You may have seen this quote floating around from the article on William Shatner’s space trip by now:
“My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral,” he wrote. “It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness.”
Shatner is describing an experience known as the overview effect, which is a cognitive shift in how one thinks about Earth and life that many astronauts report feeling during spaceflight.
“Everything I had thought was wrong. Everything I had expected to see was wrong,” he wrote. “I had a different experience, because I discovered that the beauty isn’t out there, it’s down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound.”
I have experienced something similar to this when standing on certain mountaintops. A feeling of just how precious the Earth is, and a longing to protect it.
In polyvagal theory I’ve heard that “connection is protection,” meaning that when we feel truly anchored in a safe connection with another human being, we are also sheltered from the threat of danger. Our system can relax and soften. We can access more of our creativity, insight, and wide-angle view of the world around us.
I believe this doesn’t only happen with mammals, or even other creatures, though. As William Shatner so beautifully expresses, it’s possible to feel this connection to the Earth (the warmth of our home), too. To feel this connection with the Earth is to feel protected, but also protecting. It’s LOVE.
As happens so often in relationships, we are taken care of by her in so many subtle ways that are easy to forget or take for granted. Still, in moments when awareness can untangle from the mind, and shift instead to a deep and profound appreciation for the beauty of our environment… it’s easy to see. This connection affects—and even depends upon—us both. My existence depends on her existence. As she thrives in all her abundant glory, so do I. If she withers or falters, I feel it. And when she demonstrates her resiliency, I’m reminded of mine, as well.
In other words, it’s only natural to want to protect the ones we love, no matter what form they take. So what about falling in love with nature? With Earth? With this beautiful planet that sustains us? Let’s love her like she deserves… before it’s too late.
Below are some photos of Morain Lake Alberta. The first is from the shoreline at sunrise right before beginning the long and arduous climb to the summit. The next two photos are of the same lake from the summit of Mount Temple looking down. This experience was an overview effect for me, and I’ll never forget that feeling!