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October 18th, 2018
Wisdom is simply the act of making a better decision based on past experience.
Somehow, this is an incredibly difficult feat, and often requires not doing things that we have done in the past. It begins to sound like a sort of stupidity when we examine the simple things that would make life much better.
Don’t eat that donut.
Don’t go to bed so late.
Don’t see that toxic person again.
Don’t go to that website.
Don’t dwell on this negative thought.
A large part of what keeps us from levelling-up our own lives has to do with shooting ourselves in the foot over and over and over with habitual behaviors that continually drag us down. Nutrition is an obvious one. The body is constantly trying to achieve a healthier state, but we drag down it’s ability to achieve such with that donut or that cupcake or that candy bar or that beer. Watching just one of the endless documentaries about food shows just how eager our bodies are for regaining and maintaining a healthier state.
It might be possible to build an igloo with Lego shaped sugar cubes, but building a complex fighter jet with Lego sugar cubes is bound to look like a wreck. So too is the case with our bodies. We’d be best to think of food as a kind of tool and building block as opposed to the colloquial analogy of ‘fuel’. Considering how much high-energy food is available in this day and age, our bodies need ridiculously little ‘fuel’ and mostly crave better tools and better building materials for the job at hand.
But such is the trap of stupidity wisdom. Our dopamine pathway keeps those bad choices well-oiled. While such a shortcut-searching mechanism of our biology served us well before the agricultural revolution, it certainly functions far more like a gun aimed at our own foot in today’s world.
Wisdom is the act of mindfully making a somewhat painful choice for a better outcome. Our dopamine mechanism ensures that making a different, wiser choice is going to be more painful. Such is the cause of cravings. The better choice is often so obnoxiously obvious it’s rather stupid, but the design of our biology makes this stupidly simple choice rather difficult. Nothing is more powerful in this case than a mindful, thoughtful pause. Cravings pass. They spike like difficult emotions, but if we can experience and then remember the fact that they do not last, they do not endure, then we can remind ourselves when they occur: This too shall pass. And every time we succeed in doing so, it will be easier the next time, and the craving – the downright stupidity – will pass faster.
Unfortunately it’s not overly simplistic to say that wisdom can be achieved by simply not making the stupid choice.
However, if the bad choice and the bad outcome is the only thing we know, we must also create room in this psychological equation for the fact that the brain is simply incapable of thinking of a true absence. Thinking about not giving into the craving of eating a donut, is still a thought that has a donut as it’s subject. We might develop a strategy of thinking about some other particular thing every time such a craving arises, such as doing ten pushups every time the craving arises. This is far more effective than merely thinking about resisting a craving.
But what is also available is an undistracted presence of mind. This can be developed through meditation and can enable a person to mindfully disengage from a thought like a craving for some shoot-me-in-the-foot-food. The craving itself can become an object of meditation in such a way that diffuses it of it’s power. This might seem paradoxical and contradicting of the precept that the mind cannot think of an absence, but just as the sun heats up the surface of water and draws the water up into the air closer to the sun to form a cloud in the sky, such concentration on the part of the sun inevitably blocks out a view of the original water with the cloud. The cloud is a different form of the water that has been brought closer through the directed power of the sun, and this altered state seems to relinquish whatever power the original thought had over the minds. Such mindful concentration on any object seems to increase the mind’s power, like the sun’s rays being reflected back by the white albedo of the clouds it creates.
It might seem stupidly obvious to state, but our success with regards to anything is merely a process of choosing the right thing to concentrate on, but training our ability to make the correct choice is what builds wisdom out of the pieces of stupidity we carry around.
This episode references Episode 35: You Are Not All of You.