One of my favorite things to do as a child was to lie down on our front lawn and look up at the clouds. For me, being outdoors staring up at the big blue sky, was one way to feel safe and calm. When I wasn’t perched up in the large mulberry tree in the backyard, or planting marigolds outside our front door, I was staring dreamily up at clouds and sunsets. The only thing that made it better was when someone would join me. I loved the sheer pleasure of trying to find shapes in the complex cloud structures and sharing my discoveries with a friend. Little did I know that I was practicing meditation.
It seems that no one is looking up at the clouds these days. Everywhere I look, all I see are people staring down at their phones. And even the saying he or she has their ‘head in the clouds’ carries a somewhat negative vibe. But clouds provide us with a fantastic opportunity to rest our minds, and as Kaplan and Kaplan’s studies have shown, we need to provide our brain with opportunities to rest. When we don’t take time out to rest our attention, it can lead to mental health issues.
How Clouds Help Us Meditate
Not only that, but by keeping our head in the clouds, so to speak, we are providing ourselves with an excellent opportunity to meditate. For years, I thought I was completely incapable of meditating. I would try to sit cross legged and empty my mind of all thoughts. It was always in vein and those pesky thoughts would continue to spring back up. Traditional meditation consists of focusing on a single point of reference, such as our breath, or a word or phrase known as a mantra. This kind of meditation leads to a decrease in distraction and rumination and makes it easier to let go of negative thoughts.
But for those of us who struggle with this traditional method, there is another way to meditate. Finding something to focus on in nature provides the same experience as focusing on a mantra. Clouds provide a very easy way for us to turn our attention to something other than our thoughts and give our brains a rest. And many times a unique shape of a cloud or cloud formation will quickly catch our attention. This provides that element of awe or surprise that immediately stops our ruminating thoughts.
Cloudspotting, a Healthy Hobby
While researching clouds and meditation, I stumbled upon a hobby known as cloudspotting. Cloudspotting is simply the practice of observing clouds as a recreational activity. As much as I enjoy looking up at the clouds, it never occurred to me to turn it into a hobby. I was fascinated to learn that clouds can be grouped into 10 different genera and are organized based on shape and the altitude where they are found. Shapes of clouds can be grouped by layer, heap, rain or wispiness, and within the 10 cloud genera there are 15 cloud species, 9 varieties, 11 supplementary features, 4 accessory clouds, and 5 other kinds of clouds.
So rather than sitting cross legged on a pillow and trying to come up with a mantra, it may be time to start a new hobby. Much like bird watching, cloudspotting can provide us with an opportunity for healing. This hobby requires time spent learning about specific types of clouds, traveling to find the clouds and then sitting quietly to observe and analyze. This creates an opportunity for mindfulness and meditation.
Keep Your Head in the Clouds
Whether you choose to learn more and take up the hobby of cloudspotting, or would prefer to just lay in the grass and look up at the sky, I encourage you to head outdoors this weekend and look up at the clouds. If you have someone who can join you, bring them along. Contrary to popular belief, meditation does not need to be a solitary event. It can be just as beneficial in a group setting And oh so much fun when you have someone else to identify shapes with. Or if you prefer, just let your eye follow the clouds and imagine yourself floating with them. Be sure to leave your cell phone behind and give your brain a much needed rest.