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From Vol. 4, Issue 3, March 2022

The pale blue dot


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“Separating yourself from negative experiences can prevent feelings of being overwhelmed, it can help you to stay in control and can remind you that how you respond to adverse moments determines the trajectory of your life.”

Stoic approach lifts you up

When your attitude about life gets you down, Stoicism’s approach to disappointments can lift you up. Stoicism provides a barrier against irrational emotions by reframing your outlook. Stoicism does this by helping to provide perspective and it has taught me the importance of the big picture. Marcus Aurelius expressed this idea when he wrote,

Think of substance in its entirety, of which you have the smallest of shares; and of time in its entirety, of which a brief and momentary span has been assigned to you; and of the works of destiny, and how very small is your part in them. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.2.

In this passage he was saying that when we zoom out and try to see the entirety of existence and time, our current struggles don’t seem to be as insurmountable.

Real life frustrations

Earlier this week I spent 3 hours collating data in a very large spreadsheet. I apparently forgot to save my progress and just as I was almost finished, Excel crashed. I was devastated. Almost half of my day’s work was lost and when I tried to recover, I realized that due to the crash, my unsaved document was permanently lost. I felt terrible. I could have embraced the anger that this little setback caused but that would have ruined my day.

I was able to distance myself from this event and thought about how insignificant this setback really was in the big picture. Afterall, I wasn’t injured. I could still feed my family and I still had a comfortable home. This wasn’t as bad as I thought. I let myself feel the anger for a moment and then I was able to get back to work and move forward. I paused, reevaluated my situation, and realized how foolish it would be for me to allow this minor blip to derail my day.

The pale blue dot

In his 1994 book, “The Pale Blue Dot,” Carl Sagan describes a photo taken by Voyager 1 just before it left our solar system. In the photo, Earth is a single blue pixel surrounded by the vastness of space. Sagan says, “Look again at that dot… On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.” He goes on to discuss how insignificant every single act of beauty and terror is in light of all that exists. This can be seen as being a bleak outlook, but when we are able to view life through this lens, we can gain the perspective needed to endure any hardship.

This is very similar to what the Stoics did, they paused and stepped back. They removed themselves from the center of reality and opened their eyes to the broader reality. By doing this they were able to realize that they were not individuals disconnected from the rest of the world. Instead, they were part of everything else.

Meditating on the view from above

Donald Robertson, a writer and psychotherapist, has developed a meditation based on the idea of the “View from Above”. In this meditation, Robertson walks you through an exercise where you progressively picture yourself lifting away from you body. First you see your immediate surroundings, then gradually move further and further away. Ultimately, you are guided to think about all of existence. Both in substance and in time. You think about your place in the greater universe and this helps to better understand our place in it all. In the meditation, Robertson says, “… Trivial things seem trivial to you… Indifferent things seem indifferent… The significance of your own attitude toward life becomes more and more apparent… you realize that life is what you make of it… You learn to put things in perspective, and focus on your true values and priorities in life…

This progression helps to develop a serenity that allows you to accept things for what they are and acknowledge that there are many things that are outside of your control. It is this understanding and acceptance that leads to the peace for which many of us struggle daily.

This idea can be very liberating, it can help to change your outlook by changing the way you see upsetting situations. Separating yourself from negative experiences can reduce anxiety, it can help you to stay in control, and can remind you that the way you respond to adverse moments determines who you are. In the end will you be in control or will you be controlled? The choice is yours.

For a recording of Robertson’s meditation:

Scott Balentine is the Program Director of the, a place for Stoic community, discussions and debates.