Friday, March 11, 2011

Be the Forest and the Trees

Photo by Stephanie Rexroth:

The Forest and the Trees
Stephanie Rexroth

See the forest through the trees;
Hear the forest through the trees;
Feel the forest through the trees;
Be the forest and the trees.

I see the forest through the trees;
I hear the forest through the trees;
I feel the forest through the trees;
I am the forest and the trees.

Don't you see the forest through the trees?
Don't you hear the forest through the trees?
Don't you feel the forest through the trees?
Don't you know? You are the forest and the trees.

I am the forest and the trees;
You are the forest and the trees;
You are all the forest and the trees;
We are the forest and the trees.

We are all the forest and the trees.

I am the forest and the trees
The beginning of this poem came in a quick lightning strike of an image and a thought in my mind near the end of my Kundalini yoga set this morning lead by Mike (Harnek Singh) at The Yoga Hive.

During savasana, I saw a quick 7x5 snapshot similar to the above picture where I felt I was standing in the middle of a cold, leafless forest looking up at the cloudy yet bright white sky. I got the sense of seeing the trees that made up the forest around me while seeing the forest that together they comprised.

Simitaneously, I heard a whisper of a thought, "See the forest through the trees." Followed by, "Hear the forest through the trees," shortly after the image had faded from my mind.

I pondered it for a while near the end and concluded that it was a message to my intentions that I had set for the morning's set. Mike had mentioned at the end of the set that there had been an earthquake in Japan and a tsunami had impacted their coasts, while heading toward ours. We sent thoughts and energy to those who had passed and those who are still struggling to survive.

I am Jack's Breaking Heart
Immediately after class, I headed over to a nearby coffee shop to grab breakfast and do some online work. I saw a few Facebook posts in regard to the natural disaster and searched google news for articles. I began posting, reading more posts from other Fb friends, reposting their articles, reading, posting, reading and posting.

Emotions began welling up inside and overflowing down my cheeks, as I read more and more, reminded of how little control we have over our own lives or the world at large. I was stopped dead in my tracks by the wall of water images that I discovered on a post of the tsunami's aftermath, 'Hundreds dead after quake, tsunami slams Japan,' on


The fragility of life slapped me in the face with this one image. It looks to me like those poor people didn't have much warning and that they were completely caught off guard and swept away in the blink of an eye. My heart broke and went out to all the nations of the Pacific Rim and all my fellow human beings impacted by this one event -- those already effected, those fighting to survive the aftermath as well as those bracing for impact as the centric shock waves radiate out from the epicenter toward every landmass in and around the Pacific Ocean.

I am Jack's Limbic System
Over my 29 years, I have learned that the things that I think, feel and do -- those very same things that for many years, I have taken for granted as things that everyone thinks, feels and does -- are in fact very unique to me. Depending on how much stock you put into them, those traits have been verified over and over by: my astrological sign, Pisces; my Myers-Briggs evaluation, INFJ; my friends + family who often say, 'You're sooo emotional.' Yes, yes, YES...  I am emotional, sensitive, intuitive, insightful and empathetic.

Part of the human experience is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. The difference for me is that I don't just put myself into someone else's shoes; I deeply feel how worn those shoes are, how snugly they fit and how pungent they smell. I run at full speed in those shoes for several miles -- through the land of compassion, gaining momentum as I barrel right on through empathy and pushing off the edge as I long jump several feet into the depths of sympathy in those same borrowed, worn and tattered shoes.

So, when truly catastrophic events such as today's earthquake shakes an area and the subsequent tsunami rages through even large expanses, sweeping clean the land, people and things on it in one swift force of fury, it abruptly wakes me up from what is an otherwise self-absorbed existence. Self-absorption is not completely terrible... it is in fact a coping mechanism to deal with the day-to-day activities of life. However, it should not be the only way of co-existing with each other in the world.

This absorbed tendency, particularly prevalent and widespread in our 'me' society, is shown for how incredibly trite + trivial it really is during situations like today's where truly important things in life, people's lives -- not possessions or $$$ or status or prestige -- are impacted to the extreme of ending suddenly without warning.

Inspired by high school artwork by Stephanie Rexroth:

I am Jack's Burning Rage
One of the many hats I wear is that of a Marketer, though I often despise it -- as well as most advertising, design and social media -- when it is revealed for how meaningless it all is in light of catastrophic events. After awaking to the realization that large numbers of people are suffering and dying around the world, I became deeply disgusted by all the facebook posts that were of any trite nature, whether complaining about minor inconveniences or boasting about themselves.

Realizing that news isn't completely instant, I gave most people the benefit of the doubt and waited patiently for them to change their tune. When several minutes passed by without any major shift in the conversational tone, my disgust quickly mutated into burning rage with each new trivial post that popped up on my news feed being lighter fluid to my forest fire. 

Social media is a new form of communication, but communication is as old as time. The rules of common sense and human decency still apply when interacting online as they do out in the world. For instance, you probably don't barge into someone else's funeral joking around and engaging in boisterous conversation. Similarly, you probably don't cut into a funeral procession when you're sitting in your car at an intersection. There's some level of respect for the dead that people honor in the world, even if they don't specifically know the recently deceased. Most people will at the very least offer their condolences. Why is it any different online? 

I am Jack's Others-awareness + -respect
In the kindest reaction and expression of my rage that I could manage, I posted the following call to action on my Fb status:
"Social Media Common Sense: when a devastating catastrophic natural disaster strikes to the magnitude that our fellow human beings around the world are dying + struggling to survive this very moment, have some decency. Don't continue to complain about trite matters or boast how awesome your business is. If you've got posts lined up in an app... put them on hold. Send out your thoughts out to those in dire need instead. Thx."
Life does carry on, despite tragedy. I'm not asking or expecting for all life activities to come to a screeching halt while everyone goes into mourning for days and days and days.

I simply implore you to pause for a moment to acknowledge this horrific disaster and send some thoughts, prayers, energy, well wishes, condolences or whatever good you've got to those in need out of respect and compassion for our fellow human beings.

Because, in spite of the great differences + distances that often come between us...
we are all the forest + the trees.


  1. Very well-written and insightful.

    I kind of want to disagree with you, though - not your reaction itself, but your interpretation of others not reacting in a similar manner.

    One of the major downsides of globalization and the 24-hour news cycle is definitely desensitization. In 2001, our generation was suddenly and violently thrust into the realization that the world is a terrifying place. The relative comfort of America in the 1990s didn't prepare the kids just transitioning into adulthood for the decade-long (so far) parade of horrors that is the world situation at large.

    For me and probably millions of others, the increase in personal responsibility grew as our inherent belief in general comfort and security deteriorated. The day-to-day struggle, trivial as it may be, consumes most peoples' energy and emotions to the point that seeing beyond becomes difficult, and caring becomes even harder. It doesn't mean people are bad, just that the big things become less easy to process.

    Earthquakes, genocides, tsunamis, hurricanes- These are heartbreaking, catastrophic, and nightmarish, and they are happening every day. For every disaster or injustice that we witness in High Definition, we know that there are easily 5 or 500 more that we'll never even hear about. That knowledge fatigues compassion and empathy until the reaction appears nonexistent. It's easy, from a rational standpoint, to understand a world event is horrible. it might be next to impossible to do anything about it. Given that wide gulf, the simple act of silence or non-comment, or going about the daily business, strikes me as sad, but honest.

    Of course, honesty cuts both ways. For as many bewildered individuals too overwhelmed to respond, or good-hearted souls wondering how to help, there are honest-to-god asses and and fools making bad godzilla jokes or racist puns or somehow lauding karmic payback for Pearl Harbor. Read enough of those, and a complaint about the Starbucks line seems absolutely saintly in comparison.

    I also find the perceived lack of compassion is often a misunderstanding of managed priorities. People who've realized that life is hell often turn inward or to their communities and put their energies into making their own little corner of the world less hellish. It's easier to see and feel positive energy when the difference we make is between neighbors, friends, or family, and sometimes that level of emotion is all you can ask of another human being. The face of global emergency is sometimes unrecognizable while we're surrounded by others.

  2. Well articulated. I concur. Your comment could absolutely be the basis of an entire series of blog posts... though I think you’ve hit all the major points that I could possibly cover.

    This piece was my vent to try to understand why I was crying + full of rage at the same time in that little coffee shop in front of my laptop that day of the disaster. The Madwomen in the Attic asked very poignant questions in response when I presented it on Thursday: Why did I feel that way? What happened in my past that this event strikes a cord with? Why do I get so upset + feel a connection with those people? Is this disaster a metaphor for my life?

    All very good questions that I wish I had the answers to... more soul searching is in order, I suppose.

    That said, I’m planning a follow-up, ‘after the dust settles’ article. Things have changed significantly since that day -- some for better, many for worse.

    The idea/problem of ‘disaster porn’ came up quickly in response when I presented on Thurs. I totally agree... I’ve avoided getting sucked in as much as possible this time around. I don’t watch any news, at all, which is sad in itself, but not so much so when all 24-hr news does is propagate fear, paranoia + anxiety as well as desensitization (as you’ve well put) + unhealthy obsession on the extremes of the human condition (ie: needing to see death, destruction + human suffering every day to achieve the same adrenaline high of fear, paranoia + anxiety).

    Many, many things need to change in our country + culture... I’d propose that news be at the top of the list. I remember being depressed + locked in the house last February when the whole Haiti earthquake went down. I thankfully only had 3 or 4 channels via the ol’ rabbit ears, but was overwhelmed at first by really horrifying + soul-crushing images. That quickly turned to unnaturally numb as I consumed the local + Nightly News every day for about a month. I began craving more of it. Even in my less-than-coherent state, I still had enough presence of mind to recognize an addiction. I chose to turn it off + not take in any more of that fix.

    [ continued in the next post... I talk too much according to Blogger ]

  3. The flip side, I enjoyed the good that people have found to cope with this event. Everyone -- including myself -- does feel a sense of hopelessness + helplessness to do anything to remedy that situation and effect any kind of good. On top of everything else, I tend to be a cynic + pessimist + have a hard time believing anything I do can make a difference on a large scale. However, small scale like community-based initiatives, where I can see the impact, is where I tend to live.

    What’s been really neat to watch is how people have ingeniously merged those two worlds; killing two birds with one stone. The number of local individuals doing something solo or partnering with other heartbroken individuals to do something that people right here, right now can easily grasp, get behind + support a cause half-a-world-away has been inspiring.

    A few folks from AIGA Pgh got together w/Commonwealth Press to utilize their talents/professional skills to do something to help:

    Many, many events that I have recently attended have either donated a portion of the door fees or donated a portion of the sales or made a mention to some small way that they support to help the cause.

    Even this morning, my fave cartoonist, The Oatmeal, posted that he’ll be donating 100% of his book sales in the next 7 days to the relief effort:

    Every little bit helps.

    It can go to the extreme now of becoming a cliche... we do get the criticism “Americans just throw $$ at a problem + assume it goes away.” But that is a whole other post as well.

    There are definitely more problems than $$ available to fix them and it is absolutely overwhelming to look at all of them. I personally have a few causes that I’m invested in, but that also means that I must turn a blind eye to the hundred-fold of others just as a self-preservation tactic. It could easily make one crazy + more cynical + jaded to look at all the local community’s, region’s, national + international problems where people are suffering, struggling to survive + dying every day.

    I guess you do what you can and hope that it makes a difference to someone, somewhere -- whether you’ll ever know it does for sure or not.

    And on that bright + cheery note... Thanks for taking the time to read + comment, Andrew. It’s given me much to think about:)