We’ve all heard the expression 'can’t see the forest for the trees.'
By now we ignore it, dismiss it as a cliché with nothing valuable to offer. But if we consider the saying instead, we’ll see it’s a handy reminder. Especially if you’re ever anxious. Which I’m sure you’re not. But just in case. Or, you know, to help a friend.
Let’s say someone’s walking through the woods and plucks a pine needle off the path. The average person probably doesn’t bother, but pretend with me. Thinking, 'cool,' he shoves it in a pocket and forgets about it until laundry day, when it melts in the dryer.
With an anxious person, 'can’t see the forest for the trees' doesn’t go far enough. That same innocent pine needle takes a different journey. First, it’s part of a larger batch, because this wired-up brain demands quantity. It gathers a bunch of items off the forest floor: stones, twigs, leaves. In short, all manner of minor stuff. Minutia is mine! It cackles.
As soon as this tense dude gets home, he puts the pine needle under a microscope. To evaluate and scrutinize. To nit and to pick. Until he forgets what he’s looking at. The lone pine needle becomes the whole universe.
Because, like everyone’s smart ass lab partner from 7th grade Earth Science, the anxious mind zooms the microscope so close, the lens is practically resting on the cover slip. Look how blurry! It laughs. Everything’s all green! Wait, what’s the assignment?
But unlike your knuckle-headed classmate, the anxious mind won’t let go. Soon it worries the mildly amusing discovery into full-blown terror: What if the lens is damaged? I’m almost certain that was the world’s last pine needle and now it’s smashed so I can’t obsess over it! How will I spend the rest of my life?
This image came to me recently during a very difficult yoga class. In fact, it’s so aggressive I call it ‘Sunday night sweat lodge.’ Logic dictates I should’ve been engrossed and attentive. But 'where’s the forest?' arrived in my brain as THE question.
And in a way, it is.
Because realistically, come on. While there are a few life-defining sequoias obstructing our path, which we’ll negotiate around forever, many of our obsessions are pine-needle grade concerns we elevate to evergreen status.
When you feel so close to a problem that nothing makes sense, take a few steps back. Widen the lens. Look around. There’s an entire forest to discover.
If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful, please share it on Twitter or Facebook using the "Share" button below. Or, leave a comment and tell me what you think!