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  • Rabbi Mordecai Finley Ph.D.

Wisdom and Poetry - Seventh Aspect of Wisdom Before the Days of Awe


I've reached my seventh and final topic of wisdom as we close in on the Days of Awe. Remember, these different ideas are not stages of wisdom necessarily, but aspects of wisdom. I have more or less thought organically from one idea to the next, not systematically. Keep in mind that for me, wisdom has an essentially (but not only) moral focus - wisdom and virtue go together. A wise person will know the path of righteousness.

I began with respect for (or honoring) the humanity of individual human beings, especially those with whom we disagree or with whom we need to set boundaries. In respecting others, we maintain our own self-respect.

Second, I talked about insight: insight into ourselves, into others and into life's processes through time.

Third, I taught that a wise person knows where to be in a difficult conversation. Basically three types: Venting and soothing, processing, and deciding. Do not try to move a venting person into processing. Don't decide for someone when they need to process.

Fourth, I taught a little about the guidelines of processing. The topic is worthy of a book, but essentially, we first want to know what the world is like at a given moment for another person. What are their premises, their facts and how do those premises and facts guide them in what to do? We maintain civility and respect, and our overall manner is one of curiosity, not trying to persuade. Sometimes a decision appears when people process well. Sometime a decision must be made, and not everyone will be happy with it. A wise person knows how to move from processing to deciding, and how to decide well.

Fifth, I taught about the idea that a person of wisdom cultivates deep levels of insight, beyond the functional insight of the second aspect that I spoke about. That second aspect was about managing an interpersonal issue. This fifth aspect is about self understanding at a deeper level, understanding the contours of your unconscious and your soul, understanding the structure of your ego self and higher self.

Sixth, I spoke about the idea that a person of wisdom has some sense of life's meaning and purpose. Beyond knowing how to think and what to do, a person of wisdom, in my mind, lives in an at least partially unseen world. Life's meaning and purpose continually emerge through time and from inner work. We are always in a process of becoming, just as God is in a process of becoming, from some perspectives.

This week, the seventh and last before the Days of Awe, I want to propose this: A wise person knows how to read a poem - and by poetry, I mean all art. Painting, sculpting, dancing, writing, building, playing, acting, singing, performing magic and writing beautiful equations and formulas - all manner of creating art. All art is poetry. Some art grasps us more than others.

A person of wisdom understands the spirit of things. One cannot read a poem dogmatically. A good poem, like all great literature, like sacred literature, must be approached carefully and humbly. One has to be ready to be expanded and to be taken by surprise. One has to be ready to be seen and to finally see. Things you never knew could be named are named. In great poetry and literature, language comes to its limit, and meaning is cast forward beyond the confines of concepts.

Poetry calls for a gentle touch in the realms of definition and analysis. Defining and analyzing are just tools for greater experience of the beauty. A person of wisdom seeks to experience beauty.

Poetry, literature and sacred texts require that we think slowly. Music requires that we allow ourselves to be swept into different states of consciousness. Some poetry is music.

A hidden world, a world of hidden meanings, resides in the interiority of great poetry. We coax that meaning out. Some poems we read or recite for the rest of our lives. Some poems constantly call us into being, into becoming. We are drawn to them as they pull us toward consciousness.

A person of wisdom can sit still, the inner life pulsating with experiencing or creating beauty.

Sometimes the mind is quiet, with one musical note or one color, or nothing at all. A wise person can know the Nothingness.

During these coming Days of Awe, I hope we can all become wiser people, better people, more conscious, and more able to experience that Awe.


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