I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast where we're adventuring into the world of mindful modern magic and authentic spiritual practice. It's November 4, 2021, and today's topic is The Overview Effect. Are you ready to grow your soul?
Welcome to year two, season two of The Waxing Soul! Super excited to get started, to shift a few things, to kind of refresh the vibe. So thank you for being here, thank you for listening, and let’s dive straight into the topic.
This is… And I want to let you know that a lot of the content this year is going to come out of the book I just released – it’s on Amazon for Kindle right now, paperback still pending and it’s called Deep Self Magic: A Step-By-Step Roadmap to Spiritual Authenticity. So we’re going to be talking about shadow work, we’re going to be talking about embodying our authentic selves, we’re going to be talking about magic and evolution. That’s what’s in the book, and I want to touch on some of the little details from the book, the individual concepts, and kind of get more practical here than I get in the book. Deep Self Magic goes into the why, the deep dive, but here we’re going to get practical about applying those ideas in our practices, our everyday lives.
Starting with The Overview Effect.
Even if you’ve never heard the phrase, you know what this is, and it’s actually rather topical because of the whole, you know, billionaires and celebrities going to space recently. The Overview Effect is the shift in perspective that happens to people who have been in space and seen Earth from orbit. It’s a pattern that astronauts have come back with a much different sense of the fragility of our planet, of our place in the universe, a changed understanding of the significance of things like borders and politics and such.
For some of us, that sounds so great, right? That can become part of our spiritual practice, that search for a higher perspective. We want to lift our perspective out of the everyday, especially if the everyday tends to feel really uncomfortable in some way. On the other hand, for some of us, this shift in perspective can feel not so great, like being told that our priorities, the things we find important aren’t actually important or shouldn’t be our priorities.
But the thing is that, first of all, there’s a super important lesson to be learned, a lot of understanding to be gained from just recognizing that thing – that perspectives can be shifted and that when perspectives shift, so do priorities. I think, whether we like the idea of it or not, we all have some sense that if our worldview gets shifted at all, if we get a wider set of experiences, if we are able to see or understand the perspectives which greatly differ from our own, that taking in those wider points of view has the potential to change some of our beliefs, our understanding of the world.
And I want us to take a bit to think about how this plays out in our day to day lives. What experiences do we avoid because we don’t want to allow the potential for our perspective or understanding to be shifted by it? And this is… It is a really important question to ask about yourself, to spend time contemplating, because where we draw those lines, what experiences and stories and viewpoints we absolutely avoid engaging with can tell us a lot about our own perspective and our own priorities.
How flexible is our worldview? How convinced are we that our experience, our knowledge, our take on reality is the most important, most valid one? How open are we to having our mind changed?
And I want to really be clear here – I don’t think that everyone needs to be more openminded, necessarily. That’s not the message. Because there is absolutely a point at which we can become far too open to other perspectives to the point where none of them remain meaningful.
And that’s the root of it, right? Our perspectives and beliefs and whatever are only meaningful to the extent that they play out in our lives. Our beliefs grow from our perspectives, our experiences, and when they are extremely meaningful to us they become something we use to define ourselves. The more we define ourselves through our perspective, the less willing we tend to be to experiences and points of view which might loosen our grip on that perspective. And that way of thinking can be really dangerous because the tighter we cling to the superiority or importance of our own perspective as definitive, the more skeptical or even hostile we are about the legitimacy of other perspectives.
And remember that when I say perspective, I don’t mean beliefs themselves, I mean our experience of life. I don’t think any of us are, you know, NOT aware that the life experiences we have, the way existence and reality is as seen from our point in time, our particular circumstances, none of us are unaware that other people have very different sets of experiences and therefore different perspectives on reality, right? So if we’re convinced our own perspective is objectively superior, what does that mean for our attitudes towards other perspectives?
On the other hand, though, the idea that since we all have individual perspectives, they’re all real, they’re all equal… that’s where we get into ideas like everything is an illusion, none of what we experience day to day really matters, that sort of thing. Which can be equally dangerous because then very little has meaning. It means not only do we not value other people’s lives, we barely value our own. We lack connection to our experiences, our perspectives. On one extreme we view reality as centered on us, and on the other extreme we view reality as being centered somewhere far outside of any human experience.
And in a moment, I’ll dig into how we can go about finding some meaning in the space between those extremes.
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Now back to the episode!
The important thing, I think, about the Overview Effect is something that gets lost in this tug of war between the conclusions we reach about reality when we’re here on Earth and the conclusions one might reach when seeing the Earth from far above it. Because the point isn’t whether one is right and one isn’t. The point is that both are right in some ways and both are wrong in some ways and the important thing is just an understanding of the dance between meaning and context.
An astronaut or Jeff Bezos or William Shatner or whoever can go into orbit and look out on the vastness of space with our tiny blue fragile planet floating in it and come to all kinds of conclusions about how the things we think are important, the details of our everyday struggles and triumphs and conflicts and achievements as Earth-bound humans, how they’re ultimately inconsequential in the face of the vastness of the universe. How our planet is a living thing and we’re just temporary residents on it, and yet how alone our planet seems, hanging in this tiny corner of the universe, at the mercy of much larger forces.
And all of that is true.
But, when those people come back down to the ground, they still live here in the present moment on this planet, right? They’re still in the middle of the everyday struggles and triumphs and conflicts and achievements. Jeff Bezos can take his ass into orbit and get enlightened, and I don’t begrudge him the opportunity at all, but it doesn’t render the tangle of arguments about his taxes and social responsibility and the legacy of his company meaningless, right? Like, all those things are real in the here and now, and he can be as enlightened as he wants to be but it won’t change reality.
Seeing our lives in a broader context doesn’t change the reality of our lives… Unless we choose to make those changes. Perspective does, absolutely, define our reality, but it doesn’t define all reality. Our perspective shapes our personal truth, but it doesn’t lead to universal truth. Like, you’ve probably seen the meme that goes around with two people standing on either side of what is, depending on which side, a six or a nine, and it’s supposed to be about how both can be right and we should be open to all views. And then there’s the edited one which points out that, if one of those people in the drawing were to look around at the context, there are probably cues to help determine which way is actually up and which number it is intended to be, because clearly whoever would have painted the number on the ground meant it to be one or the other.
But let’s take it even further than that because really, even if the person who painted it on the ground did so for a reason, that reason might no longer be relevant, so now it could be a totally meaningless number and the argument going on in the drawing might be happening for no good reason. And Jeff Bezos up in his spaceship can’t even see the number at all because he’s too far away, and some advanced alien species in another galaxy isn’t even aware that earth exists and wouldn’t understand the number anyway, so what does it all matter, right?
Our distance from a detail determines a lot. The closer we are to something, the more its meaning matters to us. The further we are from something, the more its context matters. And what the Overview Effect really does is put meaning in context. It’s the same as what learning does, what empathy does, what any experience or undertaking which expands our understanding and lets us shift our point of view really does.
There’s no way for us to literally experience someone else’s point of view or gain their perspective. We have to be them for that. We could walk in their footsteps, but we still start off as us, with all of our own experiences already loaded into our brains as the default, so we’re not going to see and feel everything as they do. But we can incorporate what understand we do get from getting to know and understand how their experience differs from ours, we can add that into our sense of context, in to the larger picture in which we orient our own experience.
Everything we learn about reality we’ve not experienced, everything we go explore and discover, all of that expands our sense of context. Which is absolutely essential to growth. We should embrace that as a spiritual pursuit, absolutely. The more context we have for our experience and our beliefs and understanding, the better. But part of that context is understanding that just because someone else doesn’t share your perspective, hasn’t lived your reality, it doesn’t negate your reality, just the same as yours doesn’t negate anyone else’s. In some grander scheme, some more distant point of view, both realities are equal, all realities are equal.
And in some even more distant point of view, they are meaningless, which still doesn’t negate the reality of your reality. And your very personally meaningful reality doesn’t negate the fact that in that more distant view, your reality is meaningless. Our existence, our spirituality is really all about learning to follow the steps of the dance between the meaning we find in our lives and the context which shows us the limits of that meaning.
So how do we dance that dance? I’ll get to that in a minute.
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Perception is reality, right? Our perception defines our reality. So theoretically, if we change our perception, it changes our reality, right?
Well, yes and no. Back to the whole thing about clinging to a perspective and being resistant to experiences which might change it, there really are a lot of people who look at this idea that perception defines reality as a little bit scary. There are parts of our reality, our individual realities, that we don’t want to change.
In fact, I think it should be activity number one in putting these ideas into action to take some time to think about, make a list of the things in your reality – not things about your lifestyle or whatever, but the core, foundational bits of understanding and belief which define your experience and existence – make a list of those things which you would not want to see change.
For a lot of us that’s going to be things like the underlying beliefs that lead us to choose the careers we’re in. We all choose what we do with our lives based on unique bits of perspective, what’s important, what’s not important, what success means, what we’re capable of, all of that.
There’s bound to be stuff there that, if we think about what would happen if we suddenly didn’t think they were important anymore, that would be devastating in a way we don’t want to face. Look at your cultural beliefs, your religious and spiritual beliefs, your political beliefs, that kind of thing. The motivating ideas and beliefs and values behind the way you’ve set your life up, the choices you’ve made.
And they’re not all going to be things you wouldn’t want to see change, but some of them will. Some of them, if you think about, say… If someone sat down to tell your future and said, “Something will happen in the future that will make you stop caring about this or stop doing that,” the things that you’d be, like, “Never! I don’t even see how it’s possible I’d change that way!” Those are the things. They’re not wrong things or right things, but they’re a starting point for understanding yourself and exploring your spiritual perspective.
So make your list and really look at what’s on it. How do those things form the framework on which the rest of your life sits? And it’s crucial here to… I mean, I just spent most of this episode on why, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I want to be explicit about this: It is not your job to change anyone else’s beliefs. You cannot invalidate someone else’s experience. Nobody’s perspective changes unless they allow it to change or choose to change it. This is not about that. This is only centered on your perspective, your context, things that are meaningful to you.
Now, that said, when you have that list, spend some of your spiritual focus, spiritual energy, personal development time, shadow work time on going through that list and using those things as jumping off points for expanding your context around them. Think about someone whose important, foundational beliefs would include the opposite of one of yours. What experiences might they have had that gave them a different perspective? What have they seen, what have they learned that might be different from you?
This is really valuable stuff on a spiritual level not because it can get you to change your mind, but because getting some distance on our worldview can make us grateful for the experiences we’ve had. They can give us greater empathy for those who haven’t had the same experiences – not pity, but empathy. It can lead us to deeper or even more significant ideas and beliefs. It doesn’t have to mean we abandon our views, our beliefs and priorities, but it gives us the choice.
The greater our understanding of the larger context in which we exist, the more it becomes true that our way of seeing the world, our perspective is something we’re actively choosing to cultivate. And that makes a world of difference when it comes to intention, to manifestation, to magic. The more we understand the choices we’re making, the more we understand how much of our reality is something we’re choosing, the more intention we put behind those choices.
Because it goes back to that thing of perception shaping reality. The greater the scope of our contextual understanding, the more we understand our perspective and the way we perceive our existence as a choice we’re making, and that is like opening the vault door on a whole ton of intention and spiritual energy. But it means we take responsibility for the way we see our reality, our worldview and perception. If that worldview, if the list you make paints a picture of the world, the universe that you don’t like, the further away you can get in your contextual viewpoint, the more it becomes clear that there are other ways to see reality, other experiences that have shown other people a different perspective, and so to cling to yours becomes intentional.
So what perspective are you choosing?
Thank you so much for listening. New episodes of the Waxing Soul drop every Thursday. All materials and resources except the music are copyright Bridget Owens. Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily for riding with me into season two. Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.