Last week the Fool, this week the Sage. What is the Sage, or maybe, Who is the Sage? And can we make it easier for ourselves to listen to them? And what are we listening for? No answers but hopefully some good questions, on today's podcast.
Hi everyone, it’s Judi Cohen and this is Wake Up Call #312, August 5th.
Last time the archetype of the Fool was what was up – the Fool, who, from a mindfulness perspective, is the one who mistakenly believes they’re due some status, deference, or authority… by virtue of their identity. And what an illusion that is because really, we’re all just in this together, passing the bags along, moving in a common rhythm, as Marge Piercy puts it.
And also how the Fool, in the architype of the Tarot, can also be the person who’s simply on their journey, in beginner’s mind.
And maybe everyone’s a little of both.
Today is Chapter Six of the Dhammapada, the Sage. So we had the Fool; now we have the Sage. Here are the opening two verses of the Sage – again, Gil Fronsdal’s translation:
Like someone pointing to treasure
is the wise person
who sees your faults
and points them out.
Associate with such a sage.
Good will come of it, not bad,
if you associate with one such as this.
Let one such as this advise you, instruct you,
and restrain you from rude behavior.
Such a person is pleasing to good people,
but displeasing to bad.
This is an important instruction, but don’t you wonder?
I’ve worked with two teachers primarily, for a long time. I’d like to think I’m open when they point out my faults. They don’t, much, though. Maybe I’d better ask them to – maybe I haven’t asked.
If you work with a teacher or coach or therapist, or shaman or mentor, or any wise person, do they point out your faults? If so, how do you relate to that? If not, do you want to ask them to?
With my closest people, I try to ask a lot. In collegial settings I try to ask, too. But I notice that I don’t always know who the sages are. And sometimes, I know who they are but it’s hard to listen.
For me, a sage can be a friend, an aunt or uncle, a cousin, my dad, my brother, daughter, my partner. Some things are easier to hear than others; sometimes I tell myself I want to have my faults pointed out, I want to be advised, instructed, restrained from being rude. And sometimes not. Sometimes even though on some level I know it’s better to listen, and that good will come of that, not bad, I still turn away rather than feeling the hurt or insult.
At work it’s the same. Colleagues, clients, students – all of these can be sages, if we’re willing to listen. I taught in the first COVID online semester, last fall. It was a difficult time. The teachers were trying to make things work. The students were holed up in Berkeley, or back home with their parents. Everyone was tense, scared. George Floyd had recently been murdered and the Movement for Black Lives and the protests it midwifed were more alive than ever.
When I got my course evaluations, they were good until the last two. (I suspect the deans can create a certain order online.) With those last two, I was pointed out. There just weren’t enough writings, audios, and videos from the non-white mindfulness perspective. In the previous few years I’d been slowly incorporating more Black, brown, Asian, and Queer voices into my syllabus, but the students – who were my sages in those evaluations – pointed out very frankly, as students will do! that it wasn’t enough. Wasn’t close to enough.
There’s no question about whether or not to let these sages advise me, instruct me, or restrain me from rude behavior, or from racist behavior. I’m doing that. But I did feel all sorts of things I’d rather not have felt: dismay, frustration, all the things that point towards me-ing the situation: “I” did my best, etc. When of course it’s not about that. It’s about listening to the sages, who show up at the least convenient moment with some of the worst news.
So we are all mindfulness practitioners and what would we say to each other? We’d say, get curious about those feelings, give them space, as Rhonda Magee would say (and I’ve had the delight of listening to her and sitting with her a couple of times in the last two weeks – a true Sage for me), take a long, loving look at the feelings.
What happens when we do this is interesting. I think when we do this, we become the sage of our own dilemma. In other words, we practice, and in our solitary practice we look in, at how this “being human” really works. And we see – or I see – that I have the best of intentions and I still need all the sage advice and instruction I can get. And I need to listen carefully everywhere. And it’s not always the good news. And when I hear it I might feel embarrassed or chagrined or frustrated or maybe there’ll be denial or justification. But taking a long, loving, look is the first, big, step.
And then, remembering that we can’t change the past but we do have this moment. And in this moment we can set a very clear intention, and act on that intention: to not cause harm, to be kind, to be loving.
Because although this construct of me, or you, as solid and knowable and a person who would do, or never would have done, this, or that, is not supportable, when we’re listening to the sages in our lives, and to our own “inner sage,” we can shake loose some of those constructs. And then we’re in beginner’s mind. We can let go of any thoughts of our “selves” as someone who doesn’t need to listen or can’t listen because it’s too painful, and just listen.
And this act in & of itself becomes an act of love. Love towards ourselves, for sure. And also love towards others, love for the world: a kind of iterative way of living, listening, hearing, taking in, taking on the work, doing better, and listening again, and again, all for the purpose of bringing more love, which ultimately looks like more justice. Or as Cornel West put it: Justice is what love looks like in public.