The unwise man is awake all night,
and ponders everything over;
when morning comes he is weary in mind,
and all is a burden as ever.
The words of the Hávamál, from the Poetic Edda, reminds us of the vast gap between knowledge, thinking, and wisdom.
Indeed, it is rare to come across such an assertion that, ” The unwise man… ponders everything.” Yet, we might say, he ponders everything and nothing. He is stuck, seeing things from a particular, and very limited, perspective. The world isn’t really as he perceives it.
While wiser people focus their energies, the unwise man focuses solely on the intellect (often at the expense of his body (including rest and exercise), friendships, and so on).
Intelligent people see problems — problems in the world, problems with solutions proposed by anyone but them, problems with doing nothing, problems with doing something, problems within problems. Ideological and political movements can function and grow with this attitude. Yet they are, in a certain sense, merely sleepwalking, or sleep shouting, or sleep rioting.
Wiser people see solutions.
Solutions and new ideas come from diversifying one’s interests, studying and practicing things that require different skills and that look at the world in different ways. And studying and practicing them for quite a long period.
Things need to gestate and sit together in the back of the mind. Then, at a certain point, what perhaps should have been obvious all along — but wasn’t to anyone — reveals itself to the mind.
Consider this example: we have all kinds of fonts on computers today because, as a young man, Steve Jobs had studied calligraphy. At that time, the typewriter was modern, and it had one font. Later, the modern, personal computer and ancient calligraphy were about as opposite as you could find. They didn’t fit together. Yet they came together in Apple. And we take it for granted today.
The unwise man is a theorist, a specialist, a fault-finder.
The wise — or, at least, the wiser — man is a doer. He has an interest in different arts, skills, and perspectives, and practices different, even seemingly incompatible arts. And, moreover, he sees what is possible. Or, to put it another way, he does the impossible — eventually.
Two examples: French Impressionism emerged when a number of Parisian artists drew inspiration from Japanese woodblock prints, and began painting declasse and taboo subjects such as dancers, prostitutes, and other aspects of city life that they saw around them. It was a crazy idea that shocked the establishment but gave us art that almost everyone in the West is aware of. Again, Hip-hop emerged when kids from the inner cities took old records and began scratching them on turntables, on the streets, and rapping about the lives they lived (but weren’t being sung or even talked about by anyone else). Like the Impressionists, they mixed incompatible things together, and spoke about things authentically, from their hearts.
If you’re not already, learn a few different and seemingly incompatible things that interest you. Maybe that’s poetry and martial arts; painting, music, and weightlifting; or meditation, literature, religion, and movie-making. Practice arts that enable you to cultivate all parts of yourself: the physical, the artistic and creative, the spiritual, and the intellect.
For a long time they will be no more than your interests. But eventually they will merge, becoming one thing — a “Way.” It will unveil both the complexity of the world and the simplicity of the spirit that seems, at once, to weave and cut through it.