Reference Framing

Summer clouds (Anna Spencer |

Imagine dangling from a precipice over a bottomless abyss. It happened to me once. I had no climbing gear and there was no safety net. I can tell you: it was scary.

It was not in the Himalayas — they would not be high enough for that experience, anyway. It was on a football field!

I was a guest at a wedding of some friends in the early 2000s. It was in a small city on a clear and sunny day, and the venue was next to the local football field.

At some moment I decided to lose the crowds and rest a bit. I lied down in the grass of the football pitch. Just flat on my back. Squinting into the blue air for a while, until my eyes adjusted to the relatively bright sky.

The air was royal blue with only sparse clusters of snow-white clouds, as if by way of decoration. They were slowly floating to one side like a migrating herd of some grazing animals.

The sight lulled me to a quiet, near-perfect relaxation. Lying on a straight field even my peripheral vision was not disturbed by anything. I felt my back touching the grass, but all that my eyes could see was the immense expanse of deep blueness.

That's when I played a little trick on my mind — I said to myself: what if I do not peer high up into the sky but down, deep into an immense blue abyss?

At that moment it was easy. And for the next while even frightening. Suddenly I realized that there was nothing between me and the depths, that my only safety was the light connection of my back against the grassy ceiling. My heartbeat quickened and I must admit I flinched, instinctively grabbing some grass blades in a feeble attempt to tether myself to spaceship Earth. The next moment I was back in reality.

Then I relaxed again and — cautiously — I inverted my frame of reference once again. It was still a bit scary, but dizzyingly beautiful at the same time. I revelled in the feeling of peering into the infinity of the cosmos through the thin layer of the atmosphere, attached to my planet only by a gentle pull of gravitation. It was exciting. It was liberating. It was unforgettable.

And I find it difficult to replicate it with the same intensity. I tried a few times — but there was always something occluding my peripheral vision. Or the weather was different — I think it helps when there are clouds but they must be crystal clear and far away. Maybe I simply did not spend enough time. It sometimes takes a bit of time to calm down enough to be able to play with one's frame of reference. Or perhaps it was an unique moment in my life when I managed, if briefly, to completely change the accepted reality.

Still, I am by no means ever going to stop trying. And if you stumble over me lying in the grass at night, don't be surprised. My dream is to repeat this experience on a starry, starry night!


sky depth height vertigo cloud experience illusion


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