Overview – A New View?

Happy New Year! This is a great time to look into the new year with new eyes. William Shatner, the iconic actor of Star Trek fame, had such an experience when he actually went into space. In his recent memoir, he says that when he saw the earth from space, he began crying. This isn’t the reaction I expected from Captain James T. Kirk! But apparently it is a reaction that happens to those lucky few who are able to view the earth from space. It has been called the “overview effect,” described as “a cognitive and emotional shift in a person’s awareness, their consciousness and their identity when they see the Earth from space.”*

Of course, very few people are able to go into space. But I still think it is possible to shift one’s awareness. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say, to have one’s awareness shifted. For myself, my normal mode of awareness is centered on myself. What do I want to eat, what do I need to do, why me?!! I am pretty sure that I am less self-centered than I used to be, but fundamentally I experience things through my own sense-organs (eyes – ears – nose – tongue – body) and feelings of genuine empathy are far and few between, if I experience them at all.

And yet, I have been fortunate to encounter the Buddha Dharma. So many teachings that help us understand ourselves, the world, and our place in the world. Everything we go through – every experience – is an opportunity to delve deeper into the Dharma, to delve deeper into ourselves and our relationships. 

As an example, Shinran Shonin, the founder of our Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism, shares the following insight: “…All beings, without exception, have been our parents and brothers and sisters in the course of countless lives in many states of existence.” I wonder if Shinran’s feeling when he realized this was similar to the “overview effect” experience of William Shatner? A feeling of kinship and concern for all beings. This insight is difficult to generate on one’s own, but the Buddha Dharma, whether the various teachings of Shakyamuni or the Primal Vow and Nembutsu of Amida Buddha, offers it to us. We just need to be on the lookout as we live our lives. I hope that this New Year brings you happiness and good health, as well as continued opportunities to truly encounter the Dharma!

* Quotations about the “overview effect” from this NPR article:

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