Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner


Originally posted on October 31, 2013

As I reflect on life and mind, I think that the word “wisdom” would better be appreciated as a verb: “wisdom-ing.” It is something you do, not are. One doesn’t “have” wisdom, or even “attain” wisdom, as if, once attained, is sustained by its own power. Rather, wisdom-ing is a doing, an activity. When and if you stop doing it, you can’t rest into the status of wisdom. You slip into neutral, and it’s not difficult to slip further into folly, pettiness, or vulnerability to some temptation to action based on lower consciousness. Happens all the time.

Can’t we “get” there? It’s a trick question, disguising the childish underlying wish: Can’t we gain some kind of status where we can reap rewards without having to work? Can’t we coast? It’s not fair! We did the work—enough, or so it seems to us—and now we should be let off the hook! This applies not only to being thought of as others as wise, but also as good, or good enough. We’ve done this and that for some sick parent, that should count. Why are we being asked to do more? Someone should see that it’s not fair and absolve us, rescue us! Such thoughts can bubble to the surface so easily.

Perhaps one of the first principles of wisdom-ing is to recognize that it requires love-ing, faith-ing, courage, discipline, and responsibility to pull it off—and these are all also to be recognized as ongoing processes, verbs. Keepin’ up keepin’ up.

Is there no rest for the weary? Oh, come on! There is a great deal of time for “R&R” (as they used to call it in the military—rest and re-creation). It can seem like not enough time because so much time tends to be given over to addicting media, foods, and activities that leave you “hungry” even though you’ve just “eaten.” (Physical inertia beyond a certain degree—“rest and relaxation”—feeds on itself in a similar way. “Layabouts” are sincere in their claims of fatigue because their bodies are overly subjected to energy-draining postures and activities; the treatment of this kind of “neurasthenia” is exercise!)

Applying, not Seeking

Another thing about the idea of wisdom is that most people seek it. It is imagined to be a sort of formula, or set of formulas. It’s also imagined to be part of an elegant theory. There is a tiny bit of that as part of this overall picture, but in fact the majority of wisdom-ing involves exercising skills that are quite widely known. Many platitudes and obvious sayings allude to them. Interestingly, actually doing what is stated in these platitudes requires the aforementioned discipline and often courage, so ironically, though platitudes seem obvious and simple, relatively few people actually do what is said.

Cutting folks a bit of slack, I think part of this is that platitudes don’t have enough specific advice, but even when specifics are given it’s interesting how little these bits of advice are followed.

One of the key skills is that of recognizing and turning away from seductions of the mind and social network to get too “busy” or preoccupied or distracted from the simple pursuit of your work and good behavior. The Buddhist eightfold path is an example of the kinds of rules that a great many who consider themselve Buddhists don’t follow. A similar kind of hypocrisy is the rule among those affiliating themselves with all the other world religions, plus smaller cults, sects, and denominations. Doing love, faith, responsibility and wisdom is often not easy.

There’s a continuous drag on these by those parts of the mind that want to enjoy the privileges of childhood while simultaneously being able to enjoy the privileges of adulthood. People want to “have” kids but not do the great deal of work required to raise them. People want to rest on their laurels, feel that what experts have determined as adequate schooling is in fact enough. In fact, it is never enough—one must transcend the limitations and often wrong thinking of one’s educational background many times in adult life, especially in these presently changing times.


In other words, this short essay speaks to the need to engage the process of exercising the best skills, coordinated with the highest values, and informed most broadly. Applying is a more difficult challenge than seeking.

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