We are encouraged to not just take a wider perspective when approaching frustrating situations, but also a longer one. By stepping back, we see the bigger picture, but we can also see the long view and have a clearer understanding of our actions and our problems in the larger frame of our lives. This allows us to see that even though our situation may seem challenging now, from the vantage point of a month or year from now, these challenges will seem much more manageable or even become a thing of the past.
If we think about it, The earth has been in existence long before us and we are only about halfway through our evolution on this planet. Approaching the world’s problems in this long view of thinking based on the extended sweep of planetary history puts our daily concerns into a much broader perspective. Taking this so-called “God’s-eye perspective” allows us to transcend our limited identity and limited self-interest — and we don’t all have to believe in God to experience this mind-shift in perspective. Take the Overview Effect for example; many astronauts have reported that once they glimpsed Earth from space — this small little ball of blue floating in the vast expanse, lacking of man-made borders — they never looked at their personal or national interests in the same way ever again. They saw the oneness of terrestrial life and the preciousness of our planetary home.
This expanded perspective starts with shifting our focus from I, me, and mine to we, us, and ours. The constant use of personal pronouns has been suggested to lead us to a greater risk of heart attack. In studying coronary heart disease, researchers have found that people who more frequently used I, me, or mine have a higher risk of heart attacks and a higher risk of those heart attacks being fatal. This case of “self-involvement” was found to be a better predictor of death than smoking, cholesterol levels, and even high-blood pressure. Furthermore, another study found that people who more often use first-person singular words — I and me — are more likely to be depressed than people who more often use first-person plural ones — we and us. It’s rather interesting to find scientific evidence that being too self-regarding really does make us unhappy.
If we think about where we are suffering in our life and then think about all the other people going through a similar situation, we are less likely to spend our time lost in self-referential thoughts. Maintaining this perspective reminds us that we are not alone and, in turn, it lessens our own pain. This recognition of our interdependence begins to soften our rigid sense of self and breaks the boundaries that separate us from others. The word compassion literally means “suffering with” so shifting to this mentality quite literally is the birth of compassion; this expanded frame of mind is compassion itself. Detaching from our own identity to think more collectively will help us to be less defensive and reactive. The less attached we are, the more effective and skillful we can be.
Having serenity and equanimity doesn’t mean we don’t have the strength to confront a problem, maintaining a wider and longer view helps us confront it creatively and compassionately rather than with rigidity and creativity. When we take the perspective of others, we can empathize with them and we start to see the interdependence that envelopes us all. It shows us that how we treat others is essentially how we treat ourselves and it helps us recognize that we do not control all aspects of any situation. Ultimately, it leads us to a greater sense of humility, humor and acceptance.
DAY 28. Love, Ro