After reading “Meditation in a Toolshed,” Lewis is shown to have evaluated two separate viewpoints, that of looking at and that of looking along. He relates these perspectives to his vision of a beam of light. He can look along and with the beam, glimpsing the quivering leaves on trees and their vibrant greenness. Otherwise, he has the option to turn and face directly into the beam of light, blinding his vision and producing almost no picture at all. Both experiences represent alternative perspectives. One is looking on the inside while the other is on the outside. C.S. Lewis further carries this seeming dichotomy into different experiences in life. There is love and the young man; he sees a beautiful person, regardless even that she is a woman. The physiologist, however, sees only a chemical reaction in the brain, hormones, and a rather “plain, stupid, and perhaps disagreeable person.”
Lewis presents us with a question: Which perspective is right? The outside viewpoint, removed from emotion, relations, and the entire experience, may offer a rational perspective, which is often valued highly in today’s culture. The inside viewpoint is thus looked down upon and cast aside as irrational, caught up in the moment and emotion. Lewis does not propagate either viewpoint as absolutely correct or holding absolute truth; rather he stresses the importance of a meshed perspective, one that is shaped by both outside and inside experiences and influences. If an individual were simply to look from the outside and see through everything, he would indeed see nothing at all. However, if an individual attempted to see all things from being surrounded by the inside, he too would see nothing at all but have his line of site be limited by the walls which wrap him in the inside.
In the midst of all this potential relativism within experiences and perspectives, I believe that C. S. Lewis is revealing the need for some separate law, standard dictionary, or absolute authority to which we can hold all things to; some absolute truth that is able to transcend both the outside and inside experiences while integrating them together. C. S. Lewis is an enthusiastic supporter of Absolute Truth. No matter which way we attempt to look at the light, our vision is distorted from the outside or the inside. Rather, we need to attempt to find the source of the beam of light. We must recognize that our ability to look at and along the beam is dependent on the very beam itself. The beam serves as a source of Absolute Truth. When we find this truth, it is then that we are able to look both “along and at everything.”
Learning is the ability to see the world around oneself through the eyes of another. It happens through experience (one’s own actions and thoughts) and science (learning and listening from others). The act of learning results from laying down one’s own perspective in order to gain and understand another. In this way, learning is shaped by humility; wisdom requires and results from humility. Only by laying aside our view can we see another’s.
A story is told of a professor and a student. A professor invited his student over for tea and discussion concerning class content and material. The student readily agreed and arrived at the professor’s house eager to impress and articulate all his ideas. When serving the tea, the professor took the student’s cup and started pouring the hot liquid. Sensing that the professor wanted him to signal how much tea was enough, the student said “that’s fine” when the tea was just up to the edge of the cup’s rim. The professor kept pouring. Again the student said “that’s fine” with more urgency now, noticing the tea was spilling onto the floor. Still the professor kept pouring. A final time the student said “that’s fine” and began to reach out and prevent anymore tea from spilling out onto the floor. It was then that the professor looked up at the student and said, “I cannot teach you unless you first empty yourself, otherwise you are like this cup, retaining nothing besides your own ideas. My teaching will only overflow onto the floor.”
This story demonstrates our need for humility in education. We must empty ourselves of all our own ideas and viewpoints before we can clearly see through the eyes of another and begin to experience learning. Otherwise we will be perpetually trapped, either on the inside or outside by our own ideas, not able to find the source of the light by which we are able to see.