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December 22, 2020

The Overview Effect: How to Find a Sense of Awe in our Troubled World.

This year we are going to be blessed by an astronomical event that occurs every 800 years.

This phenomenon is known as “The Great Conjunction” when Jupiter and Saturn will appear to touch in the sky as they prepare to overtake each other in their horse race around the solar system, which will be visible for a few days. There are some who theorize that this may have been what the three wise men saw 2,000 years ago during their travels when they followed it to find the birthplace of Jesus.

Whatever our views or beliefs are with respect to religion, including our perspective on how the universe may have come to be, we, as humans, have looked up to the night sky with a sense of awe at its beauty, along with the realization that we are a veritable grain of sand relative to the incomprehensible scale of the universe.

There is an interesting phenomenon that has been noted by astronauts who have been fortunate enough to orbit the earth thousands of miles up in space. In the July 16, 2019, article written by Ivan De Luce in Business Insider, the author describes the impact of the Overview Effect as follows:

“This state of mental clarity, called the Overview Effect, occurs when you are flung so far away from Earth that you become totally overwhelmed and awed by the fragility and unity of life on our blue globe. It’s the uncanny sense of understanding the big picture and of feeling connected to and yet bigger than the intricate processes bubbling on Earth.”

Those intricate processes on Earth can take many forms: this past year of 2020 demonstrated how those can take the form of a devastating global pandemic, divided humanity, poverty, violence, and the ongoing destruction of our planet. On many occasions, I have found myself stuck in the quicksand of the events of this year becoming bogged down in fear, depression, and a general sense of hopelessness.

There is nothing more curative for me to rise up from the ashes of this despair than a walk on a clear, cold winter night with my furry Bernese mountain dog by my side, looking up at the infinite universe twinkling and dancing on display in front of my eyes. It sounds rather odd, but I find comfort in my sense of insignificance during those walks—maybe my personal struggles are not so severe relative to scale and the miracle of the vastness of the cosmos.

As we enter headlong into the holiday season, I thought I would share a video I literally stumbled upon some years ago on YouTube documenting the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve orbit of the earth in 1968 that was broadcast live.

The three astronauts shared their perspectives on seeing the surface of the moon, where future landings would take place. They then took turns reading passages from the creation story, obviously astounded by the beauty and fragility of our blue planet from their unique perspective in the blackness of space.

As we turn the page on 2020, there is much to be hopeful for. I hope all who read this and watch this video take away a small but unmistakable sliver of light to illuminate our souls—and make sure to check out the Great Conjunction during the coming days.

Love and Light to All.

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