All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I imagine many layers of learning when I think about this quote. So often, I have heard and understood words of wisdom, only to return to them later with deeper understanding. I think of learning as a spiral; there are only so many truly important lessons in this life, and each day we learn them in a new way–returning to the same ideas, but at a higher (or deeper) level. If we are lucky, curious, and skillful, we acquire wisdom in the process.
It is such a loss for our culture that we devalue aging and the elderly. As I get older, I see so clearly the benefits of time and cumulative experience. If only we tapped the wisdom of our elders. Perhaps as the baby boomers move into old age, we can hope for a greater appreciation of this tremendous resource, but there is always a temptation to dismiss ones who are not “up on” the latest trends and technological gadgets.
I think Goethe is also saying that we must work at wisdom; it doesn’t happen as a function of simply living longer. Life provides opportunities daily to stretch, to delve, to reflect. We must pay attention, bring our intelligence and our hearts to bear on our experience.
I can see myself continuing to spiral higher, deeper, until death. How about you?