There is a proverb about not being able to see the forest for the trees. The focus on the individual details makes us lose sight of the “big picture”, the sense or significance, the perspective. Impressionist painters such as Vincent Van Gogh conveyed this sense through their artistic efforts. Up close, their paintings overwhelm one with the incredible number of brush strokes, texture, and color. There is however a “tipping point” as one backs away from the canvas where one suddenly switches from the “detail view” to the “gestalt”, the idea being conveyed, and suddenly the “big picture” takes over and the brush strokes are seen for what they are, the technique or the “facts” by which a larger significance is expressed.
Similarly, we become so involved in and overwhelmed by the detailed acts of our day to day lives that we tend not to recognize the “big picture”, the significance of those lives or those acts.
Sri Aurobindo discusses this situation with a very insightful view about the relationship between the day to day details and the soul’s meaning in creating and carrying out those details: “To understand one must cease to dwell exclusively on the act and will of the moment and its immediate consequences. Our present will and personality are bound by many things, by our physical and vital heredity, by a past creation of our mental nature, environmental forces, by limitation, by ignorance. But our soul behind is greater and older than our present personality. The soul is not the result of our heredity, but has prepared by its own action and affinities this heredity. It has drawn around it these environmental forces by past karma and consequence. It has created in other lives the mental nature of which now it makes use.”
Just as we undergo a transformation in our view of life when we understand that the sun does not revolve around the earth, but the earth around the sun; and that the entire solar system is part of an enormous Milky Way Galaxy which is a part of a larger universe, we can begin to understand the soul’s action and the true meaning of the details of our day to day lives when we take a different standpoint outside the focus on each of the details and begin to view the “big picture”.
Modern psychologists point out that there are essentially two hemispheres to the human brain. Left brain activity tends to be fixated on details, analysis and “the trees” of our lives; while right brain activity looks at the “gestalt”, the “big picture”, “the forest” if you will. Both of these perspectives are valuable, but they must be integrated in order to give a true sense and meaning to what we experience.
Sri Aurobindo points out “To live in this knowledge is not to take away the value and potency of the moment’s will and act, but to give it an immensely increased meaning and importance….Our every thought, will, action carries with it its power of future self-determination and is too a help or a hindrance for the spiritual evolution of those around us and a force in the universal working. For the soul in us takes in the influences it receives from others for its own self-determination and gives out influences which the soul in them uses for their growth and experience. Our individual life becomes an immensely greater thing in itself and is convinced too of an abiding unity with the march of the universe.”
Sri Aurobindo,Rebirth and Karma, Section I, Chapter 10, Karma, Will and Consequence, pg. 90,