8 Lessons from Harry Potter on the Law of Wisdom

“Before you can do something, you first must be something.” Goethe

This summer, my son and I have been listening to Jim Dale’s unparalleled recorded books of the Harry Potter series. We’re on the final one now: “Deathly Hallows,” which I read two years ago (a lifetime!). After a few CDs of the recording, one night I was so curious about how it ends that I read the final hundred pages of the book. Ah! That’s right: Harry dies, but not really. He goes back to finish his business, Neville does a hero’s task, and all is saved. They do, indeed, live happily ever after.

Satisfied that it all comes out neatly in the end, I found myself drawn back into the story where we had left off. It certainly is good reading. Eventful, imaginative, with vivid, real characters and a good dose of humor.

As I read, it dawned on me that this is not only a great Quest tale; it’s also a dramatization of the Law of Wisdom in action. Think about it: Harry is given by Professor Dumbledore the task of hunting and destroying the Horcuxes , which – if he is successful – will bring down Lord Voldemort and restore the wizarding world to peace and harmony. Only Harry, and he alone, is suited to the job. It is, in effect, his Life Purpose .

And he struggles with it: he is torn between trust in his mission and the many questions he has about it. Why didn’t Dumbledore spell it out for him more clearly? Why is there no grand plan, no set of instructions to follow, step by step, to achieve his goal? How is he expected to lead others into danger, if he doesn’t even know what’s next?

Does any of this sound familiar? It’s called “life.” When we are truly in our Life Purpose, we act a great deal on trust. It’s like driving at night: we have a general idea of where we’re going, yet the headlights only illuminate a short bit of road ahead. So, we keep driving, and more is continually revealed as we go. That doesn’t guarantee we might not meet challenges. Maybe a deer will bound across the road. Maybe we’ll take a wrong turn or run out of gas. But we can trust that those headlights are showing us as much as we need to know for now.

(N.B. The form of these 8 lessons is taken from a recent coaching call by Coco Fossland, who is a brilliant teacher and guide. I’m in her yearlong coaching group , and have received such great support both from her and my cohorts.)

Those familiar with Potter’s story will recognize that he acts frequently on impulse. He is decisive and quick, very important qualities. Not only does his decisiveness save his skin – and that of his friends – on many occasions, it also is perfectly aligned with the Law of Wisdom. And, so the 8 Lessons are:

1. Wisdom is present at every moment.

When Harry asks and listens, the guidance is always there. Sometimes he asks, but doesn’t listen, doesn’t trust the answer he is given. This is all too human; we all do this. It’s when Harry gets bursts of intuition and acts quickly that great things happen.

2. Wisdom speaks through everything.

We don’t have to meditate to hear our inner wisdom; it will speak any way it can to reach us. Sometimes, for Harry, it comes as a person with a message. In fact, he seems the most inspired and in his truth when he is in action, especially in danger. For Hermione, by contrast, wisdom comes from reading and the deep reflection that allows her to connect disparate threads of ideas.

3. Wisdom is meant for the moment, not forever.

This is where the Harry Potter books get their thrilling sense of adventure, and something profound lies just below the surface. Examples abound of Harry acting in the moment, yet throughout “Dealthly Hallows,” he is tortured by his mistrust of the mission set to him by Dumbledore. His mentor never laid out a full plan because he knew all too well that the Universe is always growing and evolving, with each of us participating. Dumbledore could sketch out the gist of the quest and the key pieces that he had discovered. But he knew that the “how” would only emerge, moment by moment, in a constantly-shifting tableau. Every moment along the way would be unpredictable, fresh and new.

4. Wisdom will only ask you to do what’s possible.

I love how this one plays out, especially for Harry’s friends, who step into their power – often reluctantly – throughout this story. One of the best examples is when Ron destroys the Slytherin locket Horcrux. He is aghast when Harry, acting on pure intuition, orders him to wield the Sword of Gryffindor . Ron pulled it from the frozen pond; therefore he must be the one to use it. Of course, Ron is sure he cannot rise to the challenge. He sees only his human self, his weakness. Yet, here he is, in this situation, called to action. Wisdom knows better than we do what we are capable of. By taking action, we open new doors, discover new strengths and reach our deepest desires.

5. Wisdom is grounded in love, not fear.

Love is a profoundly powerful force: in Harry’s case, it literally saved his life when his mother shielded him from Voldemort and gave her own life to protect her baby. In Book 6, Dumbledore reminds Harry that Voldemort’s weakness is his lack of understanding of this power. Harry is skeptical, as many of us are at times. If love is so all-powerful, why has he suffered such great losses in his young life? He makes the same mistake that we all do from time to time: we expect love to shield us like a magic talisman from pain. Since wisdom lives without the awareness of fear, it isn’t trying to avoid or compensate for fear or pain. When we truly experience love in all its power, there is no room for fear.

6. Wisdom meets you where you are, even if you are still in fear.

We are always given what we need to take the next step. We do not have to first rid our lives of all fear in order to receive wisdom. Harry and his friends spend much of this book in fear, yet they do not let that stop them. Sometimes, it can distract, as when Harry becomes obsessed with finding the Deathly Hallows , temporarily wavering from his quest for the Horcruxes. He wavers between the two because he has allowed his doubt and fear to cloud his thinking. Yet even that brief detour proves useful, because. . . .

7. Wisdom knows the fastest way to your success, despite appearances.

In a disastrous scene, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are captured when Harry utters Voldemort’s name. Ron had already told them the name was jinxed and, when said aloud, became an instant beacon for Death Eaters to locate the speaker. Reading the scene that follows, I found myself thinking, If only Harry hadn’t been so arrogant! All this could have been avoided! What a stupid, costly mistake! Yet, as the scene unfolded, I realized the brilliance of it. They needed to find themselves in the cellar of Malfoy Manor for several key reasons. They met up with two characters who would help them with critical pieces of their quest. And, they learned from the horrible Bellatrix’s terrified reaction that one of the Horcruxes was surely in her vault at Gringotts . So, what looked like a pointless and costly error actually propelled them along their path with great force. This scene really jolted me into wondering how often I overlook such assistance on my own path. What looks like failure, even utter misery, is really opportunity. Seizing it can be quite costly – in this case, Dobby the House Elf was killed – but if the whole thing had been avoided, they book would’ve been even longer than it is! Worse, they may have failed in their quest.

8. Wisdom transforms and empowers everyone it touches, despite appearances.

Harry, because he was given the quest by Dumbledore, frequently made the mistaken assumption that it was for him alone to complete. Certainly, it was literally a matter of life and death; his primary impulse was to protect his friends from harm. Yet, over and again, they either saved his life or had key roles in the discovery and destruction of the Horcruxes. It’s natural for us to shy away from pain and fear, to want to protect those we love. Yet, facing fear may be exactly what we need to do, in order to transform, heal, or empower ourselves or others.

This theme is at the heart of Deathly Hallows. Of the seven Horcruxes, Harry himself destroyed only one, and that was five years before. Dumbledore got one, Ron, Hermione and Neville each got one. Even one of Malfoy’s dumb henchmen unwittingly caused the destruction of one. Voldemort himself (unknowingly, of course) destroyed one. Harry doesn’t even kill Voldemort in the end. Instead, he uses his wits and intuition to let Voldemort strike the fatal blow.

Throughout this book, emotions play a justly important role. The Law of Wisdom teaches us that our thoughts produce feelings, which propel us to action, which gives us results. Feelings are the critical piece of this equation, and are often overlooked as we try to power towards our goals. In Harry’s story, we always know what the characters are feeling, which helps us to understand the actions they take and the results they get, no matter how fantastical. Indeed, clothed as a very readable kid’s story, “Deathly Hallows” contains deep lessons for living fully: trust your inner wisdom, let it come to you naturally, ask and listen and act, don’t expect the whole path to be revealed, you have what you need, be in the moment as much as possible, believe in the power of love, accept that your fears will distract you, and ask for help when you need it. Hats off to J.K. Rowling for putting all of this richness into such a lavishly enjoyable package!

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There Are 5 Responses So Far. »

  1. Julie,

    Amazing. What a great blog.

  2. Nice work! More timely words when I needed them! Thanks Julie!

  3. Fantastic!!!

  4. Wonderful post – it makes me want to pull out HP7 off my shelf and read it again! In your context I see great worth in Harry’s story, but being the fussy reader I am, it’s hard for me to get over the book’s imperfections. (That interminable wandering and angst-y arguing in the forest – dear lord! And those superfluous Deathly Hallows! Now I can look at them as necessary detours from the Quest, I suppose.)

    I am intrigued by this sentence. “Since wisdom lives without the awareness of fear, it isn’t trying to avoid or compensate for fear or pain.”

    Can’t wisdom acknowledge fear? Especially in making difficult decisions that would yield new realities, isn’t fear always a part of the equation? I know fear can cloud good judgment, but it’s hard to extract simple, human, primal fear from our lives. Or is the point that many things in life are inevitable and we must embrace them without fearing the consequences because we can be confident that things will work out?

  5. Thanks, Andrea, for your thoughtful comments. Okay, I agree about the arguing. . . .but it’s still a good yarn overall.

    Ah, fear. Here’s how I think of it. Some sage said (sorry, can’t recall the source) that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. So, yes, fear does goes with the territory. The good news? The more we can tap into that spiritual being that lives within each of us (or without — or both), the more grounded in love, service, and gratitude our actions will be — no matter how challenging. Fear simply goes away as a variable when we are connected to that larger purpose that works through each of us, as guided by spirit.

    Make sense?

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