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In the information age, where do people get their insight and wisdom?
We used to pass it down from previous generations or absorb it from our religious and cultural traditions, but those wisdom-transmission mechanisms seem a little creaky these days. Instead, many of us search for it online, seeking out insightful spiritual quotes that resonate with us, committing them to memory and trying to practice that wisdom in our lives. We all have plenty of information, but we still have an innate hunger for insight – the ability to see beyond mere facts to the heart of the matter:
in-sight, n. 1. An instance of apprehending the true nature of a situation. 2. Penetrating mental vision or discernment; faculty of seeing into inner character or underlying truth. – Webster’s Dictionary
Every human being longs for insight. We want the ability to determine the true nature of a situation. We all desire the discernment, perceptiveness, awareness and good judgment that lead to wisdom. The whole idea of insight – looking within to find the answer to a question or a problem – denotes intuitive intelligence, spiritual awareness and wise decision-making. The Pali word for insight – vipassana – has even become the name of a type of Buddhist mindfulness meditation.
The right path is a path which leads man to the day spring of perception and dawning-place of knowledge and directs him to that which is the cause of honor and glory and greatness… In this day that which will decrease blindness and increase sight is worthy of attention. To the possessors of wisdom this spiritual sight is the minister and guide of knowledge. The apprehension of knowledge is due to the power of insight. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i World Faith, pp. 167-168.
This short series of articles celebrates the power of insight. We’ll look at nine powerful, proverbial, life-changing quotes; reflect on why they have affected so many people around the world for so long; and explore the levels of meaning and insight they pack into just a few wise, well-chosen words to live by.
We probably prize insight in others because of its rarity. Not everyone develops insight. In contemporary psychology, the “dual process theory” has found that people use two separate mental systems to solve problems. For most of our lives, we use our normal logical, analytical thought processes. Based on reason, those processes make use of our cognitive brain circuits, relying on the facts we’ve gathered and the knowledge we’ve accumulated as we’ve grown and developed to rationally make our decisions and judgments.
The second system doesn’t rely on reason. Instead, it involves less well-understood intuitive and automatic processes that arise out of our experience and our ability to mentally link disparate kinds of information. Some scientists call this more intuitive process the Eureka! experience or the Aha! moment – which describes that sudden breakthrough when the solution to a previously insoluble puzzle quickly becomes obvious.
The word epiphany also describes this level of sudden insight. Do you know where it comes from?
The Christian festival of Epiphany, originally celebrated on January 6, commemorates the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles – which happened when the Christ child met the Magi, the Zoroastrian Persian priests drawn to the birthplace of Jesus by Zoroaster’s prophecies and the Star of Bethlehem. The Koine Greek word epiphaneia means “manifestation”; which comes from the Ancient Greek word theophaneia, which means “vision of God.” Of course, the current secular and literary usage of that word now describes a sudden, intuitive perception, a profound and unexpectedly revealing look into the reality or inner meaning of something.
Have you ever had an epiphany, one of those sudden moments of deep insight?
If you have, you’re likely to treasure it. Epiphanies, those breakthrough moments of insight, can change our entire lives. When they happen, a veil lifts, the clouds part and what was dark suddenly becomes light. We see anew. The transcendentalist writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said, in a lecture he gave in 1838, “a fact is an Epiphany of God and on every fact of his life man should rear a temple of wonder and joy.”
Artists and mystics have always generated these sudden insights, these inductive leaps of awareness, which seem detached from the flow of rational everyday perception. In fact, for many these instances represent the high points of human experience and the genesis of their art, their life principles and their deepest beliefs. In that mystical moment of insight we can experience a sense of God, of the whole shape of the universe, of the unity of all created things.
The poet Wordsworth described it as “A presence that disturbs me with the joy/Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime/Of something far more deeply interfused.”
This wonderful experience of deep insight can occur when we read a particularly profound or meaningful quote or saying or proverb or maxim. When that happens, we can often experience a wise, insightful person’s epiphany second-hand, and we can incorporate it into our thinking and our behavior, and make it a part of our soul.