Section II - Cultivating Wisdom
Exercise 1. Reflection
Actually taking time to look at ourselves is a great first step. Going over how we have behaved is a good indicator of what states we operate from, and what qualities we have developed and which ones we could work on. Simply spending a few minutes at the end of the day, making a short survey of the key events that have transpired can yield some valuable information. You may want to do this daily, or weekly. You could also take it further and just jot down a few notes in a reflection journal. This could be even better as you will not only be able to see patterns that you might otherwise miss, you will have a record over time of what progress you are making and what practices are effective. Seeing progress also gives us confidence and self-esteem, and re-enforces our will to continue.
Exercise 2. Ask for Feedback.
We all have our blind spots. We can often see things in others that they cannot see themselves. This means that the same is true of oneself; others can see things that we cannot. So, if you have someone that knows us well, that person can be a great help to us, by pointing out this kind of thing.
Doing this though requires that you listen without being defensive or reactive. It can be quite painful to hear someone tell you uncomfortable truths about your self. Even if they are mistaken, there is usually something you have done that has given the wrong impression, and more importantly there will be things you can do to change the perception.
Exercise 3. Challenge the Stories You Tell Yourself
We are often very quick to come to conclusions and judgements about people and situations. Often these say more about oneself than the object of the judgement. We can react most strongly to things we see in others that we hate most in ourselves. We all carry parts of our personality that we do not like to acknowledge, these can be both negative and positive traits. For instance a man who has a very strong image of masculinity may find him ashamed of his own tenderness. It takes a certain amount of our energy to keep this part of our personality hidden from others and even our own awareness. Therefore if we get reminded of the same trait in others, we react not only to that, but we add in all the disapproval that we feel for our own. So it is really useful to see what sets us off, and look for it in our own life.
We also are making up a story throughout the day, a narrative that contains assumptions that all too often have very little basis in fact. So the next time you find yourself with a judgement or conclusion, just pause and ask yourself if it really is true. For instance we may think that our brother-in-law looks down on us because our job does not pay well. Perhaps he has asked you a question about what you earn, or maybe his facial expression is one you interpret as disapproval. Or maybe he insists on paying for a restaurant meal, and you take that as his showing off he earns more than you. But all of these things may not be true, they are simply an interpretation, and could easily be influenced by your own feelings about your earnings. Of course these interpretations may have some validity, but there may be other things going on there. For instance he may envy you for having other qualities that he does not possess, and he uses his higher earning to try to bolster his own poor self-view.
So really this is about recognising when you are speculating, and treating that lightly. It is really good to give yourself the opportunity to think of other interpretations and to keep an open and non-judgemental mind on the story we tell our selves. Be especially aware of when there is a critical, cynical voice that is telling the story, this almost always points to something about ourselves that can be instructive. By doing this, we make a much more creative narrative, with a range of very positive outcomes.
Often times we find ourselves in situations where it is not clear what the best way forward is. The individual principles of what is right are often clear, but sometime there may be conflicts between two different principles and the right thing to do may be hard to see. Take for example when a good friend asks you to lie for them, perhaps to your boss about why he was absent. Your heart tells you that your friend needs your help, and you want to respond to that. But your heart also tells you that to mislead someone is also not in line with a loving action. It can be quite difficult to decide on what to do.
Often though, we do have a deeper part of ourselves that does know what is best, but we need help to listen to its voice. One way to do this is to think of an example of someone that you hold in high regard, someone you think of as possessing wisdom and the courage to act from his convictions and imagine what they would do in that situation, or imagine a dialogue where you can ask their advice. You may be surprised to find you know the answer better than it first appeared.
Probably we all know people that we consider to possess good qualities. By choosing to spend time with them, and by seeking out more such people to have in our lives we can really make a difference to our own growth. In the same way, choosing to spend time with those whose behaviour demonstrates a lack of positivity and ethics will have the opposite effect. Talk things over with them; observe how they respond to their own circumstances and challenges. Allow their influence to have an effect on your own personality.