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Wisdom and the Way of Self-Awakening

Lee Irwin


Lee Irwin

The topic of Wisdom is a deep and difficult subject because, as a limited human being, the scope and depth of Wisdom exceeds my grasp. I cannot start from a position of authority because Wisdom, whom I will personify as feminine, knowing she is so much more, cannot be contained by the authority of any personality or subjective state. For me, Wisdom is a Mystery inseparable from the sacred ground of Being from which we all come and in which we live and breathe and co-exist.

I am reminded of an image from the ancient Egyptian world, a larger-than-life-sized statue of the Goddess Isis, carved from black stone. She sits on a throne, veiled, with the Ankh (symbol of life) in one hand and flowers (symbols of luminous beauty) in the other. On the front of the base is carved the following saying: "I am everything that was, everything that is, that will be, and no mortal has yet dared to lift my veil." Isis as an image of the Goddess of Wisdom, of innumerable attributes inscribed in the Isis aretalogies, reflects the Mystery of the Veil that hangs between seeing and being seen, a translucent barrier that reminds us of our mortality and limitations. Wisdom, in the image of the veiled goddess, solicits our sense of awe and reverence before the unspeakable depth of divine origins. As it is written in The Wisdom of Solomon (7:10-26): “Her radiance is unceasing.” . . . “She penetrates and permeates all spirits, all things” for “She is the breath of the power of God, a spotless mirror of divine activity.”

The human circumstance, embodied in the circumscriptions of sensory, emotional, and intellectual perception, holds a revelatory potential. The depths of the sacred human are, I believe, inseparable from the divine ground in which Wisdom sustains our capacity for new insights, creative manifestations, and a lucid maturity of care and concern for the well being of others. In this sense, I perceive Wisdom as a nurturing presence, a veiled potential able to illumine any circumstance, relative condition, or situation. She is discovered in the moment of inspiration, in the outward flowing energies of love that manifest as a concern for the health and vitality of another, in the joy of discovery, and in the affirmation of what is truly sacred in life.

We grow into Wisdom, into a maturity of insight that challenges us to constantly refine and deepen our understanding and values. And each step is part of a dance, a partnership with all those we encounter, to find the appropriate response that will manifest the potential of Wisdom in each and every circumstance. Wisdom is not a content, nor a set of precepts or rules for behavior, nor is it a particular philosophy or coded symbolism of a spiritual practice. Wisdom is a process, a dynamic interaction that penetrates every person and being, every creature and created thing which seeks to solicit insight; it is unconfinable in static images, irreducible to fixed ideas.

It is my conviction that Wisdom in its depthless Mystery is emergent, revelatory, and infinitely capable of newness [in the context of the preservation and enhancement of life]. Whatever content we attribute to Wisdom, however viable and central to human life, such content reflects only the interface between our shared mortalities and the conditionality of the human situation. Our relative needs for greater maturity or insight depend on the development and refinement of the known in the face of the unknown. Beyond the content, or through the content, the Mystery of the depthless wonder of human possibility, of creative discovery, manifests the heart of Creation [- to make a world, beings, the web of life -] as living, dynamic, and evolving toward deeper insights and the embodiment of sacred potential.

Wisdom as an emergent ground, as a dynamic process of discovery and affirmation, is deeply rooted in the pathways of mystical tradition, in the branching Tree of human spiritual realizations and embodiments. The roots of this Tree sink deep into the sacred ground, drawing sustenance from every tradition that hallows life, nurtures human relations, and promotes communication and understanding between and across traditions. Every tradition embodies wisdom in the life of its community, in our human capacities to actually manifest wisdom in our interactions with others. And out of those interactions comes yet more revelatory insights because? Wisdom is not bound by human law or custom or tradition.

Wisdom, as an ever deepening current within the World Soul, I believe offers all humanity the opportunity to be fully participant in the forthcoming of new insights and revelations. These insights, arising through all the branches of human activity—artistic, musical, mathematical, scientific, political or economic—reflect the self-surpassing nature of our human potential. We are not defined by what was but stand, as individuals and as communities, on the threshold of what might become, what calls us beyond our limits into an expansive horizon of shared insights, new spiritual realizations, and the reaffirmation of the sacredness of creation.

As a global community, we bear a responsibility to foster the health and well-being of all humanity, and through Wisdom to find the ways that lead to peace and cooperation. The very ground of Wisdom manifests in the energies and creative interactions of those who can love and be loved, where love is the medium of Wisdom, and creative trust and cooperation are the weft upon which is woven the imagery of our greatest accomplishments. And every act of selfish concern, every violent reaction and self-serving decision, unravels that imagery and leaves only the disjointed remnants, the disturbing incongruity of uncaring beings in pursuit of their own pleasures, needs and appetites.

Chivalry, in a spiritual sense, is caring for others, protecting the weak and less empowered, and serving a cause greater than one’s own needs and aspirations. Wisdom requires chivalry, a surrender of pride in knowing, deep humility, a willingness to not know, not see, not comprehend. Then the loving heart can be informed, in service and devotion, by what next is needed, inspired by insight, for the healing of our many wounds and scars, for the recovery of our dignity in light of our renewed potential for transformation.

We do not need teachers of Wisdom; what we need is a shared context within which the processes of inspiration can be fostered for the good of all, not the few. We must all seek to be wise, however simple that wisdom might be. In the deep Mystery of Wisdom, we are asked, led, persuaded to be more, to prepare our hearts for a lifting of the Veil that we might receive inspiration, guidance, direction that demands our utmost creative abilities to actualize. Wisdom does not give us “answers”—She teaches us through the gifts of our own potential, reveals a resolution based on the integrity by which we live, by the honesty and truthfulness between our thoughts, words, deeds and promises.

The importance of integrity is crucial—every seeker of Wisdom takes on the burden of living in accordance with his or her most profound insights. It is not only the teachings, but the practices, and even more, the embodiment that manifests the values and commitments of the individual, that reveals the deep congruency between thought, feeling, will and creative actions. As Wisdom flows into our lives, every person becomes an embodiment of sacred potential, every individual a medium of possible insight. The clarity, depth and fullness of that insight arises through an inner coherency, a healthy-mindedness, a loving heart, and a flexible will that seeks to foster growth and development in both self and others.

We are all teachers of Wisdom through the acts and commitments of our lives. We must awaken our deep potential through the inner sacrifice of selfish intent and the surrender of unconcern for the well being of others. Wisdom asks us to recognize our limits, to acknowledge our lack of insight, and to affirm our desire to be uplifted through a gracious receptivity of the Infinite. Within nurturing Presence, our stance or attitudes toward our unknown potential is a crucial index of our capacity for growth. As I give myself to Wisdom, She gives Herself to me, the greater giving to the lesser for purposes of shared human development.

There is a mystical ground within Wisdom, an ocean of endless reach without a shore, a vast clarity whose light is a source of quickening life, a profound energy of creation. And we, as limited beings, stand in the midst of that Ocean, surrounded by the currents of transformation, breathing our life gift for the purposes of creation. And the self in that context goes beyond “identity” and becomes something else, it becomes a gate, a mirror, a window through which the light of transformation can reach the incarnate world, cast its rays on sorrow and suffering, and offer healing warmth.

Can we clean the glass? Can we remove the smoky darkness of inner preoccupations, the ashes of hurt and the dust of illusion cast by our poor choices and misdirection? Can we polish the mirror of the heart and make a place within our engaged and active lives for unexpected revelation? Can we hold open through love and care, an inner expectation, a purity of motive seeking new insights without preconception?

The awakening of self-awareness is the very basis of spiritual insight because the ground of our humanity is not different than the ground of Wisdom. What we desire for the well being of the world, without imposition or arrogance, without fear or qualification, is born through self like a lens polished to focus light, to spark the fire of inspiration. Wisdom’s light teaches us not to abandon self but to perfect the self as a medium of engagement within the world; Her light is a subtle vitality that heals excess and extremes and encourages the grafting of individual insights onto the Tree of Life.

Wisdom teaches engagement, dedication, loving kindness, and the joy and humor of our limitations. Whatever we know, there is more—immeasurably More—and the excitement of that fact is that there is no end to creative discovery and world transformation.

May Wisdom guide our steps, may we find the courage
to surrender and in our willingness to learn,
discover Her Endless Depths.
May we rejoice in the fellowship of Wisdom, in related
harmonies of soul and loving embrace,
affirming Her Luminous Presence.
May we overcome the illusions of self through courage
and thus discover the self-in-relation,
manifesting Her Joyful Grace.
And may we work in concert, in solidarity to discover
our differences, each unique, rare and precious,
as a witness to Her Unity and Diversity.
Amen, Now and Always.

Lee Irwin

Lee Irwin is a Professor in the Religious Studies Department at the College of Charleston where he teaches world religions with an emphasis on Native American traditions, western esotericism, hermeticism, contemporary spirituality, mystical cosmology, and transpersonal religious experience as related to dreams and visions. He is the Vice President of the Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE) and a board member of the Sophia Institute and the Institute for Dream Studies. He has been a workshop leader and group facilitator for over twenty years, particularly in the areas of visionary cosmology and the development of the sacred human. He is the author of many books and articles, including: The Dream Seekers, Visionary Worlds, Awakening to Spirit: On Life, Illumination, and Being, The Alchemy of Soul, and Coming Down From Above: Prophecy, Resistance, and Renewal in Native American Religions.

Read more about Lee Irwin

Comments (6)
  • Thank you for this nutritious article.  I will be returning to read it again, as it seems to offer many levels of understanding and images to help illuminate this subject.

    — mclean sheperd on February 5, 2010

  • Lee, your article was a deep reflection of my thoughts for the last 15 years of my life when I truly began becoming aware.  What resonated with me was the carved saying on the Isis statue where “no mortal has yet dared to lift my veil”.  WOW!  As someone who worked as a Correctional Officer I was constantly reminded of my commitment to treat each inmate humanely and without judgment. And of course there were moments when I was severely challenged. I always told people it was never the job itself that was difficult, it was the corruption and politics of my supervisors and peers. Of course, one could always find those few who held “the wisdom” inside of them and who made the job a little bit easier.

    Truly our lives are pilgrimages where we continuously seek enlightenment and wisdom to hold us together and to give us hope for a better world.

    — Mary Sheffield on February 5, 2010

  • bless you!
    last year i decided to go back to college and get my degree, i chose MCLA hoping to be able to share to be able to share what i have gained on my path.  the irony i met as i expressed my insight was a liberal arts college full of cardboard cut-out atheists (not to name call but simply to identify).  in my “constructing reality” class i spoke about the difference between knowledge and wisdom and the metaphysical dimension as being feminine, or without qualities and i was disregarded.  no more, no less than a gentle nudge am i willing to give to a sleepwalker.
    thank you for sharing your experiences and for reinforcing my place on the path, meet you there!

    — brendon tomasi on March 21, 2010

  • The middle of the desert is very quiet, especially at night.  So quiet that moonlight seems tangible, like silvery water,  quiet enough for the rocks to sing from their depths,  quiet enough to hear the roar of your own mind.  quiet and simple.  vast and deep.  thank you, Lee, for reminding me that wisdom is like that too - vast, quiet, and simple.

    — Kenny Richards on March 31, 2010

  • i’m really interested in ur nowing & would like to know more about all excepelly wisdom of the way of self awakening u can send me mail @ angela kay 388 e. washington verona mo 65769 thank u

    — angela s. kay on April 21, 2010

  • Gorgeous!!!  Thank you!

    — Greg Turiya Liotta on January 7, 2013

4 February 2010

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