Rarely does understanding come to us all at once. As we seek truth, it usually comes to us one piece at a time, so we can have the opportunity to fully understand it and integrate it into the overall picture we are forming.
Discussing this idea with a friend one time, I used the analogy of eating a hamburger. Imagine you meet a person from some far off land who has never had a hamburger. You tell him how good burgers are, but no amount of description can truly communicate the idea. The only way for him to find out what a hamburger tastes like is to eat one himself.
You gather the ingredients, fire up your grill and make your new friend a hamburger with everything. Lettuce, pickles, onions…the works. You make sure he is going to get the full picture.
With the first bite, he gets some bread, some meat and maybe some lettuce. It introduces him to the idea of a burger but of course that’s just part of it, no where near the full experience. If he stopped there he could say that he was now familiar with hamburgers, but he still has an incomplete understanding of them. So he takes another bite, and this time gets some onion along with the rest. His picture of what a hamburger is has expanded, but is still short of complete.
Bite after bite, his understanding of a hamburger expands. The basic idea doesn’t change, but each bite introduces him to a new aspect of it. Bread, meat and lettuce isn’t fundamentally different from bread, meat, lettuce, onion, pickle, mustard, ketchup, etc. However the latter is a much more fully developed concept. When you friend finally finishes his burger, he has a full understanding of what a hamburger is.
While the analogy isn’t perfect, I think it illustrates the point well. When we study and meditate, ideas and understanding come to us, but not in their full manifestation. We may read a scripture or passage and believe we understand it, only to read it again later to see a whole new level of meaning in it. This can happen over and over with the same idea.
Normally the basic concept doesn’t change, but our understanding of it grows deeper and deeper. However, there are times when we will review something we thought we had cold only to find that we completely misunderstood what it was saying, or only had the most superficial grasp when the true meaning was much different.
When you are seeking truth, when you are looking for understanding and wisdom, don’t just read one source and then put it away thinking you have gained all you can from it. Put it back into your stack, and read it again after some time has passed and your understanding has grown.
It has been said that, when we reread something and see in it something we didn’t see the first time through, it isn’t because we actually see something we didn’t see the first time but because there is something new in us that wasn’t there the first time through. I think there is a great deal of truth to that.
Wisdom and understanding are cumulative. They grow and expand as our experience and study cause our minds to grow and expand. When you come across and idea that you’ve been familiar with for years and suddenly see it in a new light, don’t think that you missed it the first time. You just took another bite of the burger.
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