On Learnedness and Wisdom, Envy and Limits

I was going to write another Things I Learned post before the end of the year, but that never happened – I’m still emerging from the (fortunately metaphorical) dust clouds that resulted from moving to Ghent, Belgium. So I was going to write it in the first week of the new year – that didn’t happen either. And then I wrote the following. I very much doubted, and still doubt, whether I should post these musings here – after all it is not directly related to Romania – but I did promise to also post musings here. And it is definitely part of the journey I’m on. So I’m just going to give it a go and see what happens. It’s all about attitudes to learnedness and wisdom. And envy. And limits.

I have a confession to make. I am terribly envious of people who manage to read and study much and who can seemingly process it all. People who manage to read over fifty books a year (me: just over thirty), do a second or third degree (me: did second degree but couldn’t finish because of burnout/depression), often alongside their jobs (me: I write a mountain guide but that’s not like an ordinary job, is it?), people who do a PhD (me: I just studied English)… I want to be capable of all that, too. I know I would read and study a whole lot more if my mind and body allowed me to – depression limits me severely here, I think. I often lack the energy or concentration or vitality to do these things, or carry them through – I often crash mid effort.

I want to read, to learn, to know. But why? What are my motives? Isn’t there a lot of insecurity behind that wish for knowledge? Don’t I want to know everything those other people seem to know so that I am as good and smart and knowledgeable as them? Or do I genuinely want to know things? I might need to start making that honest distinction. Perhaps I need to learn to trust my mind as it is – not knowing all things but certainly heading into a direction – groping and searching perhaps, but reaching out for wisdom; growing. Isn’t it much more important to have this growth mindset, and be grateful for it, rather than be very knowledgeable?

But I want both. This is a false dichotomy. I can have both, can’t I? Yes, but I have limitations, and although these frustrate me immensely, I need to respect those boundaries. That might be part of the growth mindset too. To be soft and pliant rather than hard and breakable – slowly branching out and thriving rather than shooting out in moments, and depleting myself.

”When a tree is growing, it’s tender and pliant, but when it’s dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death’s companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win.” (- Andrei Tarkovsky: Stalker, but derived from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu)

I am going to try to trust myself with that patient growth intention and see where it takes me. And keep reading, breathing, reflecting, changing my course or pace whenever needed. I want to learn to trust that I already know, sense, intuit many valuable things that serve me and others, even though I may not have learnt all of these from books, for which I apparently have the greatest (perhaps too much) respect. I want to learn to resist wanting to know just for the sake of it – and for taking pride in it.

Often I feel like my writing here is too basic- I hardly refer to others, to impressive philosophers or other literature. Sometimes (well, often) I want to sound more learned, more impressive. But, as a friend pointed out, life really unfolds around these small insights, rather than the big, profound truths. We move on a day to day basis, learning small lessons – one step at a time, not in huge leaps and bounds. Life as a whole, seen from space, may seem pretty grand, but when we’re at it, on our feet, it isn’t always all that glamourous. On the contrary. It is humble. It is finding pebbles at the beach, or picking up stones on a mountain slope, in my case – or stumbling over them. So I will stick to my motto: Head in the clouds, feet on the ground, and plod on.

All pictures were taken during a hike in the Tarcu Mountains in September 2017.

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