The "50,000-foot view" refers to the seeing of things from a bird’s-eye perspective; from the most expansive view possible. From this expanded perspective, we see things as they really are and not just through the lens of all the stories we’ve made up in our head.
Viewing the world from the 50,000-foot view happens when we see life in the most enlightened way possible. It happens when we get out of our own way, when we move from experiencing life from the small self and start experiencing life from the state of being that is our Higher Self. (Learn more about the self in Know Your Atman (Self).) Our experience of all life’s happenings become sacred and whole. Life has greater meaning from this perspective and, ultimately, we’re able to serve others more easily because we’re less ego-centered when we make this shift.
So how do you get there? How do you get to this seemingly illusive mountaintop?
Climbing the Mountain
Well, like anything it takes time and practice. But, as I make my own way along the path of spiritual awakening, I find that meditation is probably the best and most effective practice to get to this profound place of clarity and wisdom.
When you’re helplessly lost in your whirling thoughts and stories, you have a filter over your entire perspective. But, when we slowly shed the many layers that cover up this clear thinking, we do eventually get to the mountaintop. And on this mountaintop, there is less stress and less turmoil. There’s a clear seeing of all the happenings of life. And in seeing things with clarity, we ultimately become free.
This is the kind of freedom we’re forever seeking as yogis: freedom from our thoughts, our stories and, ultimately, from the self-inflicted suffering we humans experience. Freedom is the name of the game when we reach the 50,000-foot view. We experience emotional freedom, mental freedom, physical freedom and spiritual freedom.
Reaching this point takes time. So, it’s important to cultivate patience along the way. In order to do so, it’s important to take ample time to practice pratyahara, which is the turning inward and withdrawing of the senses. We’re constantly being distracted by external influences, and these influences slow us down as we hike up the mountain of enlightenment. Pratyahara helps our minds resist the negative sensory influences constantly at work around us.
Gaining mastery over these external influences is no small feat. Think about the many ways we’ve been conditioned by our families and society to do things in typically unenlightened ways. We are constantly being influenced by the television, our computers, smart phones, newspapers, books and magazines. Everything that enters our consciousness influences our thoughts and our view of life. (Learn more about Pratyahara: The Fifth Limb of Yoga.)
Rather than isolate yourself and become a solitary monk, you have to be an iconoclast of sorts to reach the 50,000-foot viewpoint because you’re going to be going against the grain, marching to the beat of your more enlightened drummer.
Studying and practicing Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras will help get you to the top of that mountain. The eight "limbs" of classical Ashtanga yoga are designed to take us through a step-by-step process, one that eventually leads to spiritual awakening. With each accomplished limb, we get closer to the attainment of freedom. With each limb -- the yamas (observances), niyamas (disciplines), asana (physical postures of yoga), pranayama (breath work), pratyahara (control of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and, finally, samadhi (enlightenment) -- we are given a complete toolbox to help us reach the top of the spiritual peaks.
This is the beauty of yoga. It provides us with a systematic way to reach enlightenment. Through practical tools and techniques, we learn exactly how to do what it takes to see our lives from the clear, awakened perspective. The development of this higher consciousness is the true aim of the yoga practice. Doing physical asana is great, but limiting your yogic journey to the physical practice misses the point entirely.
Calling Upon Your Inner Strength
It takes a lot of work to reach the 50,000-foot view because we are born as instinctual human beings, reacting to what our senses are telling us. Without the eight limbs, we are untrained human beings, always reaching for sensory pleasure and avoiding pain. (Take time to consider this human instinct in Exploring Aversion.)
That saying, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” is oh-so-true, which is why we have yoga to guide us and lead the way. The yogic techniques enable us to strengthen our minds, so that we’re not subject to our sensory impulses.
It’s simply amazing how Patanjali laid it all out for us. I urge you to study and practice the eight limbs of the Yoga Sutras. With time, discipline and dedication, you’ll be well on your way to living and seeing all the glory of life from the enlightened perspective -- the bird’s eye, 50,000-foot view. (Get started now by reading The Foundation of the Yoga Sutras.)