wise words

6 August, 2011 ·

I have a handful of very wise people in my life and I often mull over the interesting things they say. At the moment it seems to me that wise words fall into three main types (though I’m sure there could be hundreds). Anyway, these are the three types I have been thinking of.

Some kinds of wisdom seem to be inherently uplifting. Within this category, I especially like the idea of positive paranoia. Lots of us can be very creative and focused when it comes to maintaining awful, scary kinds of paranoia, so we obviously have an aptitude for imagining ourselves at the absolute centre of the universe’s interests and plans. How nice, then, to think that the same capacity could function differently, as a belief that the world around us is constantly plotting and conspiring to make us content, successful and surrounded by beauty. I have a friend who keeps a journal of ‘evidence’ that this is true for her, recording instances of good luck, random acts of kindness, moments of contentment and joy. It’s a practise that could change the entire flavour of a day and even a lifetime, I imagine.

Other kinds of wisdom seem to be inherently gloomy and grim. Nietzsche is supposed to have said (and who knows if he really did) ‘Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs. He alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.’ What a misery guts. And yet myth, fine art, literature and philosophy are full of this kind of pathos and  personally, I don’t mind it. There is deep suffering, even in the nicest and most blessed of lives. It is quite real. And though it might not be wise to dwell on it (it’s said not to have done Nietzsche much good) I think it’s okay to acknowledge that we spend many of our days and nights with a gnawing sensation in our hearts. This very acknowledgement emerges right throughout the history of the arts in the West and on dark nights, there is companionship and even a kind of comradeship to be found among thinkers like Nietzsche.

And that leaves a third type. I think this form of wisdom is about trying to see ourselves and our lives and the world around us as it all actually is, as clearly and as sanely as we can. No cheerful slant to prop us up. No gloomy companions to help us feel understood. Just reality, which is a few, finite years in a fleshy, bony, breathing body, on a green, blue, watery planet surrounded by sun and moon and stars suspended in nothingness, with days and nights and warmth and coldness, flavours and colours and music, connections and love and hate, joy and bliss, grief and loss. I don’t think we can hope to force all of that astonishing truth into any neat, meaningful narrative. Pema Chodron says, ‘We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.’ For me, for now, that is about as wise as words get.


  1. Dawn Malone Nietzsche's quote made me laugh! Having known people who embrace all three types of wisdom, I prefer to see the world firmly rooted in reality. A lovely post, Anna. Thanks for sharing!
    August 6, 2011 at 11:03 pm ·
  2. brigit I dont like the really negative kind. Why would you want to believe something thatmakes you feel worse. The firtst kind is the best one.
    August 7, 2011 at 7:47 am ·
  3. inluvwithwords I love the first bit of wisdom, although I'm probably the least familiar with that way of thinking. It sounds like a wonderful filter to see the world through. The idea of a journal for this purpose sounds like a great way to remain always thankful for our blessings. Thanks for sharing.
    August 7, 2011 at 8:17 am ·
  4. Zendotstudio Yes, seeing things as they are. And Pema Chodron shares her wisdom with such clarity. And I think that includes "gladdening the heart" which reminds us of all the good things in our lives. This gives us the energy to see and want to see clearly.
    August 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm · Reply
  5. Christine Hello Anna ~ Yes, just embracing it all and yet also *experiencing* the Essence of everything; that which enlivens and animates it all. Some call it Consciousness, or Awareness, or Beingness. Nisargardatta says" :Be fully aware of your own Being and you will be in bliss consciously..." I'm still working on this :)
    August 8, 2011 at 1:48 am ·
  6. anna Such thoughtful and interesting comments these are. Thank you. I'm very lucky to have readers like these x
    August 9, 2011 at 6:08 pm ·