At the library where I work as a Children’s Librarian, one of my coworkers recently noticed that the kids’ books on the shelf were looking gross and disgusting (a category we have lovingly labeled, G&D books). I took a look for myself, and sure enough, there were hundreds of books with chewed corners, dog bite marks, ripped pages haphazardly taped back together, remnants of granola snack time on the cover, and crayon-drawn illustrations inside.
There are many library staff hands that touch a book before it goes on the shelf. How did we allow so many books to slide by unnoticed? As a team, we decided to do a better job of noticing the G & D books before they return back on the shelf. Now, I can’t stop noticing. I’ll walk by the picture book section, and like a hawk spotting a field mouse, I see the book with a frayed corner, standing out, glaringly obvious amongst the rows.
In our personal lives, we tend to notice where we are broken, where we are lacking, where our life could use some sprucing up. We seem hardwired to notice our own frayed corners and tattered edges. The places where we perceive that we are in lack stand out like a giant broken book with the pages falling out, demanding our attention.
What if, instead, we noticed what we already possess as opposed to what we lack? This is the intention behind gratitude practices. Personally, I have never had success with a formal gratitude practice. I think my scope of thinking was too broad and focused on physical things. If I happened to write down my gratitude list it would look something like: I am grateful for my husband, my family, my friends, my job, my home, my cat, my dog, my health, the mountains, yoga, ukulele, and all the cool stuff I get to do. Then, my list would end. I'd feel a little better, I guess. But it always landed a little superficially for me, probably because I was focused on external stuff.
Lately, I have been setting my attention, my noticing, on my own inner wisdom. What I have discovered is that it arises much more often than I thought. It is so easy to overlook the places where our inner wisdom is showing up and guiding us. Our wise mind is so much quieter and gentler than the noise of our personal thinking. It can be hard to hear or even notice when our inner wisdom has spoken up. So much so, that many people think that they don't have an inner guide or that somehow they lost their wisdom along the way. As one client said to me, "I don't think inner wisdom came with this current model".
Inner wisdom may not be the word you use for it, but we all have it. Intuition, knowing, guidance, guardian angel, god. It's all the same. It's a voice or a feeling or an image that comes to us clearly, and often, kindly. It is our internal GPS system, that gently guides us in the right direction. I used to think my own inner wisdom only showed up in crisis. I would marvel at the calm feeling that would arise in me during challenging times or emergency situations. Honestly, I kind of liked it. I labeled myself as someone who "did well in challenging situations" and I sought out adventure and fast-paced jobs.
When I was traveling solo in my twenties, I had many examples of these helpful warning signs to keep out of trouble and steer me more toward safe people and places. Now, I am starting to see that this navigational system is built into the human design. It is there all the time and often shows up in much subtler ways.
Recently, I had to tell someone at work something uncomfortable about their job performance that I knew might upset them. When it came time to have the conversation, I was nervous and unsure on how to deliver the news. I paused and asked myself: how do I handle this? The answer from inside me came quickly and clearly: with kindness and compassion. My whole body relaxed. I stepped into the conversation with my intention set on compassion and my words were received in kindness.
"The highest form of wisdom is kindness."
~Popularly attributed to The Talmud
Wisdom is soft and kind, gentle and clear. It is what guides a person who is feeling anxious to calm themselves by knitting, or someone who is giving up an addictive behavior to talk to a coach or therapist for extra help. It is the knowing to skip a workout or a social event when overtired, or to join that club or volunteer for a project without really knowing why. Because this wisdom is so simple and so subtle, we often just overlook it. Instead, we focus on the much noisier chatter in our head about what is not going right.
By looking for inner wisdom we begin to trust it more and develop a relationship with it. When the volume on our personal thinking is turned way up causing us to feel anxious, stressed or worried, we begin to notice the difference between the stirred-up feeling and the wise mind feeling. We can use the spinning feeling like a large billboard to say, this is not wisdom, this is something else. Let's wait a bit until this cloud of thought passes and wisdom will come through again.
It reminds me of listening to music on the app, Spotify. The way the Spotify algorithm works is that Spotify "notices" what songs I like and what I have already listened to in the past. Then, it just gives me more of that same type of music. This is great for when I just want to listen to what I already know I like. It is more challenging to find new or different music than what I normally listen to. It takes a lot more work to seek out new music, find new artists, and discover new music.
It's exactly the same way our brains work to notice something new. Our brains seem wired to just play the same old songs on repeat without delivering many new thoughts. We have to work just a little harder, by setting an intention, to see something new. It's a simple shift of simply starting to notice our own inner wisdom more. Because there is magic in this gift that we each possess, our consciousness. It lights up the object of our attention, making it brighter and more alive.
Consciousness is the light of our awareness.
When I'm coaching with clients, I often use the metaphor of someone with a headlamp in a cave or in the ocean. If we're in the ocean, then the fish swimming by are thoughts. When a fish swims by that seems very meaningful to us, the light of our awareness pauses on the fish so that one fish is all that we see. The light of our attention on that one thought makes it come alive and appear real to us. That fish becomes so large and bright that it obscures the other fish and even the ocean behind it.
When our headlamp is focused on just that one fish, we can no longer see the vastness of the ocean that we swim in. The ocean is our well-being. The ocean is wisdom. It is always there, it just becomes dark when our light is focused somewhere else. We forget that we are even in the ocean. We forget our wisdom.
In coaching, I feel like that hawk scanning the field for my next snack. Except in this case, what I'm hunting for are signs of my client's innate well-being. I am listening for their inner wisdom. I look for the un-brokenness in people. The places that they can't see simply because they are looking in a different direction. Even when they appear to be at their lowest low, I know that they are whole, complete and perfect. I know with all of my wisdom that they are swimming in the middle of a vast and expansive sea of wellness.