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The Wisdom of Beginning
The beginning is the most important part of work.
– Plato (c. 427–347 BCE), The Republic
Welcome to an exploration of personal wisdom where you are author, protagonist, and chief beneficiary. What you do or don't do today will affect who, where, and what you are not only tomorrow but all the tomorrows thereafter. In the words of a contemporary American saying, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." So be thoughtful about what you do with it.
Life's small changes have great importance. From them grow individual, family, even global transformation. For anyone about to embark on some new project there is a hesitation, perhaps a fear. But without a good idea and adequate preparation, the new structure will never get built. Without a suitable training program, the marathon cannot be run. Without keying in sentence one, the book will never be written. Once we get things started, the new undertaking seems only half as daunting as our fears. Soon routine helps us continue, and before we know it we are halfway to our goal. Per the Chinese saying, the thousand-mile journey begins with that first step.
Proverbs in many languages underscore the importance, and the difficulty, of beginnings: "A good start is half the work" (Gaelic). "A good beginning makes a good end" (English). "Every beginning is hard" (German, Chinese, and other languages). So why not embrace the Nike slogan and "Just do it"?
Shall we begin?
For the first entry in your Wisdom Journal (hereafter WJ), write about some small choice you made that has had a major impact on your life. Happy journaling!CHAPTER 2
Tell me, and I'll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I'll understand.
– A Native American Saying
What do you remember from school? For my part, I don't remember much. I obviously learned to read, write, and calculate. School and college learning in my day was primarily a spectator sport. The teacher lectured. We listened and took notes. Exceptions were science classes where we had occasional labs; or English and social studies, where we wrote papers. But the concept was, the teacher explained; the student listened and learned.
Learning by doing was the domain of sports, scouts, social life, summer camps, arts activities, and clubs. Here we didn't have teachers but coaches, scoutmasters, counselors, sponsors, tutors, and each other. We learned by participating. We also learned to get along with our peers, clean our plates, and be polite to our elders. In life, we also learn by doing. Thanks to John Dewey and his ideas for progressive education, this natural strategy is now used in many schools and colleges. Computer technology helps students learn on their own through hundreds of interactive multimedia curricula. Service learning where students assist in community projects or at charities is common; and apprenticeship programs can be found around the country. A NASA satellite tracked by math and science students gives them a new way to acquire knowledge and techniques in their fields. As a teacher I believe telling and showing have their place as educational strategies. But as the saying reminds us, experience is still the best teacher.
Pick three of your important skills and describe in your WJ how you acquired them.CHAPTER 3
If you examine the history of the Hawaiian conversion to Christianity ... they kept hold of their own traditions ... [while] accepting other ways of life. [They had a] philosophical understanding that [all] humans are the same ... This is the major contribution that Hawaiian spirituality has to make to the world's future.
– Rubellite Kawena Johnson, Local Knowledge, Ancient Wisdom, 1991
The spirit of aloha (love, affection, compassion, mercy) impacts everyday life in Hawaii. On a mundane level, strangers smile at one another on the sidewalk, in the mall, and at the beach. Drivers seldom honk their horns but let others in with a friendly wave. You even call bus drivers "uncle" or "aunty."
More significantly, ethnic and racial intermarriage is the rule — nearly 50 percent of 50th-State marriages are mixed. Is the Old Adam still alive and well in Hawaii? Of course. It's a place filled with human beings. And yet ...
In his two terms, our recent Honolulu-born President, Barack Obama, showed the Aloha Spirit in his low-key smiling personality, the way he played with kids or shot hoops, and his no-drama approach to both domestic and world affairs. His years in Indonesia, Chicago, and Boston doubtless also played a part in shaping the person he became. But his growing up in the Makiki District of Honolulu was clearly formative, as any long-time Hawaii resident would see and confirm.
When it comes to race and just plain human relations, Hawaii's tradition of aloha has a lot to teach the world.
In your WJ suggest three ways you might practice aloha wherever you live.CHAPTER 4
I think that I shall never see, A poem lovely as a tree A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray ...
– Joyce Kilmer (1886–1918), "Trees"
Kilmer's poem is considered a poster child for bad, sentimental poetry. How could I not agree? Still, the point on which it's based is well-taken and important.
Arbor is the Latin word for tree, the modern tradition of Arbor Day having begun in the 17th century. And I'll admit it — I am a tree hugger. What I experience from hugging trees is a sense of their strength and rectitude, qualities they seem willing to share with me.
Trees instinctively grow toward the sky. They have long lives and the resilience to stand their ground through all kinds of weather. Deep roots surely have something to do with it. They also offer shade to the earth and its creatures, provide homes to arboreal animals, and offer beauty to those who can perceive it. Moreover, they do all this in silence, without any request for payment or even gratitude.
Once I asked my inner self to help me understand what it means to be of service. I visualized a field full of trees breathing in carbon dioxide and exhaling the oxygen needed by us mammals. Maybe my feeling for trees is ancestral. After all, it was my people who thought up the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life.
Write in your WJ about how you feel toward trees. Do they offer any lessons for your life? If possible, hug a tree and then write about your experience.CHAPTER 5
The wise man ought to know not only what follows from his first principles; he should know also the truth about these principles. Wisdom therefore will be a union of intuitive reason and scientific knowledge; it may be defined as the complete science of the loftiest matters.
– Aristotle (384–322 BCE), Nicomachean Ethics
The ancient Greeks gave the world both the terms and concepts philosophy and philosopher. They mean "love of wisdom" and "lover of wisdom," respectively. Plato and his student Aristotle are considered the fathers of Western philosophy.
To be sure, Plato and Aristotle loved wisdom in different ways. Of the two, Plato was the more mystical and poetic, Aristotle the more rational and scientific. Using contemporary terminology, we might call Plato a philosopher of the right brain, Aristotle a philosopher of the left.
Plato said, "Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something." For Aristotle, the wise person is not so much a sage who has learned to live the best possible life, but a logician who both knows first principles and can accurately derive what follows from these principles. One thinks of someone like Albert Einstein.
Aristotle also helped us understand the wisdom of the middle way. Courage, he explained, lies midway between foolhardiness (too much of it) and cowardice (too little).
Elsewhere, to be fair, Aristotle states, "Our idea of the truly good and wise man [sic] is that he bears all the changes of life with dignity and always does what is best in the circumstances." The middle way? Hopefully so.
In your WJ try writing your own definition of wisdom.CHAPTER 6
We of the West still hold instinctively to the prejudice that our world and our civilization are the "whole world." ... But times are changing ... It is vitally necessary for the West to understand the traditional thought of the great Asian cultures: China, India, and Japan. This is necessary not only for specialists, but for every educated person in the West.
– Thomas Merton (1915–1968)
Father Merton is one of the prophets of the 1960s. It took courage for him, a Trappist monk and ordained Catholic priest, to publish thoughts like these at a time when cultural and religious chauvinism were still in the ascendant. Not that intellectual and spiritual provincialism is dead, but at least many religious leaders now agree with Merton and echo his position.
Consider this statement by Pope John Paul II to a Japanese audience in 1981 when speaking in Tokyo: "You are the heirs and keepers of an ancient wisdom. This wisdom in Japan and the Orient has inspired high degrees of moral life. It has taught you to venerate the pure, transparent, and honest heart. It has inspired you to discover the divine presence in every creature, and especially in the human being."
As practitioners of a religion some not only consider best but feel called to spread to all humankind, we are well advised to refrain from proselytizing. Instead, we should learn from those different from us. Who knows how we might grow if we could hear the secrets the Universe may have whispered to others.
In your WJ discuss which non-Western influences have meant the most to you personally.CHAPTER 7
Too many of us spend time doing things for ... no heartfelt reason ... We do it to make a living, to satisfy the expectations of others ... but not because the doing comes from inside us. When our action is dictated by factors external to our souls, we do not live active lives but reactive lives.
– Parker J. Palmer, The Active Life, 1991
To follow educator Parker Palmer's sage advice, we have to be or become sensitive to who we are, what we are good at, and what makes our hearts sing. Then we have to have the courage of our convictions. If we are not careful, we can spend our lives doing things we don't like in order to maintain a lifestyle we do.
Back in the Sixties we encouraged each other to do our own thing. But how do we figure out what our own thing is? Or what happens when we are good at several things? In short, how do we identify our true talents and then determine how to use them in a way that will assure that we can support ourselves and our families?
Given this conundrum, our daily prayer might be the following: "O God, please help me be the self you have designed for me and grant me the strength to become that self fully. And please, if possible, let me earn my living in ways that enhance rather than deplete my soul while benefiting others. Amen."
In your WJ write about your work. If you're not doing so now, what changes must you make to really do your own thing?CHAPTER 8
May you have warmth in your igloo, oil in your lamp, and peace in your heart.
– An Eskimo Proverb
We don't need very much really. Shelter, light, and peace — and others or another to share them with. Many of us have lost our regard for the simple but important things of life. Growing older fortunately helps restore this appreciation. As our bodies begin to function less smoothly or well, we become grateful for each good night's sleep, well-digested meal, or pain-free day.
Life can be cold and hard. Having a place of our own that is not only physically but psychologically comforting — a home, not just a house or an apartment — is a great blessing. Being able to return to this nest for rest and recovery after a day's work or activities makes going out the next day possible.
To have the necessary provisions — oil in our lamps — is a blessing too. Not to be in want and thus in the dark is very important for living.
Most important, to be sure, is peace in our hearts. Being competitive, winning, or insisting on being right seems less appropriate as we age. Serenity comes to replace the winner's circle in the scheme of things. Give-and-take, especially with family and friends, comes to have a higher priority than winning. Letting go of that old imperative makes it easier for others to live with us and for us to live with ourselves. The basic of basics is realizing that the source of peace lies within.
What basics would you like to get back to in your life? Write briefly on this topic in your WJ.CHAPTER 9
To those who choose the path that leads to Enlightenment, there are two extremes that should be carefully avoided ... indulgence in the desires of the body ... [and] ... ascetic discipline, torturing one's body and mind unreasonably.
– The Teaching of Buddha, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai Edition
My late mother, who lived to be ninety-five, must have been a secret Buddhist. She always counseled me, with moderate success, to take it easy.
During my student year in Germany I read a history of ancient Greece, whose citizens made the Golden Mean their ideal precisely because of their tendency to be immoderate. Chinese medicine is based on a similar concept. Yin and Yang, those complementary forces of the universe, must remain in dynamic balance.
Aristotle's ethics is also based on the middle way. The classic example is courage, which for him fell midway between its own excess and deficiency. If you have too much, you'll be foolhardy; too little, a coward.
Come to think of it, the wisdom of the middle way is instilled into us as children by the story of Goldilocks, who tried out the three bears' chairs, beds, and food until she decided what was "just right" for her. We learn from childhood on to look for situations, friends, partners, and work that are "just right" — usually occurring somewhere between the extremes.
Much of the world's religious history is based on spiritual development through extreme practices. Fortunately, the Buddha brought a measure of moderation to spiritual training.
How balanced is your life? Write briefly in your WJ about how well you adhere to the middle way.CHAPTER 10
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.
– Helen Keller (1880–1968)
I first encountered the concept of best practices at 18. An exchange student in Germany, I was brought up short by the showers and the TV there. Back in 1958, the shower heads I knew in America were all fixed, whereas in Germany I experienced the removable ones you could take out of their holders and rinse yourself off at close range.
As for the TV, the quality of the picture, with greater resolution, was crisper than the grainy ones we still had — apparently thanks to a later, better patent. Some years on, the same proved true of their color TV images, which looked like Technicolor while ours still had people with green faces. And here I'd thought America had the best of everything!
Fifty-eight years later, filmmaker Michael Moore made the same point in his outstanding two-hour documentary, Where to Invade Next? In it Moore travels to a number of mainly European countries where he is blown away by things like eight weeks of paid vacation in Italy, quasi-gourmet meals in French elementary schools, free university education even for foreigners in Slovenia, government-paid spa visits for health in Germany, humane prisons in Norway, and required gender-balance on corporate boards in Iceland. This was the booty he wanted to bring home to the USA.
Why can we get Swedish furniture and Thai food here while refusing to adopt outstanding public policies from abroad? National arrogance can really keep countries from being truly great.
Write in your WJ about some international practice you'd like implemented in your country.CHAPTER 11
In the December of your life, you have two responsibilities: to prepare for your own death and to bless those coming after you.
– Paraphrased from Sara Davidson's The December Project (2014) about Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (1924–2014)
I was fortunate to have attended Reb Zalman's last public appearance. A Hassidic rabbi, he was in dialogue with his then most-recent biographer, Sara Davidson, at not a local synagogue in his hometown, Boulder, Colorado, but the First Congregational Church. That was Reb Zalman.
When I described this standing-room-only event to my wife, who had been out of town, we began thinking about how we two septuagenarians might respond to his second recommendation, possibly as a way of achieving the first. What we came up with was Bright Stars.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wisdom for Living"
Copyright © 2018 Reynold Ruslan Feldman and Sharon Clark.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Warm Welcome! 1
The Wisdom of Beginning 5
Active-Learning Wisdom 6
Aloha Wisdom 7
Arboreal Wisdom 8
Aristotelian Wisdom 9
Asian Wisdom 10
Authentic-Living Wisdom 11
Back-to-Basics Wisdom 12
Balanced Wisdom 13
Best-Practice Wisdom 14
Bright-Star Wisdom 15
Charismatic Wisdom 16
Children's Wisdom 17
Classroom Wisdom 18
Community Wisdom 19
Computer Wisdom 20
Confucian Wisdom 21
Conversing-with-God Wisdom 23
Decisive Wisdom 24
Deferred-Gratification Wisdom 25
Divine Wisdom 26
Do-Over Wisdom 27
Earth Wisdom 28
Ecumenical Wisdom 30
Editorial Wisdom 31
Educational Wisdom 32
Enlightenment Wisdom 33
Entrepreneurial Wisdom 34
Equal-Rights Wisdom 35
Eternal-Light Wisdom 36
Experiential Wisdom 37
Exploratory Wisdom 38
Family Wisdom 39
Fearless Wisdom 40
Feeling-Alive Wisdom 41
Gender Wisdom 42
Getting-It Wisdom 43
Global-Village Wisdom 44
Graceful-Aging Wisdom 45
Grateful Wisdom 46
Great-Life Wisdom 47
Guru Wisdom 48
Healing Wisdom 49
Healthy-Eating Wisdom 50
Heroic Wisdom 51
Historical Wisdom 52
Hospice Wisdom 53
Hospitable Wisdom 54
Immoderate Wisdom 55
Impeccable Wisdom 56
Inclusive Wisdom 57
Inner-Hearing Wisdom 58
Inner-Knowing Wisdom 59
Inspirational Wisdom 60
Interfaith Wisdom 61
Interracial-Marriage Wisdom 62
IQ-Versus-EQ Wisdom 63
Know-Nothing Wisdom 64
Laughing Wisdom 65
Leaving-Home Wisdom 66
Legislative Wisdom 67
Liberation Wisdom 68
Lifelong-Learning Wisdom 69
Lost-and-Found Wisdom 70
Mainland Wisdom 71
Majority Wisdom 72
Manna-from-Heaven Wisdom 73
Meaningful Wisdom 74
Midlife-Crisis Wisdom 75
Mindful Wisdom 76
Misfortunate Wisdom 77
Monastic Wisdom 78
Money Wisdom 79
Moral-Leadership Wisdom 80
Neighborly Wisdom 81
Nominal Wisdom 82
Non-Judgmental Wisdom 83
Olding-Versus-Eldering Wisdom 84
One-Percent Wisdom 85
Opportunity-Making Wisdom 86
Papal Wisdom 87
Pastoral Wisdom 88
Peaceful Wisdom 89
Perceptive Wisdom 90
Pilgrim Wisdom 91
Poetic Wisdom 92
Prayer Wisdom 94
Primal Wisdom 95
Progress-Versus-Perfection Wisdom 96
Right-Use-of-Power Wisdom 97
Sabbath Wisdom 98
Sailing Wisdom 100
Saintly Wisdom 101
Scriptural Wisdom 102
Self-Healing Wisdom 103
Self-Help Wisdom 104
Shakertown Wisdom 105
Simple-Gifts Wisdom 106
Solomon's Wisdom 107
Soul Wisdom 108
Sound-Priorities Wisdom 109
Steady Wisdom 110
Stewardship Wisdom 111
Storytelling Wisdom 112
Studious Wisdom 113
Teacher Wisdom 114
The Love Doctor's Wisdom 115
The Wisdom of Acceptance 116
The Wisdom of Asking Questions 117
The Wisdom of Associating with Remarkable People 118
The Wisdom of Caring 119
The Wisdom of Change 120
The Wisdom of Divine Guidance 121
The Wisdom of Faith 122
The Wisdom of Giving and Receiving 123
The Wisdom of Grace 124
The Wisdom of Hard Work 125
The Wisdom of Kindness 126
The Wisdom of Learning by Doing 127
The Wisdom of Love 128
The Wisdom of No 129
The Wisdom of Positive Thinking 130
The Wisdom of Practicing the Presence of God 131
The Wisdom of Significance over Success 132
The Wisdom of Simplicity 133
The Wisdom of Speaking from Within 134
The Wisdom of Tithing 135
The Wisdom to Enjoy Life 136
The Wisdom to Know the Difference 137
Timeless Wisdom 138
True-Philosopher Wisdom 139
U.N. Wisdom 140
Unconditional-Love Wisdom 141
Unexpected Wisdom 142
Unlimited-Capacity Wisdom 143
Utopian Wisdom 144
Vacation Wisdom 145
Walking Wisdom 146
Wealth Wisdom 147
Wisdom as Panacea 148
Wisdom as You 149
Wisdom from Failure 150
Wisdom in the Schools 151
Wisdom Is as Wisdom Does 152
Wisdom of the Tao 153
Working Wisdom 154
World-Citizen Wisdom 155
World-Healing Wisdom 156
Write-Myself-a-Letter Wisdom 157
Commencement Wisdom 158