A Different Perspective

by Elizabeth deGraw Renna

At 5:00 o’clock one recent evening, as I was leaving work for the day, the sky was filled with dramatic and amazing layers of fluffy clouds, most looking like miniature thunderheads. It was a blue sky, not an about-to-rain sky.

At 7:00 o’clock I made my way outside to my deck. I pulled a chair right up against the house with the purpose of leaning my head back in order to look up at the clouds that were still dotting the sky. I was attracted to them because they were moving, visibly moving, from west to east and the soon-to-be setting sun was lighting them up, each cloud lit up in its own way, depending on what other clouds were around it and where it was in the sky at that moment.

As I sat there, I noticed a spot in the sky, about halfway down to the horizon, where the clouds were very thick and heavy and a bit gray in color, but in a formation that had also resulted in a small opening, like a window, revealing very bright, light blue sky, dotted with tiny white clouds that looked far away. It felt like a window to heaven, a peek into a very faraway place.

I didn’t sit very long with my head tilted back before making an impulsive decision. I spread the towel that I had with me, onto the deck, and using the pillow I had been sitting on for my head instead, I lay down on my back to watch the clouds move by.

Immediately I gained a new perspective of the sky. If I tilted my head back and up, I could see clouds that were in essence behind me as I lay with my feet pointing south. I thought, “Oh, they’re upside down now.” And then I told myself, “That’s OK, I don’t think it matters. You can still see them and appreciate their movement across the sky and the way the sun is lighting them up.”

I noticed that the sky was actually several colors of blue, a very light blue to almost white near the horizon and gradually becoming a dark, deep intense blue straight above me. There was more of a contrast in color between the clouds and sky straight up. That’s where my attention stayed, for the most part.

I lay there and breathed, just watching and noticing. To my left, in my peripheral vision, was the house, rising up like a triangle with the top point being the roof. To my right, peripherally, was a deeply green and fully-leafed maple tree. I think it seemed extra green because of the contrast with the dark blue sky. There was a breeze blowing and I was occasionally aware of the sound of leaves whisper-rustling and the feel of the air moving across my bare arms.

I began to notice that there were two layers of clouds in the sky. The lower layer, closest to me, was formed by big and medium size fat and fluffy clouds, most with the blurred edges of a watercolor or pastel rendition. This layer was moving from west to east at a speed that was very noticeable. Above those clouds I saw a higher layer of wispy, smaller cloud formations, much fewer in number and scattered in the sky; they didn’t appear to be moving.

At one point, with a sort of suddenness, I felt like I was in an airplane, looking down on a layer of big, fluffy clouds, with a view of tree-covered but snow-capped mountains visible below. The wispy clouds had begun to look like the snow, with the dark blue sky seeming like mountains blanketed by pine trees. The first time I had this upside-down perception it startled me a bit and my mind quickly reversed it, telling me, “No, no, YOU are on the ground, looking up.” But I let myself breathe back into that sensation and perception several more times, fascinated.

I also discovered that if I fixed my attention just a little bit on the side of the house, then I would experience the sensation that the house was moving rather than the clouds. This also felt a bit startling and disconcerting but I let myself return to this perception also. At one point the peak of the house felt like the prow of a boat moving through water, with me on that boat. Later when I turned around so my feet were pointing north, I had the maple tree on my left, with a peripheral view of green branches reaching into the sky. If I fixed my attention ever so slightly on the tree, I realized, I could have a similar sensation that the tree was moving, receding away from me… and yet never really moving at all.

In another moment I found my attention fixed on the darker blue sky in between some large clouds. I discovered that I didn’t want to keep my attention there for very long because the sense of the vastness of the sky and the far-awayness of the Universe was a bit overwhelming… and a bit scary. Refocusing on the clouds helped ground me again.

When I first lay down on the deck, the clouds in the sky were pretty thick, covering most of the sky. They had contours and shadows, so it wasn’t just a purely cloudy sky. And as they moved along, headed east, the clouds began to break up, forming more individual clouds and cloud strings, with wispier accompanying clouds either expanding or contracting while also moving to the east. After about half an hour, the sky was mostly clear, with small clouds visible in the far distance, just above my horizon of trees, and lit from behind by the lowering sun.

I’m glad I followed my impulse to lie down, to view the sky from a completely different perspective.