A man does not know what he knows
until he knows what he doesn’t know.
-Laurence J. Peter
Prior to what I now call my own “Period of Enlightenment”, I’m ashamed to say that once I hit my twenties, my approach to cultivating wisdom, involved nothing more than the curation of “wise” people and “wise” experiences with a sort of impersonal detachment one might feel when walking through a museum filled with marble statues. I was a “master collector” of all things wise and yet, I felt nothing more than fleeting emotions to what I was collecting. My passion was sincere in the moment, but I lacked the commitment to truly understand what I was doing.
Simply put, it didn’t register with me that for wisdom to become an effective tool in my “positivity tool kit” I had to stop seeing it as an inanimate object placed atop a pedestal, where my only interaction would be to periodically admire and pet it. Instead I needed to “cultivate wisdom” as a living, breathing garden. One that would need my constant attention, daily tending, and yes, weeding!
I am not sure why I chose in my adulthood to become a “collector” vs. “cultivator” of wisdom. Maybe it was laziness, maybe it was wanting to prove myself to my family, friends, work colleagues, strangers. Maybe it was fear of what I would discover about myself. All, l I know is I have been collecting an ark full of wisdom with absolutely no clue what to do with it!
As a young child I think I was much better knowing what to do with the wisdom that was before me.
One example worth sharing is I had a best friend who lived next door to me and she had an older brother. Her older brother was very creative and artistic and he would constantly change the décor in his bedroom. I am not talking new sheets or a paint color, but a complete transformation something akin to what you would find on a movie set. There was man’s first walk on the moon, Pink Floyd’s infamous Off the Wall album cover, the undersea world of Jacque Cousteau. All of it crafted and created by my friends’ brother. It was incredible, magical and this boy, a kid really, was creating all of this before he passed algebra. I asked him once why he was always redecorating his room and he said, “It makes me happy!”
It made me happy too! His creativity was free, joyful, knowing no bounds.
More on that in a minute…
As I said, somewhere in my adult years, I tossed aside this idea of nurturing and tending and weeding my wisdom garden and I began “collecting” wisdom, in all its’ forms, for the sake of collecting.
And at first, it was fun and exciting this business of “collecting” wisdom. I was very successful at surrounding myself with some pretty great people and partaking in some amazing activities and adventures. But after a while, the sheer volume of “wise” people and “wise” activities in my life became overwhelming, claustrophobic and scripted. I didn’t know what to do with all of the wisdom in my collection. Most of it, I would place on a pedestal, an object left forgotten to gather dust.
And after a while, I wanted to forget all of it because it was just too stressful.
I felt the imagined eyes of all of my “wise” friends on me day and night and the pressure building inside me that I had to do something really great with all of this wisdom I had been collecting over the years or somehow, I would be viewed as a failure.
It made me literally sick, joyless, depressed.
When someone would express they thought I was wise, I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone in my wisdom collection was laughing. I’m serious!
I imagined a great museum hall, with thousands upon thousands of marble sculptures all staring down at me from great pedestals. Their faces devoid of emotion.
“She has no clue what she’s supposed to do with us, so she just keeps collecting more and more of us!”
How could it be that I had reached my fifties and so carefully made sure my world was top heavy with experienced, knowledgeable folks of good character and judgement and yet, be so clueless about what to do with it all?
The answer came to me last year when I was perusing Facebook. I was thinking of launching a decorating site and it crossed my mind to look up my old friend and her very creative brother. We had moved away in the early 1970’s and although we’d pledged, we’d always stay in touch, we didn’t, and well, I had no idea what paths their lives had taken.
It took me some time and I finally found both of them. Their faces smiling out from the pages of Facebook, both older. My friends’ brothers face lined with age and experience and holding what might have been a grandchild. Both of their profiles required that I send them a “friend request” in order to see more.
My fingers hovered over the keyboard, ready to press the request key. I remember thinking about my friends’ brother, “I wonder if he went on to do something with all of that creativity?”
And then it hit me. He had. He had changed me!
I had cultivated the wisdom I had garnered from him as a child and put it to daily use in my life.
Without even trying, this creative boy next door, had become my lifetime guide, mentor and window into true creativity.
He is primarily the reason why I have been so comfortable redecorating first, the bedrooms of my youth, then apartments and houses I have lived in and taken on the responsibilities of designing dormitory living and eating environments at a major university, reimagining the youth rooms and preschool indoor and outdoor spaces at my church.
No, I am not a designer, architect, artist or any of those things. I create simply because it makes me happy and I have the wisdom of a neighborhood boy to thank for that.
So now my challenge is to dismantle the remainder of my “collection” of wisdom and begin the process of “cultivating” it purposefully in my own garden.
Maybe I will discover many more positive stories of wisdom seed planting in my life than I realize.
Maybe the pedestals I imagine are not as plentiful in my life and my wisdom garden is full of beautiful blooming flowers, breathtaking buildings and simple, joyous people. I’d like to think that’s the case, but I’m imagining, much like cleaning out my closets, I won’t remember why I collected a lot of the wisdom that is there.
I guess that’s the way life and wisdom intertwine. Maybe it just takes some years to figure it out. To wipe away the film that keeps us from remembering the innocence of childhood, when it was as simple as a boys bedroom and before it became so very complicated.
But it is my hope that as I move from a “collector” to a “cultivator of wisdom” that I am more mindful to plant it, tend it and weed it, so that it grows into something that I use, day in and day out, until there is nothing left.
May you find much success in the journey to “cultivate wisdom” in your own lives and know I will be here, garden tools at the ready, to support you.
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All photos and images are my own, except where noted.