Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Heart of Wisdom

 October 13, 2015  by Susan Weinberg

We joined together today in a new beginning in the Artists' Lab. For some of us it is the fourth year  of a growing community of artists.  We fondly greeted familiar faces and were introduced to new ones.  We had a much larger group as we brought the two labs together and added new members.

We gathered with our facilitators in an introduction to our topic of Echoes: Voices of Wisdom, a rich topic with much to explore.  Meryll began our exploration by introducing the Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, a section of the Midrash written around the Common Era.

 It states Who is wise? The one who learns from every person…(Talmud - Avot 4:1)   She noted that the word for teacher and student comes from the same root, for hopefully we are both.

Rabbi Davis then introduced a parable from a book titled The Hasidic Parable by Aryeh Wineman.  The parable entitled Or HaEmet  tells the tale of a king who created a challenge with incentives to test the diligence of his servants.  Three groups of servants attempt three strategies with only the final one achieving the goal. Take a minute to read it before you proceed.

We had an energetic discussion about the need to seek wisdom by coming in unencumbered by emotional or physical coverings, without artificial light and in concert with other souls.  It was noted that the parable rewarded those who exhibited both planning and forethought as well as being willing to respond to circumstances creatively and in the moment.   Others noted traits of resourcefulness and faith.  We also assumed that the later servants learned from the failures of the earlier servants.  As this was a metaphor we looked to the meaning of different elements.  We concluded that illumination through precious stones represented seeking deeper knowledge.  Illumination was only found by being willing to destroy what we know.

Many were uncomfortable with the role of the king, particularly the element of judgment and condemnation of failure.  When asked how we would apply this to our experience in the lab we spoke of the need to be vulnerable, but also to create an environment of trust, rather than competition.  We felt it important to be able to risk failure in a nonjudgmental environment.  The king had no place at our table.

Some spoke of their experience as a parent or as an immigrant to a new country as a time when they had to be vulnerable to achieve a greater level of wisdom.

The second part of our session was both an introduction of members and a sharing of something we associated with creativity. We hadn't much time to consider this question and several of us confessed to groaning at the receipt of this last minute assignment.   It proved; however, to be a very intriguing project with thoughtful responses from all.  Lab members offered up music, poetry, readings, Jewish parables and quotes.

Some of the offerings included the poems Remember Me by Hal Sirowitz and Otherwise by Jane Kenyon and the wonderful quote "Seek the company of those who search for truth; run from those who have found it." (André Gide).  In the realm of great minds think alike we had more than one person who brought their Tibetan singing bowl or a seashell.  The Tibetan bowls "spoke" for themselves.  The seashells were symbolic of wisdom with the hardness on the outside that represented the accumulation of experience with the inside luminous and if fortunate containing a pearl.

Some of us offered linkages to the past, a cookbook offered as a tender gift from a father and for me, a folder of notes on books read from my mother.  While some in our group sought ideas from the Internet, for me wisdom has always been associated with my mother who recently passed away. In her files I found a wonderful folder of excerpts from books that spoke to her and reminded me of our many conversations about books and life.  When Meryll had spoken of the Pirkei Avot, I had flipped through my mother's file sure I had read of it in there.  Sure enough she had a page devoted to it.  I shared some of the quotes in her folder such as "Don't try to make life a mathematics problem with yourself in the center and everything coming out equal" or "we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes." (The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver).  Or the rather biblical sounding quote from Nicole Mones in Lost in Translation, "A brave man bows to circumstances as grass does before the wind". She also wrote of a book by Jerome Groopman titled The Measure of Our Days: A Spiritual Exploration of Illness.  Within it he had referenced the Biblical Psalm 90, a psalm of life and death which presents a perspective on wisdom.

The stream of human life is like a dream,
In the morning, it is as grass, sprouting fresh,
In the morning it blossoms and flourishes,
but by evening it is cut down and withers
Our years come to an end like a fleeting whisper.
The days of our years may total seventy,
if we are exceptionally strong, perhaps eighty;
but all their pride and glory is toil and falsehood
and, severed quickly, we fly away...
So teach us to number our days that
we may attain a heart of wisdom.

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