Does it ever happen to you that—when things are going great—blue sky and fresh breezes—some small thing derails you and lets a host of storm clouds cover the sky?
Even though you know that the sun, the light, is out there, those clouds are in no hurry to move on. The world feels suddenly dark, even though what set you off was silly and small.
This week I needed to learn some cloud management.
Prep for my book launch has gone super well—and last weekend I offered my first-ever art exhibit at the site where I will soon be doing a book reading. Sharing my art felt both intimidating and thrilling.
I continued into the week “all systems go” with prep for my book launch. But then a friend who is previewing my book Meeting the Muse After Midlife found the first typo— missed by my two proofreaders. (I’m a lousy proofreader myself.) Even knowing that a few typos are inevitable, I felt crushed that my book wasn’t perfect.
And a big cloud darkened the sky.
My husband tried to remind me of how I had written about the Japanese philosophy of “wabi-sabi” in my book. It’s a worldview that sees imperfection as part of life. Lasting beauty allows for it and sometimes even requires it.
Remembering the principle of wabi-sabi, though, didn’t stop my mind from throwing a hissy fit.
Finding the clue I needed
Fortunately, later that evening, I read a passage in The Practice of Contemplative Photography that offered me a way to shift.
Author Andy Karr asserts that we’re all born with natural artistry, but that our artistry gets concealed by the “clouds” that block our creative light—things like preoccupations and strong emotional reactions. Losing ourselves in the backwaters of anger, jealousy, comparison, and similar emotions can keep us from fully noticing the world around us. So can listening to our minds discursively jump around in relentless chatter throughout the day—and often into the night.
According to Karr, struggling to eliminate the clouds blocking the light doesn’t help. While we can strive to become more aware of ourselves and our reactions, suppressing our feelings or wayward thoughts doesn’t work. He writes,
“It only adds to their energy and solidity….Surprisingly, the best way to deal with these obstacles is to recognize whatever they are and let them be. A light touch of awareness, repeatedly applied, cuts the momentum of emotion and discursiveness.
“Trying to get rid of them just leads to more struggle.”
Yay! (I said to myself while breathing deeper.) I didn’t have to judge myself for thinking what I was thinking or feeling what I was feeling.
“Another key is learning to recognize naturally occurring breaks in the clouds: moments where the light naturally shines through. The more you cultivate these gaps, the longer they will last and the more opportunity you will have to settle into your experience and creatively engage with the world.”
That was what I needed to hear—an invitation to practice noticing the gaps between the clouds, rather than lamenting their presence.
With curiosity and observation, rather than judgment, I could notice what helps me become present again and notice the light, even when times feel dark.
One of my favorite practices, especially during bouts of fear, is to “Come to my senses” and invite my senses to take in the sounds, sights, textures, and smells around me. It helps clear my head.
When I think about noticing the gaps in the clouds, I’m able to see their beauty, while remembering the Light that is behind them. My book will have gaffes; my book will serve others.
Which is useful because…
It’s been dark out there. So much fear is in the global air. The planetary cloud cover this week has felt dense with war, murders, terrorism and senseless suffering. Then for me personally, more bad news about a friend’s illness.
Still, the Light keeps coming in through the cracks and gaps, and I want to do my part to share more light with a world that needs it.
Speaking of clouds
As I wrote this, I found myself humming Joni Mitchell’s ever-engaging “Both Sides Now” with the line “So many things I would have done but clouds got in the way.”
If you need a little light today, this recording of 78-year-old Joni singing with Brandi Carlile at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival might do it—at least it did for a thunderously appreciative audience.