The Art of Seeing Things by John Burroughs: Reading and Meditation

May 19, 2020  • Todd Breyfogle

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The Art of Seeing Things, John Burroughs


How difficult it is, keeping my eyes and ears open. It is easy to go throughout the day with the echoes of my own thoughts. Things to be done, conversations in preparation (or in abandonment)—my thoughts crowd out my attention. I am absorbed with myself, and not with what is around me. Nature may conceal herself from us, but in our self-absorption do we lose something of ourselves in failing to attend to our surroundings? I am a thinker, and I celebrate reflection. But in observing, in directing our faculties outward, we reflect something other than ourselves. 

It’s odd to read Burrough’s critique of reflection. We prize the conversations we have with ourselves, because so much of life pulls us outward, not in the attitude of reception but in the frenzy of distraction. How do we strike the balance between reflection and observation? We may go through the museum of life and observe nothing; we may also go through the museum of self and miss life. Are you a thinker? An observer? Where are you in that balance? What eludes your observation, and will you leave yourself—patiently—to receive what the museums of nature and of life reveal to you?

Todd Breyfogle, Denver, Colorado

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