Midday: The Book of Acquired Wisdom  

 I arrived at the conclusion, one day, that being forty-one, I must have put enough years behind me, must have been through enough, to have begun acquiring just a little wisdom. It occurred to me to try a bit of an experiment in philosophy. I would write a series of little essays in which I focused on only those things I feel I know from experience, each written in a few pithy paragraphs. Not what I think I've learned from others, or from reading, which are types of knowledge of a different order. Only the knowledge of experience. It is said that experience is the name we give to our mistakes. In that case, I'm a very experienced man.

The imperative mood and the second-person address are a tradition of "wisdom books". It is assumed that if you are reading it, you have come for advice. This is my advice to anyone who would ask me for it. If you don't want advice, go to another page. I understand.

The book will organically grow as I collect these mini-essays over the course of time. This is a work in progress. An excerpt appears below.


 I. You must make plans, but you must also realize that they will likely never be fully carried out. It is in the nature of things that the future never looks the way you had imagined it. If you look at your current circumstances, you'll have to confess that they contain elements you would never have anticipated a year ago; are a far cry from how you imagined the current moment several years ago; would have been beyond your wildest fantasies ten years ago. To rigidly stick to plans that did not anticipate these present circumstances would be psychosis. The monsters who can stick to the detailed plans they made years ago are the exceptions that prove the rule.

To go through life with no plans whatsoever, on the other hand, is to be like a rudderless boat, which will sooner or later go around in a useless circle, perhaps several times. Only a fool goes on a journey without some sort of map, though he may decided to change his route when he meets obstacles and finds conditions not shown on his chart. If he doesn't know which direction he is going in, he will never arrive anywhere.

Let your plans for today and tomorrow be very specific, your plans for next year be more general, your plans for the rest of your life be guiding principles, inspiring dreams and good habits.


 II. There are things worth doing for their own sake. They are things you decide to do from your own inner urgings, and are usually things you do all alone. They yield no profit in either money, or fame, or love, or professional stature. Their only reward is that you feel more complete for doing them. It can be as sublime as rendering a new translation of an ancient book that only a handful of people will ever read, or as mundane as walking up and down a certain hill every day, come rain or shine.

Whatever it is, this activity is an expression of your soul. Make it your meditation. Honor it with regularity. Spend money on it, if needs be (Buy that expensive dictionary for your translation! Splurge on that exquisite walking stick for your daily hike!) If you treat it with the respect it deserves, it will become an anchor during stormy times, a retreat when all else seems shrill and perturbing.

Though you never speak of it to anyone, its pursuit over the years will manifest in your words as wisdom. Though no one ever sees you do it, its practice through time will impart to your deeds the quality of mastery.

 III. Self discipline is a subtle art and not just the brutalizing of the self with willpower.

As with all subtle arts, it is one that requires many years of graded training consisting of assigning oneself progressively more difficult tasks, which require a progressively longer timetable to complete. Ultimately, one arrives at setting oneself to the work of a lifetime.

The subtlety of the art is that the application of willpower is controlled by self-knowledge. Ignorantly forcing oneself to do things one is not capable of, not yet ready for, or which are not truly beneficial to oneself, will lead to humiliating defeat, or to a distortion of the personality.


 IV. Never believe that it is too late. The chess master, once he has whittled an opponent down to the point where the opponent is certain he has been defeated, can turn the board around and defeat the opponent from that inferior position.

The lesson to be learned from this is that we often don't see the possibilities inherent in our situations out of lack of skill, or lack of will. Exceedingly rare are the moments in which our cause is truly doomed.

Continue to calmly and patiently chip away at the obstacle in your path, all the while remaining alert and observant and open to the "still small voice within". At any moment you may notice the weak spot that will shatter the barrier with one blow, or inspiration may show you a path over it or around it.

 V. Don't be utterly seduced by the scientific explanation of life and the universe. Though science freed mankind of certain prejudices and limits brought on by centuries (millennia?) of false assumptions, fossilized dogma and centralized authority, there are limits to the empirical method. And at that boundary where logical and reasonable approaches lose sway is the frontier of the intuitive.

Intuition knows things, not through proving them in experiments or measuring them with accurate instruments, but by simply knowing them in your heart. It is a feeling. What all the numbers and wave theories and mountains of data will never prove is the divine nature of the one source of all motion in this universe, and the link each one of us has to that source, a link that can be found by feeling deep into the center of ourselves. Sometimes the only thing we, as individuals, can rely on is the subtle apprehensions arising from this source at our center. Does it feel right, or not?

The trick is that intuition is only reliable to the pure of heart, whereas reason and logic work for everyone, no matter how foul or virtuous their motivations. And in the end, it is much more difficult to purify your heart than it is to train your mind with the rules of logic and deduction, which is what makes modern science so seductive.

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