What Is Wisdom?
Different spiritual traditions call wisdom by different names. Christians refer to ‘discernment’–the ability to separate out the voice of God from the voice of your flesh and to follow the former. Spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle talk about subordinating your ego. For Tolle, the idea is that your ego or not-self (essentially: your pain, your anger, your fear, your pride, etc) has a voice in your head the same way that your True Being (essentially: your highest self) does; and wisdom consists in learning to hear and follow the voice of your True Being rather than of your ego.
At The Undaunted Man, we accept men of all spiritual callings but we as an organization are path-agnostic. A path-agnostic definition of wisdom is: the ability to hear and follow the voice of your Spiritual source (however you define that) or your highest self, rather than following the voice of your ego.
Why Is Wisdom Important?
Men who cultivate wisdom in their lives have a strong advantage. This advantage manifests in three ways:
1) Wisdom helps you respond rather than react
2) Wisdom improves your relationships
3) Wisdom reduces suffering
Let’s break each of those down.
Wisdom Helps You Respond Rather Than React
One component of wisdom is this: wisdom is the ability to respond rather than react in a given situation. The more wisdom you cultivate, the stronger your ability to choose your response when confronted with any given obstacle.
Respond: to act from a place of grounded strength. To channel your Spirit or your highest self.
React: to let your ego run the show, and to lash out from a place of pain or fear or wounded pride or rage.
It is always better to respond than to react.
Wisdom Makes Your Relationships Better
We’ve all known men who lash out with small provocation. These men attack their coworkers and cause HR problems, snap at their spouse out of wounded pride, and react to kids who are yelling by screaming back at them.
These men exhibit a lack of wisdom. They leave a trail of broken relationships behind them, because eventually people they care about get tired of the chaos. Dealing with a reactive man is like dealing with a bull in a china shop. You never know what he’ll do, but you know he’ll break things.
By contrast, a wise man can deal with provocations (small or large) without lashing out. He can stay calm and keep a steady hand on the tiller, navigating conflict without needlessly adding to it. Even when others are upset, he responds by channeling his highest self. He can often defuse conflict simply by modeling calm, thereby encouraging others to do the same. When he does need to lay down boundaries, he can do so firmly and without malice.
In The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald says, “It takes two bad drivers to make an accident.” Even when the other party brings their rage and their pain into a conflict, a wise man can resolve the conflict by choosing his response rather than letting his ego react. Like a skilled driver, he can swerve to avoid an out-of-control car thereby preventing a crash. By doing so, he can preserve relationships that might have ended if he were to react with the same chaos and fury as the other party.
To be clear, a wise man isn’t a doormat. He doesn’t just take on others’ pain and rage. He also strives not to take on others’ egoic baggage and draws clear boundaries. But the wise man chooses consciously which relationships to preserve and which to end, rather than letting his ego burn relationships to the ground out of anger or fear.
The wise man will also attract the kind of relationships that we all crave: generally peaceful, full of joy, and not as difficult to navigate as a relationship built on reactivity. He will attract friends, romantic partners, and business partners who also embody wisdom in their own lives. A wise woman is not going to put up with the deranged tantrums of an overgrown man-child. Instead, she seeks out a partner as committed to cultivating wisdom as she herself is.
Wisdom Reduces Suffering
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
That quote is from Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor. Even in the worst Hell imaginable, Frankl found that men and women responded differently. Some fell to pieces, railed against a situation they couldn’t change, or simply gave up completely. Those people compounded the unfathomable pain of Auschwitz with additional egoic suffering. Others chose to find meaning in the suffering, to fight to preserve small rituals, and be a beacon of light (however small) to their fellow prisoners. These men and women used their perspective to blunt the pain.
What Frankl did in worse circumstances than any of us have experienced, we can do in our own lives. Pain is inevitable. We will suffer loss, be it of jobs or partners or control over our own bodies. But suffering is optional. We can always choose our mindset. The right mindset can blunt the pain of bad circumstances. The wrong mindset will exacerbate the pain.
Our egos are balls of suffering. They are made of fear and rage and wounded pride and a desperate desire to separate ourselves from our fellow humans. When we identify with our egos, our internal landscape gets worse. By contrast, when we are able to create separation from our egos and access our highest self, not only do we reduce egoic suffering; we also deepen our connection to our Spiritual source. This connection is the source of all joy. Cultivating that connection can provide a wellspring of strength and joy to get us through our darkest hours.
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle describes being homeless for two years. He sat on a park bench, bereft of money and status and relationships; and he felt immense joy. His joy didn’t come from delusion. Rather, it came from a deep connection to his Spiritual source. Compared to the power and radiance of that connection, the bad circumstances of his life became trivial.
Wisdom can help us reduce suffering another way as well. Most of our suffering comes as a result of things we did. Soldiers often experience PTSD, not because of what they saw others do, but because of acts they themselves performed. They saw their animal selves come out in war and couldn’t face what they had done. What’s true in war is equally true in love and office politics. What eats us up inside is not the actions of others, but our own actions. Men feel guilty for the way they lashed out at a junior coworker; feel scared their partner will leave them because they keep screaming at the kids; or can feel wounded and insulted because a senior coworker pointed out what they had done wrong. Our egos then work overtime to try to justify our actions, producing mental turmoil.
When we choose to act from our connection with Spirit rather than our ego, we have fewer regrets, because we have fewer reactions. We have less mental turmoil. We learn to cultivate peace, joy, and strength; and we become far better at letting go of our egoic clutter. We still experience challenging circumstances, but we suffer far less.
How Do You Cultivate Wisdom?
The first key to cultivating wisdom is this: wisdom comes from perspective. Wisdom is pain that has been properly channeled through introspection and self-reflection.
This is why wisdom is essential for helping men to respond rather than react. Most men have a line beyond which they will lose the ability to respond and will react instead. For some men, it’s when they see, hear, and/or feel a threat to their well-being. The first time a man is confronted with the prospect of death, he typically falls into fight-or-flight mode. For other men, it’s when someone offers mild criticism of their work performance. A reactive man lacks perspective, and so interprets a small problem as an issue with the perceived magnitude being similar to being in a war zone.
Perspective lets men more accurately perceive the world, including recognizing that most problems are small. When something bad happens, perspective tells us, “I’ve been through worse, and I can keep my head.”
It’s important to note that pain itself does not grant perspective. Many men have been through pain and have let it weaken, rather than strengthen, them. Perspective is pain that you have analyzed and learned from, and that has taught you a lesson about your own strength.
Subordinate Your Ego
The second key to cultivating wisdom is to subordinate your ego. Wisdom is the ability to hear, and make decisions from, a higher level of consciousness than your ego. In order to do that, you need to subordinate your ego. You need to turn down the mental noise before you can hear the still small voice of Spirit speaking to you.
There are many ways to subordinate your ego. It is a primary focus of the work we do with our clients at The Undaunted Man. Here are a few:
1) Meditate every day. For 20 minutes per day, sit quietly and do nothing other than watching your breath, no matter the cavalcade of thoughts that our minds are always generating.
2) Cultivate discipline. Practice doing what you know needs to be done, every single day, even when your ego is throwing a hissy fit. This is part of the value of a daily meditation practice. You can also cultivate discipline in many other areas of your life.
3) Become familiar with your own dark side. Get familiar with your shadow energy. Probe the darkest corners of your psyche and stop hiding from yourself. For many men, their ego represents a smoke screen designed to obscure truths that they don’t want to face. By having the courage to face those truths, you can reduce your ego’s hold over you.
The point is not to kill your ego; that would be impossible. Even if it could be achieved, it would be foolhardy. Egos make wonderful tools and terrible masters. The point is to turn your ego into something you use rather than something that uses you.
Spend Time With Wise People
You are the average of the 5 people you interact with the most. This is as true when it comes to wisdom as it is when it comes to work ethic or being a good partner. We reflect the people we spend our time with. If you spend time with people who possess and act from a place of deep wisdom, then you’ll naturally find yourself cultivating that same quality. You’ll start to mirror the peace and strength and nonreactivity that they embody.
If you want a good place to start, The Undaunted Man offers men’s groups. Our groups are full of strong, grounded men who are cultivating their own wisdom. These men are willing to confront their egoic baggage, become non-reactive, and develop a deeper connection to their Spiritual source and intuitive knowing.
We also offer one-on-one men’s coaching. Our coaches each have over 20 years of experience and are continually practicing subordinating their own egos…and helping other men do the same. They can help you become the wise, grounded man that every part of you wants you to be.
Interested? Learn more about our men’s groups and one-on-one men’s coaching.