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Some days, you just can’t see the wood for the trees.

Your To-Do list is across two sides of A4, emails are bouncing in at an alarming rate and you now have three conference calls to attend that weren’t in your calendar first thing this morning.

It’s all too much. Everything is clamouring for your attention at the same time. And to top it all off, you know that there is no food at home so you’ll have to make a special visit to the supermarket and grab whatever is still on the shelves for dinner.

You can’t live like this. You’re simply too busy. Your day is packed so completely full of stuff that you can’t take any more. All you want is to go home, eat whatever you find in the shops, open a bottle of wine and relax in the bath. All you want is to do nothing.

But sadly, you’ll never be able to do nothing. There will always be something.

According to the ideas of physics, if you were able to create a perfect vacuum with absolutely no energy in it at all, tiny quantum particles will continuously and spontaneously appear. Some of these particles may instantly disappear, while others may exist for ever. It is impossible to produce a situation where nothing is able to exist undisturbed for very long.

Buddhists also reject the idea of ‘nothing’, as it can only exist outside of what is real. They prefer a concept of ’emptiness’, which, like the popping a fizzing of quantum particles in a vacuum, is a state close to nothing but full of potential. Zen teachers would argue that the world we perceive is made of a broad and continuous spectrum of ‘something’ and ’emptiness’.

Let’s look again at the trees:

woods or trees

How many trees are there? Count them for me.

What was your answer? 30? 40? 50? Now look at the branches – how many of those are there?

Of course you haven’t tried to count the branches. That would be a ridiculous waste of time, but did you notice all the shrubs. I wonder how many of those there are…

Seriously, though. Look at the picture again. This time, don’t look at the trees. This time, look at the emptiness.

How many kids of emptiness are there?

One?

Isn’t that easier to deal with?

Looking at the picture this way it becomes clear that we only really know that we are looking at trees because of the spaces between them. In fact, it’s only the ’emptiness’ between the trees that makes them exist as trees at all. The branches stretch into the space between the trees because of the potential of the ’emptiness’. This potential makes the trees able to grow at all. And they seem to be flourishing.

Now look at your day again. Is it better to look at it as a packed schedule and an overflowing inbox, or as a continuous sweep of empty moments?

Accept each moment as it comes and realise that it is empty, but full of potential. Focus on each task and fulfill its potential to the very best of your ability. Do the same on your way home, when you’re in the shops, when you’re talking to your loved ones.

And while you’re in the bath, remember that you are still doing something.

Can you see the wood for the trees?

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