I like the word “realize.” It means to make something real. Sometimes we use it to mean “make” or “do,” as in, “I finally realized my dream of being the best Sushi chef in Toronto.” We use it to apply to knowledge, “I just realized how big this building is.” Realizing something isn’t the same as being able to recite it. You don’t realize things by hearing them. You realize them by making them part of your reality. It becomes part of how you perceive and experience the world.
For anybody who has read the book Stranger in a Strange Land, this is probably the best approximation of the word “grok” as it is used in the book. The central character of the book, a human raised by strange Martian creatures, uses that word. And Grokking something means that it has truly become a part of you. The main character would hear or experience something strange about Earth, and then meditate on it as he waits to “grok” it. Until it makes sense, and he is a new person with that knowledge and experience as part of the new self.
Perhaps you’ve experienced it. “I never really noticed that the walls of this room are pink.” Sure, if somebody asked you, you could recite the fact. But every now and then, we actually take a moment to fully experience things, and sometimes the epiphany hits like a truck. We wonder how we could have looked at the world without seeing it for what it really is.
And it’s funny that I use the word “experience,” because realizing something, often, involves experience. I noticed this because I got to hang out with some friends and try my hand at an obstacle course that was meant to be a scaled down mockup of the American Ninja Warrior course. And when you look at these kinds of things from the outside, you think, “I bet I could do that. How hard could it be?”
Almost every time somebody asks, “how hard could it be?” they are in for a realization. I had some degree of confidence in my ability to tackle different obstacles and learn, so I was genuinely curious to see how I would do on this course. And if it weren’t for a long background of being humbled by superior competitors in various games, I might have thought, “how hard could it be?” This time, I knew the answer in advance.
The obstacle course that my friends put together were simplified and scaled down versions of the things you’d experience in the show. And even taking that into account, it still kicked my butt. Despite knowing the answer--”I’m probably going to have a hell of a time trying my hand at this”--I actually realized it. The experience helped me know what it meant to do these things. I can look into my memory and recall the feeling, the tiredness in my body as I failed. What it’s like to fall off balance while exhausted and trying to reach the end of the course. An active imagination--which I definitely have--helps you prepare a bit, but it’s not quite the same. Not for the last time, I remembered just how much harder everything is when you’re in the middle of it, and not a safe and relaxed spectator.
The most important part of new realizations, in fact, is probably the understanding of how much you have yet to experience and realize. I think one of my proudest moments was, when seeing something that I thought I might be able to do, I thought to myself, “you know what, it probably feels a lot different when you’re actually in the middle of things.” Because it is.
Many people don’t know what it’s like to experience many things. Stuff like dealing with an addiction, or depression, or what it’s like to be performing on a big stage. We imagine how we would deal with those situations, because that’s our human response. If we couldn’t simulate possible outcomes and responses, we wouldn’t be very smart or logical.
But you have to experience them to really understand. It’s the reason why we say “you can only open the door for somebody, they have to walk through.” Because they won’t actually get it otherwise. It won’t be real to them, just a notion or a fiction. It’s why writing a blog like this feels so much like an exercise in futility; because none of this will even stick with you or resonate until you actually get to realize it. Until the ideas and words that you develop, read, or hear actually anchor into your reality, they’re just things you can recite. It’s the difficulty of teaching and writing. It’s also the difficulty of learning and living.
And it’s funny that, until recently, I had never realized it before.