Do clouds have bad days? Do you think a cloud ever wakes up, bursting at the seams, downpour-ready, when a sudden weather front prevents it? Are clear blue skies a cloud tragedy or a much needed respite? Do they have things they need to get done? Do they have deadlines?
Created through the (very official sounding) process of adiabatic cooling, clouds form from a speck of dust.1 As they grow they can become tiny wisps of cotton-candy or large torturous storms. They can bring peaceful shade or apocalyptic destruction. They are infinite in potential shape, size, and formation yet can be placed into a few broad categories.2 Whether insulating or reflecting, heating or cooling, shading or pouring, the life of a cloud is defined by the unique conditions of its birth and the interaction with its immediate surroundings. Sound familiar?
We humans share a lot with our ‘inanimate’ cousins (who are as alive and connected as any of us). Like clouds, we each play a role as one part of a greater whole. And like clouds, we play this role perfectly every minute of every day. The difference is our inward analysis and perception of how things are going. It’s the illusion of “progress” that makes us feel like we’re on the “wrong path,” “behind,” or “failing.” It is our judgement of the situation, not the situation itself, which causes dissatisfaction. Our arbitrary timelines, deadlines, and goals are part of our motivation machinery, but they do not define our purpose (which often goes hidden or unnoticed, like clouds unaware of the vital roles they play).
True, clouds have a distinct advantage in accepting their existence as is—accepting life with a stoicism afforded only by the most inanimate of nature’s living body. But we can still learn a lot from clouds, created and destroyed in harmonious balance with the rest of nature. Are we really any different?
Related essay: “If We Were Like Trees” (2017)