“Above the cloud with its shadow is the star with its light. Above all things reverence thyself.” ~ Pythagoras.
I believe I have always had a fascination with nature. As I got ready to leave Jamaica after high school to go to nursing school in the UK, I made sure to take plenty of photographs. Of course, that was in the ‘olden days’, when you took your shots without any idea of what they looked like until they were developed some time later. My photos were mostly of views around Chapelton, gazing over at the Bull Head Mountains (and yes, you could see the shape of a bull’s head!); or across the Rock River Valley. There were more views than people. Perhaps I thought I didn’t need reminders of my friends and family. But I would need to look at those views and imagine myself there.
It hasn’t changed. My phone (which is of course my camera now) still contains more shots of sunrises and sunsets; flowers and forests than people. I have never been overly fond of seeing my own image either, so I am more likely to have my photo taken at someone else’s request than my own. And yet with age comes wisdom. It is now fascinating to see old photos of myself from this perspective. The photos that seemed so terrible when I was a teenager I can now view more dispassionately, and be far less critical of all my perceived flaws.
Mountains have always been my favorite. To be able to wake up and look out of your window at the hills; to look around and see the mountains rising up in the distance; that has always been my dream. I often sang to myself the Burning Spear song: ‘And if we should live up in the hills’, although to be honest, for many years I thought the line was (more appropriately): ‘I think we should live up in the hills.’
But that was not to be, at least not for the bulk of my adult life. Living in South Florida for over 40 years has other selling points of course, the weather being the most obvious. Admittedly, the summer humidity and heat can only be survived through artificial cooling. But although the landscape is unnaturally flat, I discovered beauty in the everchanging skyscape of clouds. And on a very gray day I could pretend that hidden behind the banks of clouds were mountains!
The clouds themselves have beauty, and relatively recently, having moved into an ‘upstairs house’, I was gifted with a round window that faces due east. Each morning I am presented with a view of the sunrise, colors that change in hue from oranges to pinks, and clouds that paint pictures in the distance. It may be that we are given these amazingly colorful skies courtesy of pollution or natural events halfway around the world, but we can still give thanks for the variety and vibrancy of their shades.
I remember once as a teenager, when a teacher didn’t show up for a ‘3 period’ class – standing outside of the classroom looking out across the playing fields. The morning started out clear, with an empty blue sky. As we leaned over the balcony and chatted together (don’t ask me how no other teacher noticed our lack of industry), I watched as a wisp of cotton appeared in the sky, and gradually another, and another. By the time the bell rang for the end of our ‘free time’, the clouds had bumped up together and formed a white billowy mass of cumulus clouds, towering upwards to the upper atmosphere. We had received our geography lesson, as we saw hints of gray, and knew that before too long we would be drenched in the icy cold drops of convection rainfall.
In the Buddhist tradition, one of the most important lessons is to lose ‘attachment’ – not to be so attached to outcomes and things that losing them causes pain and suffering. I remember how we used to identify valuable objects as having ‘sentiments attached’, which in our vocabulary we changed to ‘sediments’. It is easy to look around my home and find items that I have been holding onto because of their ‘sediments’. How can I give away (or throw away) some of these items? A book of poetry given to me by an aunt who died in 1967. A trinket bought by one of my children at an elementary school sale for Mother’s Day (‘I spent two whole dollars on that!’).
But it is not just attachment to belongings that can hold you back, it is attachment to expectations. We often go into situations or relationships with expectations of how other people should respond, and then we are disappointed when they don’t. We feel let down, when we should have recognized that it was our expectations that were to blame. It is not easy going into a situation without expectations but if you just observe and appreciate instead you can keep your equanimity.
One of the exercises that Buddhist monks do, to demonstrate that all of life is impermanent, that nothing is certain or guaranteed, is to create ‘sand mandalas’. These are complex works of art, created by pouring colored sand into careful and intricate circular designs. They may take several weeks to create and are geometrically and spiritually significant. After completion they are taken apart, dismantled, and carefully distributed to disperse positive healing energy into the world.
I have begun to see clouds as a form of nature’s mandala, always changing, showing that beauty does not only exist in one shape or form. I overheard a person on the phone the other day saying ‘It’s only me’. That is a common enough introduction, but it sends such a bad message to our brain, to our spirit. Clouds, people, mandalas, we are all works of art, all different and significant.
On this rainy Friday morning (the clouds reminding me of their valuable contribution to the cycle of life) I hope you can see beauty in each moment, and not worry too much about how things will turn out. I hope you can capture the beauty of a cloud, or a flower, or a sunset, or a child who will look totally different one year from now!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!
Hi me again
I am not sure the Buddhists got it quite right. For me, it’s not so much about attachment and loss. It’s more about the fear of loss. Evolution has given me the capacity for attachment, whether it be a child, wife, a hope, a pristine mountainside or my Dad’s lost penknife. Why fight it? Is it not more about acceptance of loss/change? And here, I don’t mean we don’t try to maintain the status quo or initiate change, but being accepting of an unfolding universe and our place (or perhaps role) in it.
Perhaps you are not saying much different from the Buddhists. Accepting that so much is out of our control that we accept that loss will happen, and perhaps that loss could open us up to new possibilities. So there is freedom in letting go, instead of holding on to expectations. This is, however, easier to say than out into practice. What do I know? All is a work in progress.
To be fair I am not sure what Buddhists are saying. I don’t get a sense that they speak as one “voice”. At least based on my travels … :”Buddhism for Dummies”, Youtube and the like. I find Stephen Batchelor and the late Alan Watts give an insight as to what I would like Buddhism to look like. But that is a different story.
My background and environment point me to thinking that concepts like freedom and control are illusory, but then what do I (an agnostic) know?