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Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Wisdom of Slowing Down

       For the past several years, when someone has told me that I should slow down, I have thought they were making an ageist comment.  Within the last seven or eight months I have begun to refine my thinking on this topic. For one thing, I am coming to a better understanding that stereotyping comments are not just what one says but also how they say it.  And rather than just dismissing what they say, I realize that I need to examine my behavior in order to better understand the meaning of “slow down”.
         In the past I have tended to think about wisdom as only being related to social relationships. Paul Baltes, an expert on the concept of wisdom, is quoted as saying that “Wisdom-related knowledge deals with matters of utmost personal and social significance.”  This definition is a more specific form of “intelligence” which can be defined as “the ability to comprehend; to understand and profit from experience”. The two obviously overlap. Perhaps one could say that wisdom is a particular form of intelligence.
         Until recently, I have tended to focus on Wisdom as an aspect to social relationships only.  Slowing down and being more careful in reading Baltes’ explanation of wisdom opens a door to a more complete understanding of the term. The idea of personal significance requires a deeper understanding of my own “selves “ that I continue to discover and am becoming more familiar with. 
         Much, of my growth in personal understanding is related to my examination of habits, which seem to occur unconsciously.  For instance when I meet other people many of them start their part of the conversation by saying my name. I very seldom use other people’s names at all while I am talking with them.
         Not using other people’s names is a deep habit and like other long-term habits hard to even notice until it’s too late.  I think this is related to the idea of being absent minded. According to Wikipedia the phrase ‘absent-minded professor’ is commonly used more generally in English to describe people who are so engrossed in their' own world' that they fail to keep track of the details in their surroundings”. Often when I am engaging in activities that I am very familiar with including cooking or putting dishes away I get into a rhythm and start thinking about something else. Frequently, I make some kind of mistake because I am not paying attention to what I’m doing. 
         I used to be that way when driving my car but several months ago when I was driving out of my driveway I bumped into a car parked across the street from my house. I was on automatic pilot and in a hurry. I now pay strong attention to staying in the “here and now” while I am driving; in other words, paying attention to what I am doing.  For example, I really like music but I don’t listen to the car radio while I am driving. I do not want to be distracted again.
         While I am not a religious person one message of wisdom that was taught by religious founders centuries ago is “know thy self.”  This is one of the key ideas connected with meditation developed before the onset of civilization. I plan to continue practicing meditation and hope to develop wisdom that will benefit both others and myself.  
         It is interesting that one key ingredient of all forms of wisdom exercise is paying attention to our breathing.   Often when someone is really stressed another person suggests that they “take a deep breath.”

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