Philosophy: A Daily Tool

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“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Aristotle.

It’s hard to define the meaning of the word wisdom. Not because a formal definition doesn’t exist – it does, just check the Oxford Dictionary – but because wisdom is part of a much greater universal experience, or at least in the sense I am referring to. It’s not so much about being “wise” in a specific area or field (for example being a wise teacher or a wise doctor) – anyone who masters their craft can be that – but wisdom, true wisdom is about living, breathing and being “wise” in every essence of your existence. Much more than just a way of acting it’s an entire way of being. Put simply, it’s about being a wise person.

“Wisdom is the knowledge that will allow a person to live truly and happily.”

We all have some sort of idea in our heads of what it all means. Case in point: when I ask the question ‘what does it mean to be wise?’ what words pop to your head? Maybe some things along the lines of being compassionate, accepting, anchored, opened minded, present, objective, self-aware, understanding, rational, just, ethical and so on. Wisdom is contentious in that notion because it is, to some extent, subjective and based on your understanding of the world around you. It’s contextual in that sense, but just as circumstantial are the actions that follow. The wise action for me may not necessarily be a wise move for you.

Perhaps even more powerful than that is the idea that wisdom is innate in all of us. That being wise comes from a process of self-discovery more than it does from our experience and knowledge of the external world. After all, your worldview is conceived within; what you see is not necessarily what is. So, in that respect, to understand wisdom you must first look within yourself for answers. Only when you really know yourself will you have “the knowledge that will allow (you) to live truly and happily”.

Ultimately it’s your actions that reflect your wisdom, but a wise person comes upon these choices thoughtfully, whether consciously or subconsciously, because it is, in essence, an outward reflection of their inner being. Rather than merely reacting to an outside force, or should I say overreacting in most cases, the wise person makes the right decision through an internal process of understanding; i.e. they’ve learned to fully connect with themselves. It’s such a powerful way of living because the whole body – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – is working in harmony. That’s when something even greater can occur. When being wise transcends to just being. But let’s stick to the basics first…

If being a wise person starts with you, the first step then is to look inward. That’s where philosophy comes in.  The word philosophy actually comes from Greek; ‘philo’ means to love and ‘sophia’ means wisdom so together it means ‘the love of wisdom’. For the last seven weeks I have been taking an introductory class at the School of Philosophy in Auckland. On the very first evening we discussed the notion of wisdom and were given a practical tool to use on a daily basis, and it just so turns out this humble little tool has proved invaluable. That I can guarantee.

So, what is it? Well, in any given situation where you are faced with a decision or a challenge, simply ask yourself the question ‘What would a wise person do?’. It sounds simple because it is, and the activity of doing this will have such a profound impact on how you deal with the situation at hand. If you understand what it means to be wise then what to do will be clear. Even the mere act of pausing to consider the question is in itself enough to bring you back into the present moment and help provide clarity of thought.

How many of you react in the same way to a situation over and over again, even if the circumstances are different? Maybe someone does something and it sets you off every time, or perhaps you’re too scared to stand up for yourself. Or maybe you believe there’s nothing you can do because ‘it’s just the way things are’ so you stay stuck in a shitty situation. Is that what a wise person would do? Absolutely not.

Too many people – and I’m guilty myself at times – have tricked ourselves into believing that it’s just the way things are and that we have no control over the situation. We’ve been living on autopilot or we’re stuck in a belief system that lays blame on external forces. And then, of course, nothing changes. But nothing changes because we don’t. The mind is an incredibly powerful phenomenon and if you simply take a moment to step back and consider the situation and ask yourself what a wise person would do under the circumstances, then chances are you will make the right decision.

Remember, this is a daily tool – it doesn’t have to be reserved for high stakes scenarios. For example, you could use it at work when someone walks into your office and says something to you that really pisses you off or upsets you. Instead of reacting, or overreacting, impulsively or in the same way you always do, asking yourself the question ‘what would a wise person do?’ allows yourself to step back from the situation and make a judgement based on what you truly know and believe to be the best thing to do under the given circumstances.

Having that space to recognise your conditioned behaviour patterns and work against them when they’re detrimental to the situation will not only pull you out of autopilot and focus your attention on the present moment, but, enlighteningly, it will also make you understand why things are the way they are (or they way they’ve been). Perhaps the world isn’t against you and perhaps the same bad things don’t have to keep happening and perhaps it is in fact you that is (and has been) creating all the problems. Thankfully you can change that, and asking yourself what a wise person would do is a good start.

If every answer must first begin with a question, then you’ve got to make sure you’re asking the right ones. You’re the master of your own life after all – what you think you become. Think wisely, act wisely, live wisely – that’s being wise, and it’s through this application that true wisdom comes. Taking a moment to consider the question ‘what would a wise person do?’ ultimately allows you to connect with your true self, and that, my friends, is the first step to happiness. That’s the path you want to walk down; it’s the one where the flowers bloom and the sun shines through the rain. Onwards and upwards.

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