This summer they were renovating the grounds of the Rodin Museum here in Philadelphia where the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside Paris reside. One of the casts of Rodin’s renowned statue The Thinker sits in the courtyard entrance to the museum. In order to protect it during the renovations, they enclosed the sculpture in a mesh cage.
It seemed apropos.
Most of us spend our days so caught up in our thoughts that we are oblivious to the world around us. Cut off from the raw experience of life, we spend our days trapped inside the prison of our own minds.
When Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh was asked to give his opinion of Western civilization he said, “Lost in thought.” And if you look around you, you will see for yourself how true it is. Most of us go through our days as if in a dream.
I’m not sure why we seem to prefer hanging out in the cage of our minds rather than engaging with life. Maybe it’s because deep down we think that simply living life is a waste of time. After all, we have so little to show for it in the end. If we aren’t thinking about something while we do the dishes, aren’t we squandering the moment?
Maybe we’d be better off calling ourselves human thinkings rather than human beings.
Which brings to mind, of course, that famous thinker Descartes who, in an attempt to discover one irrefutable truth when it seemed everything could possibly be an illusion, came up with his well-known “Cogito” principle: I think, therefore I am. It was the fact that he could think that convinced him that he himself was not an illusion. Little wonder that we hold thinking in such high regard. (Of course, the I is an illusion, but that’s probably best left for another discussion.)
When we come to the end of our days, I suspect most of us won’t look back and be overwhelmed with gratitude for all the time we spent thinking. In fact, we might regret that we squandered so much of our time lost in thought. Most likely the things we will feel the most thankful for will be those moments when we ventured outside the cage of our minds to experience directly the wonder, complexity, beauty and mystery of life itself.