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To Gain Perspective, Zoom In

A hand-written journal entry on a white, lined piece of paper

A hand-written journal entry on a white, lined piece of paper

The world well and truly feels like it's descending into chaos lately. The west propping up genocide, the ongoing retconning of COVID even as the pandemic rages on, the climate crisis and ecological overshoot continuing on unabated...

But on the other hand, the world has always been chaotic. And people have gone on, not just to survive, but to thrive, to love, to create, and to contribute to their communities.

Mindfulness is often framed as an exercise in developing perspective. We "pull back" from our thoughts enough to gain some critical distance from them, and learn to see ourselves not just as vacuum-sealed brains in skin bags, but as active participants in the "community of life", of a system much greater than ourselves.

This is crucial for developing compassion: the pain of the Palestinian or Israeli is also my pain, as is the struggle of the single mother disabled with Long COVID. I can even learn to empathize with the fear of the aggressor or denier, even if I don't agree that their actions are skillful.

But sometimes, zooming out and gaining perspective can be extraordinarily painful. We may aspire to "hear the cries of the world" as the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kuan Yin, does, but if we become overwhelmed and frozen because of others' suffering, we're of no help to anyone (including ourselves!).

So, for the next few days, I'm making the conscious choice to zoom in. Rather than applying mindfulness at a macro systems-level view, I'm going to get up-close and personal with life at the micro level. I'm trading in news sites and Reddit feeds for long walks in nature, getting my hands dirty in the garden, and more tactile hobbies like cross-stitching. Here, too, I can see my place in the community of life: in the eyes of the stunning red cardinal, who wants to be safe and not to suffer, just like me; in the new green tomato seedlings, who also want to grow and thrive.

I'm coming to learn that "zooming in" isn't selfish or myopic at all -- it's how we're meant to live: mindfully, deeply, in the present moment, and grounded through the five senses. Thinking about life isn't living it, after all, and reading about suffering doesn't help alleviate it.

I'm putting my faith in the power of small gestures, tiny steps, incremental progress. I can't save the world, but I can work on myself, I can smile to a stranger as they pass, I can volunteer in my local community.

Instead of thinking big, I encourage you to zoom in and think small today. Who knows which new perspectives will come into focus?


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