I heard Stephen Hawking’s mother being interviewed.
She said when he was younger he wasted his life.
He had an absolutely brilliant mind and he did nothing with it.
She said it hurt to see him throwing his gifts away.
Two of his fellow Oxford students were also interviewed.
They said they would be handed a problem on Monday, and given a week to solve it.
By Friday morning, after four days’ and nights’ solid work, it became obvious they couldn’t do it.
Stephen Hawking would get drunk and party all week, and not even look at the problem.
Then he’d wake up, hungover, on Friday morning and finally decide to cast his bleary eyes over it.
Two hours later he would have solved it, handed it in, and gone back to bed or to the pub.
The students said it was totally disheartening, to be on the same course as someone so far out of their league.
But Hawking spent his time drinking and sleeping, and did the absolute minimum necessary to stay on the course.
Then something happened to change that.
He was diagnosed with motor-neurone disease.
He was told that his body would shut down, section by section.
Until it eventually stopped working altogether, and he’d die.
He was given a death sentence.
His mother said it concentrated his mind wonderfully.
Previously he lived as if there was all the time in the world.
He now realised he had very little time.
If he didn’t pull his finger out, he’d get nothing done and die.
His life would be a waste.
So he began living every day as if it was his last.
Fighting against the disease and the clock.
Until eventually the disease took over his whole body.
He couldn’t move a single muscle anywhere, except in his cheek.
He couldn’t even talk.
But using the single muscle in his cheek he managed to type ‘A Brief History Of Time’.
That book stayed on the Sunday Times bestseller list for nearly five years, eventually selling over ten million copies worldwide.
Ten million copies, for a science book.
In the event, he didn’t actually die as he expected.
He went on to hold the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University, for thirty years until he retired.
A post once held by Isaac Newton.
His mother considered the motor neurone disease as a blessing.
The best thing that could have happened to him.
How can a mother say that about her son?
It all depends on context.
Everything in the real, actual physical world, outside our minds, exists on its own.
Totally free of comparison.
Comparison, like values and preferences, is purely something our mind creates.
It doesn’t exist in the reality outside our minds.
But the only reality we can ever know exists inside our minds.
So our reality is a mass of comparisons, values, and preferences.
Of course, motor neurone disease is a terrible tragedy compared to a perfectly formed, fit body and well spent life.
But that wasn’t the comparison Stephen Hawking’s mother saw.
The comparison she saw was to a wasted, dissolute, drunken life.
And the opportunity that motor neurone-disease created was for him to live a life that fulfilled his potential.
So she saw it as a blessing.
There is no reality outside our heads.
The only reality we can ever know is inside our heads.
And that’s all about comparisons.
And comparisons are all about context.
So reality is simply context.
As Buddha said “All there is, is mind.”
And context is another word for mind.