“Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.” -- Buddha
While this advice from “the enlightened one” may be easier said than done, it’s safe to say that we have all embarked on our own journeys toward personal wisdom in one way or another. It’s more a matter of how far we’ve come, where we hope to be, and the obstacles currently remaining in the way.
Unfortunately, inner wisdom isn’t something that we can learn from a textbook, lecture or lesson. We simply (or not so simply) have to live it. In his 1922 pioneering piece on senescence, G. Stanley Hall associated the development of wisdom on a personal level with the emergence of a meditative attitude, philosophic calmness, impartiality, and the desire to draw moral lessons from life experiences.
The throes of daily life often lead us astray from these characteristics that we need to focus on, leaving us out of touch with our true selves. But if we take the time to identify the moments that are inhibiting our intuition, we will discover that fulfilling and lasting inner connection we are searching for.
Here are 6 ways you could be standing in the way of your own personal wisdom without even realizing it.
You’re quick to judge a book by its cover.
Preconceived notions about the world and all that it encompasses are like locks on the door to personal wisdom. Whether you rely on first impressions, blindly stick by the ideas of others or approach life with a closed mind, you miss some of the most important and beautiful lessons lying just beneath the surface of things. Living empathetically -- connecting with others and your surroundings rather than judging them -- allows you to learn far more from every interaction and experience, thus enhancing your personal wisdom. If you open your eyes a little wider, the thoughts in your mind will follow.
You don’t learn from your failures.
When we feel pain, embarrassment or humiliation from our biggest mistakes in life, the easier response seems to be to shut out the negative feelings altogether and attempt to move beyond them. However, ignoring these failures rather than internalizing them will only lead to them reoccurring in the future, bringing us a similar pain -- possibly worse since we had the opportunity to absolve it in the first time. Practice mindfulness and embrace those feelings, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. Work with them and through them, and learn as much as you can from the process.
You never take the time to stop and ask “why.”
“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” -- Naguib Mahfouz
Ursula M. Staudinger, the director of the Robert. N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University and a pioneer in wisdom studies, confirms that you cannot achieve personal wisdom without the ability to look beyond yourself. Take in the world on a grander scale and ponder why things are the way they are. You don’t need to be religious, spiritual or scientific -- just curious. “What’s necessary is a realization that there is reality beyond the here and now,” said Staudinger.
You’re a poor listener.
Just because you hear something doesn’t mean you’re listening. It can be an incredibly hard task that requires quite a lot of concentration, but when you do it, an inner creativity seems to inspire new thoughts and unexpected wisdom within yourself. To tap into this inner power you may or may not know you have, give people your undivided attention when they’re speaking to you. You will be amazed by its effects on both you and the other person.
You ignore your instincts.
A key part of personal wisdom is syncing your actions with your intuition. Whether you are fully aware of it in the moment or not, those “gut feelings” are your existing personal wisdom that link your ability to feel and reason. There may be a social stigma against using those hunches due to a lack of scientific evidence proving their validity, but it just may the tool you need to find that sense of balance you’ve been missing.
You don’t embrace the silence.
“Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.” -- Plato
A recent study in Science revealed that 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women would rather give themselves electric shocks than sit still in silence and be present with their own thoughts. Ironically our modern culture of constant communication and stimulation makes silence feel incredibly unnatural and uncomfortable when that is prime state in which we can cultivate personal wisdom. Whether you call it meditation or not, take the time to sit alone with your wandering thoughts and explore where they lead you. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from yourself.