Reading What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America

I do not know how it happened that I missed this book! Published in 1995, it is the story of a successful journalist’s (as it says) search for wisdom in America. Tony Schwartz helped Donald Trump write a little book called The Art of the Deal, which made him rich but unsatisfied. He went on a quest that he shares in this book.

It’s Tony’s personal search, and he documents it as if writing in a journal (but with plenty of background info), rather than the “impersonal, keep your personal experience out of it” style of journalism.

He begins with Ram Dass and the influence of Eastern religions on America in the 1960s, covers the early days of Esalen, and moves on to brainwaves and biofeedback in Part I, The Pioneers.

I’m currently in the second part, Mind-Body Potentials, reading about Betty Edwards and drawing on the right side of the brain.

This quote got my attention:

As she stood by my side on that final afternoon [of a 5 day “drawing on the right side of the brain” workshop at Harvard], I suddenly understood the powerful impact of Edwards’s continuing encouragement. She creates a nurturing, nonjudgmental environment in which the expectation of success is high and the possibility of failure never enters the picture…. Put another way, the right hemisphere mode is a fragile and elusive state that can easily be overridden by the left hemisphere’s rush to judgment. At the same time, when the left hemisphere faces a challenge that it is ill equipped to meet, Edwards believes that it often simply gives up instead of turning the job over to the right hemisphere.

“We work very hard to thwart that inclination to quit,” Edward told me…. “I think of the left brain as the gatekeeper of the ego. One of its functions is to protect us from being made a fool of. In order to let the right hemisphere come forward and take over, the left hemisphere needs to be reassured that things will turn out okay. That’s what we try to do with our cheerleading. We’re creating a safe environment in which to let go of conscious control.”

One of the biggest changes I notice in myself that I believe comes from meditation is that my right brain is becoming more active. As I’ve mentioned before, whole body awareness is in the domain of the right brain. And it seems true, that the left verbal brain has to be able to let down its guard to experience wholeness. Even if just for brief periods of time at first, to know that it’s actually safe! And not just safe, but a wonderful, unnameable experience!

This is a rich book for seekers of wisdom. I am looking forward to reading about flow, learned optimism, dreams, Ken Wilber, the Enneagram, and his conclusion, entitled The Point Is to Be Real.

I wonder if he’s written anything that updates this book, which is now 15 years old. It seems like he might have something on American teachers like Byron Katie and Gangaji, who use satsang or inquiry to help people grow.

What else? Oh, I imagine he might add something about deeksha. And perhaps something about the recently discovered neuroplasticity of the brain.

What’s cutting edge in the search for wisdom?

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