quote above. Large circles, circles filled with conflict, chaos, diversity, and differing capacities have served as microcosms of the larger macrocosm and have thus stretched me out in a variety of directions. I think I have been exposed to wisdom, and grown wiser, because of those circles. With exposure to them, like the elder’s circle, my circle of caring has grown, and with it, I have been grown.
From here, wisdom is mystery unfolding, in whatever circle I care enough about to be broken in.