Site Logo

Knowledge vs Wisdom

Knowledge is something you know or understand cerebrally, something you have a mental understanding of. Knowledge is something that exists within the mind – and thereby, it’s something separate from your “Capital S” Self, aka your true self, your soul, your character – take your pick of nomenclature. (Because, as I explored in my last post: you are not your mind).

Thereby, knowledge is something you can cite. Ie, “Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita says ‘It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another.'” Or, “In his memoir, CG Jung said that ‘one gets nowhere unless one talks to people about the things they know.'” You have knowledge of those concepts.

But there comes a point where concepts transcend the mind – when they strike our Selves as deeply true – and thereby they become wisdom. When the gap between mind and knowledge disappears, and becomes something we simply intuitively understand about life – this is wisdom.

One of my favorite ways of thinking about it is that wisdom is reminding the soul of what it already knows. It reminds me of a Jewish Talmudic story about angels who, just before we are born, tap us in the area between our lips and nose (creating the indent), and in doing so make us forget everything we know. Thereby, gaining wisdom is remembering what we used to know, before we were born into this life and forgot.

This is crucial because “wisdom” is personal, and our own wisdom cannot be other people’s wisdom. If we refer to others’ wisdom, like my citations above: it’s our knowledge, even if it’s their wisdom. At the same time, if knowledge strikes our souls as true, it becomes our wisdom. And one of the things that happens at that point, in my experience, is that we forget where it came from. Because we didn’t learn it – we remembered it. True wisdom has no source beyond ourselves.

This is why, years ago, I stopped interrogating myself as to where my ideas came from. I used to dissect my thinking (“This concept, is from this writer, from this school of philosophy…”), because that’s how I was trained – it’s how society trains us, under the premise that wisdom can be owned, and therefore must be cited. In other words I was trying to hold wisdom in the knowledge realm. But eventually I realized that because my goal was meaning as opposed to scholarship, I didn’t want knowledge, I wanted wisdom – and therefore it was okay to forget the source, because the wisdom became mine.

And making it mine was critical, and a crucial component of knowledge vs wisdom: When I was citing wisdom as other peoples’, a gap was maintained between me and it. What would happen is that I would still be using a source’s phrasing or specific constructs that didn’t resonate with my own thinking, maintaining it as their wisdom. It was respectful to the other, I suppose, but limiting to myself.

When I finally stopped this citation, this concept of wisdom ownership, I was finally able to start tweaking the concepts and applying them and making sense of them via own experience – in other words, I started being able to make other’s wisdom my own, even if it was far from identical or even agreeable to the source. And most importantly for my process (the shit I espouse), I am then able to combine concepts and pieces of wisdom in my head. I also became more able to turn knowledge into wisdom, as often it’s new wisdom that becomes the key to making knowledge truly resonate.

When I let go of citation, I’m able to shift details/perspectives/applications of other people’s wisdom (aka my knowledge) into something new and personally resonant – because I’m not held to the details.

And nowadays, my combining of wisdom/knowledge isn’t even purposeful –  all inputs just get put into the blender of my brain, and turned into wisdom of my own. And sometimes I look at concepts I have (one example is my notion of “consuming shadows” (for another time)), and I can’t remember where it came from, and wonder who it belongs to (still tugged sometimes towards idea ownership), and so I google it, cant find it… and then go back to concluding that it’s wisdom so it doesn’t matter.

That’s the key. Wisdom doesn’t belong to any one of us. Don’t own your thoughts.

And my goal is to espouse my own wisdom in the hopes that it reminds you and your soul of what you already know. Because this, what I share, is what I’ve remembered, via my experience to date, and I will share it with you – and do you now remember it? And if not, that’s okay.

Or even better, do you hear my wisdom, and does it remind you of something else? That’s the real beauty and my aspiration. Do my words spark something in you that breathes life into some wisdom of your own?

And then, forget me. You are your own guru. Because, to stop holding on to the individual who shares something, to stop being bound by his/her framing of a piece of knowledge or wisdom, allows you to then say: that’s not quite right, but it reminds me of this, in my soul, that is right.

This is wisdom.