We don't give wisdom nearly enough credit for how mysterious it is. Children can speak with remarkable wisdom that belies their brief years. Often elders are known for their wisdom, yet not everyone knows how to turn difficulties as well as joys into distilled understanding. And even though gaining wisdom seems to require effort, most of us have had moments when an insight comes to us "out of the blue," transforming our hearts and minds seemingly overnight.

Given all these variables, what do we know about wisdom? We wanted to let wise people share their ideas about how wisdom finds us, what we can do to cultivate it, and how we can sustain it over the long haul. Here are some gems we discovered which we hope will help you in your own quest for wisdom.

  • "I believe that religious experience begins with awe and wonder. That is the first step in the spiritual journey. Awe is the beginning of wisdom."
    — Matthew Fox in Wrestling with the Prophets
  • "When listening to or reading teachings, we are like a vase meant to collect wisdom."
    — His Holiness The Dalai Lama in The Way to Freedom
  • "Instruction makes us learned; experience makes us wise."
    — St. Bernard of Clairvaux in The Growth of Mysticism by Bernard McGinn
  • "My own feeling is that there's a body wisdom that our skin, our muscles, our nerve fibers possess, and we need to activate that wisdom to gain courage and transform our lives."
    — Miryam Glazer in No Enemies Within by Dawna Markova
  • "As the waters of life wash over us, we lose our sharp corners, and that can be good; we can take on surprising, satisfying new shapes. We can also lose some of the great wisdom that we were born with. But the evidence of that wisdom stays with us, right under our noses. So your job is simply this: trust your instincts, remember your secret pact, and reclaim the wisdom you have always had."
    — Daniel Gottlieb in Letters to Sam
  • "Wisdom, after all, is not a station you arrive at but a manner of traveling. If you travel too fast, you will miss the scenery."
    — Anthony de Mello in The Heart of the Enlightened
  • "As Qu'ran puts it, Holy Wisdom is closer to us 'than our own jugular veins.' Or, as the New Testament states, Holy Wisdom is Emmanuel, God-with-us."
    — Jay McDaniel in With Roots and Wings
  • "To be able to discern the action of God in every event in our lives is real wisdom and that is the goal."
    — Bede Griffiths in River of Compassion
  • "Bless anything that shows you wisdom. Anything that shows you wisdom has become a part of who you are and has drawn you closer to life. The Tibetans have reverence for those who have passed along to them the priceless gift of the wisdom to live well. Perhaps this means having reverence for all of life, the ant and the hawk, the enemy and the friend, the lover and the parent and the child. All have offered us the opportunity to know ourselves and to know life. The chance to befriend life. This is true of our wins and losses, our illnesses, our celebrations, our joys and sorrows. All offer us wisdom. Bless them all."
    — Rachel Naomi Remen in My Grandfather's Blessings
  • "The ability to live with seeming contradictions — and the ambivalence and tension these contradictions create — is what gives rise to wisdom. The messes are the point."
    — Irwin Kula in Yearnings
  • "To sit in the dust of the wise is to travel in their footsteps, follow their logic, and test their conclusions. But once you have walked their path, you must step off and see what is so for yourself. Wisdom cannot be secondhand."
    — Rami Shapiro in Ethics of the Sages
  • "Applicants for wisdom
    do what I have done:
    inquire within."
    — Heraclitus in Fragments translated by Brooks Haxton
  • "Wisdom is a living stream, not an icon preserved in a museum. Only when we find the spring of wisdom in our own life can it flow to future generations."
    — Thich Nhat Hanh in The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo
  • "Wisdom is one of the few things in human life that does not diminish with age."
    — Ram Dass in Still Here
  • "Wisdom is life's gift. Everything that has happened to us, and is happening, is life's way of giving us wisdom. Wisdom doesn't come from the amount of material gain we have accumulated; rather, it comes from the effort we expended to gain it. Wisdom doesn't come from the lowest depths we may descend to or the darkest moments we have or will know; it comes from the fall. And when we can look on ourselves and act without arrogance, no matter what our material gain, we can be wise. If we can look past the disappointment and the failures and understand why and how they happened, we can be wise. Then we can, and will, give back life's gift."
    — Joseph M. Marshall III in Walking with Grandfather
  • "You can find some wisdom even in debauchery and foolishness."
    — Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Hasidic Wisdom by Simcha Raz, Dov Peretz Elkins, and Jonathan Elkins
  • "Wisdom consists in doing the next thing you have to do, doing it with your whole heart, and finding delight in doing it."
    — Meister Eckhart in Psalms for Zero Gravity by Edward Hays
  • "Every object and being in the universe is a jar overfilled with wisdom and beauty."
    — Jelaluddin Runi in Love, Soul and Freedom by Christopher Largent and Denise Breton