Wisdom without the Grey Hair

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“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” ~ Abraham Lincoln.

It was once said that wisdom comes with age, but I very much doubt that this is true. In my short time on this planet, I have encountered enough ignorant and egocentric people to understand that these two unflattering character traits do not discriminate on the basis of age, which after all is just a numerical label which fails to get at the heart of who we are, and what we are capable of expressing at any moment in time. Wisdom, in this respect, emerges from a realm that is deeper than the physical stage of life that we occupy. In essence, this source of wisdom is the spiritual basis of life, and by living in a way that aligns with spirit, we will be capable of embodying wisdom in tangible ways. Even children, who often do a better job of remaining true to their essence, can be great teachers of wisdom if we care to be receptive to their lessons.

Being inclined to believe that old age holds the answer to life’s problems, we assume that learning is automatic, when in actuality it is not. Learning is a choice and it will be something that we naturally gravitate to when we allow our innate curiosity to take hold. On this point, one of the prominent findings from my research was that individuals who are living their calling and aligned with their spirit in that process demonstrated the trait of continuous learning. An intrinsic part of life is the learning opportunities that it affords, but ultimately the decision of whether we learn or not is up to us.

Possessed of the free will to evolve and allow wisdom to move through us, it is not a given that we will choose to embody it at any time, let alone in old age. While it is nice to think that we grow more receptive to learning the older that we get, it is just not true. Often, the older people that we encounter are stubborn and rigid to the point where they find it difficult to entertain the possibility that someone who is younger in years is acquainted with a truth/truths that they have not encountered yet. Themselves victims of this ‘wisdom comes with age’ fallacy, it is the comforting position that they adopt under the direction of the frail ego, which prefers to believe that which affirms its own righteous identity, and not expose the agent to a learning situation that would require them to be truly vulnerable.

Learning requires great courage and humility (also qualities that my research found are emblematic of spirit), and if we don’t allow these virtues to guide our evolution, then we will find ourselves living in old age with the same mindset that we had in our younger years. For the mind to expand, it must be fed on a continual basis. Only by doing this do we ensure that our experience of the years ahead will be richer than those that we have already lived. Why a great many people get bored and disillusioned with life as they become older is because they have stopped growing, and as a consequence they are essentially living the same year over and over again.

This experience is much different from continuously learning on a day to day basis, which has the effect of compounding our personal growth. Like an interest amount that increases with every dollar that we add to our bank account, the quality of our life increases in proportion to the amount of learning that we agree to undertake. Whether it takes the form of education or new experiences, we strengthen our capacity for insight into the nature of the world, and ultimately ourselves, every time that we move to ask new questions of life.

It is when we are comfortable staring into the abyss of consciousness that wisdom comes alive. Presenting profound answers to the questions that we have asked with intentionality, it works alongside the gaining of knowledge to round out our understanding of life. Grey hairs or not, we will struggle to find all of the answers because our time in this world is just too short. Despite this reality, I still believe it to be a wonderful thing that in any moment, we can lose ourselves in the mystery of life and allow wisdom to come forth. A manifestation of our being in the here and now, it is not time that it needs to speak, but a heart that is open and willing to liberate the spirit that it houses.


The Long and Lazy Road (Part 2)

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The process of growing into our fullness demands that we deal with reality in a blinders-off fashion. Having the openness to inquire about its substance, we discover far more of value and truth than we otherwise would have by demanding that reality conform to the dictates of our mind. Essentially, these distortions of reality are what come to form our assumptions. Refusing to look beyond the prism of our own knowledge and experience, we forego wonderful opportunities for learning that when integrated into our being, are likely to open up new avenues of constructive action.

Perceiving the world through the narrow lens of the ego, we fail to question as much as we should. Arrogant in our perceived ability to decipher circumstances, and not wanting to appear stupid or weak by asking questions of others, we are held captive by our pride which isolates us from sources of new knowledge and progress. In most, if not all circumstances, there will be people in our immediate environment who have the knowledge and information that we can utilise to generate better results in our area of influence.

Eager and willing to share what they know, all we have to do is ask. An act of humility that allows us to bridge our knowledge deficit, it is what each of us is capable of doing when we disassociate from the ego, which would have us believe that we do not need the help of others who, in one way or another, pose a threat to our identity. The tale that the ego tells, it is responsible for so much of our implicit reluctance to open ourselves to the knowledge of others. Not wanting to experience the vulnerability that true learning requires, we succumb to the perspective that falsely assumes the predominance of ego in those who endeavour to assist us.

Harbouring also the fear of rejection, we choose the safest option of not asking others for those things that will bring us clarity. Pessimistically convincing ourselves that we will receive a ‘no’ response, we don’t even entertain the possibility of them meeting our request, and receiving the missing pieces of the puzzle that we are trying to solve. In my experience, people with expertise in a particular area are open to sharing the knowledge and information that they have, if they are approached in the right way. This means respecting their time, knowledge and privacy, and being forthright about how you intend to use the information that is being conveyed.

Even in the event that they do shut you out, that is far from the worst thing that could happen in the circumstances. Often it will be the case that the same knowledge or information is available from another source. Your task will then be to search that alternate source out. Persistence in this task is key. Requiring the kind of committed action that is the antithesis of laziness, it is what will enable you to breakthrough with a solution, while others remain stuck in the dark because of the assumptions that they have not challenged.

The reactive nature of assumptions that are followed blindly, guarantees that they will not be nearly as effective as the proactive inquiry which is characteristic of leadership. Being the ‘leader’ of my class who was responsible for my students learning, I didn’t serve this function when I assumed that they knew what the terminology meant. To lead them effectively in that learning situation, I should have asked them up front if they knew what the terminology meant. The revelation would then have empowered them in a way that is not possible when the reality of what we are faced with is being obscured by our chosen assumptions. Equipped with an accurate understanding of that terminology, these students would have been in the position to lead others in understanding these same concepts. Having this conscious awareness perpetuates leadership. Thus, I believe, it is our responsibility to nurture this within ourselves.

Learning from that classroom experience, I will still have to exercise caution in coming to malformed conclusions. The temptation to assume is admittedly very strong. Ever present in the moment that we engage in thought, we must take care to ground ourselves first so that we can be guided by truth in fact, and not a false self-serving version of reality that paints our circumstances not as they are, but how the ego wants them to be.


What Great Leaders Do First (Part 4)

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What others happen to think of us is largely insignificant. What really matters is the view that we take of ourselves, and the clarity of purpose that this contributes to. This, the leader keeps in mind, as they go about the task of initiating service oriented action. Desiring to deliver something of real substance and quality, they know that this requires vulnerability and a willingness to risk. Courage, in this respect, is putting ourselves at the heart of what we do, and accepting unconditionally that we may fail, be ridiculed or tuned out by some people.

Each of these things are possibilities, but they do not have to infect our mindset around that which we do. Failure is not a death sentence. Neither is the feedback that others offer us. Coming with the territory of bringing our calling to market, these challenging influences are the fertile soil on which we can grow our fellowship. Opportunities for refinement of our character and contribution, they are not to be squandered by the leader who has yet to realise their vision.

A chief imperative, despite these happenings, is not to compromise the integrity of our offering. One of the things that distinguishes followers from leaders is the former’s overriding desire to appease the populous. Wanting to be seen in a favourable light by as many people as possible, they compromise themselves by catering to the various, and frequently competing, needs and expectations of the tribe. Diminishing the power of their gifts, their utility is limited when compared to the novel contribution that is offered by the true leader.

Here, I am not imploring you to be close-minded or inflexible. A genuine leader is always willing to listen to followers and receive their input. Rather, I am emphasising the importance of adding value by being real. I could try to be the next Anthony Robbins or Paulo Coelho, but that would only diminish the quality of my offering. Taking energy away from my unique talents and experiences, they would not be given the space to influence others hearts and minds, if I was trying to hide from my audience by being someone that I am not. In the wise words of Andre Gide, “It is better to be hated for who you are, than loved for who you are not”.

Leadership in its finest form should be disruptive, not just to effect change, but to stoke the fire of reality. All too often, we grow comfortable in knowing what to expect from our leaders, and this coupled with their lack of authenticity, robs them of the power to inspire their constituents, and bring through new leaders by their example. Not affecting any dissonance between where we are and where we want to be, an opportunity is wasted to forge a connection with the spirit within that yearns to evolve and be moved by a vision that it can trust.

Missing this element of connection, leadership will fail to serve its true function. The quality of someone’s leadership will always be determined by the quality of their relationship with spirit, and those people who have chosen to follow them. Endowed with free will, we are not forced into fellowship. The emphasis then falls on the leader to form constructive and rewarding relationships with followers. This takes time, effort and selfless humility. The most effective leader is the other oriented leader. A style of leadership that turns the tables on traditional leadership thinking, it sees the leader as a facilitator of their followers flourishing.

Requiring the leader to put the needs of their followers above their own, it is not a style of leadership that the ego can accept or find a voice in. Demanding an arrangement that sees followers exhaust themselves for its aggrandisement, the emphasis of the ego here is not on serving, but on being served. Practicing this self-centred form of leadership, we demonstrate to the world that we are not on good terms with ourselves.


Teaching It Forward

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Pay it Forward is a really great movie. Very inspiring in its message, it teaches much about not holding onto the gifts that we have, but sharing them with others who may not be expecting it. While the film deals with acts of good will directed towards others, I would like to focus here on imparting wisdom that has been passed to us. I love quotes from great thinkers and inspiring stories that evoke the heart and challenge the mind. Shaped by the musings of those special souls who have illuminated my path, they are what I love sharing with others who I encounter on my journey of life.

In so many ways this is what these reflections are about. It is giving to others those things that have had a powerful influence on me. We all have the capacity to be agents of wisdom. This is because wisdom is an inherent part of our spiritual fibre. In this respect, it is akin to beauty. We are capable of appreciating it in the world because it is what we inherently embody. Being in alignment with our spirit, beauty is what we perceive in the world when we look upon it with the clarity of love.

As a lifelong student who has become a teacher in a university setting, I have come to observe something interesting about the learning process, which is this. Teaching something to another delivers a benefit to both the student and the teacher. The student of course receives the learning that the teacher has imparted, and the teacher receives the gratitude of the student, with the fulfilment this is inherent in giving something to another that they can use to improve their life in a powerful way. But even more profound than this is the revelation that the act of teaching strengthens the teacher’s understanding of that which is taught. By having to explain something to the student and making it clearer for them, it naturally becomes clearer for the teacher, who has had to become more closely connected with the essence of the lesson in order to articulate it.

Words can be very clumsy sometimes, especially when we are trying to articulate a complex concept or express something from the heart. Wanting to speak of the infinite dimension of spirit to others, words can often be inadequate as a means of expression. This is why we sometimes get lost for words when we experience something awe inspiring or transformational. Despite this being the case, we shouldn’t let this challenge in communicating interfere with the spirit’s intention to have us understand and accept each other for who we truly are.

There is so much of value that we can provide to others. In our hearts and minds, we have a treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom that we are meant to share, not keep to ourselves. With this, I do not mean forcing our ideas on others and having them bend to our whim. That would promote misunderstanding and conflict which would not serve the spirit, but the purposes of the ego. Rather, what I am advocating for here, is giving of inspiration and information that will enrich others and enable their growth.

The success of a learning experience is determined in equal parts by the student’s openness to learning, and the teacher’s willingness to teach. Do not doubt that what you know in the depths of your being can lead others to a deeper experience of life. All you need is an interaction to touch the life of another in a profound way. Here, you have nothing to be afraid of. With grace as the facilitator of these interactions, the words you express are in the safest of hands.

So much of the confusion and lack of fulfilment in relating that characterises the human experience at present, stems from our unwillingness to open ourselves up to the presence of spirit, and being unreceptive to the presence of spirit in others. Resolve here and now to be a part of the solution by embracing your role as a teacher of others. Teach what you learn from relating with your spirit, so that the consciousness of the world may be elevated by the wisdom that you have found yourself to be.