During stressful seasons in their lives, I often instruct my students to imagine hopping upon a helicopter in order to get the ‘helicopter view.’ I invite them to imagine looking at themselves and at their situations from above, as a way of not making everything so personal. Usually they tell me that when they see the bigger picture they realize that their cases are not as dramatic, as hopeless, or as unique as they initially thought. In a way, the ampler view placates their negativity. This larger perspective can be a real eye-opener and have a powerful and transformational effect. It’s a way of realizing how easy it is for us to play victim and tell ourselves, “Poor me. Why me? Why this is happening to me?” Once we compare our entanglements with those of others, we often realize not only the commonness and pettiness of our dramas, but also how self-centered we are, and this realization often brings us some relief.
The distance also allows us to see that although we are doing many things to free ourselves from the complicated predicaments we are in, we are not doing the most effective things, the things we really need to do to alleviate suffering and augment peace. It becomes evident that we are not using wise assessment, wise discernment, and wise action. It becomes clear that we are not concentrating our energy on what can bring lasting change: we waste time dealing with the consequences, instead of focusing our attention to understand and correct the causes of our problems. Paraphrasing Thoreau, from above we can see that while there are thousands of us hacking at the branches of the plant of evil, there’s just a few who are doing the right thing: striking at the roots. We realize, as the popular sayings go, that “we keep doing the same things, over and over again, expecting different results,” and that, by doing so, we are just “spinning our wheels, but actually going nowhere, only fast.” No wonder we are all exhausted.
Well, Carl Sagan invited us to see ourselves not only from a helicopter, but from a spacecraft. The farther we move away from the surface of the Earth on this imaginary flight, the more evident it becomes to us that we are not as important as we think we are. We realize that we are just these tiny animals, inhabiting a diminutive planet that spins around itself and travels around an ordinary star of an unremarkable galaxy in the middle of a vast, huge, humongous, infinite universe. This in itself should be humbling enough to inspire us to let go of all unimportant matters and enjoy, with the other crew members of spaceship Earth, the beauty of this planet during the short lives that we were given.
What comes to mind is that when we are approaching the end of our physical existence, we realize that many of the things that we fretted about are not at all important. Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last weeks of their lives, recorded the reflections of the dying in her book ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.’ When asked about what they wished they had done differently the answers were:
1 – I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2 – I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3 – I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4 – I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5 – I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers. It inspired Carl Sagan to write “Pale Blue Dot.” Read it and take some time to reflect on what he had to say. Perhaps, think about all those individuals who in their frantic pursuit of power create a lot of pain and suffering for others, and never come to realize that they are just ”momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.”
“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” ~ Carl Sagan
Pale Blue Dot, the photograph of our planet taken from 3.7 billion miles away shows the Earth as a tiny dot against the vastness of space, among bands of sunlight scattered by the camera’s optics. Voyager 1, which had completed its primary mission and was leaving the Solar System, was commanded by NASA to turn its camera around and take one last photograph of Earth across a great expanse of space, at the request of Carl Sagan. (from the Wikipedia entry)
Piero Falci is an author and educator who believes that the inner work that leads to personal awakening and transformation is indispensable to create a wholesome world. He is an explorer of the mysteries of life who loves to observe, reflect and write, and who not only aspires to live a life that matters, but also hopes to inspire others to do the same. He is a promoter of peace who believes in advancing the idea that Heaven is here if we want it to be. He teaches Mindfulness Meditation and Mindful Living, and the acclaimed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program as taught at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He leads mindfulness silent retreats and organizes Silent Peace Walks. He lives in Florida, USA. Join his Mindfulness Meditation and Mindfulness Living sessions at Shiwa Yoga in Deerfield Beach, FL
Take a look at Piero’s books