For Emotional Health, Focus on the Space Between the Trees

For Emotional Health, Focus on the Space Between the Trees

To boost emotional health, move toward the things you love, not away from your worries

In 2001, my then-boyfriend said this post’s title to me so many times while I was learning to ski that by the end of the day he was my ex boyfriend. Nineteen years later I am beginning to realize he may have been onto something. If you’ve learned to ski or mountain bike, I am sure you also had a friend tell you to look where you want to go and not focus on all the bits on the path that could end in disaster. Now it’s time to apply that same logic to emotional health! Just this morning I had four opportunities to focus on the “trees” in my relationship with my family. Kestrel didn’t put her cereal bowl in the kitchen sink, Leif “had no idea” what his schedule looks like for today, Bilbo tried to jump out of a window to attack a bunny, and Garth forgot to buy more milk when he went to the store last night, so there was none for the morning coffee (not good…). So many trees!

There will always be trees or other obstacles along your path, sometimes widely spaced and far off to the sides, and sometimes packed tightly all around you. When you focus on the trees, they seem to get bigger and potentially more dangerous. For example, if I focus on the cereal bowl on the kitchen table, I start to think that my family expects me to clean up after them. If they are expecting me to clean up after them, they must not care about my feelings or must think my work is unimportant. None of that is true. Kestrel cares deeply about my feelings and all of my family is supportive of the work I do. By focusing on the trees, I give them unintended meaning and power, and make them disastrous for my relationships.

forest trail

What if instead of focusing my attention on ALL my MANY, MANY frustrations with the people I love (the trees), and instead I focus my energy on the the space between the trees, i.e. the directions I want to go, the things I want to do, the many, many positives my family offers me every day? Now I see where I want to go. I’m no longer giving energy to the trees in my way, instead I am drawn forward along my path between them. And I can see the reason Kess left a bowl of milk with two Cheerios on the counter is that she ran outside to water our new honeysuckle plants that she knows I care about so much. Focusing on our path through the trees leads to understanding and compassion. 

The things you focus on become magnified. If you focus on the trees, all you see are trees — and, at least according to my ex boyfriend, you will eventually hit one. But if you focus on the space between the trees, suddenly the forest doesn’t seem so dense around you. This week or better yet RIGHT NOW, take a few minutes to focus on the space between the trees. Where do you want to go? What excites you or motivates you or gives you energy? Now let yourself be pulled forward by these goals or desires. By focusing on where you want to go and not on the obstacles that guard your path, you can thread your way through this space between the trees.