Earlier this week, Travis and I were biking home on a perfect summer evening.
We had been out at a downtown brewpub. Our discussion had covered a lot of wild territory, all over the place — politics, the pandemic, money & career, friends & family, health & aging, the future of Bosque Center for Spiritual Living, the nature and purpose of the Universe… ARGH! Because we’re living in such tumultuous times, it’s easy (maybe inevitable) for any conversation to lead to another, and quickly everything becomes overwhelming. I don’t recall that we were especially upset by anything in particular that night; it was just, you know, LIFE.
And Life is a lot right now, for all of us. Being worked-up has become a regular state of mind these days. So my head was spinning and my temper was flaring…
But then something happened on the short ride home.
First, I noticed the weather — it had rained a little and the moon was almost full, so the streets were shiny and damp; there was a wonderful breeze, and the air was fresh on my face. Then, I remembered that we had food in the fridge, something delicious that I had prepared, and I remembered that I was really looking forward to eating it. I started thinking about how much I love Travis, and how glad I was that we were on our way back to our beautiful house together. I noticed that I was enjoying the feeling of being on my bike, and I took a moment to appreciate my own body riding it.
Once I got rolling on this train of thought, I couldn’t stop listing in my head thing after wonderful thing for which I am deeply, wholeheartedly grateful.
Since that night, I’ve been thinking about distance and perspective — specifically about how things can look very different up close compared to how they appear from a wider vantage.
Conventional wisdom often holds that it’s easier to deal with a situation when we step back and take the broader, longer view. Indeed, sometimes this is helpful. Charlie Chaplin said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” For sure, when we’re dealing with personal issues, a bigger-picture perspective can help provide a context for us to see that our immediate problems might not be quite as earth-shattering as they first appeared. Take a step back from the intensity. Some of the stuff we freak out about is really pretty small when we step back from it, far enough back to see the whole forest and not just the tree that we’re bumping into.
Sometimes, though, the opposite is true. Like, right now it sort of feels like the opposite of that. The big picture, the long-shot, is way too big and way too long. I’m trying to see the forest through the trees, but that forest itself is too vast and mind-boggling and shadowy and overwhelming — so many trees, I can’t handle it!
In times such as these, maybe the close-ups are where we should be giving our attention. The close-up is my access to freedom and power, to faithfulness and playfulness. Let me just look at this tree, right here — not the whole forest — seriously, just this tree! I don’t know how to address all the enormous stuff, but I bet I can deal with this situation, right here. I don’t have to fix the whole danged forest, or worry about it all, or even think about it right now. I can simply start with this. This bike ride, this man, this day, this feeling, this life.
From this close-up vantage, I find that life is not just manageable. It’s actually lovely. It’s breathtakingly sweet, even including its challenges.
I’m not talking about being cavalier or careless or ignorant about the big-picture problems we’re facing as a society and a species. I don’t mean we should let close-ups on gratitude be a means of closing-off.
I do think it’s important, though, to recognize how insidiously easy it is, unconsciously and habitually, to let negativity and overwhelm cast a shadow from zoom-in to panorama and back again. And it becomes even more important to remember that we have the ability to let mindful, intentional positivity work in the same way — from close-up to long-shot and back again — gratitude in and out, up and down.
But we have to practice, because our animal survival instincts are always going to place a greater emphasis on our perception of danger.
So — breathe… and zoom-in on gratitude. Take a closer look at the blessings of this day. A close-up on my life right now, what is mine to do, what is here before me…
If we can get ourselves clear and calm and centered in our close-up, then when we do have the fortitude to pan-out and look at the big picture, maybe we’ll be able to see that it’s all just a collection of all our individual close-ups, together. My breath and yours and ours. My heartbeat and yours and ours. My cares and loves, your hopes and dreams, and ours.
Maybe I’ll be able to see, in fact, that this tree I’ve been bumping into isn’t something to deal with, but something I already am; it’s my life. And this forest isn’t just something to be figured out or fixed, but rather something I can love and embrace as a God’s eye view on all of us.
Be good to each other, friends. XO, Drew
© 2020 Drew Groves