[Written late at night:]
It's late, so I may not be coherent. But here I am all the same.
My thoughts have become less in the vein of, "What is the wisdom to be sought?" and more in the vein of, "How is this wisdom to be germinated in each of us?"
Pass on the wisdom, like so much advice on housekeeping or cooking or the best way to wash one's car, and you run two risks. The risk of hearing: you risk turning the whole thing into mere advice — words which are nice to say and nice to hear and remain unlived, unearned. The risk of speaking: you risk becoming nothing more than a mouthpiece, someone whose self-appointed job is to push wisdom into the ear of another and cross one's fingers.
Great teachers have always stood back and let understanding kindle itself. Seymour Papert, the inventor of the LOGO language for making math and computer science accessible to children, once saw a ten-year-old girl in his class creating an elegant abstract pattern. "The math for that must be really something," said an adult bystander to the girl. "I hate math," the girl declared, and went on learning it without knowing she was. Papert saw no reason to disabuse her of her feelings.
Fires within us are not lit from the outside. Good circumstances should be provided instead: the matches, the dry space, the kindling, the pit in which the fire is to be lit and burned gaily. The marshmallows. The sticks for same. The griddle or the grill. Never the fire itself. We light that ourselves or not at all.
On some level, I suspect we know all this. What has always bothered me is how we sabotage it. We do know what needs to be done; it's never been all that complicated or confusing. But we confuse and complicate things all too readily. Worst of all, we turn what should be discovery and an inner voyage into a matter of pleasing others. How many people donning a cross are genuine examples of Christian morality? Few enough that I suspect such a thing exists in spite of all the doctrine in the world, not thanks to it. But this is not about God-bashing; this is about how we foolishly believe the road to such things can be made ... efficient.
(Digression. Zen argues that such an efficient road exists; you just have to dispense with all likes and dislikes and take things exactly as they are, minus your silly ideas about them. Yourself included. But the efficiency I speak of here is not Zen; it is the pretentious attitude exhibited by the psychoanalyst who told John Cage he could fix him so that he could produce even more music than ever.)
Good reasons exist to want efficiency and certainty in life. Not starving to death, not being obliterated by a meteor, not being shot by your own people and hung in the streets are all worthy motives. But what's inside of each of us isn't amenable to a program, where one puts in God and gets out grace. NASA recordings will sometimes feature the phrase: Guidance is internal. The entire inner-space program, as it were, can only be piloted by internal guidance, a program you can only run on your own and in private. All anyone can do for you is give you the development kit.
And what a shame it is that nobody wants to hear this! The last thing most people want to be told is that it really is up to them, that spiritual matters are not things they can be educated into the way we teach people how to write good C++ programs. We are addicted to the idea that the only way we can make people good is by beating some sense into them, because we all know left to their own devices they accomplish nothing. And likewise, we are addicted to the idea that someone can come along and upload such things into us — that all we have to do is find the right authority to take the work out of our hands.
Again, a grain of truth: leave people as we know them now on their own, and many will accomplish nothing. But first let us see how we can make it so that we can have people who are not uncomfortable with being entirely on their own, with seeing themselves as a process and not an endpoint. That always seems to be the goal, isn't it? To give rise to a kind of person is not insecure when alone and not crushed down when with others.
[On reading all this back: Not very coherent, I'll admit. But worth keeping all the same. One can always save the pieces.]
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind