Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Growing towards Wisdom

When I gave this blog the subtitle "Reflections on Spirituality in the Wisdom Years," I knew I was being presumptuous, but I was also being hopeful. How wonderful it would be to be wise, to know wisdom, to be able to share one's wisdom, and to know that one's later years would be viewed as years of wisdom, rather than years of loss and infirmities and years that deprive loved ones of time, energy, and money. How often we hear a statistic about the cost of medical care in the last weeks and days of an old person's life--there doesn't seem much wisdom in that. 

What exactly does it mean to be wise? Can one deliberately acquire wisdom? Does one just become wise? 

I have moments when I say something, and I have no idea where that came from, but I feel a slight shiver when the words leave my lips. I need a moment to absorb what seems to have come from a deeper place within. I see recognition in a companion's eyes and sense understanding and intimacy and connection. Is that wisdom growing and finding space and light and life in me? Those moments, which are few and far between, are seductive. I want to experience them more and to be viewed as "wise." There's the rub--the rub from the ego, and something tells me the ego becomes less and less an active entity in one's persona when true wisdom grows. 

Wisdom and Acceptance
A recent article in the New York Times by Phyllis Korkki  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/business/retirementspecial/the-science-of-older-and-wiser.html?_r=0 says "Wisdom can help people find contentment later in life." Often, we are told that satisfaction in old age consists of things like maintaining physical and mental health, volunteering, and having positive relationships with others. When I read those lists, I think how that doesn't sound too different from any other stage of life, but being old is not the same as being in one's 20's or 50's and, as I approach my 66th birthday, I recognize I am becoming old, but I am not yet old-old. 

Is it possible to be contented even if one is in a nursing home or coping with a terminal illness? According to a study cited in this article, "Wisdom is the ace in the hole that can help even severely impaired people find meaning, contentment and acceptance in later life." She adds that such acceptance is not one of resignation, but is an "embracing acceptance." 

Sitting with Wisdom
Years ago I witnessed such embracing acceptance in a hospice patient I visited as a spiritual care volunteer. She was a woman in her 80's who had been a vital volunteer in her church. When something needed to be done, the logical person to ask was this woman. Now she was dying of cancer, and the role she had lived all her life was mere memory. She told me how she had struggled with that loss. She insisted she was not afraid of dying, for she had a strong faith, but the idea of not feeling productive was unacceptable to her. She spent valuable energy rebelling against the idea that she could no longer give in the ways she always had. 

She had prayed about how to accept this change, and over time she had relaxed into a form of love she could continue to express. She understood that all the doing she had done, was about love and she still loved, even from the confinement of her hospice bed. She spent much of her days in prayer and meditation, and if wisdom glows, she was wrapped in light. 

The New York Times article says "True wisdom involves recognizing the negative both within and outside ourselves and trying to learn from it." This woman --this wise woman--had wrestled with the loss of the way she thought she had to be, and was still willing to grow and change. When I sat with her, I sat with wisdom. 

In recent years I have been part of a spirituality group called Wise Women. Sometimes we slip and refer to ourselves as Wild Women, and I rather like thinking about wildness being part of wisdom. I don't know that any of us would actually consider ourselves as "wise," but we honor the wisdom each of us has within and we recognize the importance of deepening our spirituality as a path towards wisdom.

May wisdom come. 

An Invitation
How do you define wisdom and who do you know who is an example of wisdom? When have you experienced your own wisdom? I would love to know.  

Note: The photo is of one of the wise women in my life--my Aunt Annie. This photograph, one of the last taken of her before she died, just speaks, "wisdom," I think. 

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