Approaching Seven Pillars, House of Wisdom
I have been asked to say something about my experience of Seven Pillars. For me, Seven Pillars has been, and I am sure will continue to be, a learning experience.
When I first came to the Abode and met Pir Zia—this is my seventh visit—I didn’t know what I was getting into. Of course, I always thought I did, but experience taught me otherwise. Gradually, however, I realized that that no one else knew exactly where we were heading either. For me, that was a positive sign. I sensed a powerful aspiration, an intuition that, after more than a century of the “New Age,” times had changed, and a different approach was necessary. I felt that we were being drawn into the future, responding to a call for soul to serve spirit in the world in a new way. And so I embarked on a journey without a known destination: a kind of co-creation or collective birthing experience. But what would be born remained to be seen.
What was clear from the beginning was that we were searching for a way to give birth to a home for wisdom: for a way of cultivating, manifesting, expressing, embodying wisdom: a way of participating in the ongoing realization of wisdom in the world, of making a home for her, of creating a vessel for her work among us.
Wisdom, as the Hebrew Scriptures tell us, has always sought a home among human beings—has always sought to build her temple in the communion of human hearts. But how are we to do this?
Whatever Seven Pillars was to be, I was excited by the possibility of seekers from different traditions and perspectives coming together to explore ways in which we all—as human beings—could work together without ideology or dogmatism for a new, healthy, ecological, globally aware, holistic spiritual culture.
Such a culture, in fact, is the culture of wisdom, for Wisdom in the words of Proverbs is “the woman who holds things together.” She is the principle of interconnection—of peace and harmony—a way of seeing and being and acting in the world that realizes the immanence of transcendence in a harmonious way, as Nature and the Cosmos do. According to the Scriptures, Wisdom is the true steward of all knowing and loving. In Ficino’s words, Wisdom is “what gives mastery in all human activities.” In this sense, she is the source. That is why, in higher sense, she is called “The Tree of Life” and the “Niche of Lights;” and why, when we trust in her, she anoints us with her healing oil.
Thus it dawned on me that the House of Wisdom was at once the House of the Holy Spirit and the House of the Divine Feminine: Isis, Sophia, Hochma, to give her some of her names.
It took me some time to realize this. At first, still thinking in Sufi terms, I thought of it as a contemporary version of the ancient centers of sacred knowledge—like the Bayt al-Hikma, the great library, school, and center of translation in Baghdad; or the mysterious school of philosophers, the Brethren of Purity, in Basra, who compiled and transmitted a great compendium of the spiritual sciences in fifty-two letters.
That is, I thought of Seven Pillars as a place where the metaphysics, sacred sciences, and practices of all traditions could be revived, brought into dialog with each other and our present world, and inseminated in a new form into the new global culture.
But gradually, and especially at last year’s Labor Day meeting on “ Wisdom House Architectonics,” I realized that wasn’t quite the case, or at least was not the case in the first place—because Wisdom was something else. Wisdom was not knowledge, at least not knowledge in the sense of information or a finished system—no matter how high or how deep. Wisdom was not art, science, or religion. In a sense, Wisdom was not even love. Wisdom, rather, came first. It was the way, the place from which these should be understood, practiced, and realized in the world. It was the womb, the living source from which they flowed—without which they were dead. Wisdom was an attitude, an orientation of our whole being.
Initiatory in its own way, Wisdom seemed to me a different kind of practice, a disposition of soul, a way of acting, an ethics even—not a content of any kind. And in that sense it had to precede and give birth to the gathering, cultivation, and transmission of knowledge and the practice of love.
And so I began to think what it would be to be truly a “friend of Wisdom”—to be a community of “friends of Wisdom”—so that we might help her build her Temple on Earth.
Such a House of Wisdom, I thought, would be built on communion, community, and relationship: that is, intimacy and distance, silence (one of Wisdom’s names) and speaking, solitude and meeting, knowing and unknowing. Knowledge, content, meaning, mission, practice would emerge from that. This is because Wisdom, it seems to me—the event of Wisdom, her arrival—is always at home in the in-between. She comes unannounced and unexpected in the spaces between us, playfully, dancing, joyfully, as the Scriptures tell us. That is, She is about seeking, not finding; about questions, not answers. She is always on the way, in process, unfolding as we unfold from threshold to threshold. She reveals herself in our meeting one another, indeed meeting any other, human, elemental, angelic, or divine. And yet, where she manifests—where she wants to make her home—is always for us in the human in-between. So building her House, her home, begins by learning to live in-between, with each other. This means leaving behind, letting go of, our self-enclosed, fearful, finite, ideological ego-selves, which are concerned with power and control, and entering the unknown, the infinite, where, Wisdom giving birth to us from moment to moment, we can come to taste our true Selves.
In other words, for me, wisdom has to do with overcoming negation and separation: with practicing assent, unconditional hospitality, the selfless welcome of every stranger as an infinite being, and so also with practices of peacefulness, justice, non-violence, and continuous forgiveness. It means learning to speak and listen and be silent without any shadow of the exercise of power: of learning to welcome and explore the unknown without detaining or fixing it. It means that we learn—over and over again—truly to be open, vulnerable, to trust in each other and the world no matter what. It also means, I think, that in the work of wisdom, there is no hierarchy, no teacher except Wisdom herself, who only awaits our welcome to make her home with us—which is to say, on the human level, the teacher is a servant, as each is the servant of the other, of all, fitting together like Chinese boxes.
What I have discovered in Seven Pillars is the primacy of “conversation” as a wisdom path—the importance of the practice of working together, face to face, heart to heart. So a House of Wisdom is not in the first place a teaching center where different kinds of knowledges are transmitted, but a place of doing and making, where seekers, working together, collaborate in the living understanding that is Wisdom, which, in turn, is the embodiment of knowledge, love, and action.
For me, all this means that we are here to find a new way of teaching and learning out of the Spirit, one that unites knowing and loving in wisdom in a way that is appropriate both to our new postmodern global age and to the eternal desire of the Spirit of Wisdom to make her home on Earth.