“As soon as a man does not take his existence for granted, but beholds it as something unfathomably mysterious, thought begins” (Albert Schweitzer).
IT’S HARD TO SEE — I MEAN REALLY SEE — THINGS AND NOT BE MOVED TO THINK ABOUT WHAT WE SEE. Observation naturally leads to contemplation. What is this thing that I see? Is there more to it than appears at first glance? How did this thing come to be? What is its purpose? Is it to be used? Enjoyed? Learned from? What is there about this thing that I should be glad to know?
The world in which we live is so wondrously and brilliantly multifaceted, one lifetime is too short a time to see and think about it all. Every day that the sun comes up, we’re surrounded by things that beckon us to observe them gratefully and consider them thoughtfully. If we ever catch ourselves being bored, there can be only one explanation for that: we’re simply not paying attention to what’s around us.
The ability to think about things is one of our unique endowments. Of all the species in the world, we alone can think rationally about the nature and significance of what we experience. And this ability to think about what we experience adds a whole new depth to our enjoyment of the world. “Thinking,” as Lord George Noel Gordon Brown described it, “is the magic of the mind.” Not only can we enjoy things, we can enjoy the fact that we are enjoying them!
Unfortunately, we often miss the benefit of thinking by trying to bypass the work that’s involved in it. But there aren’t any shortcuts to the enjoyment of a fully human life. It takes thinking, and “no amount of energy will take the place of thought. A strenuous life with its eyes shut is a kind of wild insanity” (Henry Van Dyke).
Because we have the gift of language, we also have it within our power to share the good things that come from thinking. Our less-than-honorable thoughts should not be shared, of course; they’re usually better off left unexpressed. But once in a while, most of us have a good thought, a helpful thought, a beautiful thought. And we never give a better gift than when we share the best of what we’ve thought.
“If, instead of a gem or even a flower, we could cast the gift of a lovely thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as angels give” (George MacDonald).