Wisbits to Live By

Wisbits – little bits of wisdom – is one of my new things. I love wisdom in all its many forms: Wise truths, wise sayings, wise insights. And now I have Wisbits.

Teresa of Avila once said that if God gets into the walls of your soul even once, such an experience is powerful enough for a lifetime. True enough. And the same can be said for a bit of wisdom getting into the membrane of the mind or heart. It doesn’t take much to shift the way in which we understand life. That’s quite amazing, really. One insight or profound teaching is powerful enough to redirect the course of your entire life. That’s all it takes.

I don’t think we really ever get out of the “going back to school” in September cycle. There is something about that Labor Day Weekend that brings on that get-serious energy of autumn. I know that Halloween decorations are going to pop up in the local stores – a dreadful reminder that Thanksgiving and Christmas cards will follow within a few weeks from now. I will still be watering my summer flowers when Thanksgiving cards will show up in the racks at the stores.

It’s how fast we want to move the seasons of our life along. If we stopped to observe the nonsense with which we push sales and marketing – just as an exercise in, let’s call it, “marketing wisdom” – you will observe that it is precisely practices such as these preposterous pushing forwards of holidays that help us feel as if time is just evaporating. Why in the world does anyone need to have Halloween show up in September? Does anyone really require nearly two months lead time to get ready to go get candy from the neighbors? Really?

Staying in the present moment of your life, in the here and now, is not an easy task. Nearly everything around us, along with all the media outlets, encourages us to fret about getting older or make preparations for retirement. And in the meantime, we should be preparing for the next holiday. Honestly, one of the healthiest ways to counter the nonsense coming at us from the outside world – and it is a lot of nonsense – is to continue to build a strong and solid reservoir of wisdom and truth in your soul. This reservoir is an inner garden that takes constant tending, constant planting and watering. You get the picture. But when the time comes to draw upon a piece of wisdom that you have been refining to “feed and sustain you,” you will experience the grace of “self-gratitude.” This feeling is not to be compared to any expression of narcissism. Self-gratitude is a silent, inner recognition that you are tending to your path.

So, let’s examine three of my favorite Wisbits, all of which are life-changing jewels of Truth. Here’s one that I have relied upon more than I can even count:

Wisbit: It’s better to want what you don’t have than to have what you don’t want.

Isn’t that rich? How many times have we all settled for something – or someone – because of impatience or fear or greed just because we wanted “it”? Have you ever asked yourself, “What exactly is the ‘it’ I actually want in this craving of mine?” You may, for example, crave money but it’s not really money that you crave. Money is not the “it,” in other words. It is the means to the “it,” the essential stuff through which you can acquire the “it” you really crave. Money is just more obvious and tangible. This is such a deliciously intriguing question. Like people who get married, just to get married, only to discover they actually do not like, much less love, their spouses. The “it” they craved was perhaps the fulfillment of a fantasy ideal of love or the experience of marriage itself. But the Wisbit contains truth that applies to all matters in life. As an exercise and just for the fun of it, reflect for a moment on what it is to want something that is out of the ordinary or exceptional in your life. The item – or person – that is the object of our desire often gets converted into an internal movie screen onto which we project expectations. This person or getting to this place or getting this job will finally make me happy. And then comes the experience of rejection. We collide with a harsh and cold dose of an alternative plan for our life that we did not anticipate. Something or some other force hijacked our fantasies and the map we had carved as our way to get to fulfillment. We can experience gut-wrenching devastation when love is involved. We imagined a perfect relationship or an ideal marriage only to be disappointed – or to find (dare I say it?) that our partner was disappointed in us. We projected expectations onto other dreams. We imagined that securing a position in a business would finally fulfill us or getting our “dream home” would indeed be our dream come true.

Wisbit: The Rule of Saint Benedict and Making Decisions

Saint Benedict founded the Order of Benedictines, a community of priests, monks, brothers, and nuns. St. Benedict was known for Rules. He created a list of Rules for everything, and I mean everything. His intention was to bring order to monastic life, which he did. Today we would find his Rules to be extreme, and that is a mild way of putting it. Yet, the need for Rules is a different discussion entirely. We need Rules, whether self-imposed or ones that you elect to follow that are already part of an organization. Organizations like the military could not function without their rules. Rules are different than laws, as they are organizational, social, conventional, habitual, and the like. Laws are civil. Rules keep us in check. We need them. It’s as simple as that. Without laws, rules, instructions, and directions, we get lost. We do not thrive for long, left on our own for too long. It happens that some of the Rules of Saint Benedict remain jewels of wisdom even after all these centuries. My favorite and one that I have embraced as a constant part of my own spiritual life is his wise counsel on how to make significant, profound decisions. To be clear, you do not always know what qualifies as a significant decision. After all, there is no way to anticipate an outcome, which is so often the gage we use to measure whether a decision was good, bad, wise, foolish, a success or a failure. That being the case, St. Benedict counseled that you would be wise to approach every decision as holding the potential – the potential, mind you – to redirect the course of your entire life. Now that is a teaching worth reflecting upon. As there is no way of knowing what power may be hidden within the threads of a decision you are making, it would be wise to approach every decision as if those threads are attached to the entire fabric of your life, because – in truth – they are so attached.

Therefore, St. Benedict offered the following wise advice (a true sacred Wisbit) on how to make a decision: First, take all the time you require to read what you need to read. He was referring to sacred texts, given that he was writing for a monastic community. I would offer you that same counsel. Read inspirational writings that settle your inner self when approaching a decision, especially one that you know is significant. Release your mind from chatter and nonsense. Reading sacred or inspirational writings is a perfect way to do that. Get it “off the Earth” and into a holy atmosphere. Speak to those whose guidance you trust when in the process of thinking through a decision. Seeking counsel is not gossip or complaining. Your intention in sharing your inner feelings or conflict is not to criticize other people who might be involved in your life situation. Also, in seeking out appropriate guidance, I am now referring to soul companions or your Spiritual Director or dear friends whom you trust – emphasis on trust. And mind how you share. Are you sharing with people in the hopes that they will help you change your mind or clarify the contents of your soul? Then make your decision.

Once you have made your decision, step into it fully. Live your decision completely. There is no other life now than the one you begin immediately to create with the power of that decision. The other life ends immediately. You are never to question the decision you made. Consider that you crossed a bridge that you did indeed burn, for you cannot live two lives. You cannot live two decisions. Two minds cannot occupy your body and heart. When a human being attempts “double occupancy,” madness results.

Wisbit: Rejection is Protection

This one is short but sweet. At first glance, you might assume that this Wisbit applies to the dynamics of a romantic relationship. It can, of course, but it means so much more. We do not like our plans tampered with by anyone, much less by the forces of nature that we did not anticipate encountering. Yet, the essence of mystical theology (as in the writings of Teresa of Avila) teaches us that, more often than not, we are compelled by our fears and grand expectations far more than by faith, wisdom, courage, and love. We imagine outcomes that rarely materialize. In some ways, we have to be protected from our own choices. How many times have we looked back and said, “Thank God that did not happen” or “I am so grateful my plans did not work out”? If you really think about it, you have not had a hand in the majority of the best things that ever happened to you. But you more likely than not had a lot to do with some of the worst experiences of your life. Adapt this truth. Rejection is protection. When your plans do not work out, assume some alternative plan is working out. In fact, when are plans not in motion? You are not as in charge of your life as you think. But it is up to you to choose the way in which you greet your mornings and end your days – and how you fill the moments in between.

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