Don't Miss the Trees for the Forest: An Exercise in Mindfulness

Every time I hear this saying (in its proper order) I always find myself digging my heels in and thinking about the pleasure I find in small moments. As the original saying encourages, I feel like there is a lot of focus given to the ‘bigger picture’ in our everyday lives; on tomorrow or the next week, with little importance placed on the here and now (unless, of course, you have a deadline).

With these everyday pressures, I find that the small moments in life, like watching a bird nest or appreciating the way the light shines through a tree’s leaves, are overlooked or lost. However, I've found that when I pay particular attention to some of the smaller details around me, they can have an almost magical effect on my day.

Interactions between birds can be easily missed when you don't pay attention, such as that between this adult and juvenile dusky wood swallow. Image: Sarah Bond

Interactions between birds can be easily missed when you don't pay attention, such as that between this adult and juvenile dusky wood swallow. Image: Sarah Bond

There is one instance recently where this magic clearly comes to mind. I was sat inside eating my lunch and just happened to glance out the window. By some chance, I was sitting in such a way that I had a perfect view of an enormous tree in the distance that was head and shoulders above the other surrounding trees. I marvelled at its size and wondered what animals might call that tree home. I smiled to myself and pondered whether small fledgling birds would set such a tree as a challenge to try and reach the crown.

Such thoughts will usually lead me down the wonderful path to daydreaming – an unproductive task when viewed from the work angle, but a very critical respite for the brain and a wonderful way to cherish what is seen around us.

Enjoying the small moments - the unexpected ones and those elements that are missed by the unobservant - can also help to create a special bond with an area. Whether this is watching nestlings grow up outside your office window, or sitting on the grass and enjoying the shade under a tree, there are so many ways to appreciate the little things in the outdoors.

Making up stories, as I happened to do briefly on the day in question, is also something that should not be reserved for childhood nostalgia but relished when viewing nature. The incorporation of light imagination into our viewing of nature can help us to become inquisitive about what is happening around us and seek out answers to the questions that may randomly strike when creating a story.

Having spent my life learning about the natural world, I feel that there are many small details that I marvel at and discover when thinking of them as a story. They also create strong memories of the local area and pull out tiny details that might otherwise be missed, such as the sound of the wind blowing through the trees or the smell of an ants’ nest next to a path.

Insect species, such as grasshoppers, are one of the most difficult aspects of nature to take notice of, usually due to their size. Image: Sarah Bond

Insect species, such as grasshoppers, are one of the most difficult aspects of nature to take notice of, usually due to their size. Image: Sarah Bond

I often wonder, though, what is it that other people see and experience? Unfortunately for those stuck in the mentality of the forest before the trees, I know this answer is ‘not much’. But having been trapped in this mentality myself, I know there is hope to start looking for the things deemed insignificant, or noting the unexpected in the world around us.

I have started to make it a permanent part of my day to take a few moments and marvel at something surprising in my immediate surroundings. On this particular lunchtime, it just happened quite spontaneously and I feel that when I return to that same seat again, my eyes will alight, if only briefly, on the distant tree. For now, I will look forward to the tiny details that I hope to see tomorrow. What will be your surprise? Don’t forget to sometimes look past the forest and see the trees.


Sarah Bond

Sarah is a botanist who works at a local indigenous plant nursery in Melbourne. She is interested in engaging the public with the conservation of local flora and fauna.

You can find her on Twitter at @SarahBBond


Banner image courtesy of Sarah Bond.