With more than enough access to information channels, it’s easy to acquire knowledge these days. In fact, we are so inundated with information that for many it’s become difficult to be selective and know how to filter out that which is extraneous and prioritize what is necessary.
I cannot say the same for wisdom as it is not acquired. Wisdom is embodied and experienced. I have heard it defined as “knowledge applied.”
There is a significant difference between intellect and wisdom—between information and application. It’s one thing to know a theory, but it’s quite another to be able to put it into practice—to embody it and live it.
You can talk about the concept of floating on water, but until you experience yourself floating, you will never fully understand the feeling. Similarly, you may be able to relate to someone who has gone through a challenging chapter, but unless you have had your own version of the same challenge, the description gets lost in translation.
For more than twenty years our youngest son has lived with a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and nuts. For decades we acquired the knowledge necessary to keep our son safe. We were informed and educated, and I even took it upon myself to educate others: schools, camps, and people in general. I shared the facts about how to read and understand labels, how to recognize allergic symptoms, and ways to set your child up for success. I also demonstrated how to properly administer an epi-pen.
Wherever we went and whatever we did, we asked all of the necessary questions and took all of the necessary precautions. As a family, we felt confident in the knowledge and information we had; we felt prepared and fully equipped to deal with any potential life-threatening situation, if God-forbid one should ever arise.
And then it happened—his first full-blown anaphylactic reaction, at age twenty-two, just days before our winter vacation. One taste of a salad that had been cross-contaminated by a peanut lime vinaigrette sealed the deal. In that moment, Andrew was sure he was having an allergic reaction, but the question was, was it anaphylactic? Being that this was his first real experience, he was unsure of how to feel the difference.
Very quickly it became clear that our son was indeed having an anaphylactic reaction, and an epi-pen had to be administered. All of a sudden the toolkit, the skillset, and all the information we had accumulated over the years felt distant, overtaken by fear. This was now life-threatening and we had to get it right!
My son later told me that although he knew exactly what to do, he was too scared to do it. He described it as a kind of primal fear. I, too, was in a state of emotional hijack and initially had little access to my prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for all executive function and decision making.
Thankfully, we all very soon recognized that we had to take some action…and fast! My husband, our eldest son, and I all supported Andrew and helped him to find the courage that allowed him to self-administer the epi-pen that would help him to save his life. We then very quickly headed to the hospital to receive a further dose of adrenaline and all the medications necessary to reverse the reaction and help his body to recover. And thank God he did.
I learned many lessons that day, but the greatest realization by far was the distinction between knowing and experiencing.
As a student of life, I learn daily, but as a person living with persistent pain, I don’t usually have new daily experiences. I study a great deal, and for many years that felt good enough. Now that I have been studying Torah and Kabbalah and expanding my Mind Scholars™ Coaching curriculum, I have felt the need to experience more and to embody more of my teachings.
My students are always asking me, “How do we really become less reactive in the moment? How do we change things up in real time?” My answer is always the same, “In baby steps—each one beginning with awareness.”
We can talk about conscious communication every day, but when we are yelled at or feeling attacked, do we access that skillset to find compassion and not battle back in the heat of the moment?
We can study mindful parenting for years, but when our child says, “I hate you,” do we have the ability to find empathy and manage our emotions and our own reactions?
These are the real tests, the daily experiences—the everyday challenges that arise. Our moment-to-moment responses show us what stage we are in. Have we moved past theory and into practice? Are we merely informed and educated or are we ready to apply and integrate the teachings?
Thankfully, we don’t experience everything. After all, who really wants to have to relate to tragic circumstances? In these cases, we would much rather get it from a distance, vicariously.
But I am truly grateful that my son had this first anaphylactic experience with all of us around to support him so that most importantly, should it happen again (God-forbid), he will feel equipped to manage it on his own.
The take-away for all of us is clear: Get informed and educated—know the facts, but also realize and trust that they cannot necessarily be accessible without both appropriate mind training and real-life experience.