Reflect that neither memory nor fame, nor anything else at all, has any importance worth thinking of. — Marcus Aurelius
The Stoics used the View From Above as a meditative exercise to gain a greater understanding of their place in the world. By doing so, they could observe themselves from an out-of-body perspective.
Science calls it the Overview Effect. Essentially, it is a visualization technique in which you imagine yourself high above the earth, gazing down on the world below from a bird’s-eye view.
But what would a regular person like you and I gain from it if we made it a part of our daily routine?
View From Above In Stoicism
The Stoics practiced the View From Above to keep things in perspective. It allowed them to look at life’s events more objectively and detach themselves from their feelings, opinions, and beliefs. They saw how small they were in the grand scheme of things on a cosmic scale. They realized how insignificant were their opinions and judgments against the trillions of things happening throughout the universe every second.
The Stoics believed that virtue is in living in accordance with nature. The View From Above was a part of this belief, as they imagined themselves placed among the stars.
The View From Above was practiced by Stoics to keep reminding themselves how minuscule they and their problems are in the grand scheme of the universe. It helped them not fall prey to hubris (being drunk on power) and greed, and not lose their sleep or temper when faced with difficult and dismal situations.
Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe. For in a sense, all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other—for one thing follows after another according to their tension of movement, their sympathetic stirrings, and the unity of all substance.— Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)
Benefits of Practicing View From Above
The View From Above gives us the opportunity to see our life for what it really is, without any interference or distortion from our judgments and prejudices. It helps us perceive the complexities of human existence with an overview effect.
The View From Above can be used as a tool for self-realization and growth. Moreover, it can help us see all parts of our life as a whole. This is an excellent way to make sense of what we are experiencing exactly, and how the world around us is positioned.
The design of this exercise helps improve our awareness and observation skills. We can use it to become more mindful in our life.
Practicing View From Above helps us develop a subtle mind that is aware of how things are in the present moment. When our mind is firmly grounded in the present, away from both the future and the past, it allows us to examine our problems as trivial and transitory.
The various long-term benefits of practicing it are improved clarity, greater insight and creativity, better decision-making, increased focus, and lesser anxiety, and reduced overthinking.
Practicing this exercise also helps us become more aware of our biases and assumptions. Marcus Aurelius advises us to practice View From Above.
You can rid yourself of many useless things among those that disturb you, for they lie entirely in your imagination; and you will then gain for yourself ample space by comprehending the whole universe in your mind, and by contemplating the eternity of time, and observing the rapid change of every part of everything, how short is the time from birth to dissolution, and the illimitable time before birth as well as the equally boundless time after dissolution.— Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)
Practicing View From Above Meditation
Essentially, it is a visualization technique to see your thoughts and judgments from a birds-eye perspective.
It aims to look down on your thoughts and emotions from far above the Earth, as if they were tiny objects in a faraway field.
Practicing the view from above is much easier and better if you know and practice mindfulness meditation. Being in a mindful meditative state is to observe your thoughts and feelings appear and go, without getting caught up in them. You allow your thoughts to come and pass through your mind with a sense of detachment.
The View From Above can be practiced both in a seated or standing posture. Here’s one way you may practice it:
• Close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breathing, noting each in and out breath gently. Let yourself relax.
• Envision yourself drifting above from the ground, zooming out your span of vision while keeping yourself in the center.
• Let yourself imagine that you are viewing your life as an observer positioned outside your body. Extend your self-awareness up to the ceiling so that it seems as if you are looking down on yourself from above.
• Allow yourself to float higher, through the ceiling. Imagine yourself rising higher, as the landscape becomes more and more distant. Observe the world below as an eagle would see it flying high in the sky.
• Rise higher, so that the lands and oceans become smaller and smaller. See people below go about their lives oblivious of you. Meditate on their lives entangled in their daily struggles.
• Examine your life in the context of this larger picture, and reflect how we are but a speck on the overall timeline of creation. Consider how insignificant your problems seem when viewed from that high up. Now, turn your thoughts to what is really important in your life.
• Finally, when you have reached this point, hold the position for a few minutes before floating down to your earth-bound position and opening your eyes.
Look down from above on the countless gatherings and countless ceremonies, and every sort of voyage in storm and calm, and the disputes between those being born, living together, and dying. Think also of the life that was lived by others long ago, and that will be lived after you, and that is being lived now in other countries; think of how many don’t know your name at all, how many will quickly forget it, how many who – perhaps praising you now – will soon be finding fault. Realize that being remembered has no value, nor does your reputation, nor anything else at all.— Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)
You can also do the View from Above by looking down at yourself from above, as if you were an outsider looking at another person. Keep zooming out until you see yourself from a place far out in the universe.
For instance, your initial zoom could be a view of yourself from above your home’s roof. Next, you might see yourself from a place high above your block. Then, from a place high above your city, then country. Keep going until you can visualize the whole Earth from space, imagining yourself as an invisible dot.
The View from Above is key to understanding the new realities that are emerging every day in our modern lives. It gives new perspectives on our worldview by providing insights into our own thoughts, actions, and behaviors.
With this, we gain a better perspective on the insignificance of our problems. When compared to the vastness of the universe, our biggest concerns appear incredibly trivial. When we put it in this context, it is much easier to overcome the emotional obstacles linked to our issues.
The View From Above is a simple practice with profound results. Practicing it regularly will help you gain a previously undiscovered overview of your life. After all, when we see things from among the stars, we can only marvel at the scale and order of creation.
The Pythagoreans say, ‘Look at the sky at dawn’ — to remind ourselves of the constancy of those heavenly bodies, their perpetual round of their own duty, their order, their purity, and their nakedness. No star wears a veil.— Marcus Aurelius
So, take a few minutes out of your day to try it out and see how it can improve your outlook on life as well as your general well-being.
Who were the Stoics?
The followers of Stoicism, a school of philosophy that dates back to the Hellenistic era, are called Stoics. Stoicism emerged in ancient Athens when Socrates’ teachings could no longer help people cope with the stressful events of the day.
The three main Stoic principles are:
1. ‘Virtue’ is necessary and sufficient for happiness.
2. ‘Reason’ should be independent of emotions.
3. The universe has no “unnatural” evil.
The Stoics believe that there is no such thing as an unnatural evil because everything in this world happens according to natural laws.
What did the Stoics say about happiness?
The Stoics taught we could be happy without relying on external things. Their happiness did not depend on having good fortunes or being surrounded by cheerful people.
They deeply believed that no matter what happened in our life, we could create our own happiness if only we followed virtue in our deeds and lived in harmony with nature. This happiness to them was eudaimonia or life satisfaction.
Read the 7 Stoic Strategies For Happiness.
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Stoicism is important even today, as it takes a timeless and unpretentious approach to philosophy. Find out why.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.
• Our story: Happiness Project
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