Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Wisdom -- wise old woman?

This past Sunday the New York Times Magazine was devoted to considerations of wisdom. The lead article discussed scientists trying to locate and define wisdom. I was fascinated and frustrated. Why must science be so parochial, so US-centric? or Euro-centric?: I can understanding having to narrow the scope to be able to handle data but to proceed as if the rest of the world has nothing to contribute is -- what else can we say? -- exceedingly unwise. However I read the whole thing with interest. And then I took the wisdom test with some trepidation.

I've always thought a worthy life goal is to be a wise old woman -- like in the fairy tales -- after all we can't go on seeing ourselves as The Princess beyond a certain age. After that we certainly don't want to become the Queen as in Snow White's nasty step-mother. Much better to be the wise old woman who has the answers or the keys that makes it possible for the hero to accomplish his seemingly impossible task. So have I gained wisdom or, as T.S. Eliot recognized, knowledge is not wisdom: Well the scoring is 1 to 5, 5 being some pinnacle of wisdom. I was a modest 3.8 ... not stupid or idiotic but far from profoundly wise. [I recommend readers of this blog check out the Times magazine soon, because my impression is that the site changes every week. Tho' if you're more computer savvy than I, maybe you can figure out how to get to their archives.
When I think of wisdom, I think of examples of people from other cultures, like, obviously, the Dalai Lama. [The surveys quoted said people put Ghandi at the top of their lists.]
What about Chief Joseph of the Nez Perze. People with broad perspectives, who have cultivated compassion and understanding. Where are the Americans, the Europeans? Who???

A few weeks ago I mentioned a book by a woman who wrote of her own enlightenment. I've been pondering that since I encountered it and I remember reading in literature about Buddhist meditational practices that euphoria, such as that woman described [and named "enlightenment"] may happen during practice of disciplines but it is an impediment to continued work toward enlighteniment. Euphoria feels great, but it seems to be a chemical imbalance. Not so different from a drug highl. But this is already far afield from the scientists in the Times article -- they take no meditational practices into account. They don't recognize what I'd call "mind work", the kind of practices I've read of used to train the mind to reach an equilibrium, to empty itself of thoughts and look at pure mind. I unerstand that, in theory, I do not feel myself drawn to those practices. I think this attitude which is a kind of laziness on my part, or an attachment to the ephemeral, will keep me from becoming wise by my own definition. But still time remains before me [I hope] so maybe another phase will come about ...

No comments :