The Big Picture: An Integrated Perspective on Wisdom

I almost didn’t write this. Instead, I was going to expend 1500 words talking about past struggles and feeling unlimited. Maybe I will, one day, but too soon. And I didn’t feel like writing a self-help book my first day back to the blogging world. By the way, how was everyone’s holiday weekend? I’m sporting a nice sunburn. Mission accomplished.

Creative Writing is one of my two majors in school over here in Middle-of-Nowhere, Pennsylvania. Last year, I took a British Literature class and submitted a presentation on the life of Christina Rossetti. Since my high school years, I’ve had a fondness – kind of like the fondness you would feel for your favorite flavor of ice cream – for Rossetti’s poem “The Goblin Market.” At surface level, it’s the kind of poem you would use to teach children not to go where they aren’t supposed to be with people they aren’t supposed to talk to to do things they shouldn’t be doing. Underneath that, there’s a hell of a lot more to the piece. It’s actually kind of genius ( I should know. I spent weeks diving into the deep layers of the poem with a magnifying glass).

I think I’ve always been drawn to the forbidden. Growing up in the old church village where I would visit Grandma with my siblings multiple times per week, my favorite bible story was the tale of the forbidden fruit. I used to imagine what it must have been like to take that first bite, how the fruit could have been so enticing after the explicit warning that had already been issued. I’ve carded a few doors in my day. I like going where most people wouldn’t and making those places my own.

I used to be a hardcore Jesus-freak. I once led worship once a week in a prayer room as the leader of a prophetic worship band. I’ve drank the Kool-Aid, caught the bug, carried the cross, and I don’t regret any of it. I learned a lot about myself back then. Some of the most stretching and rewarding experiences of my life came to pass while I was a thousand miles away from home trying to find God.

I like Jesus. I like the things he had to say. I like Christians. I like Catholics. What I don’t like is the ethnocentric mindset that one group of people are the only ones who have the right view of God, the right wisdom from God, and are the only ones who know the way to God. No accusations here, to be sure. The world is a very large and diverse place. If God is depending on one worldview and one group of people to maintain harmony between heaven and earth… well, I’m just not sure how well that plan was thought out. I abhor the idea that as diverse as we all are, we have nothing to learn from each other.

I was always under the impression, from the religious instruction I was raised in, that Jesus and bible equals good, and everything else is a shit pile of lies and everyone else is wrong. I hope you’ve had a different experience.

I’ve been keeping a copy of the Tao Te Ching next to a copy of the ESV translation of the bible.

Buddhism was the first Eastern religion that I dipped my toes into. A friend from years past and miles away once told me in an appreciative tone, “You’re such an intellectual.” I didn’t appreciate the complement of the time. I kind of fancied the idea that I was more of a romantic, but nowadays I’m in love with my intellectual side. It allows me to explore without limits, to appreciate wisdom gathered from all ages and all cultures, to look at the pieces gathered from all corners of the earth and see how they fit together.

The curious thing is, once I began studying other belief systems, the one I was born into began making more sense. Allow me to illustrate my point. Whatever you’re reading this on, be it a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or what have to, bring your face real close to the device so that your nose touches the screen. Keep it there and keep reading, or try to. Tell me how that works out for you. My prediction: it won’t.

When we hold things too close to us, we never seem to be able to see them for what they really are. We never get the whole picture. It’s the same thing in writing. When I’m writing a new piece of fiction or poetry, I know that piece will become a much better end-product if I set it on the back-burner, let it simmer on its own, and forget about it. Out of sight, out of mind; there’s another draft to be written. When I finally come back and I’m seeing my draft with fresh eyes, I’m able to see more objectively; I see clearly and am therefore able to make connections, refine images, and organize structure and be witty with my words.

I think it’s kind of the same with wisdom found in many places. When first introduced with a collection of wisdom, it is good to dive in and enjoy, to meditate on what has been passed down like a rabbit chewing the cud. At first introductions, however, you can only go so far. Wisdom doesn’t indulge impropriety. She doesn’t take her clothes off on the first date. Rather you go your separate ways and let her return home. If you really want to get to know her, you might ask people who know her well what she is like. You wouldn’t count on just one perspective. You’re more clever than that. You ask the shop-owner who sells her potatoes every Tuesday, the milk-man who converses with her every Monday and Thursday morning, and her best-friend who hears from her every day. Wisdom is a popular gal that has many friends from many different places over a span of many, many years. If you really want to get to know her, ask around and go on different kinds of adventures with her. Don’t just take her to the park. Take her to the skate-hop, the bar on karaoke night, the museum on Friday. If you want to know her, know who she is in every situation.

My second major in school over here in Middle-of-Nowhere, Pennsylvania is Anthropology. There is a saying in my studies I’ve become quite fond of: Culture in integrated. We could talk for hours about this, but we won’t. Here’s the quick version: If you are studying a culture, you wouldn’t just look at the economic system or only the religion. Rather, you would look at everything – language, education, child-rearing, subsistence strategies, economics, religion, yada yada yada … – and see how it all connects into a unique and fascinating pattern that is culture.

I like to think that all things follow this pattern of integration. As a writer with an obsession for the art of fiction, I can tell you for a fact that people are just as integrated as culture. As is the future, I imagine. As is wisdom.

When I began understanding karma, “As ye so, so shall we reap” made sense to me. When I began to understand “The Way of Heaven is to win easily without struggle” and “My words are easy to understand and easy to practice” I began to understand “My burden is easy and my yoke is light.” When I began seeing neither good nor bad in situation, I began to more deeply understand “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to his life.”

I don’t think anyone’s wrong and anyone’s right. I don’t think Buddha knew more or less than Jesus. I think if, out of all the ideas out there, only one is right, than most of the world is screwed. But when you dare to take a step back from the idea you hold so tightly too – like I did and force myself to do all the time when I write -, things begin to become more clear and everything seems to fit together just right.

Don’t be afraid to let go of what you hold dear or hold as true – or at least your idea of it – to go around exploring and asking questions. When you really love something, when you really truly want something, you have to let it go. If it’s meant to be, it will come back to you and you’ll know it more intimately. For a seed to grow, it first must die. Happy journeys.

Forbidden

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2 thoughts on “The Big Picture: An Integrated Perspective on Wisdom

  1. There is a lot here that I appreciate. These are not easy topics to tackle with fairness and respect and yet you have done so. The last paragraph sums it up rather well. Doing exactly that is the only way I have grown and begun to touch the fringes of what is true.

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