WISDOM AS POISE AND GRACE
Wisdom is another quality of old age. In former societies the old people were called elders because it was recognized that having lived so long, they had harvested wisdom. Our culture is absolutely obsessed with information. There is more information now available in the world than ever before. We have so much knowledge about every possible thing. Yet there is a great difference between knowledge and wisdom. You can know many things, you can know a lot of facts about things, even facts about your self, yet it is the things that you realize that move deeply into you. Wisdom is the art of living in rhythm with your soul, your life and the divine. Wisdom is the way that you learn to decipher the unknown; and the unknown is our closest companion. So wisdom is the art of being courageous and generous with the unknown, of being able to decipher and recognize its treasures. In Celtic culture, and in the old Irish Celtic world, there was immense respect for wisdom. Since the Celtic world was primarily a matriarchal society very many of these wise people were women. The Celts had a wonderful tradition of wisdom which subsequently continued into Irish monasticism. When Europe was going through the Dark Ages it was the monks from Ireland who had preserved the memory of learning. They set up centres of learning all over Europe. The Irish monks recivilized Europe. That learning became the basis of the wonderful medieval scholasticism and its rich culture.
Traditionally in Ireland each region had its own wise person. In County Clare there was a wise woman called Biddy Early. In Galway there was a woman called Cailleach an Clochain, or the old woman of Clifden, who also had this wisdom. When people were confused in their lives, or worried about the future, they would often visit these wise figures. Through their counsel, people learned to engage their destiny anew; they learned to live more deeply and enjoy protection from imminent danger and destruction. Wisdom is often associated with the harvest time of life. That which is scattered has no unity, whereas that which is gathered comes home to unity and belonging. Wisdom, then, is the art of balancing the known with the unknown, the suffering with the joy; it is a way of linking the whole of life together in a new and deeper unity. Our society would be very well advised to attend to the wisdom of old people, to integrate them into the processes of decision making. The wisdom of the aged could be invaluable in helping us to articulate a vision for our future. Ultimately, wisdom and vision are sisters; the creativity, critique and prophecy of vision issues from the fount of wisdom. Older people are great treasure houses of wisdom.