What is the View from Above? It's a practice that involves moving to a third-person perspective and holding the whole in one’s mind. It’s about stepping back from our narrow view of things and looking at the big picture.
Here’s one way to practice it as a meditation.
- Get comfortable. Sit in an alert posture.
- Be clear about why you're doing the meditation. Set a purpose. Set expectations. Quickly prepare for adversity. Commit to following through.
- Start by expanding your attention. Spend about a minute on each step.
- Move your focus to the part where the breath is most noticeable. For many people this is at the entrance of the nostrils.
- Expand your attention to the parts of the body involved in breathing. Your stomach, lungs, throat.
- Expand your attention to every sensation in your body.
- Expand your attention to the environment. Listen to sounds.
- Note: when you're doing this, practice nonjudgemental awareness. If you become distracted just return you attention to the meditation.
- Shift to visualizing your place in the world. Spend about a minute on each step.
- Start by visualizing yourself meditating, wherever you are.
- Expand your visualization to yourself and your city. You are meditating. There are thousands of other people, going about their days. You are just one among the thousands.
- Expand your visualization to include yourself, your city, and the whole world. There are thousands of cities with thousands of people. With hopes, fears, excitement, suffering. You are a part of this whole. One among the billions.
- Note: when you become distracted, return your attention to whatever you are visualizing. You can incorporate your distracted thoughts into the meditation. Reinterpret them in the third person, if you can. View yourself from above.
Gently move your attention back to your body.
You may want to move around a bit before ending.
Why would you do this practice?
Taking the View from Above help picks out what is important and what is trivial. You may find that what you are preoccupied with fades once you take into account the bigger picture.
Getting a sense of the whole and taking a third person perspective can help with reasoning. Work done by Igor Grossman and others suggests that people are much better at reasoning about others’ problems than their own.
Marcus Aurelius talks about this often in The Meditations. Here’s a line from him, paraphrasing Plato:
One who would converse about human beings should look on all things earthly as though from some point far above, upon herds, armies, and agriculture, marriages and divorces, births and deaths, the clamor of law courts, deserted wastes, peoples of every kind, festivals, lamentations, and markets, this intermixture of everything and ordered combination of opposites.