genius (n.) : from Latin genius “guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth; spirit, incarnation; wit, talent;” also “prophetic skill,” originally “generative power” (or “inborn nature”)
Socrates, that beloved philosopher born long ago in the cradle of civilization, claimed he was in contact with a spirit guide throughout his entire life. This spirit, or daimon in Latin, was a type of guardian that helped prevent Socrates from acting in error. In his own words:
“The favor of the gods,” said Socrates, “has given me a marvelous gift, which has never left me since my childhood. It is a voice which, when it makes itself heard, deters me from what I am about to do and never urges me on.”
Socrates was a humble guy. So humble, he often claimed that he knew nothing at all. He asserted this claim over and over again throughout his life. He never claimed he was a genius. Most of us today would probably say that he was. That is our modern conception of genius, not something that someone has, but something that someone is. I wonder if we’ve lost something in the transition from having a genius to being a genius. Have we become egotistical in our conception of genius, and are we suffering because of it?
The ancient conception of genius states that we all have one. The guardian angel, the muse, or simply conscience. All different words to describe the concept of an intelligence which exists outside a human being, but at the same time can communicate with us in some fashion. The way this communication takes place is probably the most mysterious part. A Jungian psychologist may call it the subconscious. We can conceptualize it in our modern mind as a twinkle of truth that seeps in through the cracks of our conditioned consciousness, albeit too rarely.
William Blake is famous, or perhaps he was infamous in his own time, for claiming to have been in contact with mystical entities that inspired his art and poetry. At a time when the scientific method was earnestly becoming the dogma of the West, Blake held true to his artistic impulses despite the advice from his family and friends to keep it under wraps. Much like Socrates, he claimed to be under the direction of an unknown force, one that propelled his art:
“I am under the direction of messengers from Heaven daily and nightly…”
– William Blake
“I have written this poem from immediate dictation… without pre-meditation and even against my will.”
– William Blake
A spiritual teacher from California named Adyashanti often speaks of something he calls the “Small, still voice.” According to him the small, still voice has a few distinct characteristics that we can draw parallels to the ancient idea of genius. The small, still voice doesn’t justify itself. The small, still voice doesn’t argue with you or the people around you. The small, still voice presents itself as a gift, to be either accepted or rejected, on the terms of the recipient.
Now, more than ever, we have information available to us that can solve almost any practical problem. Want to learn how to lose weight effectively? You can Google that. Want to know the capital of Mongolia? You can Google that. Want to know how to live a fulfilling life, one with purpose, meaning, and a sense of vitality? We haven’t quite figured that one out yet. That is our new frontier. To do that, I think we have to spend time getting in touch with our inner genius. This isn’t a problem to be solved by acquiring more knowledge, but an exploration to be lived moment to moment.
I’ve been inspired by so many interesting people willing to share their thoughts. I want to do the same. I hope this writing makes you stop and say, “That’s interesting.” If so, click the green heart below and spread the interestingness.