Lessons from Leonardo

“Not everything needs sharp lines.”

That is how Walter Isaacson ended his biography of Leonardo da Vinci (spoiler alert) that I finished reading this afternoon. It was a slow and long read – took three times of re-checking it out from the library to finish it. But I am so glad that I did. It was a beautiful read about someone whose life was truly remarkable and the lessons from his life still speak today. While Leonardo painted The Last Supper and several other powerful religious works, the story of his life was not about religious faith but about one whose life was like few others before him and few since. The breadth of his interests, curiosity, insights, creativity, and sense of beauty in all that he did was so powerful to take in. It would be impossible to try to summarize his story so instead I will simply list the “Lessons from Leonardo” that Isaacson shared as he concluded the book…

  • Be curious, relentlessly curious
  • Seek knowledge for its own sake.
  • Retain a childlike sense of wonder.
  • Observe
  • Start with the details
  • See things unseen
  • Go down rabbit holes
  • Get distracted
  • Respect facts
  • Procrastinate
  • Let the perfect be the enemy of the ogood.
  • Think visually
  • Avoid silos
  • Let your reach exceed your grasp
  • Indulge fantasy
  • Create for yourself, not just for patrons
  • Collaborate
  • Make lists
  • Take notes, on paper
  • Be open to mystery

And then he shares the words that I began with, “not everything needs sharp lines.” As Isaacson tells it, Leonardo’s life was not about things coming to completion and thinking that one has come to a the finish line. But instead there was an ongoing pursuit of improvement, knowledge, insights, and creativity. Leonardo seemed to never fully finish his works but instead left many undone but also kept working on ones long after they seemed “done.” There never seemed to be the sharp line between finished and not. There was not certainty but instead more and more mysteries to discover and explore.

To me, that is the spiritual journey that we live. We will never come to a full sense of completion but instead are works that are always in progress. We may feel some parts of us are further along but none are at a place of finality. And the same with our understandings of God – there is always more to discover, to seek, and to explore. The path never comes to a final point on this side of our lives.


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