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Wise Men and Gurus

January 15, 2015

When I was in my early twenties, I spent a lot of my time reading philosophy books.  I admired wise men and gurus and wanted to be like them.  That led me to write up a collection of my own wise sayings.  I’m rather embarrassed to share them with all of you.  Looking through this list on my computer, I still agree with some of them.  Maybe I’ll share a few that are decent?

People who live lies tend to congregate together, and hide in their own company.

What is self-control? It’s not will-power, it’s a mind without conflict.

You don’t have time for something? Time management is about priorities. You want something more than something else.

Strange things people do often have much less strange reasons. All people are normal if you’re smart enough to see it.

Never glorify mediocrity. Some poor soul may listen to you.

“Clever” men tell you you’re stupid. Wise men tell you how to improve and give you hope.

It’s easy to give your life to something. The problem is determining whether your cause is worthwhile.

Many men sound clever. They talk and talk, and confuse everyone. Judge the content by what it leaves you in the end.

When searching for answers in life don’t be surprised when you find a world you least expected. Expect mental back-flips and 360 revolutions. Nothing is how you thought it was as a child.

Nothing is difficult or easy. Difficulty is not intrinsic to a task, but dependent on your approach.

You don’t necessarily have to be prepared for the entire journey, but only for the next step. You’re never completely ready for anything new you try.

Wisdom consists in seeing the invisible potential within what is seen.

Judging someone confines them to their past, and if you’re judging them to begin with I’m guessing you don’t like their past. This isn’t going to get us anywhere.

No one is completely responsible for their own life. The actions of others influence you as well.

I’ve met many nice people who promise a lot but deliver very little. I’ve met others who are irritable yet keep their word. Never judge someone at face value.

Ignorance is bliss as long as someone is watching over you. Otherwise, not so much.

But as I studied more and more, I came to realize that there were “wise” people advocating every possible mindset and philosophy.  No matter how you were living or what decisions you were making, there was always some “wise” person to come along and justify whatever it is.

Let’s dissect one of my own quotes.  Take the quote “Never glorify mediocrity.” There are a million different variations.  Here’s just one.

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You can easily find someone else telling you the exact opposite, to love yourself and be content how you are.  After all, why chase some subjective sense of perfection that doesn’t exist?  We’re all divine images of God, all perfect and beautiful.  And if you take that mindset to its full extreme, everything is perfect and beautiful.  See beauty in all things!  Then that warm fuzzy feeling comes all over you and you think, “Oohhh, this must be true!”  All we need to do now is write up a pithy quote infused with emotion, “A wise man can see God in all things. Everything happens for a reason.  We are all whole, perfect, and beautiful.”  It’s easy to produce and infinite number of warm, comforting, and accepting variations.

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I personally believe in excellence and shy away from of mediocrity.  If I do something, I want to do it well.  For example, when I take exams, I get A’s.  I study and master all the material.  I don’t accept myself if I barely make it by with gentleman C’s.  I tell myself, “I need to work harder and master this.  How am I going to contribute to my field if I can’t even master these university exams?”  But not everyone has ambition or a desire to create new things for the world. Many want to live simple lives.

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I believe that truth is a difficult thing to obtain and that a person has to really work to obtain it.  But let’s take a quote from Oprah’s favorite poet, the late Mary Angelou.  If I look her up on Brainyquote, within a minute or so I find, “I’m grateful to intelligent people. That doesn’t mean educated. That doesn’t mean intellectual. I mean really intelligent. What black old people used to call ‘mother wit’ means intelligence that you had in your mother’s womb. That’s what you rely on. You know what’s right to do.”  It’s the total opposite way of thinking.  Compare that to Richard Feynman, the Nobel laureate physicist.

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In the world of physics, you have to be wary of intuition and constantly question yourself and what you want to be true.  As a poet, you can write down whatever you’re feeling, and I suppose a lot of it is about expressing emotion.  Physics is not like that.  When you’re building satellite system and launching it into space, you have to know what you’re doing.  As Feynman said, “Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

To give another example, when I look in the mirror and see a pudgy belly, I don’t see beauty, I see a problem.  I find myself thinking about what I need to change, whether it be my diet, exercise routine, or lifestyle.  I relate to a quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Strength does not coming from winning.  Your struggles develop your strengths.  When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”  Or as he put it another time, “If it jiggles, it’s fat.”

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Compare that to feminists with their body positive thinking.  They’ll say, “Self hate isn’t okay at any size“, or in more poetic terms, “When life throws you curves, embrace them.”  If we search the internet, we even find pop stars weighing in on the issue.  Take the singer Rihanna, “You have to just accept your body.  You may not love it all the way, but you just have to be comfortable with it, comfortable with knowing that that’s your body.”

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As I got older, I saw truth in both learning to be content where I am and striving to be better than what I currently am.  I wondered if they were both true in a way, or whether the “truth” was somewhere inbetween? Or maybe they’re true in some circumstances and not in others?  As I reflected on this dilemma, I eventually decided that there often is no truth when it comes to how you live your life.  That’s your choice.  You’re free to live how you want to live.  Every way of life leads to some outcome, and if you’re satisfied with your life, that’s all there is to it.  It depends on what you want. This is the meaning behind the other old quote of mine which I shared, “Many men sound clever. They say all kinds of things.  Judge the content by what it leaves you in the end.

Arnold’s mindset will lead you to change, grow, and get in the gym.  You’ll work hard and then get the body you want.  The feminist mindset strives for peace of mind and contentment.  They’re different strategies with the end-goal of being happy with yourself.

The key point to realize is that every way of thinking, every philosophy, every mindset will lead you to a different life.

I wanted to share a video from the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, which is pretty interesting.  Sometimes he annoys me because I feel he’s always trying to shock people, but he makes a good point when he states, “Wisdom is disgusting.”  By wisdom, he’s talking about all these different quotes, sayings, and cliches created by so-called wise people.

He gives several great examples.  If a person takes a big risk and succeeds, a “wise man” will come along and say, “You never get anything in life unless you’re willing to take risks.”

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If that same person fails, another “wise man” will come along and talk about having realistic expectations and not biting off more than you can chew.

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Take another example dealing with spirituality.  Wise men will come along and tell you not to get focused on this material world where everything is temporal.  We should instead focus on eternity.

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Another wise man will come along and say, “Don’t focus on abstract ideas like infinity and eternity.  Grasp what you can in the here and the now.”

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Then there’s variations on those themes such as, “Don’t take extreme positions.  There is a middle way!  Find eternity in the here and the now.”

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You can basically spin anything any which way.  There are so many mental strategies men have devised to emotionally cope with this life and the problems we face.  Very often people take up different philosophies depending on where they find themselves, what they want out of life, and what they need to get through what they’re experiencing.

For example, some philosophies and mindsets are geared toward enduring suffering with a smile on your face.  They’re perfect for underdogs and those who have had bad luck in life.  Some philosophies are geared toward explorers, venturing into new domains.  They’re well suited for a scientist like me, trying to discover new things about the universe.  Others are geared toward being happy at home, and building relationships with those around you.  Those are well suited for a housewife raising her young children.  Depending on a person’s genetic make-up and personal life experiences, some mindsets and philosophies are better suited to them than others.

In my case, I doubt any of you would like me to base my decisions on prayer and intuition when building a nuclear reactor in your city.  I have to be skeptical and base all my decisions on what’s been proven experimentally in the laboratory.  But what’s good for one person isn’t good for another.  Take creative types.  If a writer is working on the next Lord of the Rings trilogy, or working on a science fiction video game, a very critical, skeptical mindset, very rooted in reality isn’t what they need to succeed in their craft.  We’re all different.

I say all of this to simply point out that there is no “way”.  Nobody has the one true way to live life.  There are many.  Oftentimes there isn’t any meaning to “truth” when it comes to personal philosophies and lifestyles.  But that’s not to say that all mindsets lead to the same outcome.  They’re simply complex mental and emotional strategies.  Some are better suited to particular situations and lives than others.

Unlike Slavoj, I don’t find wisdom disgusting. I simply want to point out that there are many “wisdoms” and to always keep your mind open.

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