These four sets of ideas will help you understand what we all – members together of humankind – have in common…
… And so why wisdom is important, central to who we really are.
Please take some time (a little or a lot, as you choose) to read them through and make sense of them. See how they fit together, saying more about you, and everyone else, than you might have thought seriously about before.
1. LIFE AS A JOURNEY TOWARDS WISDOM
Wisdom Seekers consider life as a journey. Both individually and collectively, people are on a path towards wisdom and maturity. For humanity generally, this is the path of social and spiritual evolution.
For individuals on their lifetime journey, there are six recognizable stages:
- Egocentric (immature, self-referenced existence)
- Conditioning (learning through insistent and persistent family and social traditions)
- Conformist (seeking to belong by following social conventions)
- Individual (starting to think, speak and act independently)
- Integration (shifting values and behaviour towards altruism, through recognising one’s deep kinship with the entirety of humanity)
- Universal ( achieving maturity and wisdom, becoming a natural teacher and healer)
There are different tasks, attitudes and priorities at each stage. Both pleasurable and painful experiences especially can help us learn and develop as we travel along. When emotional pain heals – a process as natural, under favourable circumstances, as the healing of flesh wounds – the outcome includes a measure of personal growth.
After the first two stages, which occupy early life, research has shown that most people in western society past their teens have reached stages three or four, or lie between the two. At this point, we may not even be aware of the possibility of further development. Something may have to happen – often some significant loss or threat, something challenging, grief-provoking, even life-threatening – before this insight sinks in.
Wisdom seekers, in contrast, have reached the point of turning towards the homecoming stages five and six, provoked by some kind of inkling regarding the truth of universal kinship.
Here’s a vitally relevant observation: during adolescence and early adulthood, each of us is subject to two contrasting drives:
- To conform within family and society
- To think, speak and act independently
In stage three, a person tends to adhere (whether rigidly or flexibly) to the culture, authority, values, belief systems, customs and practices of the family, communal group and society at large. There is comfort and safety in belonging, with the risk of being ostracised, ridiculed or feeling threatened through showing signs of being different.
Nevertheless, as one’s horizons broaden, contact and growing familiarity with different people, cultures, conventions, belief systems and so on may result in us reviewing and revising previous allegiances. Pressure grows to re-think our priorities and take increasing responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and intentions; for our words and actions. This is when we enter stage four, a key step towards personal maturity; but there is still some distance to travel, as wisdom seekers discover.
2. ONE BRAIN – TWO WAYS OF THINKING
For those who understand computers, the human brain’s right hemisphere is working as a parallel processor of information. At the same time, the left hemisphere works like a serial processor.
Acting like a floodlight, the intuitive right-brain experiences everything in unitary fashion (‘holistically’), as in both-and: not only black and white but also shades of grey and even colour. It sees things whole and in context, and is important therefore in mediating unitary, ‘holistic’ and spiritual experiences.
Acting more like a spotlight, the rational left-brain thinks in binary fashion, as in either-or: black-white, right-wrong, good-bad, Us-Them. It uses language and symbols (including numbers), divides things into inter-related parts, calculates profit and loss etcetera. It is basic to the operations of both science and commerce, which dominate material progress in western society.
Both are important. You need the right-brain to get the bigger picture, and the left-brain to examine the details. Ideally, they work in harmony, but in the absence of a powerful World Wide Wave of Wisdom, the balance has gone awry.
3. FIVE DIMENSIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE AND UNDERSTANDING
Science seeks factual knowledge through being objective. Its methods are aimed at reducing the effects of unreliable human interventions and preconceptions. The left-brain binary approach is central to the scientific method, explaining this in terms of that, uncovering evidence in the search for proof.
Reference to ‘dimensions of human understanding and experience’, on the other hand, emphasizes the value of right-brain derived knowledge and experience, which are personal and, in contrast, subjective, restoring the individual to the centre of consideration.
The five seamlessly inter-linked dimensions of understanding and experience that cover everything known to humankind are listed here:
- Physical (energy and matter) – the miracle of existence
- Biological (organs and organisms) – the miracle of life
- Psychological (mental activity) – the miracle of consciousness
- Social (relationships) – the miracle of love
- Spiritual (souls and the sacred) – the miracle of unity
Physics, chemistry, biology, psychology and sociology are all branches of science. The methods of science have proved exceptionally useful in furthering objective knowledge among the first four dimensions.
To some extent the same methods can yield valuable information about the holistic or spiritual dimension, but investigating it in a more meaningful way depends on subjective research. It involves individuals paying attention to the effects of the spiritual dimension in their own lives and in the lives of those with whom they feel a particular bond of kinship.
A question like, ‘Does heaven exist?’ is unanswerable from the evidence-seeking perspective. Less divisive and more relevant is a question such as, ‘Have you, or anyone you know and trust, ever experienced something that seemed like a miracle?’ or, ‘Have you ever found yourself totally lost in wonder at some aspect of the mysterious workings of nature and the universe?’ or, again, ‘Have you ever felt yourself in the presence of, or affected by, some kind of divine power or God-like being?’
All this is important, because the spiritual dimension appears to act as an over-arching, originating principle, seamlessly creating, linking and shaping the other four.
4. TWO SETS OF VALUES
Led on by the paradigm of science, its way of seeing and making sense of the world, contemporary society has been neglecting the spiritual dimension in recent times. This has unwelcome consequences, for example in terms of values.
The left-brain binary approach creates divisions between people, fostering Us-Them partisanship, which emphasizes differences, usually in terms of superiority and inferiority. It also steers people towards worldly values, material desires for position and power over others, for profit, property and possessions, valuing luxury, wealth and fame.
As a result, people come to be seen and treated as either supporters or competitors, friends or foe. We risk going through life with an attitude of having many rivals and opponents to beat, all of them threatening, leaving us anxious, living in fear. This clearly does not represent the ideal path of wisdom.
The right-brain unitary approach, on the other hand, considers everyone as equal, sharing in each-other’s fortunes and misfortunes. It fosters a sense of fellow-feeling, of kinship. Intuitively aware that, deep down, ‘we are all one’, kindness is an important value to be adopted in the search for wisdom. The words ‘kin’, ‘kind’ and kindness’ are related.
Humanitarian or spiritual values therefore include:
Honesty, humility, generosity, tolerance, patience, perseverance, joy, humour, gratitude, forgiveness, courage, compassion, beauty, hope and love.
They all contribute to wisdom.
While striving for personal gain, it is difficult to prioritise these values; so there is a natural tension between material or ‘worldly’ values, on one hand, and humanitarian or ‘spiritual’ values on the other. The former are not in themselves intrinsically bad. Problems arise only when they dominate the latter. A gradual shift of ascendancy, from worldly towards spiritual values, marks out growing personal integrity and spiritual maturity in a person’s life.
For Suggestions on personal development, growing in wisdom, click here.
* the ideas in this section are Based on ‘Seeking Wisdom’ (Part 1),by Larry Culliford (2018; University of Buckingham Press) and ‘The Master and his Emissary: the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World’ by Iain McGilchrist (2009; Yale University Press).