Spring and Light


Ah Spring!  Time to bring out the gardening tools, time to bring out the new wardrobe, time to bring out the housecleaning metaphors for getting our mental house in order.  Time to take a good look at all the “stuff” we’ve accumulated over the years and get rid of… well, just about all of it.

At this point you may well ask, “What does philosophy have to do with getting rid of things?”  Most of us think of philosophy as adding more “stuff;” more beliefs, more opinions, more arguments, more “isms.”  But if we remember that philosophy means “love of wisdom,” not “love of knowledge,”  we can appreciate that it’s not about adding on.  In fact, many philosophers see it the other way around—we as humans are naturally wise, but we let it get covered over with the “stuff” of everyday life.  We spend much of our time in an unreal world of remembering the past and looking forward to, or fearing, the future.

Wisdom is not that complicated, and doesn’t have to be learned.  We’ve all known people we think are wise, and they are not necessarily well-educated.  The traits we associate with wisdom—compassion, listening, empathy, humor—are things we can develop regardless of schooling.  And wisdom is the best gift you can give to yourself, or to others.

But wisdom operates only in the present moment.  You can wish you had been wiser, or hope that you will be, but in fact the only time you can be wise is right now.  Our material at the School of Practical Philosophy says, “The nature of wisdom is that it acts like light.  It illuminates what is present.  It does not add vast new structures of learning or erudition, but rather works to remove some of these structures.  Wisdom is not just about the mind.  It is also a question of being: the state of one’s being.”

This analogy of wisdom to light is found over and over in the wisdom literature.  God said, “Let there be light.”  Socrates compared the light of the Ideal to the light of the sun.  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  The Bhagavad Gita says, “The Light of Lights He is, in the heart of the Dark shining eternally.”  The Spring brings the return of the light, with its warmth and longer days, and it can also allow us to see the layers of dust that have built up, in our houses and in ourselves.

It is our own inner light that we need to clean.  When we see people, even people we love, we often see our past idea of them, not who they really are right now.  We need to let go of our criticisms, our prejudices, all the limitations that keep us from responding to the light in each of them.  We treat new situations with past strategies, maybe approaching them with anxiety or our own expectations of how they’ll turn out.  But we can’t predict the future; we can only look at our current situations with full attention and love.  We do what our inner wisdom tells us to do as best we can, and then we let go.    We give full attention and love to whatever—or whomever—comes next.  And on and on.  The people and the situations will change; the light with which we see them stays the same.

When we let go of our self-imposed limitations and let our light shine out, we will find that we live in no ordinary house.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson says in The Over-Soul, “All goes to show that the soul in man is not an organ, but animates and exercises all the organs; is not a function, like the power of memory, of calculation, of comparison, but uses these as hands and feet; is not a faculty, but a light; is not the intellect or the will, but the master of the intellect and the will; is the background of our being, in which they lie, — an immensity not possessed and that cannot be possessed. From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all. A man is the facade of a temple wherein all wisdom and all good abide.”

Happy Spring cleaning!

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