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Seeing Old Things with New Eyes

Updated on March 21, 2010

Then I'll be happy

When we were babies everything was brand new. It could be said that the entire world was our very first birthday present; we received it on the day we were born, and continue to unwrap it throughout our lives.

When we go on vacation, everything is new. The buildings are different, the trees are exotic, and the language is strange. It’s all a wonder.

In our every day, work-school-family-TV-internet-sleep world, things often appear bland. The intricate beauty of our surroundings drops out of focus. Even as we take time for ourselves, exercising and engaging in hobbies, we are still goal-oriented. “When I can run 5 miles, I’ll be happy! When I make some money with my art, then I’ll be happy!”

It’s a dog!

I decided to write this article exactly 2 days ago, on the first warm day in several months. I was walking barefoot along my gravel driveway, feeling the pressure of the tiny rocks beneath my feet. The little dark and blue pebbles have been there for a long time, but I had never really appreciated them. They have a certain kind of beauty that is difficult to explain.

As kids, we learned to label things. We saw a furry creature walking on four legs, and we were told it’s a dog. We then mentally categorize it as a dog. But a dog is not the word “dog.” Dog is just a label we use to simplify the experience of seeing a dog. This is known as “symbolic thinking,” because the word “dog” symbolizes (represents) all of our ideas about what a dog is.

Words are weird


Interestingly, the word “dog” doesn’t mean the exact same thing to any one person. Everybody has different associations, based on their individual experiences. A survivor of a brutal dog attack thinks of them very differently than a veterinarian would. They hear the same word, but the associations set off in their minds are completely different.


In other words, when the two people hear the word, they will think very different things. The veterinarian will be thinking in terms of biology and medical procedures. The victim of the attack may mentally flash back to the traumatic event.

The sky is falling

It’s helpful to have labels. If there is a vicious, rabid dog charging your friend at alarming speed, it’s helpful to be able to point and scream “dog!” Shared language is what allows us to communicate, and therefore function cooperatively within a community.

Labeling things allows us to move on. We can say “it’s a nice day” and then go about our business. The modern person tends to have more difficulty experiencing a “nice day.”

What does the air smell like? How does it feel to immerse oneself in the hazy sunset? Do the trees dance in the warm breeze? Can you hear children laughing in the distance?

original artwork :)
original artwork :)

“There is no spoon”


One of my favorite books of all time is called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” It’s a famous book among art teachers. The book states that anyone can draw. Anyone.  The difficult part of drawing is not drawing, but seeing.


Just as people think symbolically, they also draw symbolically. The classic example is the stick figure. People draw stick figures because it is quick. It communicates the idea perfectly. “Look,” the stick figure tells you, “I represent a person!”


Most people draw stick figures, or variations thereof. They do this not because they are bad artists, but because they never learned to see. The human form is all around us, we just don’t really see it. The following is what an average man sees as he walks down a hypothetical street:


Old white man – attractive young woman - little Asian child –– middle-aged black couple


In other words, we see in categories. In “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” the reader is asked to stare at a flower, mentally trace its contour slowly with her eyes, and draw it without ever looking at it. This is very boring!

The truth of existence


It’s boring because the brains loves to slap things into categories. We experience so many millions of things each day, and we certainly can’t directly experience every single one of them. So our brain smushes things together. We look at the sky and we briefly think “sky,” because we don’t have time to get the chills over the incredible contours of the clouds suspended overhead, or the awesome hugeness of space that surrounds us.


A funny thing happens when we actually start looking closely at that flower, though. An odd sense of calm settles in. Worries seep away, and we merge with the object. Suddenly, you are not John Jones looking at a daisy; you are both you and the daisy and everything else.

The Present


Time is not experienced in the usual way during such moments. When we are truly immersed in experience, time ceases to exist. This is because a moment of deep experience has the essence of eternity within it.


When you decide to see old things with new eyes, you are consciously opening the gift you received on the day you were born. Open it delicately, or with reckless abandon, but keep in mind: one day you will have to give it back.


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      Zhen qian 4 years ago

      I am hard ony self apart from Christ. I realize I need Christ so Christ can bring Tom Zhou to my life.