What is Wisdom?

“It all depends on how we look at things, and not on how they are themselves. Thinking is an act of the soul whereby it becomes conscious of itself and of other things outside itself.” [1]


We can read knowledge from a book, but it only becomes wisdom once we act on it. Wisdom is inversely proportional to the distance between our knowledge base and our actions. In other words, wisdom is a measure of how close we lead our lives to the way in which we know that we should. How is it that we should know how to live we might ask?

We often “...feel the need to see clearly. But [our] vision will become clear only when [we] can look into [our] own heart. Without, everything seems discordant; only within does it coalesce into unity. Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.” [2] Pg 33

It follows that the quest for wisdom is a highly personal and introverted one. We can allow external cues and forces to guide our decisions, but ultimately we should have internally known and abided by values. It is a helpful exercise to be aware of how our inner intentions can often differ wildly from our words and actions. It can be difficult for us to allow ourselves to see that we often create our predicament. If we are careful, we can observe the departure of our intentions from our actions. This process is usually a harrowing exercise. Why might this chasm exist?

Higher and Lower Self

If we are introspective, we can come to understand that there are two Selves within us. There is the Higher Self and the Lower Self. The Higher Self is connected to the broader essence of humankind. The Lower Self, otherwise known as the ego, is the “little me” that needs and takes things.

If we identify with the Higher Self, otherwise known as the “gut instinct,” we always know what it is that we should do. It is the Lower Self that is continually sabotaging what it is the Higher Self knows to be the truth. The distance between these two states of action gives rise to the chaos or “mistakes” in our lives.

“Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.” [3] Pg. 269

So we can see that it is equally important to know what our Higher Self is both saying and not. It is very tough to live per this Higher Self as there are many inflated egos in the world. At the root of this issue is the lack of a unified practice that focuses on acknowledging, accepting, listening to and carrying out what this in-depth inner knowledge has to offer. With this notion devoid, the ego runs wild and allows for many personas to be developed and mandatorily worn.

The idea of the persona is much like a mask. It is how we behave when we are in the public domain, and we believe that we are being observed. This changes depending on the specific area within which we are operating. This is to say, on top of these two different personalities (the Higher and Lower Self) within us; there is a mask. This mask is the projection of how our brains think that other people would like to see us act. Of course, this is an impossible task. This thought pattern is essentially us worrying about what we think that other people think about us. This concept is a realm of the truly unknowable.

We now have three parts with which to be dealt. Good thing for us that once the Persona is recognized, it can begin to fall away. It is the ego and the Higher Self with which we must contend. However, as we start to strengthen the Higher Self, much like a muscle it will improve and become a more dominant force in our lives. Now we might ask, how do these things show up in our life?

Life is a polar experience. In this case, we can have a look at the two most massive poles in our reality, that of fear and love. These are not quite opposites, but they do cover a broad spectrum of human emotion and often drive our intentions and actions.


Fear is one of the most primal drivers of human beings. It is also one of the most avoided emotions in our current society albeit a paramount force. It seems that one of the most significant aspects of this grip on human beings is the fear of death. From this spawns things such as the fear of not being loved or worse yet, not being lovable. The latter point could be seen as incurring a sort of symbolic death due to our need for social and societal acceptance.

Ironically, because this is such a primordial emotion, many people spend their lives avoiding fear even though it is the most critical thing that we can face as humans. We have developed unique scenarios to deal with this fear known as Neuroses. These come about due to certain situations that produce fear within us. Take, for example, the fear of not being loved. We will, most often unintentionally or unconsciously do things that sabotage our chances of receiving the very thing that we need. We do this because we are unwilling to face this fear at its root.

“However People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” [4] Pg 99

This process is facing the things (sometimes monstrous in nature) that are in the contents of our unconscious mind. This dark side is also known as the Shadow Self.

“But man’s task is … to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious. Neither should he persist in his unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements of his being, thus evading his destiny, which is to create more and more consciousness. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. It may even be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious.” [5] Pg. 326

Here we can bring the notion of wisdom back. If we know that we are affected by our unconscious mind and that we likewise can have an effect on it, then it becomes our duty to face those contents. This notion of taking action is a primordial component for developing wisdom. If we fear something, the only way to overcome it is to take action and to face it many times over until we not only realize but internalize that there is, in fact, no threat present to our well being. If we face our fears, then what will most likely fill into their place?


Love is a natural human tendency when the psychic energy is adequately handled. When we face our fears and process our traumas, forgiveness can become present. When we forgive, we allow space for love to grow. When we realize that we all are perfectly flawed and that good intention paves the path to hell, then we can bring in understanding. Here is the juncture of understanding and empathy which in turn breeds compassion.

“We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. I am the oppressor of the person I condemn, not his friend and fellow-sufferer.” [6] Pg 234-235

Most people have a notion of love as some pink, warm or fuzzy feeling. Those emotions are closer to that of novelty or excitement. From experience, we well know that these are fleeting at best. Love is a deeper-seated, more complicated notion. Love is the energy that animates us; it is the blueprint that has created our heart just as much as it has created the Milky Way. Love is the full acceptance and surrenders to what is. This process is why true love takes a great deal of wisdom. As we try to love and fail at it, we are acting upon knowledge which holds the potential to transform into wisdom.

As was mentioned earlier, it is just as important to know what love is not, as it is to know what it is. Love is not holding on, trying to control, wishing for things to be as they are not, or belligerent positive thinking.

Love is accepting the ugly things just as they are an equally accepting the beautiful things just as they are. This acceptance is to recognize that in the reality within which we exist chaos is just as present as order and that humankind is here to transform that chaos to some semblance of temporary order.

The Flow from Chaos to Order

“In all chaos, there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” [7]

We as humans have generated an abundance of knowledge. It is when we go into action and begin transmuting this knowledge that wisdom is garnered. This wisdom can be deployed in many aspects of our lives. We should start with an internal examination. We should start with understanding who we are, which ironically can never be fully completed. We cannot wholly know ourselves because we are ever changing and dependent on our surroundings. Therefore, the only thing that we can do is to fully accept what we have and who we are in this moment in time. If we do not do this, we will inevitably lead a life of fear at best and filled with neuroses at worst. With this surrender, we can clear a space in which love can be cultivated and realized to be present in the fabric of existence itself. This concept is all predicated on the notion of humans spanning the divide between chaos and order. By garnering this wisdom, we can continue the conquest of organizing a world that is forever being tossed back into the chaotic abyss. This acceptance allows us to whistle while we work.

“Nobody, as long as he moves about among the chaotic currents of life, is without trouble.” [8] Pg. 11


[1] C. G. Jung, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Symbols for the transformation. 1953.

[2] C. G. Jung, Letters of C. G. Jung: Volume I, 1906-1950. Routledge, 2015.

[3] C. G. Jung, Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 2): Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. Princeton University Press, 2014.

[4] C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy. 2014.

[5] C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Vintage, 2011.

[6] C. G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul. 2014.

[7] C. G. Jung, Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1): Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Princeton University Press, 2014.

[8] C. G. H. G. Jung and C. G. HG Jung, Selected Letters of C.G. Jung, 1909-1961. 1984.