The idea of engaging your mind everyday might bring to, uh, mind acts of cognition, mental exercises, or thinking. And of course it is about these things, but a mind put to good use goes beyond them. The ultimate goal of engaging your mind is not so practically attained: wisdom.
Much of our lives these days is inundated with knowledge, or at least content — it seems consequential to note that those aren’t always the same thing. There is an entire app and content ecosystem around the idea of personal knowledge management (PKM) to help us cope with so much information that we want to try to get a handle on.
At best, the point of PKM is to help us free our brains for thinking about stuff rather than remembering stuff. At worst, PKM can feed our need to always be taking in more content, because we can handle it. And if that sounds like the reasoning of an addict…then we’re tracking here.
But for the practice of daily movements, our goal is wisdom. Our brain is not solely the source of wisdom, but being intentional with our thoughts tills the soil where wisdom can find room to grow. We can cultivate wisdom by seeking understanding, and we can cultivate understanding by being curious. So let’s start there.
Curiosity might not be a lost art, but it is a neglected one. When so many ideas and facts are hurled our way everyday, we don’t have much room to be inquisitive…the clickbait suppresses our curiosity. We may even shut it down to keep from overwhelming our brains, and our, uh, inboxes.
It’s difficult to avoid the onslaught, but intentional curation helps. And limiting so many of the inputs can leave us room for curiosity that can begin a journey toward wisdom. It means being attentive to what interests us, and what invites us toward the life we hope for.
I’ve previously written about my prompts folder and it is a practice of curiosity. Often I hear something I want to learn about, have an idea I want to consider, or become aware of something within that I want to pay attention. When these come along, I can put them in the prompts folder so that I can find space to think about them more, to explore them more.
Curiosity should lead to understanding, and this is really where the mind movement matters most. It’s a matter of making space to think.
In grade school, we had an assignment to write to the author of a book we liked. As our responses came back, we shared them with our classmates.
This was long before email, so to this day I’m thankful for the authors that responded with a letter, as mine did. I don’t recall what author I wrote to. But I remember asking them where they got their ideas for stories. And I especially remember their response: “I just think really hard.”
I remember being disappointed by that response. I hoped there was some magical formula for ideas, especially great ones. But when it comes to developing ideas, or understanding and making sense of our life, thinking really hard is a great place, the great place, to start.
Thinking doesn’t have to just be sitting idly and forcing blood to your brain. Reading can help a lot here, as can writing. So can a well curated playlist of podcasts or a very very very well curated (and guarded) playlist from YouTube and the like
I find it really easy to just stop at understanding. I’m sure I’m not the only one. It feels good to know stuff, and be able to share it…especially when content and knowledge are so valid these days, as the kids would say.
But wisdom takes a step beyond understanding, and integrates the mind with heart, soul and strength. Wisdom tests what we understand against our experiences, our relationships, and our heart. We measure our life against the things we are learning to discern what matters. We peel back the layers of a false narratives about who we are. We gain perspective, clarity, insight, and maybe even some hope that our idealized self is possible. But not without intention.
David Brooks says it well in The Second Mountain:
But sometimes, when suffering can be connected to a larger narrative of change and redemption, we can suffer our way to wisdom. This is the kind of wisdom you can’t learn from books; you have to experience it yourself. Sometimes you experience your first taste of nobility in the way you respond to suffering.
Suffering isn’t the only way to wisdom. Elisabeth Liebert offers a broader scope in The Way of Discernment:
Because memory is connected to the shaping of identity and a “horizon of expectation,” it is a powerful source for discernment. Memory offers two related but distinct gifts for discernment: it reviews our past experiences, providing wisdom for present decisions, and it helps us experience our life as held and surrounded by grace.
Trying into offer wisdom about wisdom in a brief essays seems unwise. But I guess I’m not so much offering wisdom here, perhaps it’s better to read this as an invitation. Wisdom is not often mentioned these days, and even less is it pursued. But it is needed as much as it ever was.