The sun was shining brightly in a clear blue sky and the birds were gliding calmly in the wind. We found a flat surface on the rugged red boulders to sit. Looking out into the ocean from the cliff, we could see as far as the horizon. And then I realized how limited my perspective actually was.
As part of a monthly retreat ritual this year, where I take time to reflect and reconnect with myself, I was fortunate to spend the weekend at a friend’s summer home in Rockport, Massachusetts. Rockport is a small, ocean-side town that was established in the colonial era. It is a town stuck in time and that’s where in lies its beauty, in addition to being neighbors with the Atlantic Ocean.
While sitting quietly, with a few new friends, we admired the views of the ocean from a popular lookout point. Although all we could see was the ocean in all its beauty and glory, the curvature of the earth prevented us from seeing very far out. Curious as to how far out we could actually see, a friend (thanks Google) shared that at sea level, one can see approx. 13 miles out. That’s not very far at all. And at the tallest human-made point on earth, the top of the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, one can see a mere 64 miles out. Barely anything.
From having my attention buried in a smartphone or a laptop to now looking out at the ocean from the rocks of Rockport, I realized that my perspective was widening. And as I start to zoom out and my perspective changes, new ideas enter my thought stream and my experience of life begins to shift.
Paintings by Jonathan
Walking in downtown Rockport, drawn by bright colors in a nearby windowsill, I found myself wandering into a small studio. Quietly browsing (in real life, not on my phone) the art on display, my initial perception was that the paintings were nice but nothing caught my eye that was unique or worth writing home about.
Just as I was about to exit the studio, I heard some laughter and turned around to see a young man, clothes covered in paint splotches, with a smile as big as the moon and eyes wide open, animated in conversation with fellow browsers. He caught my attention, I went towards him to say hello. His name is Jonathan. I was intrigued by his clear passion for life and asked Jonathan about what inspired his work. He shared that after he lost his father, he had moved from Boston to Rockport and soon after learned how to paint. He now paints to bring joy and cheer into the lives of cancer patients and their families. He hosts classes at many hospitals in Boston, invites patients and their families to Rockport for art retreats and continues to use color to bring lightness into some of life’s darkest moments.
It was only once I widened my perspective and tuned in that I came to discover that Jonathan’s paintings are unique and his story is definitely worth writing home about.
A New Yorker who works in tech
In the town of Rockport, I quickly learned that everyone calls it in early at night and the real action happens in the morning, as people rise naturally, in near perfect coordination with the sun.
On the first morning, I met my friend’s father, John, who had been out for a walk with Lester, the family dog. After Lester and I exchanged a few pleasantries, John and I got talking and I had shared that I work in tech and live in New York. Over the course of the day, I got to share a few meals with the family to get to know everyone a bit better, all while enjoying some peaceful time reading and reflecting by the ocean.
The next morning, I was up a little earlier and saw John sitting quietly in the sunroom, soaking in the morning, reading a magazine. Now, like Lester, I suspect that John was starting to feel more comfortable with me around. Unprompted, he shared with me that his perspective of people who live in New York and of people who work in tech has changed, thanks to my visit.
He shared that meeting someone like me who was visibly present with the people in the house, made strong eye contact, was not distracted on his phone, chose to actively listen and would not stop talking about mindfulness, was not what he had been accustomed to from the people he knows who live in New York or who work in tech.
While generalizations may be convenient, they are rarely accurate. Thanks to John tuning in and being open, his perspective was widened and impression changed.
Courage in the quarry
Rockport back in the day was filled with quarries built to mine granite. Granite that was used for the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and likely in many of the homes around the town.
The quarries were large, thousands of feet deep into the ground. They would be used to mine to the point where spring water would begin to surface. While the quarries were active, pumps would help control the water. Business was booming until it wasn’t. The abandoned quarries filled with spring water that one could drink from, as it was as clear as a cloudless sky.
Yesterday we went for a swim in the local quarry. A unique experience. As I began to walk into the quarry, I could feel just how cold the water was. Doubt arose in my mind. Did I really want to do this? I did. And thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
After drying off in the bright sun, I was grateful for that ounce of courage that was required when doubt appeared about getting in. I started to reflect on the many moments in business when I need that same courage. This experience of stepping into the cold water gave me the perspective that although doubts may appear along the path, I do not need to be afraid to pursue decisions with courage and trust that it will be fine on the other side.
Natural lookout moments
Taking time to pause, zoom out and widen my perspective has become a ritual for me, as it was previously not natural to pause and lookout. The end of a day, week, month, season or year can be beautiful moments for this.
This year, I have been taking a long weekend each month on self retreat, where I will disconnect from technology, spend time with nature, read something inspirational, reflect in my journal and be mostly on my own (or occasionally enjoy the company of others, like this past weekend).
These moments help me pause mentally, breathe in some fresh air, look out over the horizon into the ocean and see my perspectives start to change.