“Why am I so interested in wisdom?”, I found myself asking recently. It was one of those thoughts that kept coming to me over several days, so I decided to do a little exploring.
In my early years, I don’t even remember using the word let alone think about its meaning. Life in those years was hard and the people around me seemed to be in a lot of pain. My mother suffered from depression. My father drank a lot and was often withdrawn. My grandfather was quite insecure, while my grandmother seemed very sad. And the ways they treated me often left me in a lot pain as well.
What I do remember was being puzzled and perplexed about what I felt, heard and saw around me. It’s as if I saw a door with CONFUSION written on it and kept asking “Why is this door here? What is behind it? Why won’t people let me open it?” Yet I was afraid to voice my confusion out loud. Who would understand it? And who would be there to help me understand? So I asked these questions of myself instead.
My world was one of contradictions: “How could these people say they love me when they treat me in such unloving ways?” I wondered about how to make sense of this and the many other contradictions I saw around me. And I wondered what I could do about it. Feeling alone and empty, I attempted to fill the void by doing all I could to make these people happy – with me, and with their world.
As a child, adolescent and young adult, I also asked a lot of questions – either audibly or in silence – to cope with my broken heart. My willingness to wonder what was happening around me created a place to belong, a place to ease my pain. And my questions became both a friend, to help me be with, and a guide to lead me out of, my confusion.
Some years later, while studying for my Master’s degree, I was asked to take a psychological assessment as part of the program. When reporting the results, the psychologist started his review with these words:
“You never felt like you belonged in your family,
with friends and community, and in the world.”
And I cried...because someone had finally confirmed my experience. It was my wondering and my questions which had gotten me through.
Reflections on WISDOM
After 30 years as a counselling therapist, I realize now that what got me interested in “wisdom” was how my clients saw and commented to me over the years. Many times I have heard people say things like “You are so wise.” “Thanks for your words of wisdom – they are so helpful.” Or “When I hear your wisdom, I feel hopeful and courageous about making the changes necessary for me to have a better life.”
When I first heard such descriptions 30 years ago, I wondered (or was curious) at why I was seen as having this quality. Even though I had an idea of what wisdom was, I did not really place a lot of importance on it until I heard this from others. Then somewhere, sometime, I made a commitment to learning more about myself “as others seemed to know me”, but I did not know about myself.
In those early years of counselling, and even more today, I feel as if wisdom developed within me as I lived with my experiences – of not belonging, feeling inferior and having low self-worth. It grew as I questioned how to survive in my painful world, and learned from difficult situations and people. The deep wounding I felt seemed to intensify the energy of my questioning, my wondering about how I would ever heal those wounds. And my courage to question then became the courage which allowed me to heal that wounding across these many years.
For me, wisdom has become a deep knowing that the healing of pain can often hurt more than what initiated the original pain. And it has come from living with the hurt and the sorrow, and the joy and contentment of healing through that. Of both I have experience…
Wisdom is also the quality that encourages me to listen, to feel, to observe my world by asking questions that invite a deeper exploration of ‘how I am right now’ and ‘how I would like to be.’ And it is the knowing that I need to hold both: to fully experience where I am now, and to remember that healing IS possible – because there is a greater energy, a greater wisdom within me, that will bring me through.
Bringing Them Together...
Wisdom is what I now call “the big umbrella” which includes so many other qualities I value. To have wisdom is to be Compassionate. To have wisdom is to be Respectful. To have wisdom is to be Caring, and to have an ever-growing Clarity of message, of presence, of wants and needs.
To wonder, on the other hand, is to ask questions that invite me to walk into the mysterious forest of the mind, body and soul. I take that walk as a counsellor, a teacher, a spiritful seeker, and as a wife and a friend who appreciates and encourages recognition of the same walk taken by others. While I did not recognize my inner wisdom all those years ago, I had the courage to wonder; to ask questions of myself and others that deepened my knowing of self, people and the world. And then my wisdom grew as I encouraged others to wonder, and to ask questions that deepened the knowing of themselves and the people in their world.
Today when someone tells me they appreciate my wisdom, I am grateful. I also ask them questions: “HOW do you recognize my wisdom? What does my wisdom mean to you? How will it help you? Could it be that to recognize mine, you need to have an experience of your own wisdom? If so, what would that be, and how could it help you move forward in your life?”
Looking back, I now see that inside of me there was a wisdom that I did not know existed. Even in the midst of my darkest confusion as a child, a part of me knew what to do. A part of me was living from a state of healthy wonder. And I would like to imagine that I remain in this state today.
Dr. Glo (Gloria) McArter, counselling therapist, guides individuals and couples to access their curiosity and wonder and find new depth and scope to all that life presents. She models an authentic and vulnerable relationship with mind, body and soul to nurture emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing. She encourages the focus on energy as vital for both self-reflection and the connection with others that brings peace and enjoyment to daily living.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE