Thinking Larger in Small Ways

by Deb Matlock

As I came out of the store, I was greeted with a touchingly beautiful site. A mother and a child were crouched down watching a spider cross the sidewalk. The child was completely engrossed in this spider’s journey…possibly from the flower planter to the tree a few feet away.

After a few moments of intense, silent staring, the child asked the mother, “What is the spider doing?” The mother responded wonderfully. “I am not sure, honey. Spiders have many things they do. All I can tell you is that we need to let the spider do whatever he is doing and not get in the way.”

At Earthfire Institute, we often find our conversations circling around to a very important, foundational part of our philosophy….thinking larger. We are always asking ourselves what it means to think larger or what the world would look like if more of us could think larger than ourselves.   With questions such as these, it is easy to let the magnitude of their implications overwhelm us. If we could think larger, would humanity live in harmony with other living beings? If we could think larger, would we allow space for wild animals to thrive within our communities or be able to accept each other and our differences?

Before we can learn to think larger, we have to first understand that the concept even means. How do we do it and is it even possible?   Perhaps it is a matter of scale. Can we see ourselves as part of a vast universe, expanding and changing in ways we cannot yet even imagine? Can we understand that every living being on the earth has a unique and important role to play in the larger mystery of life? Can we see ourselves reflected in the stars above and the grain of sand beneath our feet?

I wonder if our ability to answer “yes” to these questions and others like them begins with something much smaller. Perhaps once we understand that we must step aside and let the spider cross the sidewalk; fully aware and respecting that we simply do not understand the totality of what the day to day life of a spider actually entails, but realizing its inherent value nonetheless, perhaps then and maybe only then, can we start to “think larger.”  What small opportunities exist outside our doors that help us think larger in small ways?

Detail of spider web with sunshine and bokeh circles


Deb Matlock has spent twenty years working as a professional environmental educator and naturalist. Her work includes teaching indoors and out, offering trainings and presentations, and designing and evaluating EE programs. Deb’s research on the connection between spirituality and environmental education has been presented nationally and internationally. She is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Education at Antioch University and is Past Board President for the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education.

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