When I glanced out my window yesterday evening, I saw a spider half the size of my little finger, with a golden-brown body and long legs bent just so near the middle. There isn't anything miraculous about the sight of a spider outside your window, but the glint of the light upon her body, and the fact that she appeared suspended in mid-air, caught my attention.
I watched as she spun round and round and seemed to leap high into the sky without succumbing to the law of gravity. Of course I knew that she was attached to a little bit of silk thread, but if not for its occasional shimmer as the breeze moved it to meet the light, I would not have seen the tiny thread at all. A spider's thread is so fragile and so invisible, though we know it is there. And so my little spider friend seemed to spin aimlessly about on nothing but air.
As I watched her turn and climb, my eyes were lifted gradually higher, because she was constantly ascending. And soon I saw it: a large web beneath my roof, which I had never noticed, and never would have noticed but for an arachnid that drew my eyes upward.
Unfortunately, my inability to see simple things seems to be a pattern in my life, and in the lives of the people around me. We sit at our desks totally absorbed in our own work (or Facebook, as the case may be). Then, when evening arrives, we retreat to our homes or our chosen place of entertainment.
And at the end of the day, we lie in bed wondering why we feel so unfulfilled.
Perhaps the problem is that we look within ourselves to find out who we are, though we have no eyes within our guts. Our eyes are on our heads, that we may look outward and upward. All we can see of ourselves is the marred reflection in the mirror, or the tips of our toes as we look downward. We cannot see ourselves wholly, and this is by design.
We cannot so much as see our own faces. The closest we have come to that is to strain our eyes to see the bridge of cartilage between them, yet even then we quite literally cannot see past the tips of our own noses. Worse, to do so is a condition which we call cross-eyed, and people who are living perpetually cross-eyed must wear corrective lenses and have their eyes trained so that they may see the world as it really is.
But in this confused state, the things right before us are the very things we fail to see. Like the little bits of thread outside my window, beautiful and awe-inspiring realities are there, but they are nearly invisible to our untrained eyes.
We see what we are looking for. Unless something first draws our attention to what is before us, we will fail to see it.
Aspiring physicists do not come to love quantum mechanics because the know innately that it is true: they must first be shown its proofs.
People who love da Vinci, though they may naturally appreciate beauty, do not admire fine art because they knew from deep personal searching that the Mona Lisa existed: they know because they were shown, or told, or because they sought it out.
Even science validates this: researchers have discovered that without having a word for the color "blue," people will often have a difficult time distinguishing it from other colors. They must first have a concept of that color, and then they may describe the difference between the sky and the grass.
These loves and bits of knowledge are not things which we may discover from searching deep within ourselves: they are things learned from looking outside ourselves, and placing ourselves in context of the world around us.
Some few have learned this skill well. Outward and upward and onward and forward they look, and if only with blurred sight, they see.
And on the horizon that they see, we who look inward stand, or rather fall, so intent on our inward reflection that we succumb to the dizziness and headaches of a cross-eyed life.
This is not to say that we should never engage in self-reflection, or that it is wrong to take a serious look at ourselves. To the contrary: we ought to consider ourselves from time to time, and we should understand what is within us, even deeply. But we cannot do even this task rightly, if we have not first understood the context in which we find ourselves.
Yet even with this knowledge, we still hope that deep down, we can understand ourselves.
It is a common thought, a very human approach, perhaps even a justifiable one.
And so, consumed with this understanding and meaning which we miss, we dive deeper within ourselves, sure that we have buried the missing object somewhere in our own hearts. Further down and further in we go, insistent on filling the holes within us.
Yet until we focus our gaze outward long enough to have our eyes drawn upward, where we may see the incredible sights around us, we will stumble and fall like madmen.
If we would but look outward and upward, perhaps we would stand again.