Get Perspective With This Technique

Learn about the view from above

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share three emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

🏛️ Theory

The view from above is one of the most distinctive Stoic exercises.

With this technique, you can get perspective and focus on what matters.

It involves meditating on your place in the universe.

Here’s how you do it:

Start by sitting in silence.

And then move to picturing yourself meditating. If you’re inside, imagine occupying a point in the ceiling and looking down on yourself.

From there, expand your image and picture your city. Imagine the thousands, perhaps millions of people, going about their days. Some are experiencing euphoria, others agony, and most are in between.

Zoom out even further. Visualize yourself looking down on the earth. You are just one person among billions, one animal among trillions.

From here, ask, what matters? Let what is trivial fall away. Let what is important remain.

You play a crucial part in the human network. Roles like the ones you have, whether as a friend, family member, coworker, or citizen make up the whole.

From this vantage point, let trivial anxieties and slights fall away. What matters is that you’re excellent. What matters is you perform each role you have with skill, courage, and grace.

Finish the exercise by returning to your place in the room. Return to your concrete individual life. Summarize what you will take with you from the exercise.

The view from above allows us to merge an objective view of the whole with our narrow perspective. Normally, we go through most of our days just viewing the world from our limited vantage point. When we see things up close, we may sacrifice our ideals or get lost in trivial details. Stepping back focuses us on what is important.

The optimal view balances the near and narrow view with the far and abstract. We don’t want to be shortsighted or detached. People who focus too much on the “big” picture neglect “small” details. Those who spend their time tweaking tiny details, miss the forest for the trees. We need the best of both perspectives.

The view from above helps us achieve that.

Watch and see the courses of the stars as if you were running alongside them, and continually dwell in your mind upon the changes of the elements into one another.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.47

🎯 Action

Find a few minutes to sit in silence and take the view from above.

Short on time? Remind yourself of the larger perspective throughout the day. Pause and glimpse the bigger picture.

🔗 Links

📖 The French philosopher, Pierre Hadot, introduced the term the view from above. His key scholarly project involved showing that the ancient schools of philosophy practiced philosophy as a way of life. They used philosophy to determine how to live, not win theoretical debates. As a part of this project, they developed exercises, like the view from above. These exercises, meditations, and techniques each served a single purpose: enabling practitioners to live better. Pierre Hadot’s work on Marcus Aurelius, The Inner Citadel, is a good starting point.

🎧️ In one of our most popular Stoa Conversations, I spoke with the cognitive scientist and philosopher, John Vervaeke, on how to apply the view from above. Listen to it here.

🌍️ Practice the view from above with guided meditations in the Stoa app or with the free meditations on our YouTube:

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1 Referral — Cheatsheet on The Most Important Stoic Concepts— get access to our list of the most important Stoic concepts with links and instructions for putting each into practice.

3 Referrals – The Stoic Training Program PDF — in this 10-page guide, we share the three main ideas and practices that ground a Stoic approach to life.

5 Referrals – Five Stoic Meditations get five downloadable meditations to go deeper into your practice.

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