Wisdom and Knowledge

Often in daily life the hard thing isn’t to discover new truths, but to let go of old illusions.

We already know dimly what is true. It is obvious in a sense. But we don’t want to accept it. We resist it. We deny it. We ignore it. We set it out of our mind. Push it away.

Having denied the reality we know so well, we continue: “Why is this problem so hard? So insolvable? Is it too hard for us to solve?”

What is required is wisdom – the practice of not pushing away uncomfortable truths, of facing up to the facts we already know so well.

But spurring wisdom, we turn the issue into one of knowledge – of us not having yet the right kind of knowledge, and of how hard we are trying to get that knowledge.

Here are facts I already know and which are obvious: I am extremely lucky to be alive and to have the generally middle class life I have. I have it better than millions of people. Better in a material sense than people who are being abused right now, better than refugees, better than those who are homeless. Even more obviously, I am lucky to have lived 43 years and lucky to have the prospect of living many years still. Many people have died well before 43. Many died as children, many in war as teenagers, many in holocausts and slaughters which boggle the mind and next to which, my life – with its general comfort and good fortune and no matter what happens next for me – stands as one of enormous good fortune.

I know all this. They are as obvious as that the world existed before I was born and will continue after I die.

And yet everyday, almost 95% of my waking consciousness, I live as if none of this was true. I almost willfully forget them, push them to the edges of my awareness. Most of my consciousness revolves around my anxieties, my fears, the obstacles to my goals, how unfair it all is to me, how I have to put up with callous people in society and how my life could be rendered “meaningless” or lacking in prestige or purpose or achievement by the blind stupidity or carelessness of my neighbors and fellow citizens.

Though it feels real, it is all premised on a giant illusion: that if I am not vigilant and stand up for myself and protect what is mine, then my life could become “wasted”. That I could lose what I am entitled to gain. It is an illusion fostered by my willful ignoring of the fact that no matter what, my life already is luckier than that of billions of people in human history.

“How can I be happy? How can I live a meaningful life? How can I be productive?” These questions I normally ask myself in the form of seeking knowledge I currently don’t have. As if if only I had that knowledge, I can get to doing it and living more happily and more meaningfully. But alas, that knowledge is beyond me, it is hidden, it is hard to find and we have to keep seeking it – and until then I can be as I am, without too much change.

An interesting thing happens when I give up the knowledge model. Then happiness and meaningfulness are not mysterious features of a future end state I may or may not get to. They are features of my not pushing away the obvious truths of my own good fortune compared to so many others. Holding on to the obvious truths which I already know opens up realms of experience and awareness which in fact surpasses what I assume even on the knowledge model.

It requires but a pivot. A focus to stay conscious of the obvious truths which no one can deny, but which we nonetheless pretend are not true.

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