Seeing the Forest Beyond the Trees


Dr. Robert B. Pankey

There exists within each of us a sense of knowing what is needed to accomplish a
task without even thinking about it.  The field of motor learning calls this the “final or specific” stage of development, where actions are no longer thought about on a cognitive level.  Neural cues are simply called up from the mind and utilized in accordance to when they are needed.  These cues have come about as a result of practice, or rehearsing, using cognitive thought and physical actions over and over again, until body and mind develops a link where cognition is no longer needed for positive actions to be replicated.


There is a negative side to this physical and cognitive linkage.  If one dwells on thoughts that are negative, these thoughts can develop a link to the body and expand to a point where they become more automatic.  These kinds of thoughts can have devastating consequences for the body.

Each of us was taught that we have to succeed, that we have to become number one, be above everybody else to prove ourselves, or have to accumulate certain things to be successful.  When we learn that when we must dominate others, acquire “material things,” or prove ourselves, we should recognize that this kind of thinking is, in essence, a very shallow way of determining one's worth.

There is a fundamental characteristic concerning how individuals should fit into this life.  And this characteristic is very similar in all human beings.  The laws of nature exemplify this characteristic.  One summer I was a camp director at an athletic camp for kids.  I had to talk to kids about the fundamental characteristic
that was unique to all humans.  I brought a box turtle and showed it to the campers and explained what kind of turtle it was and what it was probably thinking at that moment.  It was probably thinking how weird it was for this human to be holding it up to the kids on display.  After all, only a few minutes before being caught, this turtle was walking around, thinking about finding something
to eat. We also had a big black Labrador retriever at camp, one who had his sights on that box turtle that I was holding up.  That dog didn't have a care in the world as far as stress or inner conflict.  Its natural characteristic was to live a life in the “here and now,” but for the moment, it was clearly focused on that box turtle.  I also had a couple of vines that I had cut from the side of a pine tree.  One was a good vine, the other a bad one.  One was called a Virginia Creeper, the other Poison Ivy.  These two vines, even though they were different, managed to live and grow side by side in a productive way.  The thing that separates the box turtle, the Labrador retriever, and the Ivy from humans is that fundamental characteristic that defines a person’s sense of being.  We have the will to be able to think very differently than other animals or plants, yet play a unique role in the world according to our order of things or how we fit into life.  Animals and vines do not dwell on the negative, only people do!

Some societies classify our purpose in life as our reality.  I once heard a story that explains what this reality is.  Supposedly, a long time ago, there was a
medicine man, camping beside a river, and he noticed that a scorpion had fallen into the river and was fighting the current to survive.  The medicine man picked up the scorpion, held it up, and was bitten before he could release it.  The next day, the same thing occurred. The medicine man saw a scorpion trying to survive the current, so he once again rescued it and was bitten before he could release it.  All the children around had witnessed these events, and one child asked the medicine man, "Why is it, with all your wisdom, that you rescue the scorpion from the river when you know that it will bite you every time?"  And the medicine man replied, "My son, you should know that it is the reality of the scorpion to sting, but the reality of the human is to save." 

Seeing the forest beyond the trees and understanding that the reality of the human being is to understand that one's role in this world is not to be filled with stress and depression over what is occurring in life. Understanding the reality of the human being is to understand what is most important for survival.  It's not hate, it's not to dominate, or being able to win at everything you do!  Our reality is to save others and ourselves and to be able to know what we are about, and how to fit into this life.  We must know from where and from whom we came.   These are all a part of this mysterious purpose of being human.  We all have a reality, a purpose in life that needs to be understood and acted upon in a meaningful way, so it becomes automatic.


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