Wisdom is an ancient concept. But its meaning has become clouded.
Many confuse wisdom with intelligence. But the brightest of us make impulsive decisions which impact negatively on both ourselves and those around us. We can also mistake wisdom for piety, or even cunning. At the same time, we cry out for wisdom and search it out at a very personal level: we devour self-help books, and frantically ‘like’ motivational tropes on our social media feeds.
At my new project The Wisdom Track, the team and I consider the definition of wisdom to be ‘Absorbing the collective knowledge of humankind and implementing the aspects that produce beneficial changes.’ I call this ‘practical wisdom’, and I consider acquiring and sharing it to be my purpose in life.
Self-knowledge, the classical philosopher Aristotle, said “is the beginning of all wisdom”. Wisdom is a clear relationship with our instincts and inner voice, the curation of values and an awareness of the importance of boundaries. It is life experience and thinking for yourself, knowing that the road others tread may not be the exact same path for you.
Here in the 21st Century ‘practical wisdom’ includes cutting-edge neuroscience and psychoanalysis as much as it does ancient spirituality, centuries of philosophy, or indeed the illuminating expressions of the finest novelists and playwrights.
Wisdom is a process as much as an event. Somewhat poetically it can often be found when we stop living between our own ears and spend time in our bodies, experiencing purely physical sensations. I believe this is because the highest form of wisdom is perhaps that which occupies the present, rather than focussing wholly on a future fraught with factors way beyond our control. Think of all the energy we expended on our hopes and fears for the year 2020, that mostly turned out to be nonsensical given the global pandemic.
While craving wisdom, we simultaneously abandon it. Millennia ago we decided finding our own spirituality was too complex, and found it is easier to plug into organised religions. Philosophy has never been a part of wider education. Enlightenment is considered arrogant and aloof. Intellectualism and complexity find themselves precariously placed; and we in turn are drawn to to fundamental, rigid and sometimes belligerent mindsets. It is more fun to chase sensation and trophies, to the point where the symbolic, visceral rituals that defined our life stages become inconvenient (in Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, funerals no longer take place and are considered ‘too depressing’).
Alan Watts, the philosopher active in the 1960s who first married ancient eastern spirituality to psychotherapy, and is enjoying something of a revival today, wrote in his book The Wisdom of Insecurity: “The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.”
Without the pursuit of true wisdom we are, said Watts, nothing more than “a parasitic appendage to a mass of clockwork.”
‘Practical wisdom’ is the application of teachings like those of Alan Watts, in the manner he suggests. It follows the tradition of Alfred Adler, a key collaborator and student of Sigmund Freud, also considered one of the three ‘godfathers of psychoanalysis’ (the other member of the trio being Carl Jung).
Adler believed in a holistic approach to psychotherapy that, besides science, included the arts, physical techniques and spirituality. He is even said to have coined the very modern phrase, ‘lifestyle’, to describe this outlook. Adler also believed strongly in psychotherapy as a means for progression, setting goals and targets for his therapy programs. He took the famously boisterous philosopher Nietzsche’s battle cry of the ‘will to power’ and applied it to an everyday, personal quest for ‘self-improvement’ (another phrase Adler invented that we find ourselves using a lot today).
The Wisdom Track offers a path through the maze we find ourselves in. Wisdom, to us at The Wisdom Track, is a skill that can be learned, developed, and applied to life – the essence of Alfred Adler’s ‘self-improvement’. And while wisdom can be timeless – not for nothing are contemporary self-help books stuffed with bon mots from historical figures like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius – it is also constantly evolving. So at The Wisdom Track we believe it’s essential for us experience and report on the ‘cutting edge’ of self-improvement, too. We aim to liberate wisdom from its stuffy image; its thrall to concepts like that of a punitive afterlife awaiting the supposedly unwise. We will make practical wisdom a cornerstone of the wellbeing-based society that many in the West are daring to move towards.
We live in a highly connected world that we’re still to find our feet in. Any wisdom (or indeed lack of it) we spread with our actions, or our words, has the potential to be amplified at a staggering level. Interacting, having the courage and respect to disagree, are all part of our journey on The Wisdom Track.
What distinguishes wisdom from knowledge is that it is for the good of all. Coming together to share and cultivate wisdom, like we’ve already started doing on our Wisdom Podcast, I consider to be a step forwards from personal one-on-one growth work. But if you’re with us on the Wisdom Track, you can interact as much or as little as you like.
95% of you who approach us have never taken part in therapy before. Very few are diagnosed with a mental illness. But they are often desperately in need of help; as Jane Austen diplomatically put it, ‘Angry people are not always wise’ and frayed tempers are often a symptom of issues around self-knowledge: communication, grief, self-esteem, shame, fear and hurt. The Wisdom Track is aimed at those dealing with said issues – and anyone who wants to travel with us on the path to self-improvement.
Practical wisdom is the medicine that humanity has offered people like you – and us – for millennia. It tempers the human condition. Especially recently we seem to have lost our hold on it, leading prophetic science fiction writer Isaac Asimov to bemoan that, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” We are heading towards a global society, and now is the time to curate our global culture.
Join us on our mission to marshal that self-knowledge and self-improvement.
Walk The Wisdom Track.
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