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There are few things more central to the essence of who we are than our perception of the world around us. The way in which we relate defines both how we perceive the world and how we chart our course through it. At an early age my dad shared a mental exercise with me. Despite being young, and not really understanding the power of it at the time, it stuck with me and has been an incredible tool every since. It has given me insights into myself, my place in the world, religion, morality, and helps me keep things in perspective. Don’t worry if it makes you uncomfortable, or you get lost while doing it the first few times.
Step 1: Find a quiet spot. It can be a park, your room, or anywhere that won’t have any distractions for 2 or 3 minutes.
Step 2: Sit or stand in a comfortable position, close your eyes, relax your body and focus your thoughts on an ant. Visualize the ant in as much detail as you can, but make sure it fills your minds eye.
Step 3: Step your minds eye back slightly so you’re now visualizing the ant and the inside of the ant hill. Your visualization should only include a small area – 2 to 3 inches around the ant. Mentally pause and let your mind explore the scope of what you’re already seeing.
Step 4: Take another step back, this time visualize the entire anthill and the foot or so around it. Don’t rush the process, make sure to try and visualize the scene as richly as possible.
Step 5: Take another step back, now visualize the area in the immediate vicinity of the ant hill. Is it lush jungle, barren desert, are there animals, what time of day is it?
Step 6: Expand your visualization to a mile or so. What does the terrain look like. How does the initial ant, and its fellows compare and affect the surrounding area?
Step 7: Step back to 10 square miles. Are there cities? What else can you visualize. Take the time to explore the mental landscape and how everything relates to everything else.
Step 8: Visualize the continent with millions of anthills and hundreds of millions of people in their cities.
Step 9: Step back out beyond the atmosphere. Up into the space between the Earth and the Moon. Consider the world, the cultures, the natural environment, and recall how the ant relates to it all.
Step 10: Visualize the moon with the earth behind it. The moon’s surface. Its gravitational pull creating the earth’s tides and its impact on each step you’ve visualized previously.
Step 11: Travel out across the solar system. Mentally stopping to visualize, explore and to look back.
Step 12: Move beyond the solar system and seat your minds eye in the Universe taking in our entire Galaxy.
Step 13: Move your eye further back into the Universe and expand your visualization to include as many Galaxies as you can visualize.
Step 14: This is where it gets really difficult and can be somewhat uncomfortable. Can you continue to expand your visualization? What comes next? If your answer is nothingness, then try and mentally explore the scope of that nothingness. As odd as it may sound, this step has actually made me dizzy.
Step 15: Reflect.
Each person’s experience will differ. The way your mind works/relates to the world around you will effect how easy parts of the exercise are. I encourage you to consider not only how you relate to the world you’ve explored during the visualization, but also how the ant relates, and even how the earth relates.
Step 14 is one of the most difficult, but also one of the most rewarding. When we go about our day-to-day lives we view the world from our perspective and relate to it through our perception of time. As you push your mind out past the depths of space, you also will eventually discover something we almost never experience. The complete unknown. Something so completely foreign to us that we can’t even visualize it. It is, perhaps, the only time in your life you’ll face a question that is not only unanswerable but which is also unfathomable.
For me, this exercise has helped me understand the scope of my existence. Instead of making me feel small and insignificant, it has given me the utmost confidence that every action I make alters the very fabric of the universe. I may be nothing more than a grain of sand, but each grain of sand alters the entirety of the beach. Each action I choose to make sends out ripples across the Universe and for that reason, it’s paramount that I chose the right actions and work to make a difference because even though that difference is beyond minuscule in the grand scheme of things my actions do effect the world. For me, life has become about creating positive ripples. How will you choose to live your life?
I would love to hear your experiences with this exercise and your reflections. If you have thoughts, are having trouble with the visualization or have a story/realization you would like to share, please post it in a comment.