Wisdom is a Skill: Part 2
To practice wisdom is to practice living from the balanced state of the wise mind
In The Skill of Wisdom: Part 1 we defined wisdom as insight in action: The integration of the rational brain (knowledge), with the emotional brain (experience), which creates insight; or deeper, intuitive knowing. This deep knowing put into action is wisdom. To practice wisdom is to practice living from the balanced state of the wise mind.
Dr. Marsha Linehan, the founder of DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), says “Wise Mind is like having a heart — everyone has one, whether they experience it or not.” Thus, this is something we all possess naturally, even if we are not aware of it all the time or even know how to use it. The core of a wise mind is based on intuitive thinking and looking at the bigger picture. It strikes a balance between the emotional and rational parts of our minds. A developed intuition is perhaps the highest achievement of this mind function. It is an art to listen to your wise mind.
How do you know if you are acting from your wise mind?
Most of us are aware of the times that we are heavily in our emotional mind because our emotions can be so large and loud. In those moments it can be hard to find balance and pull in the perspective of the rational mind. On the other hand, many of us live in the grips of our rational mind, which can be really skilled at dismissing the emotions coming from the other side. Many of us are taught from a young age to temper our big feelings with rationality; and instead of seeking a balance of the two, we learn to routinely dismiss emotions whenever possible because they get in our way or take us places we don’t want to go.
When the waters of the emotional mind crash over the metaphorical break wall, we can feel like we are drowning. We get caught up in it, and it feels threatening. Once the waves subside, we disconnect from that side again until the water rises to a level that cannot be contained.
“Many people are frightened by their feelings. They hope meditation will help them to transcend the messiness of the world and leave them invulnerable to difficult feelings. But this is a false transcendence, a denial of life. It is fear masquerading as wisdom.”
― Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology
Mindfulness as a route to the wise mind
Mindfulness is a buzzword these days. You might equate it with meditation or with being in the moment; and although those are aspects of mindfulness, the heart of it is a purposeful awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences, in a non-judgmental way, on a moment-to-moment basis. It is all about being curious about your thoughts and emotions, without making judgments about what you find.
One way to know if you are acting from your wise mind is to use mindfulness to be aware of what your rational mind and your emotional mind have to say about any given experience.
For example, think of a recent conflict or hard decision you had to make and ask yourself:
Were you mindful of the objective facts of the situation or the problem? If you were still clouded by emotions and you didn’t really take into account the facts of the situation then your solution probably is not based on your wise mind. When we are too emotional, it’s often useful to cool down first and make the decision later.
Were you being too objective and blocking out your emotions completely? Were you unaware of your feelings about the situation? Were you aware of how your body was reacting when you thought about the situation; or were you just pushing it all below the surface? Take a few moments to reflect not just on the facts but on how it all makes you feel.
If like most of us, you are not used to exploring whether you are in a balanced state of wise mind, then this skill takes practice. But, like anything you practice, it does become easier and more natural. A long-term goal is to get to the point where you intuitively “know” whether you are in the wise mind, and when needed, be able to easily reconnect with its truth and wisdom.
Here is a great link with more mindfulness exercises to help you connect with the wise mind and practice the skill of wisdom.
Practicing the skill of wisdom is a way to create our own path. As we discover what rings true for us, we shape our personal philosophy; which are the principles that we live by. In part 3 of “Wisdom is a skill” I will share more on practicing wisdom through a personal philosophy.