“Everything, a bird, a tree, a simple stone, and certainly a human being, is ultimately unknowable” – Eckhart Tolle
Life is a miracle. And yet so many of us have become deadened to this simple idea. We mistakenly believe that because we know the word for items – a bird, a tree, a stone, a human being, etc – that we actually know these items. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even the most common everyday items hold unfathomable depth, which is why Eckhart Tolle says that they are ultimately unknowable.
Here is a test: stop reading this for a moment and take a look at your surroundings. Now, when you were looking around did you fully appreciate what was in front of your eyes? If, for example, you are sitting in your living room did you notice the details of the furniture? Did you consider the technology that makes your plasma television possible? Or, did you quickly scan your eyes around across the room and, in doing so, subconsciously attaching a label to each item (eg “chair”, “television”, etc)?
Most of us would have done the latter. And in doing so, we have covered up the mystery of life with a label. Of course this is pretty harmless in the simple example given. But consider for a moment if this is the way in which we always see the world. As Tolle says in his book A New Earth: “the quicker you are in attaching verbal or mental labels to things, people, or situations, the more shallow and lifeless your reality becomes, and the more deadened you become to reality, the miracle of life that continuously unfolds within and around you.”
You may have noticed that I used the word “rediscover”, rather than “discover”, in the title of this article. The reason for this is that once, when you were a young child, you wouldn’t have covered up with world with words and labels. This is something you learned to do.
In many ways, living without labels is about seeing the world as a young child would. I have a 16 month old son, and I always find it fascinating to watch him play. Items that I usually don’t give a second thought to – a shoe, a plastic container, the television remote – fascinate him. He doesn’t simply attach a label to these items and quickly move on to something else. Instead he will pick them up, look at them intently and turn them over continuously in his hands. Tolle writes: “when you look at it or hold it and let it be without imposing a word or mental label on it, a sense of awe, of wonder, arrives within you.”
Another one of my heroes, Robin Sharma, once said: “children come to us more highly evolved than adults to teach us the lessons we need to learn.” I find a lot of truth in this comment. So if you find yourself struggling to appreciate the miracle that is life, take time to study children and learn from their natural wisdom.
Art, Science and Nature
Perhaps the best way to experience what I am writing about in this article is to go for a walk in nature. Don’t bother trying to identify what type of birds or trees you come across. In fact, try to avoid using the labels “bird” and “tree” at all. Instead, just be present in the moment and soak up the sights, sounds and smell of Mother Nature.
When we can begin to stop imposing labels, even the most ordinary of everyday items can regain their newness and freshness. If you want proof of this, think of how some of the world’s great artists – eg Van Gogh or Vermeer – approached the world. Vermeer, best known for his painting Girl With Pearl Earing, specialized in domestic interior scenes of ordinary life. Van Gogh was able to make ordinary items – eg the shoes below – come alive in his paintings.
“I have a friend who’s an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don’t agree with. He’ll hold up a flower and say, ‘Look how beautiful it is,’ and I’ll agree. But then he’ll say, ‘I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull.’
I think he’s kind of nutty. […] There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”
As a final thought, the following is a quote from Buddha that relates to this topic:
“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change”