FRAGMENTS OF WISDOM
A small collection of stand-alone thoughts worth contemplating. I update this page with new passages as I come across them and cite the source so you can venture deeper down the rabbit hole.
FINDING OUR TRUE MISSION
From The Zahir by Paulo Coelho.
“I believe in signs. After I had walked the road to Santiago, everything had changed completely: what we need to learn is always there before us, we just have to look around us with respect and attention in order to discover where God is leading us and which step we should take next. I also learned a respect for mystery: as Einstein said, God does not play dice with the Universe; everything is interconnected and has meaning. That meaning may remain hidden nearly all the time, but we always know we are close to our true mission on earth when what we are doing is touched with the energy of enthusiasm.
If it is, then all is well. If not, then we had better change direction.”
THE NAIL IN WALT DISNEY’S BOOT
From The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do by Jeff Goins.
“Walt Disney did his best to not ask his parents for much. Elias and Flora Disney raised a frugal family in the Midwest, first as failed farmers and later as struggling business owners. But when he spotted a pair of leather boots with metal toes, young Walt had to have them. They were a practical gift, he reasoned, and would help with his job of delivering newspapers —especially when it snowed.
In a rare instance of indulgence, his parents caved. That year at Christmas, lying beneath the tree, was a pair of leather boots waiting for Walt. He wore them every day and could often be seen tramping around downtown Kansas City in them, as any proud kid with a new prized possession would do. He also kept his promise, wearing them morning and night to deliver the paper.
One spring day, just after finishing his route, Walt crossed the street to join some friends at the local soda fountain. As he did, he noticed a piece of ice lying in the middle of the street and couldn’t resist the temptation to kick it. As Walt’s foot collided with the block of ice, something sharp struck his boot, and a surge of pain raced up the boy’s leg. Looking down to see a horseshoe nail sticking out of his boot, he screamed. The nail had penetrated the leather exterior and drove straight into his big toe, freezing his foot fast to the block of ice.
For twenty minutes, Walt cried for help —he screamed— but no one came. Finally, a wagon driver stopped and came to his aid, chipping away at the ice and taking him to the doctor. After removing the nail with a pair of pliers and administering a tetanus shot, the doctor sent Walt home without any painkillers. He would be bedridden for two weeks.
During the days that ensued, young Walt Disney had a lot to consider, including what he might do with the rest of his life. At sixteen years old, a boy growing up in the early twentieth century didn’t have much time left to become a man. College was out of the question, given the Disney’s lack of means. He would not be a lawyer or a doctor. Even if his parents did have money, Walt’s poor grades and inability to concentrate in school would have done him in. His prospects were limited. Would he follow in his father’s footsteps or forge his own path as his elder brother Roy had done?
The break from his regular routine allowed Walt to imagine the possibilities. During those two weeks, he must have thought about many things. Perhaps he thought about his friendship with schoolmate Walter Pfeiffer, whose family had introduced him to the magic of theater. Maybe he thought about how he loved drawing and amusing classmates with cartoons. He may have thought of the time he and his sister, Ruth, were left home alone to discover a barrel of tar outside. Walt said it would make for excellent paint, but his sister protested. After he assured her it would come off, the two proceeded to decorate the side of the house with pictures of houses and black zigzags. It never came off.
We don’t know what Walt was thinking during those two weeks in bed. But what we do know, according to biographer Bob Thomas, is that by the time his foot healed and he returned to delivering papers, “he had decided to become a cartoonist.”
What was once a diversion was now a destiny. He needed something to disrupt his comfort, something painful to make him realize what was important. It wasn’t that the nail was good; it was just the means that forced him to listen. And as painful as it was, it worked.”
THE GAME OF BLACK AND WHITE
From The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan W. Watts.
“There must then be numberless features and dimensions of the world to which our senses respond without our conscious attention, let alone vibrations (such as cosmic rays) having wavelengths to which our senses are not tuned at all. To perceive all vibrations at once would be pandemonium, as when someone slams down all the keys of a piano at the same time. But there are two ignored factors which can very well come into our awareness, and our ignorance of them is the mainstay of the ego-illusion and of the failure to know that we are each the one Self in disguise.
The first is not realizing that so-called opposites, such as light and darkness, sound and silence, solid and space, on and off, inside and outside, appearing and disappearing, cause and effect, are poles or aspects of the same thing. But we have no word for that thing, save such vague concepts as Existence, Being, God, or the Ultimate Ground of Being. For the most part these remain nebulous ideas without becoming vivid feelings or experience.
The second, closely related, is that we are so absorbed in conscious attention, so convinced that this narrowed kind of perception is not only the real way of seeing the world, but also the very basic sensation of oneself as a conscious being, that we are fully hypnotized by its disjointed vision of the universe. We really feel that this world is indeed an assemblage of separate things that have somehow come together or, perhaps, fallen apart, and that we are each only one of them. We see them all alone —born born alone, dying alone— maybe as bits and fragments of a universal whole, or expendable parts of a big machine. Rarely do we see all so-called things and events “going together,” like the head and tail of the cat, or as the tones and inflections —rising and falling, coming and going— of a single singing voice.
In other words, we do not play the Game of Black-and-White —the universal game of up/down, on/off, solid/space, and each/all. Instead, we play the game of Black-versus-White or, more usually, White-versus-Black. For, especially when rates of vibration are slow as with day and night or life and death, we are forced to be aware of the black or negative aspect of the world. Then, not realizing the inseparability of the positive and negative poles of the rhythm, we are afraid that Black may win the game. But the game, “white must win” is no longer a game. It is a fight —a fight haunted by a sense of chronic frustration, because we are doing something as crazy as trying to keep the mountains and get rid of the valleys.”
From The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
“Few sights are so absurd as that of an inchworm leading its dimwit life. Inchworms are the caterpillar larvae of several moths or butterflies. The cabbage looper, for example, is an inchworm. I often see an inchworm: it is a skinny bright green thing, pale and thin as a vein, an inch long, and apparently totally unfit for life in this world. It wears out its days in constant panic.
Every inchworm I have seen was stuck in long grasses. The wretched inchworm hangs from the side of a grassblade and throws its head around from side to side, seeming to wail. What! No further? Its back pair of nubby feet clasps the grass stem; its front three pairs of nubs rear back and flail in the air, apparently in search of a footing. What! No further? What? It searches everywhere in the wide world for the rest of the grass, which is right under its nose. By dumb luck it touches the grass. Its front legs hang on; it lifts and buckles its green inch, and places its hind legs just behind its front legs. Its body makes a loop, a bight. All it has to do now is slide its front legs up the grass stem. Instead it gets lost. It throws up its head and front legs, flings its upper body out into the void, and panics again. What! No further? End of world? And so forth, until it actually reaches the grasshead’s tip. By then its wee weight may be bending the grass toward some other grass plant. Its davening, apocalyptic prayers sway the grasshead and bump it into something. I have seen it many times. The blind and frantic numbskull makes it off one grassblade and onto another one, which it will climb in virtual hysteria for several hours. Every step brings it to the universe’s rim. And now—What! No further? End of world? Ah, here’s ground. What! No further? Yike!
‘Why don’t you just jump?’ I tell it, disgusted. ‘Put yourself out of your misery.'”
From Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff & Mark Johnson
“The capacity for self-understanding presupposes the capacity for mutual understanding. Common sense tells us that it’s easier to understand ourselves than to understand other people. After all, we tend to think that we have direct access to our own feelings and ideas and not to anybody else’s. Self-understanding seems prior to mutual understanding, and in some ways it is. But any really deep understanding of why we do what we do, feel what we feel, change as we change, and even believe what we believe, takes us beyond ourselves. Understanding of ourselves is not unlike other forms of understanding —it comes out of our constant interactions with our physical, cultural, and interpersonal environment. At a minimum, the skills required for mutual understanding are necessary even to approach self-understanding. Just as in mutual understanding we constantly search out commonalities of experience when we speak with other people, so in self-understanding we are always searching for what unifies our own diverse experiences in order to give coherence to our lives. Just as we seek out metaphors to highlight and make coherent what we have in common with someone else, so we seek out personal metaphors to highlight and make coherent our own pasts, our present activities, and our dreams, hopes, and goals as well. A large part of self-understanding is the search for appropriate personal metaphors that make sense of our lives. Self-understanding requires unending negotiation and renegotiation of the meaning of your experiences to yourself. In therapy for example, much of self-understanding involves consciously recognizing previously unconscious metaphors and how we live by them. It involves the constant construction of new coherences in your life, coherences that give new meaning to old experiences. The process of self-understanding is the continual development of new life stories for yourself.”
THE TWO RINGS
From The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation: As Taught by S. N. Goenka by William Hart
“A rich old man died leaving two sons. For some time the two continued living together in the traditional Indian way, in a single joint household, a joint family. Then they quarreled and decided to separate. dividing all the property between them. Everything was divided fifty-fifty, and thus they settled their affairs. But after the settlement had been made, a small packet was discovered which had been carefully hidden by their father. They opened the packet and found two rings inside, one set with a valuable diamond, and the other an ordinary silver ring worth only a few rupees.
Seeing the diamond, the elder brother developed greed in his mind, and he started explaining to the younger one, “To me it appears that this ring is not the earning of our father, but rather an heirloom from his forefathers. That is why he kept it separate from his other possessions. And since it has been kept for generations in our family, it should remain for future generations. Therefore I, being elder, shall keep it. You had better take the silver ring.”
The younger brother smiled and said, “All right, be happy with the diamond ring. I’ll be happy with the silver one.” Both of them placed their rings on their fingers and went their ways.
The younger brother thought to himself. “It is easily understandable that my father kept the diamond ring, it is so valuable. But why did he keep this ordinary silver ring?” He examined the ring closely and found some words engraved on it: “This will also change.” “Oh, this is the mantra of my father: ‘This will also change!'” He replaced the ring on his finger.
Both brothers faced all the ups and downs of life. When spring came, the elder brother became highly elated, losing the balance of his mind. When autumn or winter came, he fell into deep depression, again losing his mental balance. He became tense, developing hypertension. Unable to sleep at night, he started using sleeping pills, tranquilizers, stronger drugs. Finally, he reached the stage where he required electric shock treatments. This was the brother with the diamond ring.
As for the younger brother with the silver ring, when spring came, he enjoyed it; he didn’t try to run away from it. He enjoyed it but looked at his ring and remembered. “This will also change.” And when it changed, he could smile and say, “Well, I knew it was going to change. It has changed, so what!” When autumn or winter came, again he looked at his ring and remembered, “This will also change.” He didn’t start crying, knowing that this would also change. And yes, it also changed, it passed away. Of all the ups and downs, all the vicissitudes of life, he knew that nothing is eternal, that everything comes just to pass away. He did not lose the balance of his mind and he lived a peaceful, happy life.
This was the brother with the silver ring.”
TWO KINDS OF INTELLIGENCE
From The Essential Rumi by Jalal al-Din Rumi and translated by Coleman Barks
“There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.
With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.
There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.
This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.”
From The Essential Rumi by Jalal al-Din Rumi and translated by Coleman Barks
“Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you are bravely working.
Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.
Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralysed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated