Wisdom in your Skin and Bones
Some four hundred years ago, during the Enlightenment (1685-1815), Occident convinced itself that reason was more valuable than experience. Logical constructions eclipsed the work of our hands. Experiments displaced practice. Science overshadowed art. The mind suppressed emotions. We are still much anchored on that thought. We cherish titles and degrees more than the life lessons we endure.
What if, for an instant, we pretended that life is our teacher and us its disciples? What if the passivity of “what happens to us” suddenly became a springboard toward wisdom? And what if we embrace our experiences as routes toward awareness?
I believe that each and every person is called to answer, “What life teacher am I?” We are all graduates of Life University. Our diploma is our very existence. Our lessons are the paths we walk.
The Summit of Your Life
But first, we must distinguish between living life and extracting its wisdom. Life wisdom emerges from a conscious reflective intention. We learn from experience as we question and test it. Otherwise, we become perpetual sleepwalkers. A lost life is a life unexplored. It is a life that occurs exclusively through motion rather than examination. Wisdom lies in curiosity about ourselves. It may seem selfish, but you are your most interesting study subject. Delve into yourself and extract your experiential pearls of wisdom.
You must then realize that the summit of your life is what you have learned and can now teach. If you’ve seen darkness, you are an expert in light. If you suffer from anxiety, you are an expert in patience. You are an expert narrator if your head seems to explode with negative thoughts. If you are depressed, you are an expert on hope. It is precisely at the point of collapsing that the opposite pole of solidity flourishes. You know how to emerge from the void because it has terrified you. Through your survival, you can lead others across desolation. We want a tour guide who knows the terrain, the views and the secrets. You are that life tour guide.
People with mental illness are life experts. They sometimes don’t realize it. The pain, chronic fatigue, desperation, and helplessness work as wisdom anesthetics. The system does not help much. We are usually invited to share our stories at hospitals and high schools. Seldom are we honored as keynote speakers at conferences. That’s reserved for the professionals, “the experts.” And thus, by telling our stories, we become cases more than teachers. We metamorphize into walking warnings. Yes, by showing our humanity, we normalize mental illness. That’s powerful and necessary. But an abyss lies between “I made it” and “I excel.” A fissure opens between “Listen to my cautionary story ” and “My life is amazing.”
I don’t want your stories. Instead, I challenge you to deliver the lessons behind and beneath your stories. Please make an effort to transition from storyteller to life master. Each hospitalization, crisis, dysfunction, overcoming, success, and desperation must give birth to a drop of wisdom. Focus on the lessons instead of the events.
Stigma will fall when we collect and offer our lessons to the world. We live in a competitive society. We will gain a dignified seat at that table when we add wisdom to the discussion. That will be our immense added value. We need wisdom activism.
Be proud. If you have a mental illness, the world needs us. Much of the world, dazzled by the Enlightenment, still believes that all is in the mid. And so, thinking that our minds are faulty, they may dismiss us. But you and I know that the key lies in experience, in life. And we are life experts.