Wisdom is an icky subject. For millenia, philosophers, priests, and laypeople have argued over it's meaning.
So, what is it?
Let's be clear. I have no damn idea. If I was a wise guy, I probably wouldn't get upset when my latest IG photo doesn't get enough likes.
Yet, it's still worth trying to understand what wisdom is and how to embody it.
Because wisdom is one of the most practical skills in the world. To me, wisdom is the sum of your thoughts, emotions, and actions in the present moment.
What's more practical than that? Business books? Tech trends? Keeping Up With the Kardashians?
Maybe. Maybe not.
So if you're like me and don't consider yourself a wise person, where do you start?
One clever trick is to seek out wise people and learn from them. Luckily, this thing called the internet makes that easy. One such wise person is a man named Anthony De Mello.
He was a Jesuit priest, psychotherapist, and philosopher.
Through extensive experience, he developed a three step process for developing wisdom:
- Become aware of negative feelings
- Realize that negative feelings are inside your mind. Nowhere else.
- Understand that negative feelings don't define you
Let's look at each step a little more closely.
Step 1: Become aware of negative feelings
About a year ago I had a panic attack on a flight from Miami to San Francisco. For weeks, I couldn't go anywhere without feeling like people were looking at me and thinking negatively about me.
So how do you deal with something like that?
Whenever I would be around people, I'd think - "Don't be anxious. Don't be paranoid. Don't be anxious. Don't be paranoid. Don't be anxious. Don't be paranoid."
And y'know what?
That made it 100x worse. Looking back, it was probably the worst thing I could have done.
As some scientist once said:
"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." - some scientist
The more you resist a negative emotion, the more power it has over you.
Imagine if a naked mole rat scurried in front of you. But all you did was resist, avoid, and wish it went away.
What would it do? Probably linger for a bit, eat some crumbs, get fatter and scurry away. Ready to come back in a couple hours.
So how do you get rid of it? If you have a hispanic mother, she would probably take her silk slipper and slap that son-of-a-bitch silly.
Unfortunately, most of us don't have hispanic mothers and emotions can't be stopped with silk slippers. But we can still face a negative emotion head-on.
Try to understand it. Give it a name. Like Anxious Andy or something. Notice when it arises. Does it arise when you're around people? Who? Does it arise when you're alone? When? Observe how it impacts your body. Do you feel it in your stomach? Or your chest?
To grow from a negative emotion, you must build a relationship with it. Treat it like a new friend. Not a mortal enemy.
Once you are in touch with negative emotions, it's useful to understand where they come from.
Step #2: Negative feelings are inside your mind. Nowhere else.
As I was working through my social anxiety, I would do my best to avoid certain situations. For example, I went three months without working at my desk in the office because I was surrounded by so many people which caused anxiety.
I viewed myself as a victim. I thought: "This environment is causing these feelings inside of me. I must get away."
This is a deep hole to dig yourself out of because you begin to believe that the world is happening to you. As such, you feel powerless.
Instead, it's important to realize that your mind is the root of these negative feelings. Not the external world. With this mentality, you move from feeling powerless to empowered. Instead of the world happening to you, it happens by you, for you, and as you.
Negative feelings are like a pair of glasses that you see the world through.
These glasses shape how you view the world. If your glasses come from the latest collection of Anxiety, Fear, and Stress. Then that's how you will see the world.
But we have the power to take these glasses off and put on a new pair. Glasses that perceive Peace, Joy, and Happiness. By doing so, you go from a victim to an author. Every day becomes a new chapter that you can write.
After realizing where your negative feelings come from, it's time to understand who you really are.
Step #3: Negative feelings don't define you
After a few weeks of dealing with this social anxiety, I sought out a therapist. On the online intake form thingy I checked the box proclaiming "I am anxious". It felt like it was immutably inked into my psyche.
That was my new label. Or at least until my insurance reimbursed me.
Over time, this label goes from a story you keep telling yourself, to a part of your identity. From software to hardware.
But it doesn't have to.
The key is disassociating your emotions from your true self. Instead of saying : "I am an anxious person". Say: "In this moment, I feel anxious" or "Anxiousness is arising within me". Do not identify with it. Observe it.
If you were in the park and a bird flew right in front of you, you probably wouldn't spend the next hour obsessing over the bird. No. You would think, "Oh, lovely. A bird. Look at it. How nice." And then forget about it.
You want to treat negative emotions the same way. Notice and understand. Don't obsess.
Negative emotions are not a part of you. They simply arise. Like a bird in the sky. Once you realize that, negative emotions will begin to leave as quickly as they came.
By getting in touch with your negative emotions, understanding where they come from, and appreciating who you really are, you will be well on the path to a wiser life.
The process to becoming wise is simple, but not easy. Simple to understand. Hard to implement.
As you go throughout your day, observe when a negative emotion arises. Go through the steps. Watch. Understand. Appreciate. You can go through this cycle ten, twenty, thirty times a day.
As you do, it will become automatic. From software to hardware.
In this process, you go from a victim to a creator.
The path to wisdom is endless. But we should at least think about whether it's worth taking a step in the right direction.