In Plato’s Phaedo, Socrates said that if you could see the Earth from space, you would recognize “that is the real heaven and the real light and the real earth.”
Your eyes, no longer bound to the horizon, see the Earth both from space and in space. Your whole perspective shifts. What was once the endless expanse of blue sky now appears to be just a thin halo surrounding the planet. You can now see above the clouds to the changing atmosphere, raging thunderstorms, and auroras of the Northern and Southern hemispheres. One half of the planet turns dark and the continents light up with networks of cities. Everything appears interconnected.
This view of Earth has only been in popular awareness since 1968, when the first color photographs were taken on the Apollo missions. It represents a major shift in consciousness. Twenty years earlier, the British Astronomer Fred Hoyle said that a photograph of Earth would be “a new idea as powerful as any in history.”
Only around 500 astronauts have ever witnessed this view first hand. For some of these astronauts, seeing the Earth was a profound, life-changing, and outright mystical experience.
Below, three astronauts recount their experiences of seeing Earth from space, and the profound effect it had on their perception.
1. Edgar Mitchell
Mitchell seems to be the most vocal about his experience of seeing Earth from above. His experience left a profound spiritual impact on him. It was so impactful that he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in the Sonoma Valley, an institute that conducts research into meditation, consciousness and human potential.
On his experience of seeing Earth from space, Mitchell has said:
“That’s a powerful experience, to see Earth rise over the surface [of the Moon]. And I suddenly realized that the molecules in my body, and the molecules in the spacecraft and my partners had been prototyped, maybe even manufactured, in some ancient generation of stars. But instead of being an intellectual experience, it was a personal feeling… And that was accompanied by a sense of joy and ecstasy, which caused me to say ‘What is this?’ It was only after I came back that I did the research and found that the term in ancient Sanskrit was Samadhi.”
2. Russell L. Schweickart
Schweickart flew on the Apollo 9 mission. Recounting his experience of looking down at Earth, he said:
“You identify with Houston and you identify with New Orleans… And that whole process of what it is you identify with begins to shift. When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. That makes a change. You look down there and you can’t imagine how many border and boundaries you cross… and you don’t even see them. There you are—hundreds of people in the Mideast killing each other over some imaginary line that you’re not even aware of and you can’t see.”
(Via The Overview Effect)
3. Wubbo Ockel
Ockel was the first Dutch citizen in space. He passed away last month. Before dying, he composed an open letter calling for sustainable energy solutions. The letter testifies to the spiritual impact his experience as an astronaut left on him:
“We are not bees who unconsciously build a bee colony… We are not neurons that are not aware that they altogether think. No, we are intelligent beings that indeed can see and observe the behavior of our community. We are well aware of where our Humanity is heading. We can lead Humanity into a better direction if we act together. With a new believe in Humanity we can create a new religion that brings us all together.
“There are many Religions who get people together, but never all people. The different gods in whom people believe separate Humanity… This separation has led to many conflicts… These religions do not unify humanity with the earth. They [are] not sustainable. But if we believe in the holistic Humanity we will have no conflicts because we will be inseparable… The God of humanity is in each of us. This God is not outside of us. We cannot hide behind this God because it is us.” (Via)
Also see: Former Astronaut: Time Is An Illusion
About the Author
Andrei Burke is a freelance writer who currently resides in the Los Angeles area.
Samādhi (Sanskrit: समाधि) in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and yogic schools is a higher level of concentrated meditation, ordhyāna, which transcends the realms of body, mind and intellect, and where the logical and analytical ability of the Being becomes silent. Samadhi, being the ultimate stage of Yoga, symptomatically represents itself as the transcendental state, wherein even consciousness of the yogi might get detached from the body. According to Bhargava Dictionary Samadhi is the exercise of austerity of a Yogi whereby he acquires the power of suspending the connection between the body and soul as long as he likes. In the Ashtanga Yoga tradition, it is the eighth and final limb identified in the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali.
In terms of Consciousness, it has been described as a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object, and in which the mind becomes still, one-pointed or concentrated while the person remains conscious. In Buddhism, it can also refer to an abiding in which mind becomes very still but does not merge with the object of attention, and is thus able to observe and gain insight into the changing flow of experience.
Astronaut Chris Hadfield Learned A Lot About Spirituality In Space
When asked if being in space has changed his perspective on spirituality, Hadfield, who has spent a total of six months in space and has orbited Earth thousands of times, said that his faith has “absolutely” been reinforced by his time in the cosmos.
“The world, when you look at it, it just can’t be random,” he said. “I mean, it’s so different than the vast emptiness that is everything else and even all the other planets we’ve seen, at least in our solar system, none of them even remotely resemble the precious life-giving nature of our own planet.”
Ultimately, Hadfield says, being in space and staring down at the twinkling “jewel” that is the Earth, one quickly comes to realize how complex and compassionate our planet really is:
I think what everyone would find if they could be [up in space] — if they could see the whole world every 90 minutes and look down on the places where we do things right, and look down where we’re doing stupid, brutal things to each other and the inevitable patience of the world that houses us — I think everybody would be reinforced in their faith, and maybe readdress the real true tenets of what’s good and what gives them strength.
And when Hadfield says “everybody,” he means it.
Refusing to elaborate on the details of his own belief system, the astronaut said that faith is all about what resonates most powerfully with any given person and that “if you start talking in depth about your own [faith], you are excluding other people who have different faiths that give them strength. There’s no point in that.”
A former commander of the International Space Station, Hadfield, who announced his retirement from the Canadian Space Agency in June, has long been open about his experiences in space.
The 54-year-old, who has flown three space missions and conducted two space walks, has captured the imaginations of legions of fans with his inspiring and often surreal videos of his time in the cosmos.
Just last month, Hadfield published An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth, a book about his experiences above Earth.