We tend to think of wisdom as something that will save us, but we fail to notice that if it saves us then we must have been in trouble in the first place. That’s fine, because experiencing challenges expands our capacity, but it’s important to actually remember, in the moment, that you want them: wisdom has no use unless you have problems, and problems both teach and are overcome by wisdom. It’s a win-win.
People who are not yet familiar with their wisdom often see the wise as balanced, when they should be seen as good at balancing. There we have a word that needs inspection; balance isn’t a static state. You weren’t supposed to become the perfect fossil. Your life is an active, in-motion expression of the balance and tension between your so-called problems and your so-called wisdom.
When you start off in life you run around on the teeter-totter of being like a little kid. And like little kids, you sometimes make miscalculations about where to put your weight. When we’re young or when we’re not paying enough attention (which is like being young), that’s when we tend to make the mistakes that see us crashing down painfully.
When you’re a kid just not getting your way can cause your teeter-totter to crash down. Later, you understand more grown-up concepts, so you’re more accepting of daily life, but you still struggle with your relationships. But as you struggle through those, you get better at that but then you have to learn to use an aging body. The learning never stops, so the trick is to love the learning rather than resist it.
Life is doing what it’s doing and it’ll drop unexpected and expected weights on teeter-totters all the time. Sometimes you’ll perceive that action personally, as though life’s been hard on you specifically, rather than you seeing it for what it is: that you just happened to be balancing in the path of some otherwise impersonal destruction.
Some scientists wanted to test experienced meditators regarding what levels of acceptance can be achieved through mindfulness. They took the best monk they knew (Lama Oser), and they tested him. Keep in mind, this fellow spent his entire life getting good at being peaceful. And what did that attract to him? The people looking to attack him so they could study the sources of peace.
It wasn’t personal when they got him to meditate. They just wanted to see what mindfulness could do when it came to managing something the scientists thought was guaranteed to create startled reaction. So the reward for all of his meditation practice was that they scared him intentionally, with a really really loud noise. They just wanted to see if he would react. Even police snipers have a startle reaction to the sound of a gun. Lama Oser didn’t. Can you see? Life literally delivers the lessons that suit us best if only we’d be open to them. And that went for the scientists as much as for Lama Oser.
When you started off as a kid you were flopping all over the place and your teeter-totter rocked violently sometimes. But as you age, and much more so as you become aware, you’ll find ways to detect that you’re heading off course and you’ll develop skills to react to those situations. Over time and practice you’ll refine those until eventually someone says that’s how you are.
The wise person you want to be–the people you admire–they’re still balancing. It’s just they’ve learned enough from being off balance that they now can make such subtle adjustments to stay on balance that you can’t even detect them from your perspective. But they’re still there, make no mistake. So if someone can settle themselves in a way you can’t, don’t argue with them that they should be upset with you. Instead, ask them more about how they manage to not be upset.
Life doesn’t finish. Awareness is a practice, not an achievement. Life will always require you to balance it. But if you don’t pay attention, years alone won’t do it. You have to actually pay attention to balancing if you want to learn to balance. It won’t happen mindlessly, only mindfully. Stop fighting and resisting your battles. Learn from them instead. Because everyone, including you, has the capacity within them to develop balance. Go find yours.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.