This work on the Overview Effect is a collaboration with John Walsh with whom I have talked, thought and reflected on this theme. The following blog post is the result. It reflects the concept of co-creation where people share insights, fuse what they see and evolve a common picture.
The post also represents social media community exchange as well as friendship. This co-creation and connection is what we think the Overview Effect is all about – how our consciousness interacts, and is changed by, powerful events and experiences. We hope the Overview Effect can be something we all can be part of.
The Overview Effect
“My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing.” – Marcel Proust
A strange thing is reported by some astronauts. When they return to the earth, they are somewhat changed. Their perspective has been moved by their journey into outer space. They see things differently. The phenomena is called ‘The Overview Effect’.
The Overview Effect involves a shift in awareness and the opening of a newer consciousness. It is often linked to viewing the earth from orbit. It is as if the astronauts are lifted above the divisions and barriers that we erect and which tear us apart. They see the vastness of the universe and what Carl Sagan called ‘the pale blue dot’ of the earth.
A sense of unity emerges. A need for global care and connection happens.
Friends of astronauts report a difference in their attitude, too – there is a shift to seeing something bigger and more inclusive. We wonder if it is possible for an Overview Effect to happen on the earth?
We ask whether we can rise to a new level of understanding which is more inclusive, more compassionate and more empowered to be a difference in our world? We believe it is, and in fact, we even think we meet people who are are having this experience.
An NHS Leadership Retreat: Exploring Self as Instrument
John recently attended an Organisational Development (OD) retreat in Durham, England. The event was organised by the North East NHS Leadership Academy, and was led by two very respected OD leaders, Kate Cowie and Maxine Craig. The event spread over two days looked at self as instrument and was based on Kate’s phenomenal work ‘Finding Merlin’.
The day explored our awareness of our own levels of being, and how and where we could take the next step. It was an exciting and deep occurrence for all there. So the journey is happening and is exciting and challenging for all on that path.
The journey answers a fundamental question that is summed up so well in the words of the late Dom Helder Camara, a champion of the poor in Brazil. Dom Camara noted how ‘It is useless to dream of reforming society without a corresponding deep change in our inner lives.’ The systems scholar and environmental activist Joanna Macy makes the same point in her work on the need for a great turn to more humane systems of work and life based on a deep mind shift.
Sparking a Shift for Change
What might spark these shifts in us, others and our services and systems? There are many answers. We will offer two and then point to what is perhaps the real dynamism behind it all.
The first is to see. It sounds very simple but the truth is that we often don’t see what is right before us. The authors have known managers and professionals whose staff were visibly crumbling before them and they didn’t see it.
How many of us are rushing in work and home life and not spending enough quality time with our loved ones. The end of the Steve Martin and John Candy film ‘Trains, Planes and Automobiles’ rings with the same lesson.
One of the jewels of Gestalt Therapy is it helps us see the obvious. It calls us to stop and see what is all around us. To become aware and therefore alive to the here and now. This practice of deep gazing can open up avenues of greater awareness for us all. Stopping and looking can be very liberating. It can help us stop the rush and be present to the reality we are all part of.
The second possible way is presence. Often our communication is all about information and often an overload of that information. Yet studies tell us we only consciously remember about 10 percent of what we are given.
We would argue that communication is fundamentally about connection. It is where people meet and a real engagement and exchange takes place. There is something in this – both actually and virtually – where a communication of kindness, care, honesty and authenticity can happen. Where new learning can happen and new vistas can open. These encounters change us. We can feel listened to, lifted up and valued and you know what – so can others. Presence – really being there – can be an avenue for new awareness.
The Power of Love
Perhaps at the heart of all this lies something greater than all the parts and that is the power of love.
Love is at the heart of all humanity. Even in the most awful places, it can blossom. Have you ever noticed how, when you look up in a city centre to the brick buildings, you can spot grass or even flowers growing there. In the concrete somehow these shoots of nature spring up.
In life, too, in unexpected places, love opens up. Love opens us up. It allows our heart, mind and soul to join to another. Rumi the great 11th century Persian poet (and one of the most popular poets in the USA today) expressed this beautifully and simply. He wrote ‘ Love is the bridge between you and everything.’ Love is the bridge that connects us to others and can make life different for all.
The call to love is also a call to be alive. To love is to be alive. By love, we don’t just mean the romantic form, but love for friends, community, animals and all things. In the ways of the saints and sages, it even becomes love for enemies.
The American writer Thomas Merton summed up well this work of love in us. He wrote how ‘Love is not just a something that happens to you: it is a certain special way of being alive’. Love raises awareness and creates new ways of seeing, and hence new ways of being.
The Overview Effect is for us a powerful message. It tells us we can change.
We can become bigger people with better vision. People more invested in cohesion and care. The good news is we don’t have to fly in a rocket to outer space to get this. It is there for us to discover in the nature that surrounds us, the goodness we see, and the love we can offer and receive. The Overview Effect is a message of hope. It hints at what we can be. Further, it hints at how a better future could happen.
My sincere thanks to John Walsh for his collaboration. John Walsh serves at York Street Health Practice in Leeds where he works with homeless people and people in the asylum system.