Preoccupied with a single leaf, you won’t see the tree. Preoccupied with a single tree, you’ll miss the entire forest.
There’s a saying that everything you need in life is available to you right now in your current environment. However, if you don’t look at it from the right perspective or the right mindset, you’ll miss it.
“Preoccupied with a single leaf, you won’t see the tree. Preoccupied with a single tree, you’ll miss the entire forest.”
This quote from Takuan Soho (a major figure in the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism) is what I believe to be a perfect example of mindfulness. Mindfulness, as I currently understand it, is the ability to see better or from a wider perspective. That way you’re never stuck in one place and you can find the solutions you’re looking for. Mindfulness is also the ability to shift your perspective in order to fully understand where you stand. The leaf, the tree and the forest are great metaphors that can represent various areas of life.
Take, for example, a recent incident in Toronto where a woman got into a dangerous confrontation with a car at an intersection while crossing the street, with a child in a stroller. Most media only show the part where it looks like she nearly gets hit, yells at the driver, hops on the hood of the car as the car tries to leave and the stroller is left unattended in the middle of the street.
Focused on the single leaf
Focusing on the single leaf can be considered the first stage of mindfulness. It’s the lowest stage but at least you noticed something. In the case of the story of the mom almost getting hit by a car, it would be noticing the headline: “Stroller vs. Car : Midtown confrontation caught on video” and clicking on the link to watch it which would most likely make you upset or scared, like some of the people interviewed in the video. Most would also think something like “How can this careless driver be so heartless and almost run over this poor mom and child in a residential area?”. They would become emotionally invested in that story, voicing their emotionally charged opinions and sharing that link with their peers for them to also get upset, keeping them focused on that single leaf and missing out on the tree.
Focused on the single tree
Focusing on the tree and not just the leaf, the second stage of mindfulness, means taking the story into context by doing a little more research to get the whole picture. In this case, it was as simple as looking through the comments to find the original video footage showing what led to that altercation. In the video you can see that both the driver and the woman were in the wrong. The driver did not come to a complete stop and the woman decided to try to beat the car by running through the intersection instead of slowing down her pace. Both of them were focused on their own leaves. The driver wanted to get to his destination as quickly as possible and the woman wanted to make sure the driver knew it was her turn to cross. If both were more mindful, chances are this altercation would not have happened. The driver would have noticed the woman and her stroller waiting to cross and the woman would have slowed down her pace and put her and the child’s safety above being right.
When you’re more mindful as a reader, you take the time to broaden your perspective, you look for the full story by piecing facts from several angles and you ask questions. One question that came to mind for me was “Is she even the mother of that child?”. I initially assumed that the lady was the mother of the child just because she was walking with the stroller but maybe she wasn’t. Would a mom put her child in harms way like that, just to prove a point? Also, how could something like this be prevented in the future?
Focused on the single forest
Focusing on the forest instead of the tree, the third stage of mindfulness, would be to look at what caused a situation like this to occur in the first place and how can it be prevented since altercations like this in this area of town are not unique. Major constructions on the nearby main road are diverting the cars towards smaller residential streets, causing increasing frustration for both the residents and the drivers. How can that be alleviated? A better temporary design of the roads taking into consideration the traffic during rush hours is something that hasn’t been effectively implemented. Perhaps the city officials in that area as well as the resident should come up with a proper plan to clearly divert and direct the flow of traffic in such a way that incidents like this don’t happen again. Redesigning the flow of traffic with clear indications of where everyone should go, instead of leaving frustrated drivers and pedestrians to figure this out for themselves, would be an improvement.
Focused on the planet
I’ve taken the liberty of adding one more step to my “mindfulness scale” by considering the fact that it’s just one forest out of thousands of forests on the planet. What is our role on situations like these. A lot of us see newsfeed and share it with peers without thinking about the consequences of our actions and our involvement in either helping to make things better or to make things worst. Is sharing a link to a similar story having a positive or a negative impact in other people’s lives? By sharing the sensational video of the lady vs the car without context, chances are you’ll just get more people upset, which can lead to a divide between Team Mom-with-the-stroller-almost-hit-by-careless-driver vs Team Driver-attacked-by-crazy-mom-with-her-stroller. But it doesn’t improve anything. Instead, it keeps things just the way they are. What could we do to make things better? How can we contribute to improve the situation instead of adding fuel to the fire. For me, taking the time to write about it and offering a wider perspective, is my contribution. What’s yours?
We can easily get caught up being preoccupied by that one leaf that’s being eaten by a bug or that has been vandalized by someone. We can then become upset and focus all our energy on that single leaf, completely missing the fact that that’s only one leaf out of thousands of leaves on one tree out of thousands of trees in one forests out of thousands of forests on one planet.
That’s the power of mindfulness. Take the time to step out of your comfort zone, your reality, open your eyes to see more than what you’re accustomed to, get a greater perspective and then take positive actions. This applies to everything in life (politics, conflicts, finance, depression, relationships, career, conversations, health, family, life purpose, etc). Practicing mindfulness start with paying attention and shifting your perspective to see the bigger picture. Start by noticing things around you. It could be something as simple as a person, a place or an object. Just observe and let you mind show you what you’ve been missing all along.