Words that represent big concepts like wisdom are powerful; when they become linked with an image in our minds, the concept they represent can grow even stronger. Here is the story of the image I found to represent wisdom.
I lived for many years in Ithaca, a small city located in a valley surrounded by rolling hills covered in farmland and forests. The last few years I lived there, I spent time living close to the downtown, on the floor of the valley. On my evening strolls I would want to climb up the hills, to an overlook, to take in the town and the vastness of the setting. The problem was that to hike to the hilltops would take hours. I needed to find a hilltop close to home, amongst the flats.
It was on a snowy December evening when I first discovered my urban hilltop that would become a refuge for me for many years. I climbed to the tallest peak in the downtown, the top floor of a downtown parking garage, and from up there it was like I stepped out of my day-to-day life and communed with the skies and the town on a different level.
Up there, I was a bit removed from myself; it is like I would step into a different mindset, a different persona. I would observe myself, but I would observe myself from a distance, as one of the many living in the village below this hilltop. The snowy nights up there were the most poignant, because the scene was so quiet, nearly absent of sound. Looking down the seven stories, I could see all the impressions of those that had crossed by this street in the past few hours – the paths of footsteps, the tracks from bike tires and strollers and cars. The quiet and the absence of activity at this late night hour, juxtaposed with so many steps and tracks left behind seemed to inspire a level of reflection and quietude that I had sought for some time.
From this vantage, I just felt a level of calm.
Was that part of wisdom - a calmness, a contentment? Up there on the rooftop, did I forget about myself a bit and instead focus on my common human-ness? And I do not mean to speak down to my common human-ness, I mean to celebrate it. This common-ness, our uniquely flavored but inherently common joys and struggles, this is what made us human. This is what I mean by our common human-ness.
These hilltop rituals were mostly about stepping back, stepping out of my life. But what was going on in these moments? My conversations with myself would sound something like this:
Was today a good day? No, today was miserable. I felt stressed about this coming move. I felt lonely. I felt lost in life. Well, can I learn from today’s challenges? For if I can learn from the tough times, am I not doing the ultimate daily alchemy, transforming tough days into the greatest teachers of all?
Up there on this urban hilltop, I could reflect, I could be thankful for the day in its entirety, I could feel refreshed and optimistic for tomorrow and I could walk home and sleep well.
My ritual was coming together.
Perhaps a ritual of reflection can be viewed as a ritual of digestion. And we need to step away in order to digest properly. And in today’s world of computers in our pockets, we can choose to never really digest our days; and this is why we have to make it a ritual. We have to prioritize it or it will never happen.
We come to some peace with the chaos not from trying to control it all, but by stepping back to a calm place and being all right with it all. By seeing clearly what we can influence, what we can control – our efforts, and our response to what the world offers today – and also seeing and accepting all that is out of control.