We learn from an early age how to create the world around us. We learn labels, we learn definitions, we learn classifications, sub-classifications and distinctions. A toddler learns that a tree is called a tree, a cloud is called a cloud, and Mama and Dada are called Mom and Dad. An adolescent learns the difference between rich and poor, strong and weak, nice and mean. An adult learns what class warfare is, what God is, and what antidisestablishmentarianism could possibly mean.
But at what point does this really continue to benefit us?
the death of the senses
There is an economic principle called the law of diminishing returns. It means, in terms that I can understand, that the more we continue to invest in something, the less we get out of it (see Wikipedia for a MUCH more accurate definition). A marathoner plodding along an 18-week training regimen sees more marked improvement in the early stages of training than in the later stages. Early on, his average race pace may drop from nine-minute miles to eight-minute miles in the space of just a few determined weeks, while in the last few weeks of high-intensity training he will see much less of an improvement than that. Granted, it’s still marked improvement, but the point stands: the return isn’t as great.
So how does this apply to labels? To definitions? To distinctions? How do we measure returns on something like learning? The truth is, most people don’t even try. Learning is a wonderful thing – I believe lifelong learning should be a cornerstone of everyone’s daily experience. But after a point in the learning process – for most of us, in our teenage years – it becomes easy to lose sight of true value. So if we really tried measuring the returns on learning, we’d realize that there are things that are more important. Thus, we accrue knowledge for the sake of accruing knowledge. We learn what a tree is but then forget to experience the tree. Think about it: when was the last time you touched, and felt, a tree? Felt its bark, listened as its branches swayed in the wind, smelled its leaves? Go outside and touch a tree. Right now. I’ll wait . . .
Back already? Good. Carrying on. . . as one of my favorite books, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, says, “The birth of the mind is the death of the senses.”
p’u, the uncarved block
Moments in life can trigger the resurgence of this child-like appreciation for the world around us:
- Having a child
- A near-death experience
- A religious experience
- Emerging from an emotional depression
But it should be natural (shouldn’t it?), as human beings gifted with life on this wonderful earth, to consciously appreciate the universe around us during what we deem mundane experience. During the ordinary moments. To appreciate the universe, not necessarily in the form in which we initially created it, but rather through direct experience. To sense directly, without thought, opinion or interpretation. To simply be.
Much like Winnie the Pooh. Open to, but unburdened by, experience.