THE FOREST FOR THE TREES
If you will, imagine we are in a thick forest wanting to clear some space where we might grow some food for nourishment. All we have is a machete, a saw and a shovel and the desire to create our own space. There are tremendous trees soaring overhead. There are smaller trees, brush, vines and undergrowth, all with intermingling and entangled roots that stretch into each other’s space, strengthening their grip on each other, us and the land. When we look at the bigger picture, our task seems daunting and overwhelming. What are we to do? Simple. Dig where we stand. Make a space. Chop away the plants and the roots where we are standing. Work with what we can see and what we can expose in our small space. Pull it away and expose the fertile ground beneath our feet. Some roots and plants will come out easily; others will be stubborn and take more time and effort. We must be patient and persistent with ourselves. This is our space that we are reclaiming. When we finally break through and pull away all that has been holding the soil beneath our feet, we can feel a sigh of relief and a sense of release as we feel the peace and ease in our newly cleared space. Now we rest.
Just having become free of the strangling effects of the forest is, in itself, a relief and even a shock to our system. It’s as if we are coming out of a long tunnel and being overwhelmed by the light as we emerge. We are delighted and even almost surprised that we have been able to clear such a safe and peaceful space for ourselves. Part of that feeling includes a sense that that space is somehow familiar to us, almost like we belong there, and it belongs to us. As we relish the feeling of having our own space and the peace and contentment it begins to provide for us, our attention, once again, turns to the forest surrounding us and a sinking feeling of guilt and undeservedness creeps into our awareness. We have taken something that the forest around us had claimed and held. Did we have the right to claim our own space? Was it really ours or did it really belong to the forest? Do we belong to the forest? When we were a seedling the forest protected us and nurtured us. What do we really owe the forest? How? What must we do or be now? We feel torn between our own space and the surrounding forest. We feel doubt about who we are, what we have done and whether it is even “permissible.”
In our social environment, like the forest, any cleared space will eventually be reclaimed by small vines, roots and seedlings who will slowly begin growing into our space attempting to reclaim what was originally in their “possession.” But, remember, any tree who first began as a seedling slowly, slowly grew to dominate its own space in the forest and, eventually, provided shade and protection to others, like parents, through their presence. We realize then that if we are to remain in the forest it will take constant vigilance and clearing if we are to maintain the clarity and peace that we have created surrounding our being. Then, we must provide protection and nurturance for our seedlings as we expand even further. And they, in turn, will reclaim space from us. This is the nature of cycle in the forest. If we are to remain, we must maintain our awareness and a balance in our relationship with nature. But that requires being in two worlds at once; our own, in which we must maintain clarity, and the forest’s, in which we must be careful not to overrun its space with our intentions and actions or allow it to overrun ours.
The analogy of the forest is simple. To feel our own space, we must cut away enough of the outside influences to find our personal space. We don’t have to do anything else with the forest; just give ourselves enough space to move and expand a bit. It is only then that we can see clearly what we feel. And then, knowing what we feel, we can come to a clear understanding of who or what we must grow into in order to fulfill our intentions for being in the forest in the first place. As a seedling, the most difficult part is becoming able to feel and believe who we are in the forest and determine who and what we must grow into. The full-grown trees appear to have dominance over the forest, but they too are simply a part of a larger whole. We, as seedlings must, at some point, become responsible and accountable for our own space and growth if we are to grow into soaring trees. Creating and maintaining a balance in our existence with others is a hard task. Simply striving for and achieving dominance over our own space is more difficult than simply living in a completely submissive and servile position. Both of those are easy. To create and maintain balance, though, we must constantly pay attention to providing a balanced nurturance on two fronts: to our own space and to the space of the forest. This is what the mystics have called “Walking the Middle Path.”
Alone time, or our own “quiet space” in the forest, is probably one of the most sought after yet undervalued commodities in our materialistic world. We give it lip service but don’t understand the point of it. We struggle, trying to accumulate privacy in the world, but are so caught up in the frenzy of acquiring it that we forget to occasionally just sit back and relish what we have accomplished. Usually, during those needed free times, we find ourselves conspiring and planning our next conquest, all the while forgetting to use the space for what our inner self has been yearning for; time to contemplate, time to relish our own feelings and accomplishments. I call alone time a commodity because our Western culture has interpreted it as simply an acquisition in our daily endeavors while never truly allowing us to partake of its fullest beauty and advantage. This is the space we clear under our feet in the forest. It’s a place to relax, breathe, let go and trust that our space is our own and that we can feel safe in it, believing that there is nothing that can interfere with knowing what we feel there. This is the place where no one else wants us to be; where they have no control over us.
This is also the place we need to be in when we begin all our new endeavors. It's the place where we find our greatest creative potential and inner power. This is the personal place where we find our strength. This is the place that is completely detached from all the outside coercive influences and dictates of a judgmental society that demands our personal sacrifice for their greater good at our expense. This is the place where our heart felt desires and values are allowed to be expressed and build toward our greater self. It's an open doorway to the calling of our spirit.