I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Mostly, what got me started is the "Keeping Ancestral Wisdom Real" thread here at TOTJO. That's a lovely sentiment and beautiful goal. However, it got me thinking about how we define wisdom and what traditions and teachings we call "wisdom."
I remember when I was a kid my understanding of what wisdom is was basically "the things grandma and grandpa say" or perhaps what they teach me. It could be something as simple as "you shouldn't put onions in a dessert dish" or as inscrutable as "a stitch in time saves nine" (an axiom, I must admit, I still do not understand). As I got a bit older and my understanding evolved it became other things and I also received wisdom from my parents and other adults. These were, usually, more practical advice like "always save 10-20% of what you make" or "treat others as you wish to be treated yourself" or "if you give a man a fish..." yadda yadda yadda. When I grew up still more I began looking at wisdom through a more philosophical or religious lens. This kind of wisdom is often harder to fully understand than the "stitch in time" bit. Stuff like "life is suffering" or "cleanliness is next to Godliness" (which I think is actually a misquotation) or "duality is an illusion" or "all paths lead to the same grotto" and other such things. OK, so that stitch in time thing still gets me worse, but the point remains.
Anyhow, I began wondering at which point we've sort of lost sight of the fact that wisdom doesn't have to be this lofty, hard-to-come-about thing wielded by prophets and hermits and monks. It doesn't have to be some profound, deep, cosmic understanding. It can be simpler. It can be "what grandma and grandpa or mom and dad or uncle Frank-the-former-hippie teach me." It can be kitchen wisdom (since so much of it seems to be dispensed in a kitchen or kitchen-like room). Wisdom like “never put off til tomorrow what you can do today.” Such gems as “if you’re not nicer to your brother you’ll regret it one day” or even “if you keep crossing your eyes like that one day they’ll stick.”
We don’t have to work and strive and hump to find wisdom. It’s all around us. It’s in the elderly woman down the street who always seems to know just when to bring an umbrella out for her daily walk. Or the child, wide-eyed with wonder, who reminds us that things are not always as they seem.
That’s another thing. Wisdom doesn’t have to be a musty old thing that only the aged have access to. Children, I think many have found, often display vast oceans of wisdom that adults have either forgotten or buried under decades of fusty, dusty book knowledge and societal programming. I often see stories on my Facebook feed about children displaying beautiful uses of wisdom or acceptance and it’s always breathtaking. These stories of children greeting complicated subjects or facts of life that can confuse even intelligent adults with a simple shrug or pithy comment remind us that children are, possibly, the wisest of us all.
So, the next time you’re studying or seeking some kind of wisdom that will lift you from the mundane and enrich your soul look first inside for some half-forgotten memory of a warm, delicious-smelling kitchen and a friendly, time-worn hand gently guiding yours as you worked together to make a delicious meal. Remember when you were a child and the world was simple and full of magic just around every corner. Remember when that crack in the sidewalk absolutely WOULD break your mother’s back. Or that fairy ring out in the back woods definitely saw fairy dances and wild hunts. Think back to the advice your dad or mom (or aunt/uncle, foster parent, adoptive parent, etc.) gave you when you first moved out of your childhood home to go off to college or to start a home of your own. You don’t have to seek wisdom all the time. Sometimes it’s right there, waiting in the warmest corner of the warmest room, perhaps under a table you used to hide under as a young human. All the simple tips, advice, and household aphorisms your parents foisted upon you (usually while you rolled your eyes) can be profoundly important for your future. Remember the kitchen wisdom you already know and you might not have to go on that thirty day fast or climb that mountain to live as a yogi or sit in a smoke-filled hut until you vomit or pass out. You might not have to pay 16.95 for the newest, best advice book or 89.99 for that shiny self-help course lead by Sylvia Brown or whoever.
Find the kitchen wisdom and you have found wisdom as true as any words written in a 2500 year old papyrus. These are bits and pieces of knowledge and wisdom that may have been passed down in your family for even longer. Perhaps all the way back to the construction of the first pyramids. And you don’t even have to master a dead language to understand it! Just pour out a steaming cup of your favorite hot liquid, sit down with a friend or family member or with only your thoughts and contemplate. Truly, we have been gifted with wisdom for the ages from the time we were very small. So use it!