Wisdom and Maturity
~ By Robin Avery ~
Wisdom is ranked across all cultures as something to recognize, celebrate and revere; if there is a purpose in achieving old age, wisdom may be it.
The hard and necessary realities of growing up, parenting and raising families, meeting financial challenges, can transition in old age to something softer, but no less important, real and valuable, the attainment of wisdom.
What is wisdom? Amassed with age and experience, it is more than factual knowledge. Enriched by past mistakes, wisdom guides decisions and actions. And wisdom is deep. In spiritual traditions, the word refers to an illuminating light, a transforming insight. Wisdom illumines the unlit consciousness. It transforms individual consciousness into Infinite Consciousness.
To me, there are two sorts of wisdom, one relates to the world, and one refers to the spirit. The wise elder may participate in both, counseling the powerful and informing policies, and mentoring, guiding and teaching in more personal and intimate ways. Outward and inward wisdom contain elements of faith and contemplation. Carl Gustav Jung writes, “Faith is a charisma not granted to all; instead man has the gift of thought, which can strive after the highest things.” Wisdom requires both faith and thought. Not religious faith, only, but faith that life holds purpose and meaning, that focus and effort spent on contemplating experience will bear fruit.
Growing up among farmers, ranchers and lumberjacks, tough and practical folks, it was evident to me that the loudest guys in the room—full of hard talk, strong opinion, quick judgment, cynical criticism and strong condemnation—weren’t always the wisest. Others, the ones I came to regard as wise, spent more time in silence. The saying by Charles Caleb Colton, “Silence is foolish if we are wise, but wise if we are foolish,” points towards a more positive and active role for the wise elders among us.
My readers know that my life brought unusual challenges. After my self-imposed year-long retreat in the woods of northern Wisconsin, I sought spiritual teachers to see for myself what was possible in the achievement of a full and mature life. I visited yoga ashrams in Pennsylvania, spiritual communities like Findhorn in Scotland, met shamans in Central America, stopped in at the Self Realization Institute started in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda In Pacific Palisades California, and attended countless seminars and discussions by spiritual teachers including the Episcopal priest and Zen academic Alan Watts, the Harvard therapist and student of Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba popularly known as Ram Dass, and lately Colorado’s own Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and the “Age-ing to Sage-ing” group. Meeting and speaking with these searchers and sages, I’ve learned that wisdom always displays a certain equanimity.
As a solid rock is not shaken by the wind,
so the wise are not shaken by blame and praise.
As a deep lake is clear and calm,
so the wise become tranquil after they listened to the truth.
Sages, those among us who have achieved a degree of wisdom and maturity that deserves our recognition and respect, share character traits in addition to equanimity. In my experience, sages who are present in the moment and not distracted by or lost in thought, have a charismatic presence. Wisdom and maturity brings an ability to see things as they truly are, without illusion. This trait brings a fearless honesty, along with a skillful ability to deliver the truth. Recognizing our shared humanity, the sage is a loving and compassionate presence. Because of spiritual depth, humility and calm, the sage is an excellent listener, able to cut through clutter and get to the heart of the matter. In the presence of wise ones I have found happiness, a joy which I relate to the profound and personal recognition of the gift of life and the interconnectedness of all. Wisdom is found in that space between observation and reaction. Wisdom knows the ultimate nature of reality. Wisdom is the joy and bliss that recognizes the worthlessness of self-preoccupation, and leads to a profound sense of freedom in the release of concerns for the self.
Dwelling on wisdom over the last couple of months, I was blessed with a vision of my older, wiser self. Unfortunately I was driving when it occurred! My wife Cindy wasn’t very happy, as it was quite a distraction. It was my older and wiser self-looking back at me. I saw someone more vital, tanned and weathered, joyful, with a twinkle in the eyes. The face was leaner, the hair thinning and grey, but overall the countenance was peaceful and loving. I invite my readers to meet the sage within—but if you’re driving when you do, pull over!
Like snowflakes, no two paths to wisdom are alike. We are all called to it as we grow and mature. Friends and family speaking to me about this column helped me frame it this way: in the 40’s, a sense of wholeness and wisdom is hinted at; this sense grows in the 50’s, picks up pace in the 60’s and 70’s, and the truly old among us, in their 80’s, 90’s and 100’s, ripen to the full bloom of wisdom. There should be more forums for the appreciation, contribution and demonstration of wisdom. I invite all of us to recognize, benefit from and acknowledge the sages among us—most especially the sage who is you.
Robin Avery is a Gerontologist, Consultant, Developer and Operator of assisted living communities, with a Master’s Degree from The Naropa University. He can be reached at email@example.com.