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Experience the world... as astronauts do.

There is a fascinating phenomenon reported by astronauts when they behold planet Earth from outer space, called the Overview Effect. It is described as a cognitive shift that brings about a euphoric sensation and expanded perspective: a deep understanding that we are one.

What is the Overview Effect?

 As described by Ian O’Neill in Universe Today, the overview effect is known as: 

The experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, "hanging in the void," shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. From space, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this "pale blue dot" becomes both obvious and imperative.

Many astronauts who experience the overview effect, experience a spontaneous broadening of their perception and return home with a new state of awareness. “Seeing the Earth from the perspective of space made me feel more compassion for others. All people are inescapably interconnected” reports Scott Kelly, commander of 3 International Space Station expeditions.

This phenomenon is just as relevant to those of us Earth-bound as those who get to explore the cosmos firsthand.

Why is it so important?

We have heard from scientists and spiritual teachers that we human beings, dwelling on this planet Earth, are one. Made of the same stuff, we are interconnected more than we know - like waves in a vast ocean. As such, we’ve been told to love another as ourselves and treat others with kindness, humility, and equanimity.

However, if you’re like most of us, these wise teachings are not always easy to live by, particularly in the face of a challenging circumstance or perceived threat. Instead, we dwell within the “illusion of separation” - the impression that we exist separately from everything else in the universe - falling back on established habits, preconceptions, and involuntary reactions formed by our life experience. 

These conceptions are in part what form and reinforce many of the same conflicts that divide groups and nations. But just like astronauts, who experience the overview effect, we can also realize that these boundaries are entirely man-made. “The first day or so, we all pointed out our countries. The third or fourth day, we were pointing out our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth,” says  Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Chairman of the Saudi Space Commission.

It appears that when humans can see the world from the vantage point of the infinite universe, the bitterness, resentment, competition between people and governments are rendered miniscule, and the illusion of separation vanishes. 

How can we experience the Overview Effect?

Luckily we don’t need to secure a seat on a space mission to experience this blissful awareness and broadened perspective. Astronaut and pilot, Rakesh Sharma, assures us that “one does not have to undertake a space flight to come by this feeling.”

Typically, we live within a relatively narrow framework of our lives: who we are, what we do, where we come from, etc. These identifiers - and countless memories, thoughts, judgements therein - make up the sense of self that forms the invisible bubble separating us from the so-called “outside” world.

Through meditation, we are able to see both past and current events from the viewpoint of a neutral observer. This is an objective third party perspective that is not embroiled in the stories associated with that particular moment. As we connect more and more with that “zoomed out” awareness, our personal suffering begins to diminish and a deep comfort sets in. We no longer identify so strongly with our individual conceptions and are able to see from the perspective of the whole.

With relief from our own personal worries, regrets and suffering, comes compassion, coexistence, and the ability to see the world from a broader perspective. From there, it is easy to see the good in others and the beauty in the world around us. We can easily understand those around us and effortlessly take action for the benefit of all.

Mitch Edgar describes the experience beautifully:

"Instead of an intellectual search, there was suddenly a very deep gut feeling that... there was a purposefulness of flow, of energy, of time, of space in the cosmos...On the return trip home, gazing through 240,000 miles of space toward the stars and the planet from which I had come, I suddenly experienced the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.

We invite you on this journey through the invisible frontier, our “inner space,” in order to experience the world as astronauts do.

Written by Pamela Brewer, student of 5 years and meditation guide-in-training.

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