Wisdom beyond knowledge

Lake Estes

A nurse was listening as a woman described her unbearable headache pain to the doctor. The woman had received an epidural shot in her spine to help block the pain from delivering a baby, but spinal fluid had leaked out producing the terrible headache. Now she needed a procedure called a “blood patch.” Powerful pain medications were not doing the trick.

The nurse had been practicing healing touch for years, a beautiful art of directing loving-kindness energy into another person through one’s hands, but often without actual touch. As the woman was expressing her distress and getting no relief from the pain medications, the nurse was gently and slowly stroking the air just above and behind the woman’s head and shoulders. The nurse said nothing.

In a few minutes the woman’s pain subsided. The physician asked the patient to excuse him as he stepped outside the room with the nurse. “That was amazing,” he said. “What were you doing?” The nurse confirmed what he suspected: “That was healing touch.” He responded, “I thought so,” and he thanked her.

Knowledge can take us a long way in the world, including the world of medicine. But knowledge always has limitations, and so there are moments when we need something beyond knowledge. That something we call wisdom. One definition for wisdom is “the ability to make a decision based on the combination of knowledge, experience, and intuitive understanding.” In this sense wisdom reaches beyond what has been proven in evidence-based studies to include our own repertoire of personal experiences and that intuitive sense which knows things beyond the facts.

When the nurse accessed her inner wisdom for the sake of the hurting patient, and decided to offer her a few moments of healing touch, she was relying on knowledge, experience and intuition. I believe wisdom arises from an inner stillness beneath our usual thoughts and actions. Wisdom transcends the rational mind and brings guidance from a deeper source. When that nurse was led to use the art of healing touch for the sake of the patient she was being guided by that wisdom, and there were no “side effects” causing other problems as so often happens with modern medicine.

So this vignette is just one example of the power of turning from knowledge alone toward a deeper wisdom. How do we get there, especially in the troubling moments of our lives? I believe we need contemplative practices which help us reside in the inner stillness. So the following is not a solution but a way.

There is a stillness

that waits

beneath every thought.

There is a calm,

unperturbed rest

waiting still

below every action.

The stillness is waiting for you,

waiting, for you.


Quiet spring,

Source of your personal giftedness,

deep well,

river source flowing.

Do not act too soon,

do not think too much,

before you go deep,

where the waters flow free.

Drink deeply.

Drink long.

Drink to satisfy longing.

Let the inner drought end.


Best actions still always spring

from that stillness.


From the bone-chill winter

to the dry-drought summer,

best actions still always spring

from the stillness.

For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, now available as a Kindle book.


About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through Amazon.com; and of a blog on Wordpress.com, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (www.thescl.net), adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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