Let us read chapter forty-seven of the Tao Te Ching:
Without opening your door, you may know the whole world
Without looking out your window, you may see the way of the heavens
The farther you go, the less you know
Thus the sage knows without traveling
He sees without looking
He accomplishes without doing
This is not what society tells us. Rather, what we are taught to believe is the exact opposite: that we must pursue events, culture, travel, adventure. There is always a way to expand our horizon, and we must follow it. “Material possessions won’t make you happy,” we tell each other, “so spend your money on novel experiences.”
We buy useless stuff and judge ourselves for it. This is how far our common wisdom goes. But when we throw our money at “experiences,” well that is different: then we feel good about ourselves. Because then we have something to talk about, something to photograph, something to make us seem interesting.
So what is wrong with making experiences? Nothing in principle. There is much to gain from opening our doors and looking out our windows. Even the commodification and commercial pre-packaging of experience is not the problem here. But when we are traveling, for example, are we actually experiencing the world, or merely the globe? Are we in firm contact with reality, or ungroundedly running about, chasing shallow novelty while checking off boxes?
What I want to point my finger at is the inherent trade-off we appear to neglect: the greater the breadth of experience we chase, the smaller the depth of experience we reach. This is why I like to read spiritual texts, as they remind me to pause and to seek depth. For what is there really to know, to see, and to experience beyond what is present in the moment? A lot, sure, if we are in exploration mode. Otherwise, nothing whatsoever.
On a philosophical note, we may understand Taoist teachings not as words of truth, but as beyond truth as the art of exploiting reality.