When I was in my 20s, I had an epiphany that never left me. To some, this revelation might seem commonplace or unoriginal, but to me, at that time, it was pivotal. And the epiphany was this: Just because a person is old does not mean s/he has acquired wisdom.
I had been introduced to the elderly father of a friend of mine, an Englishman who had been a diplomat in the foreign service, who I assumed would have many rich stories to tell about life and what he had learned during his world travels. But, to my amazement, he had nothing insightful to say about his experiences or anything else for that matter.
With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.—Oscar Wilde
Perhaps you have been in a similar situation at the deathbed of a loved one, waiting for those final words of wisdom to be shared and yet none come. A closing like this can be extremely sad because it leaves the living with a sense of emptiness and incompleteness and shows us that the person merely got old without growing up well. On the other hand, one’s last words can have great power to guide the next generation and to bring them solace and understanding.
In Western literature we find iconic examples of those whose influence young protagonists heeded to their great advantage: Virgil from Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy; Merlin from the Arthurian legends; Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings; Aslan from C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia; Yoda, the Jedi Master of the Galactic Republic from Star Wars, Dumbledore from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and the list goes on, the point here being that without their sagacious contributions, the respective narratives might have gone very wrong.
In the ancient cultures of India and East Asia it was traditional for older men and women to surrender all they had acquired to their children – owning nothing and being owned by nothing – and to live their remaining years simply and in nature where they could freely drift like a cloud and flow like water, giving everything over to the Tao and thereby releasing themselves from all anxiety. A famous poem called Inquiring for the Master echoes the feeling of this highly valued life chapter:
I asked the boy beneath the pines He said, ‘The master has gone alone, herb gathering somewhere on the mountain, cloud hidden, whereabouts unknown.’
In silence and reflection deep wisdom was gently cultivated as the years passed.
Instinctively, we know the importance of taking personal breaks from our routines and of participating in healing retreats or sabbaticals, sensing a need to “come back to ourselves.” Yet as beneficial as these respites can be, they tend to fade when we re-immerse ourselves in the obligations and responsibilities we all have.
Ensuring that self-reflection is a natural feature of our day, however, can extend the effects of these pauses and provide meaning as we age. With the additional time retirement or having cut back from full-time employment has given us, we now have more occasion to contemplate and to mindfully acquire wisdom – after all, wisdom is not a commodity! – so that when we are asked our opinion, we actually have thoughtful counsel to share that has the potential to positively impact those who seek it.
Age is opportunity no less than youth itself,—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
though in another dress,
and as the evening twilight fades away,
the sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
And so we might look at the years after 60 as providing us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go deeper and in doing so to be able to pass on the luminosity of those evening stars to others.
Have you passed your wisdom down to somebody? Who was it? Why did you choose that person and how did they accept your words?
Tags Getting Older