Need to Let Go? Look to the Sky

The passing clouds are reminders that the world is always in motion—so too are your thoughts.

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Remember the childhood game of looking up at the clouds and imagining what animals, vehicles or other shapes you saw in all that fluffiness? The film critic Roger Ebert once said something that puts that game into a thoughtful context: “Clouds do not really look like camels or sailing ships or castles in the sky,” he said, “They are simply a natural process at work. So too, perhaps, are our lives.”

In early summer, breezes carry clouds across the sky so beautifully—so effortlessly—that I marvel not at their shape or size, but at how they remind me that the world is always in a natural state of motion. 

In Ecclesiastes 3:1, King Solomon writes, "For everything there is a season. . ." Buddhists would call this idea impermanence, the notion that this moment’s sky looks—actually is—materially different from the sky that blanketed overhead only moments ago. The Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh makes a direct connection between those breezy clouds and our emotional lives when he says, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky.” 

Feelings, like clouds, are impermanent. Joy, sorrow, anger, worry—none of those emotions will accompany you forever, any more than a wisp of cloud will be waiting for you when you gaze upward an hour from now. 

This can be either a challenging or a comforting idea, depending on your perspective. It’s hard to let go of things, and a sense of loss accompanies almost every parting. But if we have no ability to release, how can we find the strength to seek out new things, new experiences, new people, new skies?

When I look upward, I choose to see the passing clouds carrying away only those things that are ready to move on to new horizons. Everything I need to hold onto is right here with me, down on the ground. But up above, everything is in motion, in a natural process that knows exactly what to do.

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