In 1988, I visited Wright Brothers National Memorial, at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, operated by the National Park Service. It is the desolate laboratory where Wilbur and Orville Wright invented the airplane ‑ the site of the first motorized flights they made on December 17th, 1903. My time there turned out to be the most surprising experience I have ever had visiting many historic sites in the world. Walking several steps on the path of those first prophetic flights, I stepped through an unseen portal and entered a space that I can best describe for its embracing emotion ‑ I was held in the grasp of palpable energy I associated with the gravity of the place ‑ prompting involuntary tears and the overwhelm of profound realization. I was literally walking through the sands of history. It was overwhelming and deeply memorable.
I’ve considered this surprising experience many times, hoping to unscramble the energetic formula that made that happen. Last week, I went there again, and I think I realized what is there that informs us all.
When I arrived at the site I again went to the Visitors’ Center and spent time absorbing the informational displays, observing the meticulously hand-written notes, the trial-and-error engineering progression, and the sequence of scientific experiments that formed the Wright Brothers’ insight-attaining method, despite their lack of formal education. Next, I listened to the Park Ranger who presented the story of these experiments, employing a full scale model of the Wright Flyer #1 as he gave his speech.
With skill and appropriate deference, the Ranger pointed out the Wrights’ fundamental innovations that manifested during those three years on the Kitty Hawk campsite at a time in human history when no one had proceeded successfully beyond unmanned glider flight. The many innovations included the design of the propeller blades, the steering technique called wing warping, and a 4-cylinder motor that weighed 179 pounds and generated over 12 horsepower. Then, again, I went out to walk the first flight path.
I reasoned that the non-ordinary reality I had encountered there 24 years before was actual but unique, perhaps owing to my complete lack of expectation, and my naive openness in that walk years ago. So, as again I walked the first 50 feet of the historic pathway, I felt nothing extraordinary, and relaxed in this awareness. I continued on, and suddenly ‑ astonishingly ‑ passing through the unseen portal I was once again embraced in an energetic field of such consequence it was fundamentally overwhelming. Efforting, I succeeded in regaining my equilibrium and felt myself depart the energy field.
Then, walking further to the marker memorializing the concluding point of the 852 foot fourth and final flight of that December 1903 day, I was again overwhelmed by the embracing energy for what felt like a very long time. It was not a cognitive experience, it was purely somatic, and utterly undeniable, despite my sense of confusion and subsequent self-consciousness. I was surprised by these experiences at the Wright Brothers’ airfield, yet I recognized each was nearly identical to experiences I had in Ganeshpuri, India, at Fajada Butte, New Mexico, and at Palenque, Mexico, and other sites noted for their profound and sacred qualities ‑ like the Pacific sunrise viewed from Kauai, or the sound of distant loons over a lake in the Canadian wilderness.
What can be found there, informing us all, is the promise of our soaring legacy. Each of us can be inspired by the vision of our inner possibilities, our inherent mission and destiny. When we succeed in avoiding the filtering doubts of our insecurity and despair, there is nothing quite so inspiring as what resides inside you and me. I hope you share this realization of yourself and those you lead.
“…it is not really necessary to look too far into the future; we see enough already to be certain it will be magnificent. Only let us hurry and open the roads.” ‑ Wilbur Wright (1867-1912)
“Isn’t it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so that we could discover them!!” and “I got more thrill out of flying before I had ever been in the air at all – while lying in bed thinking how exciting it would be to fly.” ‑ Orville Wright (1871-1948)
What specifically resides in Wilbur and Orville Wright’s flight path is the energy still dwelling there memorializing their profound vision, courage, and dedication of self to their worthy goal. It is the residue of honor and brilliance made manifest by these humble achievers, who’s pursuit of flight was not about personal wealth or fame or power during their time of inventive leadership. In the language of Simon Sinek, it was inspiration that flowed from worthy endeavor by starting with a worthy why. I can attest to the fact that their legacy is not only in the world of modern day flight, it still permeates the first flight path!
You and those you inspire have this ability where worthy goals can be imagined. Worthy goals benefit humanity. The world surely needs your inspiration now.
If you are feeling a bit stuck or overwhelmed seeking your Wright Brothers’ vision, Simon Sinek’s new book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action, might be helpful. As always, I invite your conversation.