April 26, 2018

A New Definition of Genius: what Stephen Hawking & Virginia Woolf have in Common.

I recently watched “The Theory of Everything,” in tribute to the late great Stephen Hawking after hearing the news of his passing.

As I watched the critically acclaimed film about Hawking’s life, it hit me how truly incredible this man really was. The overwhelming challenges he faced only seemed to motivate him on his journey to change the paradigm of history and elevate the consciousness of humanity—and it is this spirit that makes him a truly amazing human being.

He was given two years to live after his ALS diagnosis. However, he lived 50 more years and completely reinvented how we look at the universe itself. Boom.

Stephen Hawking was a genius in the deepest sense of the word—and if we can understand what genius really is, then maybe we can embody a small semblance of that in our own lives. As someone who is highly interested in pushing people to meet their potential in practical ways that improve our day-to-day lives, understanding the making of a genius is something that appeals to me.

Here’s a new definition of genius that I think will be accessible to all of us: what defines “genius” is the ability to recognize the vastness of the universe within the small daily things that most of us would consider mundane.

In the film, Hawking’s most important ideas came through seemingly meaningless activities in his daily life. His theory of black holes was solidified when staring at the spiraling milk in his coffee, after listening to a lecture on the subject. It was while looking at the embers in his fireplace while trying to put on a sweater that sparked (no pun intended) the idea that black holes emit radiation. He saw the macro in the micro, the large in the small, the vast complexities of the universe in the simplest of things—and I think this is what characterizes an awakened mind.

Now, the film was of course a dramatization—and obviously Hawking had studied these fields extensively before having these momentous realizations—but there are plenty of other cases where profound discoveries were made through the veil of the seemingly mundane.

This is a quality that Virginia Woolf embodied; she wrote one of her most famous essays on a moth trying to escape out a window:

“It was as if someone had taken a tiny bead of pure life and decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers, had set it dancing and zigzagging to show us the true nature of life.”

She recognized the whole of life within one tiny little fragment, and this is what allowed her to ascend to the greatest heights of her chosen art form.

Here’s the key: nothing in life is boring. There is nothing so lowly or monotonous or stupid that it isn’t worth our attention, because life is interesting as f*ck!

If we find ourselves bored all the time—stale, uninterested, waiting for some big thing to make our lives worth living—then we are simply not paying enough attention. Notice everything, and the universe will present us with endless opportunities to learn and grow.

We can’t all be a Stephen Hawking or a Virginia Woolf, but we can take away a lesson from their genius that we can apply in our own experiences.

Always pay attention, noticing the profound depths and the great soaring heights in the small objects and activities of our daily lives.

In my own experience, I find that many of my writing ideas come from relatively trivial experiences or commonplace observations. The way someone talks, the cheerfulness of a pet, or the way something tastes. Some very normal and obvious experience will unlock something in my mind, and a connection will be made to something much larger. This has come through much practice, as I’ve learned to translate immediate experiences into larger ideas. It’s not something that is unique to me; I just write a lot, so I’m used to interpreting my experiences this way.

Also, having lived with a severe chronic illness for the past few years has taught me to invoke a deep appreciation for all the little things, even things that might annoy me. My life experience is deeply hindered by my symptoms, yet that doesn’t seem to stop the flow of ideas for me.

I don’t need to travel to India to write about dharma, I can just sit for awhile and notice the wind moving the trees or a minor argument between a couple a few tables to my left (both things are happening while I write this). It has been necessary for me to recognize the meaning of life in the seemingly mundane daily happenings.

Let’s learn from those who have changed the course of history and find ways to move through the world with power and grace. This quality of genius that I’ve described—to see the whole of life in the small parts of it—has been essential for me in expanding my awareness—and even in enjoying my life a bit more.

It’s fun to see things. It’s nice to observe life, in all of its beautiful ugliness. I recommend it.




The Curious Hero: 19 Inspirational Quotes from Stephen Hawking.

The Genius that is Virginia Woolf.


Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Flickr/Kátia Goretti Dias Vazzoller
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman

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