These Beautiful Clouds

September 15th, 2007

Imagine that it’s a beautiful summer day, and you’re looking up at huge, billowy clouds in the bright blue sky.

Sometimes we gaze at clouds and imagine that they look like a dragon or a horse or a person’s face. Sometimes they are just puffy and don’t seem to have any particular shape. But whatever that cloud is, it’s a perfect cloud– perfect just as it is in this moment.

As humans, we have the ability to look up at the cloud and think it looks beautiful. We have the power to imagine shapes in the cloud. We also have the power to imagine that the cloud is totally wrong. That it should be a different shape, or that it should look more like a dragon when it’s busy looking like a horse.

We don’t do this, of course. Such a thing would be silly. Everyone knows that clouds are perfect just the way they are, and though we can enjoy them, it would be a foolish waste of time to lie down on the green grass and get angry at each passing cloud because it wasn’t such-and-such a shape.

Our lives are just like these clouds. Other people are just like these clouds. You are just like these clouds. Just perfectly perfect, right now. No changes required. But we believe that humans can always improve, and so we spend our entire lives fighting and struggling and suffering because we’re sure that the cloud would be better if it looked different. The result is that we lie in the green grass of life, looking up at the sky, yelling and screaming and pulling our hair out because every cloud we see is wrong. If only the cloud could see that it would be better if it stretched a little longer! If only other people could see that they’d be better if they did this or that! If only I could get my act together and fix everything so that I could actually be happy!

But nothing’s wrong. Our actions are as silly as the person yelling at the clouds. All of the problems are objects of our own creation, and have nothing to do with the actual situation at hand.

All of our human endeavors – our efforts to get more money, our daily yoga practice, our counseling sessions, our meditation – all of these endeavors are exactly the same. They are all like looking up at a cloud and thinking “That cloud would be a better cloud if it looked more like a dragon.”

This is what we busy our lives with. All of our energy goes toward trying to make the clouds better. Their perfection is obscured by the noise of our own shouting and the agitation of our own minds. We might change the cloud (as was described in Richard Bach’s book Illusions), but we haven’t made it better or worse. And we might change our lives, but after all our great efforts to enact change, we’ll always find that our life isn’t any better – we’ve merely re-arranged things so that we get more pleasure than pain, or more peace than agitation — at least for a while. This might sound better, but when we have the ability to discover the perfection of life, just like we can see the perfection of each cloud – well, the truth is that no amount of pleasure or peace will even come close to the perfection of seeing things just as they are.

This seemingly magical ability to revel in every moment of your life is simple to discover. It’s much like the feeling of lying back and looking up at the billowing clouds. We don’t have to expend effort to enjoy them. We don’t have to use special techniques. We don’t have to change our perspective. We simply have to lay back and see the clouds just as they are. This is the only thing in life that matters at all. And it’s the only thing that can create any real change. We’re free to yell and scream at the clouds for our entire lives – it’s so common that one might call it ‘human nature’ or ‘the meaning of life’. We think it’s natural and normal. Often it’s not until we’re totally exhausted that we finally give up the fight and see that the clouds were perfectly fine all along. That’s when we discover the timeless place of no regret, no worry, no desire to fix what’s already perfectly fine. And that’s when we discover the tremendous beauty and wonder that’s been there all along.

4 Responses to “These Beautiful Clouds”

  1. This is a beautiful piece, Kenton. It reminds me of a line from the Dhammapada:

    Suffering follows an undisciplined mind like the cart that follows the ox.
    Happiness follows a disciplined mind like a shadow that never leaves.

    Best, Daniel

  2. Greetings Daniel,

    Great to hear from you again! Thanks for the quote, and the always thought-provoking comments. They help add clarity to things =)
    Here’s where this one led:

    I suppose one might wonder — does a cloud have a happy mind?
    If so, we’ve learned what we mean by discipline. If not, (or if we say it has no mind at all), then we’ve answered our own question better than we could have with words. In either case, we’re just asking questions about our system of thought, and thus we come full circle to see what we’re really talking about.

    Sweetwater,
    Kenton

  3. Rahul says:

    Greetings Kenton,
    Another superb article. Another great way of teaching me to lose my misconceptions.
    I have a question regarding this though. How do we just lie back and think every moment is perfect, and balance it with our ambitions & goals? I’ve always been an ambitious person, who wants to go out and get it. How do I just let go and be non-ambitious? As I’ve always had this fixation on getting better and better, striving for people’s approval, feeling good about myself, I find it very difficult to just let go, and think of everything in my life as perfect.
    I know my mind keeps telling me to keep striving, and I know it’s not the right way, because it hasnt given me peace. But I’m still addicted to it.

    Thanks again for your efforts to shake me out of my dreams.

  4. Greetings Rahul!

    I’m very glad you brought this up. ‘Thinking everything is perfect’ can easily become another effort at self-improvement, and by that means become something we’re striving to do. Trying to think everything is perfect simply won’t work — because we feel very certain everything is not perfect. It becomes an effort of trying to convince ourselves of a new perspective, which is exactly what we’re not trying to do. Even when we see (as you pointed out) that our usual methods don’t bring us peace, it’s tough to break the addiction, because we’ve been taught that the only way to achieve happiness is through continued effort.

    Your question is like asking how one falls asleep. There is no easy answer, because any effort to fall asleep usually prevents us from getting there. This ‘Just Being’ is the same way — it is something that we ‘achieve’ through a strange sort of non-effort. We don’t try to get it, nor do we just forget about it and go watch movies. We have to re-discover that magical childhood ability to get things done in the way that play was ‘accomplished’. You just go out and do it, with no mind for any certain results.

    The funny thing, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this site, is that we actually find ourselves better able to accomplish our life goals when we’re not spending most of our life energy standing in our own way. Our dualistic mind is expert at this self-defeating practice, and will usually manage to make us unhappy no matter what our life situation is. So you don’t have to give up your ambitions (in the sense of just deciding ‘to heck with it, I think I’ll just go eat chocolate and drink cocktails until I’m broke and homeless’). Rather, we just look at our ambitions carefully, see what they are telling us about our core ideas regarding life and the world, and examine our mind’s activity as it rationalizes our current actions and life philosophy.

    Often, there comes a moment of ‘giving up’, when you have discovered, through careful observation and awareness, that all of your current efforts are only creating the need for more efforts. If we look at this carefully, we see the circular nature of this game, and that is when we might discover that there is something besides this game. But I’ll say again – this is not something we can accomplish through our normal type of effort, and it’s important to always examine your ideas and actions regarding Awakening. It’s tricky! You might examine things and decide that you are making an effort to Awaken, and then apply a more subtle effort to try to stop your first effort! The key is not to force anything – just use your natural Awareness to look at things. If you’re trying to have no desire for accomplishment, just look at it – see the feeling for what it is. By this means you will develop the ability to look at all of your mind’s activity, and that simple act of looking will unfold the experience of seeing what’s Really Going On =)

    Sweetwater,
    Kenton

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