When admiring a painting, don’t examine the paint.

When meeting an artist, don’t look at the brush.

~Taoist saying

Since early spring I have been spending a bit of dedicated time each day with a daily reader, 365 Tao by Deng Ming-Dao. Each day, a different saying accompanied by some notes, interpretation and perspective. Some click more than others—probably dependent in part on what mindspace and soulspace I am in on a particular day—but the July 27th entry titled “Essence” I particularly liked.

In the modern Western world we seem to have a strong tendency to deconstruct what we experience. It comes from a scientific approach, I guess, of breaking things down (literally) to their elements. We like to know how and why something (or someone!) is the way it is. Forest Bathing (aka Shinrin Yoku, Forest Therapy), for example, has been a long standing practice in the East particularly in Japan. Over the last decade it has come to mainstream popularity in the West but only after the practice was disassembled and the beneficial effects of spending experiential time in nature quantified by science (for a thorough review see The Nature Fix by Florence Williams).

But I wonder—whether it is being in nature, admiring a painting, or anything else we experience—in applying such a routine deconstructivist approach, how often do we miss out on a whole different layer of the “how?” question, as in: How does it make me feel? How does it affect my soul? How has it changed, in whatever way big or small, who I am? And to what extent are we missing out on the experience itself when we are attempting to drill down the why and how whilst we are in the midst of it?

From 365 Tao:

The essence of life shall never be known by a human being as long as that person seeks to observe life like viewer and subject. The absolutely essential nature of life can only be comprehended by merging fully with the flow of life, so that one is utterly part of it.

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