See the Big Picture

See the Big Picture

The tree or the forest?

The Practice:
See the big picture.


I once went to the movies when it was raining and brought my umbrella. Arriving early, I sat down on a bench to read, then headed to the theater. Suddenly I heard, “Uh, mister!” – and turned to see a teenage boy with a friendly smile running toward me with my umbrella. He didn’t know me but went out of his way to help a stranger.

As a small frog in a huge pond, I once gave a talk at the World Government Summit in Dubai and had a similar experience. Political news can sometimes be alarming. Yes, whatever is truly bad is truly bad. But meanwhile, what I saw in Dubai was a thousand or so people, each one representing thousands if not millions of others in the United Nations, nonprofits, government agencies, media, religious organizations, and businesses that are working hard to nudge our world to a better place.

The vast majority of human acts each day are constructive: making meals, tending to children, saying hello, restraining anger, completing tasks, planting seeds, teaching, healing, nurturing, cooperating, smiling, and on and on it goes. Recognizing this truth is comforting and inspiring. There is still hope!

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Here are some suggestions.

Widen the View
The nervous system evolved what’s called a “negativity bias” that routinely scans for bad news. Then the brain fixates on it with tunnel vision. This may aid immediate survival but not long-term well-being and healthy relationships.

To counter this tendency, lift up your gaze to include more of what’s around you and then all the way up to the horizon line. This activates neural circuits that are holistic and inclusive, not locked into a narrow, self-centered point of reference. Or imagine that you are seeing your home, work, relationships, organization, nation, or world from a bird’s-eye view. What looks different from this panoramic perspective?

Also, put current situations in the context of time, 13.7 billion years into the life of our universe. Will the current drama, whatever it is, matter so much in a year? In a century? In a tenth of the lifespan of our species itself, which is to say about 20,000 years from now?

How about the context of space: the conflicts in a home located in the geography of a nation, or one nation’s issues among 200+ other countries, or Earth’s troubles in a universe with over 2 trillion galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars?

The point of doing this is never to deny or minimize whatever pain or dangers are real – but to place them in a larger framework that can bring wisdom and ease a sore heart.

See What’s Working
As an experiment, start looking around your immediate situation to identify specific things that are working. For example, writing here, I’m aware of a functioning keyboard, a cup holding coffee without leaking, food in the pantry, pictures of our kids who are doing well, a pond overflowing with rain water but not breaking, my wife living and breathing while using a functioning telephone, my own heart continuing to beat . . .

As you notice things that are working, see if you can find a sense of relief, reassurance, or confidence. Slow it down and take it in.

Consider a troubled relationship. Whatever has been good in it in the past will always have been good. Whatever is good in it today and whatever is not is still good.

Even a country: so many ordinary things getting done, roads being mended, schools operating, scientists and teachers and journalists discovering and communicating the facts and the real news, many brave people standing up and speaking out.

When we see what’s not working in the larger context of what is working, we become heartened, emboldened, and re-focused on what we can do rather than on what we cannot.

Enjoy the Sky
Bad news draws the mind like storm clouds draw the eye. Yet all around those clouds is a vast and untroubled sky. What pops into the forefront of awareness is, by definition, a small part of the whole, a figure standing out against the ground.

It’s a kind of optical illusion, a well-intended trick by Mother Nature to help her children survive. Sure, deal with the clouds as needed. But remember the sky: the vast networks of human cooperation that dwarf our conflicts, the love that persists, the building up and the mending that dwarfs the tearing down and apart.

And remember the sky of mind, spacious awareness through which thoughts and feelings, fear and anger, pass like clouds – never altering or harming the sky itself.

Know Someone Who Could See More of the Big Picture?

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Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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