The Buddha was supposedly enlightened under the Bodhi tree. Archimedes discovered the principle of buoyancy in a moment of brilliance in his bathtub. The falling down of an apple inspired Newton to think about gravity.
These are the stories we hear about how some of the most important discoveries were made. Stories have rocked the cradle of human civilization and continue to shape us. However, the process of discovery is more involved than a simple anecdote. These events can, at best, be triggers that set years of groundwork in motion.
5 years ago, I heard Harsh Mander speaking about privilege. He told his class at IIM-A, India’s leading business school, “You are not here because you’re the best, and I am not here, because I am the best. If a billion people in this country had any of the life chances that you and I had, I am quite sure I wouldn’t be here.”. That statement was a turning point. It shifted my paradigm in realizing how fortunate I was. I have thought about it several times and seen it unfold in many walks of my life. However, that speech I heard was only a start – a spark. The process of actually realizing it is a continuous process.
Stories expose us to incredible truths that people have discovered with decades of groundbreaking work. When we listen to them, they can serve as starting points for our journeys. Understanding a truth isn’t a flip of the switch, but progress along a continuum. To deeply realize something is to be attentive, to show up regularly and put it in practice.
This is the reason we feel inspired and are filled with clarity as soon as we listen to a speech or read a book. But in a couple of months, we find its essence slipping away from us. It helps to understand that whatever took a scientist or a sage a decade to discover cannot possibly be internalized by us in a mere moment of clairvoyance.