A common piece of advice when things seem a bit overwhelming is to “step back and get a better perspective” or to “emotionally distance yourself” from the issue at hand. Common phrases like, “See the forest for the trees” also allude to this distancing. When too engaged in an emotional roller-coaster, one cannot accurately judge the situation. The visceral reactions to the stressful state make an objective assessment almost impossible. When one races up, down and around can you give an accurate description of the landscape around you? Attention is fully focused on one’s bodily sensations the heart pounding, g-force pressure, fluttering of the stomach, and perhaps the ever-increasing feeling of nausea. What is happening around you… the park, the other visitors, even the person sitting beside you are far from your attention. Similarly, strong emotional states like anger, anxiety, sorrow, and depression can overwhelm the mind and distort, even totally obscure, the actual situation. Our minds may magnify the feeling even more so that the small sensation has grown from a flicker to an emotional wildfire consuming all reason and objectivity. This is called “globalizing” a problem that is actually a smaller, local problem.
Now, what if you were able to get off the roller-coaster and sit on top of the highest peak? There is an observation deck upon which you can safely stand and observe. From this height, you can see the trees in the park, other rides, gardens, the frame of the roller-coaster, coaster cars whizzing by, passengers raising their arms and screaming with delight… or terror. There may still be a quickening of the pulse from the extreme height, but it is much different than being strapped in with no escape, with the emotional state so strong that nothing else is visible. A short exposure to an emotionally intense situation can be fun… even exhilarating, because you know that it will soon end. For many people, however, the emotional ride never ends. They are trapped, with no way to distance themselves from the stressful situation other than closing their eyes and imagining somewhere else. Here are two meditations that might help give a better perspective:
This is an exercise to lessen the effect of negative feelings. Note: Random thoughts are going to come into your mind, and that is okay. Just note them and gently bring your attention back to the exercise.
Settle into a comfortable position and breathe naturally for several moments. Notice the tension leaving your body with every breath, draining away onto the ground like a warm summer rain. As the tension releases, feel your body lighten. As you relax, become aware of your surroundings. What is the room like? What sounds do you hear? What aromas surround you? After the last bit of tension leaves, imagine your consciousness rise and sweep up, like a beautiful bird, and hover above your body at ceiling height. Watch your resting body with a detached attitude. You are on an adventure to a higher state, a new perspective not bound by mundane worries. As you release your thoughts, rise even higher. Ceilings and roofs have disappeared, so you can now see both your peaceful body and others going about their business.
As you rise higher and higher, you can see your whole neighborhood … and then your city. You see the towns and cities below and the surrounding countryside reach as far as you can see. Observe without judgment flashes of human interaction… fleeting glimpses spanning the ages. You see hugs, arguments, weddings, crimes, hospital rooms, funerals, traffic jams, birthday parties, peace marches, and wars. Again, focus on your life and your resting body amid all this activity. It is difficult to distinguish amongst the bustle below. How fleeting it all is….
You rise further until you are a mere speck. People looks like ants moving about. You can see the vast web of sidewalks, roads, rivers, and plane routes. You rise higher and can see neighboring states, mountain ranges, lakes, and coastlines. You rise to contemplate the hemisphere in which you reside, the land masses and vast oceans. Weather patterns churn across the planet’s surface.
You float even higher, leaving the Earth’s atmosphere—so high that you see the big blue marble spinning silently before you. There is no sign of humanity, lifetimes come and go with each spin of the globe. Your mind and imagination are limitless, and are capable of taking you to the edge of the universe…and beyond. This change in perspective and emotional distancing can change your view of what really matters…. As you consider your life and what is important to you, you also consider all those other lives, each with dreams and disappointments. You are one person among billions, all striving to live a fulfilling life.
Each second, some lives are just beginning, while others are drawing to a close. All the possible human experiences are playing out before you. And such moments have come and gone for millennia…. Within this context, a human life is just a flash. This fleeting moment holds all life, the point through which all life is experienced. Life only happen NOW, not in the past… not in the future. In this lived moment, this limitless state, you see how truly small trivial things are. Your distancing has given you a new perspective on your life, you can remain calm and centered …remaining indifferent to these trivialities. You can focus on what really matters and remain indifferent about trivial distractions. Look at your life… Which things are in your control and which things are indifferent to you? This is your point of serenity, the view from above to which you can return whenever needed.
You will begin to descend back toward Earth, to resume your daily activities with serenity and confidence. You sink through the clouds and see the glistening oceans below. You see the cities and towns below. You see the space in which you lie and hover just a few feet above your peaceful and relaxed body. You sink back into your body, feeling your toes and fingers tingle with renewed sensation. You notice familiar sounds around you. You feel the surface below you and slowly open your eyes. You breathe more deeply. You feel invigorated and ready for action, yet remain grounded with a serene calmness.
Take a moment to relax, close your eyes, listen, and take a journey 10 years in the future in your community:
It is the year 2028 and you are hovering in a balloon above your community. During the past 10 years, your community has transformed into a thriving community.
Imagine yourself floating to the center of your community. What patterns do you see? Take your time as you examine interactions between people and places.
What kinds of interactions between people do you see?
Pay attention to how people move from place to place. Notice patterns of walking and transportation.
How is the community arranged physically, the roads, small and large? The parks, buildings, houses?
Now climb out of the balloon and move around the community. Take your time as you go into and out of stores. . . workplaces. . .streets. . .parks. . .gardens. . .neighborhoods. . .houses. . .places where people learn.
In what ways do you see the community thriving? In what ways are the people healthy?
Notice the colors and shapes and textures around you. What sounds do you hear? What smells do you notice?
Take the time to experience this community at different times of day and night. At different
Try to imagine yourself as an elderly person living in this environment. . .as a child. . .as a
woman/man. . .as a disabled person.
Now spend a few minutes revisiting places you have seen that struck you most forcibly or that
you liked the best.
Now re-enter the balloon, ascend back into the sky, and return to the present.
Take a few minutes to write down the images that you find most powerful, surprising, or
enjoyable. Then write down any other images. You are making a list of the images that you saw, so that you can share these. Once you’ve finished your discussion, make a group drawing of your visions. Remember no one draws visions better than a seven year old child.
What are the common themes recurring in the drawings?