What Clouds Teach Us About Life

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

Lately, I’ve developed a bit of a fascination for clouds. Not for the scientific part of it, their names or how they are formed, or to find fun shapes. I just can’t stop admiring their beauty. Their evanescence is what makes up the main part of their magic for me: they are only ever this particular shape, colour and texture in this one, single moment. The next moment they’ve shifted, perhaps only slightly, and are forever changed.

In this way, clouds remind us of the extremely fleeting nature of life. No moment is ever truly the same. Our mind may try to create similarity and unity, but in truth, there are only singular, unique moments that we string together into a cohesive narrative. Clouds don’t let themselves be captured into a narrative. They just are, and the next moment they aren’t.

I find myself taking photo’s of clouds, to capture that amazing once-in-a-lifetime vision. The photo above was taken last Friday. The way the light of the setting sun breaks through a dark mass of rain clouds is something that always lifts my spirits.

The average cumulus cloud is about 1,000 metres high and wide. That’s huge, right? We see them move across the sky as these enormous masses that could easily crush a whole block if they were solid. But we know that when you actually run into a cloud, it is anything but solid. It’s just mist, vapour, the air heavy with drops of water or tiny ice crystals. And thus, when light breaks through it is enhanced by the reflection on these tiny drops of water. The darkness shapes the light and it also reflects it and makes it even brighter. Much like the dark times in our lives also help us see the bright ones more clearly.

Yesterday, I painted a seascape with large, grey clouds above it and loved playing with the shapes of the large cumulus, constantly changing them. I could tweak the shadows and accents and create new shapes while dabbing the brush ever so lightly. I got so caught up in it that four hours had passed without me even being aware of it.

Quite a bit of our life seems static, impossible to change. Much of it is outside our control (being unable to control that part is a major part of what causes my bouts of anxiety). But some things are within our control. We can pay attention to the thoughts and feelings we have and learn to think differently. We can influence our own behaviour (I can’t say that we can fully control our own behaviour because there are times when our emotions or old patterns take over). With a simple word, a look or a touch we can impact someone else’s day as well. Isn’t that a really magical power?

In as much as the evanescence of clouds is beautiful, it is also bittersweet. Knowing that a particularly gorgeous sky will never return, is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. And it teaches us to look, look, look; to drink it in, fully and completely. As such, watching the clouds is bringing me into the moment, much like photography does (as I’ve mentioned in this post on how photography is helping me.) It reminds me that all moments pass, the good ones, yes, but the bad ones, too.

Contradictoriously, since I’ve apparently really thought this through, what I like so much about watching clouds is that I’m not thinking about it. I don’t think when I’m looking. I’m just, well, looking. And that makes me feel really peaceful.

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