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Emotional Wisdom

New Page – 21 April 2004

Intelligence is often defined in terms of intellectual brilliance, Mensa status and/or high IQ – as if it's strictly for eggheads. But wisdom appears to require additional attributes – i.e. a knowing which goes beyond prowess in thinking, and which may include intuition, feelings, and emotions. Or better yet, a connectedness to the rest of the universe and a means of wisdom accumulation far beyond the limiting Dewey Decimal System.

In his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ , Daniel Goleman writes that we have “two brains, two minds – and two different kinds of intelligence: rational and emotional.” “The old paradigm held an ideal of reason freed of the pull of emotion. The new paradigm urges us to harmonize head and heart. To do that well in our lives means we must first understand more exactly what it means to use emotion intelligently.” “Through emotional education, crucial qualities such as impulse control, empathy, self-awareness, and sensitivity to one's own feelings, as well as the feelings of others, can be encouraged and supported.” [1]

The idea of using emotion intelligently may sound a bit like an oxymoron, but this is due in large part to the old paradigm – those unquestioned assumptions which rule our live. The idea which has been foisted upon us without our being aware of it is one that paints emotion as illogical or irrational. This then implies that emotion should be eliminated entirely from consideration in matters of law. The letter of the law, the meaning of each and every nuance, is the ruling consideration. The idea that someone has been treated very badly and is emotional distraught is simply ignored in favor of what law was broken.

However, Peter Salovey has argued that emotions and rationality can co-exist. In fact, emotions don't get in the way – they pave the way. In fact, “ Darwin argued that we evolved an emotional system because it helps us survive.” Salovey goes on to say that “There's increasing neurological evidence to support this idea. Antonio Damasio's book, Descartes' Error , reveals that if the parts of the brain that deal with emotion are [physiologically] damaged, one ends up not being able to make good rational decisions. The two areas are interlinked. Descartes' Error makes the case neurologically why the separation between rationality and emotion makes no sense.”

Descartes is also known for another so-called error. When he died and his body was transported to the burial place, his horse followed the philosopher's coffin, instead of the other way around. It was the first example of putting Descartes before the horse. [This is an example of irrationality (humor) which aids in the otherwise rational presentation.]

Karen McCown introduced the idea of a “self-science curriculum, based on the concept that ‘experiencing one's self in a conscious manner – that is, gaining self knowledge – is an integral part of learning.'” Considering the fact that “it takes only six seconds for an emotion to flood human consciousness and then dissipate”, it stands to reason that with just a minimum of six second pauses, a person could transform their life. Counting to ten could thus be construed as a bit of overkill, but perhaps erring on the conservative side.

Emotional wisdom derives from balancing intellectual knowing, physical knowing, and emotional knowing. Each of these begins with an awareness, a self-knowing. When these three elements of wisdom communicate, one is able to make conscious choices – instead of doing the knee-jerk, unconscious thing. Scientific research is already showing that learning does not take place without an emotional component. This is precisely the reason music can aid in learning – with largo (60 beats per minute) Baroque music being just the ticket for aiding in the mental processing.

“By emphasizing only the academic, cognitive, and competitive aspects of education, we lead people into the same kinds of split allegiances of ‘I'm right, you're wrong.' To be wise, you have to be aware of alternatives, and you have to be able to see other points of view.” [1]

It also implies a willingness and capacity to change one's mind. Politicians are fond of accusing others of “waffling” on issues. In this regard, “waffling” might be considered an element of wisdom, in that newly revealed facts or points of view are not stonewalled at the brain door, but are instead incorporated into new schemas. Emotional wisdom is thus a recognition of growth, an ability to change in a constantly changing universe, and an openness to learning via a variety of channels. It's not being dead.

Ultimately, of course, wisdom in all its forms is simply a connection with the universe. Instead of an ego-centric, separate self, one is dealing with pure consciousness. To be intuitively or emotionally wise, one must reduce the thinking to manageable levels consistent with other modes of wisdom. In this way, one can pick up on the subtle energies from the universe – those energies which are not as severely limited as the rational, logical thinking modes which depend on the available data for its value. The universe's input to all the streams of consciousness is… well… universal. [Q.E.D. – Thus it is intuitively obvious.]

Eckhart Tolle has, “described the role of spiritual teacher as ‘an open window through which a breeze is blowing.' It is easy to confuse ‘the breeze', he said, ‘with the window through which the breeze is blowing,” that is, the physical form of a particular person.” Just the sort of thing you might expect from someone with a “quiet and unassuming nature as well as [an] impish and contagious sense of humor.” [2] E.g., Tolle writes:

“We live in a world of mental abstraction, conceptualization, and image-making – a world of thought. And that becomes our dwelling place. It is a world characterized by the inability ever to stop thinking. The mental noise is a continuous stream. Psychologists have found that ninety-five percent or more of it is totally repetitive. Perhaps ten percent of those thought processes, at most, are actually needed to deal with life. Thought can sometimes be very useful [ laughter ], but in our world it has become obsessive-compulsive, almost like an addiction. People's sense of identity, of self, gets bound up with their mental concepts and mental images of ‘I' and ‘me'.”

On the planet today, “something is arising because there is a great intelligence at work that goes far beyond the human mind.”

“You are not your thoughts, because they come and go.” “When your sense of self is no longer tied to thought, is no longer conceptual, there is a depth of feeling, of sensing, of compassion, of loving, that was not there when you were trapped in mental concepts. You are that depth.”

“The word attention is very helpful. The state of not being identified with thought is one of heightened alertness. Attention is the essence of Zen, a state of alertness in which there is no tension. It is a relaxed alertness, as if you were listening, though there is nothing to listen to. In this state, thought actually subsides; it stops. Some people have attained this state of heightened awareness in dangerous situations, where they can't afford the luxury of thinking, because thought would be too slow. So the mind stops, and something else takes over: a state of relaxed awareness; a very peaceful, present state. People who have survived emergency situations say the shift happened just before the accident; something within them changed, and there was suddenly incredible serenity and peace and rightness. There was no fear anymore, and they knew that all was well.”

“Creativity doesn't come from the human mind. The human mind may give it form, but the deep inspiration for it – the essence of it – always comes out of that state of alert presence: not the mind, nor thought.”

In other words…


So I can think.



[1] Gail Bernice Holland, “Nurturing Emotional Wisdom”, IONS Noetic Sciences Review , #63, March-May 2003.

[2] Steve Donoso, “An interview with Spiritual Teacher Eckhart Tolle,” IONS Noetic Sciences Review , #63, March-May 2003.




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