What is Grokking?
:grok: /grok/, var. /grohk/ vt. [from the novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein, where it is a Martian word meaning literally `to drink' and metaphorically `to be one with'] The emphatic form is `grok in fullness’. 1. To understand, usually in a global sense. Connotes intimate and exhaustive knowledge. — The Jargon File 3.2.0
“Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthly assumptions) as color means to a blind man.” — Robert A. Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land
The word “grok” is one of the most profound additions to the English language ever handed down to us by the Martians. Perhaps the most obvious reason it is the most important, is that it is the only one that Robert Heinlein emphasized in his masterpiece, “Stranger in a Strange Land.” The character that brings the word to Earth is the protagonist, Valentine Michael Smith, a human born on Mars and raised by Martians. Having read the book many times, I’ve come to believe that the significance of the word cannot be overstated. It can be applied to many aspects of our life – objects, self, relationships, society, interactions, world, and the cosmos (good luck grokking the cosmos). To grok something indicates that you have understood a topic or subject in all of its particular details – all sides of the story, all perspectives, etc. Because we are not Martian, we are not completely able to handle such a monumental task. Heck, it even took the Martians hundreds, if not thousands of years to grok some things. We shouldn’t feel so bad about it.
With your very busy and important schedule, why should you focus on grokking instead of knowledge, awareness, and understanding? First, the word “grok” is one syllable – easy to remember, easier to spell, and it has as fascinating a definition as most other four letter words. To grok something gives us a more full form of knowledge, awareness, and understanding than we would have if we pursued them in isolation. As Heinlein so elegantly stated above for us, grok means “to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed – to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience.” When understanding anything at such a core level that you find the potential to lose yourself in it, you are experiencing a touch of divinity, whatever that looks like to you.
If “grok” means “everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science,” then this word is heavy. It has an impact – a hit-you-in-the-head-like-a-stray-meteorite impact. When we use words that are this strong, we impart a stronger meaning to our life and to our communication. Grok describes the journey that human beings have been on for millennia - a search for meaning – which is precisely what religion, philosophy, and even science attempt to bring to our world. To grok in fullness is nearly impossible, though that does not mean we should not attempt to grok in part. Grokking is akin to enlightenment in its own way.
The phrase is often used by asking, “Do you grok?” and responded to as, “I grok in fullness.” Grok is a verb that can be used in many forms, but these are the most common we see in Stranger in a Strange Land. Grokking is a powerful tool that we can take into the rest of our lives. It can aid us in any area of our life if we take time to grok it (whatever it may be). And most significantly, perhaps, grokking can lead to inner and outer peace.
How to Grok
Alright, you’ve made it this far – you seem like you’re teetering on the brink of being sold on the idea of grokking, instead of merely understanding.
“Ok, smart guy, so how do you grok something?”
Grokking isn’t something you can do in a single moment; it is a process of continually growing your knowledge, understanding, and awareness of an object, a topic, an issue, a person, or whatever you are attempting to grok.
You’ll continually add tools to your life that help you grok more. You’ve been doing this since you were a child. As an infant, you used your senses of touch, of taste, of sight, sound, and smell to explore the world. As an adult you’ve refined these senses and added the power of your mind and spirit behind it. Think of this site as a way to help you add tools to your grokking tool belt. Here is a list of potential tools that you can use to aid in your grokking:
The Grok Tools
Journaling is a method to dive deeper into your own inner psychology, your own experiences, and your own belief structures. It can be anything from a detailed log of your life, a stream of consciousness diatribe, a letter to God, or any structured format that speaks to you.
Meditation is an experience of presence and connection. By meditating, you bring yourself into greater congruency with yourself, your beliefs, and the inner core that is always “on” inside of you. You can use meditation to reflect on specific issues, giving special attention to your own reactions. Do you react warmly? Or do you tense up in apprehension? This type of awareness is a large step towards grokking.
3. Conflict / Resolution
Being embroiled in conflict is a feeling that most of us seek to avoid. There is nothing as fantastic as a cacophonous shouting match to really make you feel alive and good about yourself. While being involved in conflicts may be something that can bring pain and misunderstanding, there is much to be learned about yourself and relationships through conflict, if you are open to it. The interactions you have with others in conflicts and resolution is like holding a mirror up to yourself, one that lets you know how others are perceiving you.
As an artist, this is something that speaks incredibly powerfully to me and has led me down the road of grokking myself more fully. When you create, you are drawing upon your own nature to bring into being that which has not previously existed. It did not exist before you brought it into existence. This powerful act can lead us to grok ourselves more fully, especially how we view the subject matter that inspires the act of creation.
5. Conversation and Debate
Grokking through conversation and debate can be similar to grokking through conflict and resolution, though perhaps without the high decibel count. Conversations, especially ones that push you to be clear on your perspectives, ie. debate, can bring you clarity. Sometimes you will even surprise yourself with the insights you have, but had not formally voiced. The more you discover about yourself, the more fully you grok.
The final frontier… well, not really. Space in this sense refers to two things: your ability to take space for yourself and your ability to hold space for others. Taking space for yourself is often essential in maintaining good mental health. Without it, you will feel like you don’t have room or quiet to think. If you cannot think, you may find it hard to be centered in yourself. That would make it very hard to grok. Holding space for others is a way of relating to people without forcing your way into their lives. It implies that you can be present and attuned to a person and situation without feeling as though it is necessary to analyze, judge, critique, or help. When you can do this, you will feel your own experience more fully, as well as receive the gifts of opening and vulnerability the other person is giving you. Powerful grokking.
Talk about a powerful tool to grok – being in a group of supportive, loving, challenging, authentic, accepting, no-excuse-taking individuals is an experience that FORCES you to grok. You want to provide the experience for them (by fulfilling the same adjectives), and to do so you must grok yourself well enough to do so. The members of these groups are often powerful grokkers themselves, giving you incredible insights into your behaviors, patterns, and their experience of you. The term “Water Brother” is straight out of Stranger in a Strange Land, describing a nest (“tribe” in today’s lingo) of fellows in brotherhood/sisterhood. Being in such communities raises your grokking skills by allowing you the opportunity to grok yourself and, more importantly, others.
8. Exercise & Movement
Your body knows more than your brain. The moment you were born, you were gifted with thousands of years of instinct, knowledge, and experience imprinted into your very cells. By exercising and moving your body, you are allowing yourself to tap into this natural wisdom that can be an incredibly powerful tool for grokking.
Compare and contrast – the tools that got me through many English courses. They are more than tools for literary analysis, however. When you compare and/or contrast aspects of your life, you gain insight. As Aaron Huey stated in a workshop I attended, “How you do one thing, is how you do everything.” That message is the core of integrity and congruency. Keep running into a wall in an area of your life? Look at how you are showing up in other areas. What patterns do you have? Are these patterns covertly affecting you in the area your head is against the wall in? More awareness = more grokking.
While there are significant issues with the educational system around the world today, the fact remains that grokking is significantly assisted by the knowledge you have. This is not to say that education is not often an impediment to grokking. As the saying goes, “You must empty your cup before you can be filled.” Great education can provide you with a myriad of sources to look to for new information, insights, and growth opportunities. Education does not happen just in the walls of institutions. You are surrounded by a world with lessons to teach if you open yourself to it through your senses and your heart.
11. Mentors & Coaches
Having just recently discovered this powerful grokking tool, I cannot attest highly enough to the power of mentors and coaches in assisting you to grok yourself. My first experience has been with Jayson Gaddis of Revolutionary Man – both in one-on-one coaching, as well as currently being involved in his Revolutionary Man Leadership Training. Mentors, coaches, and gurus can listen to you, observe you, be with you, and open your eyes to your own patterns and habits. They can provide someone to be accountable to. They can show you your own bullshit in a way that makes you wonder how you had not noticed the smell before. If you want to grok the way you interact with the world, get a mentor, get a coach.
And these are just a start, the ones that I have discovered to be most effective for myself. Without these tools, without a need to understand and to grow, there is a static nature to our lives. By using these tools, we can grow deeper and fuller in our grokking, which will enrich our lives.
Grokking, Judgement and Discernment
A key element of grokking is that it is nonjudgmental. The act of grokking is an effort to seek greater clarity and greater understanding. You cannot merge through the barrier of observer and observed if you are too busy judging. It is important to avoid judgment completely when grokking. Grokking is based on observations of fact, of inductive and deductive reasoning and the assimilation of multiple viewpoints. Easier said than done though. We all have intensely embedded judgments that can be very hard to overcome. Judgments take many forms – of others, of yourself, of subconscious limitations – and can be good or bad. It does not matter whether they are good or bad, however, as both good and bad judgments will still prevent you from experiencing full authenticity and presence in your life and relationships.
It can be hard to see what grokking looks like without a bit of an example, so let us dive deeper into an example provided to us already in “Stranger in a Strange Land“. Let us try to grok a gun.
In the book, Valentine Michael Smith is confronted by two detectives, both wielding guns in the direction of Michael and one of his water brothers, Jill (the term is asexual in usage). In this moment, Michael steps back to grok the guns, as he has never seen one before. A gun is an object. They are a tool utilized only by humans (that we know of – Martians never needed them). They come in multiple sizes. They have lethal potential. They have multiple primary functions. They were invented as a weapon to kill, to harm. They can be used as a form of defense. They can be trained in as a skill, a hobby. They can be used to enhance the amount of perceived power an individual has. Guns fire bullets through an act of combustion. Most of the mechanisms necessary to a gun’s functioning are purely mechanical.
This is clearly not everything about guns that we can go into, but it is enough fact to begin to grok guns. Only after reviewing what a gun offers as its primary attributes, can we begin to discern what the truth about or around a gun may be. Realize that truth is subjective, and that once you have grokked a gun, your judgments will most likely come into play.
We are conditioned to judge. Judging can be useful – such an ability is written into our history. To survive in nature and thus to evolve, the history of our species is based on our ability to make wise judgments in tough situations. Today when our judgments are not equated with survival, it is more helpful to attempt to step away from judgment and into discernment. You can choose that guns are inherently evil, that guns are weapons of war and can have no positive impact. Or you can look at the fact that in many families, the teaching of respect and how to use a gun has been an emotional bonding opportunity between family members. They provide a focal point for teaching the respect of life. They can be a tool of providing for yourself, your family. So much of a gun is contextual, as are many things.
The point of grokking is not to judge, but to understand. It is merely a tool that we can add to our lives in order to understand the wholeness of our existence. If we dedicate ourselves to assuming a whole-picture perspective before we discern our own subjective truths, we will make better choices, better decisions, and be more able to understand ourselves. If we apply grokking in our lives, we can understand our emotions, our reactions, and our particular paths in life with more clarity. As we become more and more clear about the things that we grok, we will begin to add layers of understanding to them. These discernments and/or judgments that we make can become more fuel that we can pass through our grokking engine, giving ourselves more energy to grow from. The more input we receive, the more we’ll eventually be able to attain the wholeness of grokking … to grok in fullness.
Are there any tools that I missed out on that have helped you in your grokking journey? What tools have provided you with the greatest insight and added the most value to your life?