Get out of your head’s gilded cage. 

When people ask me to describe the view from my NYC high-rise apartment window, I say I see “perspective.” I see other buildings occupied by people like me, going about their day wrapped up in their thoughts, each the master of the kingdom created in their heads. We never leave our head’s gilded cage, even if the doors are wide open. Like birds with clipped wings, the confines of our heads feel safer than the open skies. 

To overcome this default state of “me-ness,” we must consciously use our mind’s zoom-out feature and get some perspective. In a powerful scene in the film Birdman, Emma Stone’s character uses a zoom-out technique she learned during her rehab stint. In a roll of toilet paper, she marks out the entire period of the earth’s existence with dashes, with each dash representing a thousand years. Modern humans occupy only a tiny piece within this strip, a mere one hundred and fifty thousand years out of the over five billion years of the earth’s existence. Her father, played by Michael Keaton, accidentally wipes his mouth with the tiny piece of paper, literally wiping out the entire human race. 

Zooming out helps us empathize and realize we are not the earth’s center. One effective technique to zoom out is the prayer of St Francis of Assisi shown below. It is widely used in meditation schools in their passage mediation programs.

Oh Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace, 

where there is hatred, let me sow love

where there is injury, pardon

Where there is doubt, faith

Where there is despair, hope

Where there is sadness, joy

Where there is darkness, light

Oh, divine Master, grant that I may not seek to be consoled as to console

To be understood as to understand

To be loved as to love

For it is in giving that we receive

It is in pardoning we are pardoned

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The prayer takes us out of our heads instantaneously. But the prayer’s power lies in its ability to make us feel significant despite our insignificance. Like JFK’s exhortation to the Americans, the prayer asks us what we can do for humanity.  

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