Wisdom Learned Through Experience


The governor resigned his exalted office and came to the Master demanding to be taught.

“What is it you wish me to teach you?” asked the Master.

“Wisdom,” was the reply.

“Ah, my friend!  How gladly would I do that were it not for one major obstacle.”


“Wisdom cannot be taught.”

“So there’s nothing I can learn here.”

“Wisdom can be learned.  But it cannot be taught.”

cited in Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, p. 2


The above makes sense when I think about the important lessons I have learned in both my active addiction and recovery.  I learn by doing.  I recollect early on in recovery – I read a great deal about the disease concept of alcoholism – genetics, twin studies, and so forth.  I had thought when I first checked into detox that some sort of blood test would determine if I had the “disease” of alcoholism.  So I had lots of facts and figures in my head.  But I believe that I truly learned about alcoholism by experiencing my active addiction and then recovery.

For example, I could have read the personal stories in the AA Big Book or countless other tales of addiction.  However, through my own direct experience I relate to those stories and learn about alcoholism.  I believe the same is true in recovery.  Stories of sobriety are made real by my own experience on that road.

Direct experience in the learning process seems a reason why rites of passage often include vision quests and pilgrimages.  The process takes on a personal meaning when there is a personal experience involved.  I have come to see how this approach spills over into my role as an instructor in the classroom.  I don’t give tests.  Rather, I evaluate students based on their creation of real-time projects and their responses to real-time applications/situations.  I recall in my coursework as a student, when I took statistics from the Mathematics department, I failed miserably.  When I took statistics applied to my field of study, concepts began to make sense (though math is not a strength for me, at all) because I could apply them to my experience.

So in hindsight, I understand my need to consume all the substances I did to learn from my experience that I am truly an addict.  My experience in early recovery showed me that there is an alternative to active addiction.  My experience in both active addiction and recovery to date provide me with the foresight to know that if I continue on the recovery road I will continue to receive the wisdom to live life on life’s terms, and thoroughly love that process.

2 thoughts on “Wisdom Learned Through Experience

  1. This makes a lot of sense. I do see how I’m still learning about addiction by struggling with food and other ways of coping with life. I’m learning about recovery when I make healthier choices. Really just starting to feel a hint of wisdom in my old age 😉 This is a great post.

    • Thanks for your comment. To me, that is one of the great benefits of recovery – it’s not just a matter of we stop actively practicing our addiction and get the reward. Rather, there is the opportunity to continue learning and accruing those rewards on continual basis if we are willing to be mindful in the process.

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