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  • Writer's picture Brian E Pearson

Looking for Wisdom

Photo Credit: Simon Wilkes on Unsplash

The wise ones tell stories. From rabbis to Native elders to grandparents with grandchildren on their knee, they don't give advice or answer questions that no one has asked. They say, "Once there was a rabbi ..." or, "Muskrat took some earth from the bottom of the sea ..."; or, "When I was boy ... "

Wisdom hides itself in stories. It does not come out into the light, as bold as day, declaring its own presence. It flits amidst shadows and slips between words. We see it only in fleeting glimpses, never in fulness. It can be hinted at but never grasped, embodied but never caught.

Like God, Wisdom is difficult to talk about. Just when you think you may have it, it vanishes again. Like a dream, that which made perfect sense when you were in its power dissipates like melting snow when you try to talk about it later. The image that disturbed your sleep and gave you sudden clarity now sounds silly and suspect and easy to disregard in the light of day.

That being the case, stories may be the best way of summoning Wisdom, especially stories that have no "moral" at the end and no clear winners or losers; stories that evoke familiar people and situations, and relationships that teeter one way and then the other; stories where wise people prove themselves to be dumb and simple people prove wise. It's a topsy-turvy world, the way of Wisdom. You have to be light on your feet and quick with your wit to see it at all.

Darold Black is a filmmaker who is turning the eye of his camera on the wisdom of elders. Appreciating the elusive character of his topic, Darold is himself wise in sitting his subjects down, giving them a few simple questions--What have you learned? What were your obstacles? What are your hopes?--and then turning on the camera. He never makes an appearance himself, preferring to let the elders do the talking, telling their own stories, asking their own questions, and sharing their own insights.

Darold makes the introduction and then backs away, leaving you to have your own encounter with Wisdom. He is respectful that way. The viewer of the series is left with images and impressions with which to do their own work, finding Wisdom wherever it has, in turn, found them.

My challenge, talking with Darold about his project for The Mystic Cave, was that I was looking for words and concepts. If only Wisdom would reveal itself in a pithy twenty-second clip! But every time I went looking for another "hook," Darold would respond with another story. Finally, midway through our conversation, I relented, relaxed, and started telling stories of my own. Only then did we begin to pull back the layers to the true gold hidden within.

So, here is our conversation, a study in how to, and how not to, search for Wisdom. In some ways, talking about wisdom is an oxymoron, for surely Wisdom only shows itself in images, not in words. That's why all the wise teachers are storytellers. They evoke, they suggest, they conjure, so that, on a good day, Wisdom might appear. And on a bad day ... well, you're still left with a good story.

To hear our conversation for The Mystic Cave, press the Play button below. To access the show notes, with links to Darold’s E5 series, press the Information ("i") button and scroll down the page that appears.

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