When You Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

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This past weekend my partner and I went to Muir Woods National Monument in search of Coho salmon, which are starting to work their way from the ocean into fresh water in order to spawn. Because of the heavy rains, the water was too muddy to see anything.

While strolling through the skyscraping redwoods, I noticed an interesting phenomenon, “tree rain”. While the skies were almost clear, the trees were so saturated with moisture that it felt like a steady rain was falling under the canopy. The unexpected precipitation was made all the more magical by the sun’s radiant beams bursting through the dense foliage.

Sometimes it takes a broader view to see reality. When all that’s visible is water descending from above, the obvious conclusion is that the storm still rages. A more panoramic view, however, reveals a truer picture in which sunny clarity beams above and at times through the drizzling darkness.

When all we sense is gloom and pain, a more expansive container for our experience is available. Whether we call that our Inner Wisdom, the Web of Life, God, or Higher Power, the invitation is to take a step or two back, look up and around and within.  Yes, we are getting wet and it’s unpleasant, and there is also more going on that gives context and hope for our dampened spirit.

Brother David Steindl-Rast said that hope is the willingness to be surprised. In the midst of your obvious difficulty, is something surprising also starting to shine through? How can you get enough distance to be able to see it?

Spirituality is just a pious term for the intentional practice of welcoming surprise. It is letting go of our allegiance to what we think is going on until what is currently beyond our field of vision becomes visible. That view usually comes as a surprise, a gift, but the preceding willingness to release our narrow viewpoint is a choice. To have hope and notice life-giving Spirit everywhere is not a miracle reserved for saints or the lucky. It flows from the intention to open the aperture of the soul from narrow to panoramic.

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