A family member calls it my “coming out,” a booklet I wrote years ago about the universalist spirituality evolving in my life. Called Invitation to The Overview, you can freely download it here.
The central image comes from space exploration. Described as the The Overview Effect—a term coined by writer Frank White—it is that moment when space travelers turn and see our planet suspended in the vastness of space. For everyone who experiences it, this vantage point is life-changing, transforming their view of Earth and humankind’s place upon it. Here are some firsthand words from astronauts.
“Before I flew, I was already aware of how small and vulnerable our planet is; but only when I saw it from space, in all its ineffable beauty and fragility, did I realize that humankind’s most urgent task is to cherish and preserve it for future generations.” – Sigmund Jähn, German Democratic Republic
“For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.” – Donald Williams, U.S.A.
“A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. I could not help but love and cherish her.” – Taylor Wang, China/U.S.A.
In many countries – my home nation of America included – we no longer have a vision of what unites us within our own boundaries, let alone what binds us to humanity across the planet. Nationalism is ascendant around the globe. Ultimately, this is spiritual regression, a return to tribal thinking, a reversal of our necessary evolution as a species. It could ultimately destroy us.
I love New Zealand President Jacinda Ardern’s first address to the United Nations in 2018. After acknowledging our many international challenges, she said the following.
“If I could distill it down into one concept that we are pursuing in New Zealand it is simple and it is this. Kindness. In the face of isolationism, protectionism, racism – the simple concept of looking outwardly and beyond ourselves, of kindness and collectivism, might just be as good a starting point as any.”
In his Teachings on Love, Thích Nhất Hạn speaks of upeksha, a Buddhist concept that means equanimity or nondiscrimination. He says, “Upa means ‘over,’ and iksha means ‘to look.’ You climb the mountain to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other. If your love has attachment, discrimination, prejudice, or clinging in it, it is not true love. People who do not understand Buddhism sometimes think upeksha means indifference, but true equanimity is neither cold nor indifferent. If you have more than one child, they are all your children. Upeksha does not mean that you don’t love. You love in a way that all your children receive your love, without discrimination. (This is) ‘the wisdom of equality,’ the ability to see everyone as equal…In a conflict, even though we are deeply concerned, we remain impartial, able to love and to understand both sides.”
What if we internalized The Overview, tucking it like a pearl of great price into our hearts and minds? What if it caused a fundamental paradigm shift? What if national boundaries remained for governmental purposes, but we saw them from the global vantage point of our human family? What if the current conflicts that divide us were eclipsed by our critical need to create planetary tolerance, to galvanize our collective will and protect this pale blue vessel sailing in space?
Perhaps the deepest lesson I have learned in America’s current climate is that ALL of us—both progressive and conservative—can fall prey to the judgement and hardness of heart that disconnects us from each other. We can ALL become complicit. Repentance and a change of behavior are necessary.
It begins by asking ourselves some hard questions. Do my politics, faith tradition, or life philosophy contribute to unity? Am I compelled to find peaceful dialogue with others, no matter how alien their worldview seems to me? Or am I simply setting myself apart with an air of superiority?
As Thích Nhất Hạn has said, “Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity, and all beings. By living with you, I want to learn to love everyone and all species. If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone and all species on earth. This is the real message of love.”
We DESPERATELY need The Overview!