Illustration: Brian Cronin

Noticing What Your Inner Wisdom Is and Is Not

Real wisdom is so different from what's drilled into us by most authority figures that we tend to go functionally blind to it. But even if you can't recognize your own wisdom, you can notice what it isn't. Compare this list of Buddy traits with their Fang opposites.
Wisdom Is Sensory, Not Verbal

"It's not as though I hear a voice," says a friend of mine who's famous for her wisdom. "It's more like a little kid tapping me on the shoulder. It's something I feel."

In other words, while the voice of social conditioning manifests itself as a stream of thoughts in the head, wisdom often appears as emotions or physical sensations in the body. Brain-damaged patients who lose function in parts of the brain that register emotion may still understand the logic of a problem, but can no longer reason effectively or make advantageous decisions for themselves. The emotional centers of the brain, along with the elaborate bundle of nerves in your belly (the so-called gut brain), have been evolving far longer than language. And that system, more than logic, is exquisitely attuned to helping you navigate your way through life.

So if you're wondering whether a choice is wise or not, don't search your mind for a rational argument. Instead, hold each option in your attention, then feel its effect on your body and emotions. When something's wrong for you, you'll feel constriction and tightness. The wise choice leads to feelings of liberation, even exhilaration.

Wisdom Is Calm, Not Fearful

The inner voice of social conditioning—that would be Fang—doesn't just speak in words; it shouts them. "Do it my way!" Fang shrieks. "Do not screw this up!" By contrast, inner wisdom is stillness itself. If you're waiting for wisdom to outscream paranoia, get comfortable. It's gonna be a long wait.

Instead, you might want to regard the thought stream in your brain as an annoying TV talk show playing in an upstairs apartment. Send your attention downstairs, to a place in the center of your chest where Buddy is smiling in the stillness. It helps to take some deep breaths. You may have to lie down. But as you feel for that stillness, the yawping from your brain will seem less important. As you begin to relax, you'll find yourself guided to do unexpected things. These may include just resting, often the single wisest choice.

Wisdom Is Chosen, Not Forced

From infancy we're trained by adults who can force us to cooperate. Sometimes, indeed, we're trained so well that we begin to expect all instructions to come through coercion. "You're crazy to want that!" Fang shouts as you try to grow or enjoy life. "You don't deserve it!" "You'll fail!"

Meanwhile, your inner Buddy knocks gently, then waits to be invited in. Wisdom is far, far stronger than fear, but while fear gladly forces itself upon you, wisdom will do nothing of the kind. We can't be victims of wisdom: It must be chosen.

Stop and examine any frightening, ugly, or painful thought that customarily drives you. Ask yourself: Really? Is this really the kind of energy you want blaring through your inner space? If not, calmly state a truer thought: "You're wrong, Fang. I do deserve this, and even if I do fail, the world won't end."

Fang will not appreciate this. There will be shouting. But you'll gain wisdom every time you choose to believe the peaceful thoughts again—and again, and again, and again. Ultimately, this practice will enable you to take Fang less seriously. Then you can go out to play with Buddy, who's much more interesting.

Next: Exercises to help follow your inner buddy


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