Rediscover the World

Life Without Labels: How to Rediscover the World

“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.”

Why “Rediscover”?

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.


Another way to begin to experience the depth of everyday items is to appreciate the science or technology behind them. In his book The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Richard Feyman writes:

“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”


Peter writes about how to enjoy life at The Change Blog. If you enjoyed this article, you may wish to download his free e-book, A Year of Change.

Images by Hamed Saber and Aussiegall.

31 Responses to Life Without Labels: How to Rediscover the World

  1. Farfield says:

    Nice article! I like to sit down sometimes and just listen to what’s around me. The world creates a concert for us all the time, but most people just aren’t aware of it. It’s amazing if you start paying attention to it!

  2. Peter,

    You are becoming a philosopher! As you know, the study of philosophy awakens us to reality by nurturing the process of “thinking about thinking.” As you observed in this post, children’s thoughts and behaviors are pure because they have not been spoiled by social convention, media noise, language and self-doubt.

    I also like Tolle’s work, especially because he is making philosophy more accessible to the masses. I will say, however, that Tolle is simply re-packaging ideas that range in age from decades to millenniums.

    For example, his ideas on linguistics and language are hallmarks of classic philosophy, perhaps most notable with Naom Chomsky and Martin Heidegger.

    ”Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.” ~ Martin Heidegger

    While communicating old ideas in a new way is highly commendable (I do the same thing), the next step in philosophical progression, in my humble opinion, is to move beyond our teachers and find our own sources of knowledge and form our own interpretations…

    “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” ~ Basho

    “All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Thanks for the post. I enjoy witnessing the progression of your thought processes…

  3. I love this post!
    A child’s eye — an artist’s eye — a scientist’s eye — and a good philosopher’s eye all have something in common. They are not inundated with common knowledge. They take what is in front of them as what is in front of them.

    When I was learning linguistics, the science of languages, I learned the difference of authoritative approach and scientific approach. The authoritative approach maintains there is an authority, be it a book or a person, and the “right” way. When we hold this perspective, learning becomes all about memorizing the right answers. The scientific approach, on the other hand, examines what is happening. If a new way of saying is happening, it doesn’t judge if it is right or wrong by checking it up against grammar book. It examines if it works.

    I think these two perspectives are everywhere. Good artists don’t just apply the color theory they learned at school. They experiment and find their own truth in using colors. Real scientists acknowledge there are so much we have yet to figure out.

    We can all learn to take the good child / artist / scientist / philosopher approach and rediscover life and everything in it. Thank you for sharing this wonderful insight.

  4. Peter says:

    Thanks Farfield. Glad to hear you enjoyed it :)

  5. Richard says:

    Good article. So much of personal development is about control and manipulation of our resources, our thoughts, other people and ourselves and our lives in general.

    It’s through the loss of control that we can enjoy some things the most.

  6. It is sad that we often lose our fascination with the world as we grow up. It is great to see things through the eyes of a child as you mentioned. I am always amazed at how much I missed before I had kids. They renew my sense of wonder at the world.

    Great article! I gave it a Digg and a Tweet!

  7. Peter,

    This is one of your best ever. It made me feel nostalgic. I truly knew world better when I was a child with unbound curiosity and passion for everything that I stumbled upon. Thanks for remind me the importance of thinking like a child to appreciate the beauty of life that I’m blessed to have.

  8. Melissa says:

    I really enjoy this sort of thought processing. I find it very stimulating. I am definately learning to Live What You Love and love what I live. Thanks again.

  9. This is a beautiful post Peter, one of my most favorite from you yet.

    The problem is we confuse the symbols in our mind for reality. Reality itself is beyond symbols. That’s why the Tao Te Ching begins with this phrase:

    “The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.
    The names that can be named are not unvarying names.
    It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang;
    The named is but the mother that creates the ten thousand myriad things.”

  10. “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

  11. I’m liking the title already! And this post you’ve shared is an excellent one too!

    You know, by rediscovering the world in fresh perspectives helps in getting you more things to talk about? :)

    Thanks for sharing!

  12. Jennifer says:

    Nice article. Way to make us think. It’s very important to note that labeling is one of the 15 most common thinking errors.

  13. Lisa says:

    A perfect article for my morning. Am the parent of a young child and — miraculously — found myself with 3 hrs to myself this morning. So many tasks that could be done, or could “veg” in front of TV, but I realized that the best thing I could do for myself (and thus by extension my family) was to sit on my front steps with a cup of coffee and do “nothing.” By which I REALLY mean, sit back and try to take more notice of EVERYTHING. To breathe in the wonder around me. After 2 hours of bliss, decided to pop back into the daily world…and found this article — manna from heaven, perhaps telling me to invest the 3rd hour in more time on those steps. So off I go. Thanks!
    (p.s. right on about rediscovering the universe by opening up your consciousness to see the world alongside of, and in the way of, a child!)

  14. Marelisa says:

    You know, I walk to the gym every day and there’s a beautiful park on the way. There’s one spot in particular where you suddently get hit by the smell of jasmines. Somehow that always makes me think of life as a miracle. The quote by Einstein that Eugene added above is one of my favorites. Beautiful post Peter.

  15. James says:

    I am so greatful to Eckhart Tolle and Oprah for turning me onto Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor and her beautiful book “”My Stroke of Insight””. Her story is amazing and her gift to all of us is a book purchase away I’m happy to say.

    Dr Taylor was a Harvard brain scientist when she had a stroke at age 37. What was amazing was that her left brain was shut down by the stroke – where language and thinking occur – but her right brain was fully functioning. She experienced bliss and nirvana and the way she writes about it (or talks about it in her now famous TED talk) is incredible.

    What I took away from Dr. Taylor’s book above all, and why I recommend it so highly, is that you don’t have to have a stroke or take drugs to find the deep inner peace that she talks about. Her book explains how. “”I want what she’s having””, and thanks to this wonderful book, I can! Thank you Dr. Taylor, and thank you Eckhart and Oprah.

  16. Peter –

    I also am a big fan of Robin Sharma. Children do not label anything and that is the secret to their unbound curiosity to learn and manifest intricacies of life better than an adult at an amazing pace.


  17. Trevor says:

    Labels are useful but can also be restrictive. This post reminds me of a Zen koan:

    ‘Shuzan held out his short staff and said, “If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?”‘

    To which I believe a good answer is “Mu”.

  18. Beautiful post. It’s true that we have no time to stop to notice the details in all that is around us. We have clearly forgotten our child-like wonder in the beauty of things. I’ve noticed that quality now in my children and hope that they do not lose it!

  19. Peter,

    Love the post. A powerful and yet succint message. That’s my favorite kind! Anyone who has read my blog knows what a big nature fan I am. Quiet time spent in nature can be a calming, spiritual and educational experience that really can renew our appreciation for life.

  20. Peter:

    I loved this one b/c it reminded me to stop putting labels on things – we are so used to doing that. I think it’s a survival mechanism thing – we seem to feel the need to put a label on things to satisfy our egos or maybe it’s to give ourselves a sense of satisfaction or something.

    You’re right – we ought to observe kids – they don’t know how to label things until we teach them. So, it’s a beautiful thing to see them become “one” with whatever they’re looking at. That’s what we need to “rediscover” that’s where we came from!

    I’m giving this a Stumble and Tweet for you my friend Peter! Nice job.

  21. sunfever says:

    This is something that’s been a recurring theme in my life for quite a while. The earliest version that I know of is Jesus saying “Unless you become like little children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”. Closer to our times Pirsig in Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (to some extent) and in Lila (to a greater extent) talks about the need for “direct perception” … in not so many words. To see a thing directly without labels is to experience it in its fullness. I guess that’s where the kingdom of heaven really is: a perceptual flux where you are unburdened by the need for the lenses of culture & language!

    Aternote: Another gem gleaned from Pirsig is Neil Bohr’s statement: “We are suspended in language!”

  22. Pingback: Abundance Blog at » Blog Archive » Share the Love Friday at Marelisa Online - Abundance Blog

  23. Vered says:

    Arrived here thanks to Marelisa who linked to you. :)

    Labels seem useful because they enable us to move on quickly, and we like to move on quickly, don’t we. Always busy, always in a hurry. You are absolutely right: it is amazing to watch a young child explore. They are never in a hurry, do not use labels, and see the world through very different eyes than we do.


    I LOVE your idea. But can I really do this? Can I stop using labels and rediscover? That would require me to SLOW DOWN. I’m afraid I lost the ability to do that.

  24. sir jorge says:

    it is all so true

  25. Pingback: Why Going Out of Your Mind is Essential For Your Health | Illuminated Mind

  26. Brad says:

    hi i was wondering where you got that beautiful photograph of the lady bug and who took it??

    thanks you! awesome article!!!!!!

  27. Hi Brad,

    The photo was taken by Hamed Saber. Here is the FlickR link.

  28. prom gowns says:

    I have bookmarked your site and

    will come back to see what else you have to say.

  29. Pingback: Connecting with Your Sense of Awe

  30. Saje Deschanel says:

    Hello :) I love this article! I’m surprised, because I dont like labelling things because it becomes dull and i have a hard time in “relationships” I’m 15 though :) and it’s true life without labels has always been more interesting, we just have to go along because life goes on . 😉 like in Alice in Wonderland: anything could be anything and everything but at the same time nothing…because everything just is. 😀 I love love love this article! <33 thank you 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *