Thoughts are clouds and you are the sky.
That’s a nice sentiment, isn’t it? It could be a mantra for meditation. Or a meme. It’s also more than just a nice phrase. It’s a powerful description of why we’re perfectly whole, at peace, and loving in our truest form. Thoughts are awfully similar to clouds. Let’s break this down by looking at the nature of clouds and their relationship to sky.
1) Clouds can take different shapes
Sometimes clouds look beautiful and majestic. Sometimes they look like cute animals or Pokémon. Other times clouds look ominous, like they could unleash a storm from hell at any moment.
Thoughts are the same. Some thoughts are friendly, fanciful, and fun. Some are just odd. Others terrify us.
Because we’re human, we become partial to clouds we like and resent or resist the ones we don’t. Yet regardless of our preferences, all clouds are made of the same fundamental stuff. This is also true of good thoughts and bad thoughts.
And here’s the cool part — do you have to do anything to make a dark scary cloud go away? No. Do you have to do anything to make a dark scary thought go away? No again.
And here’s why…
2) Clouds are transient
Clouds can come and go quickly, like they’re late for a date with a cute cloud far away. Sometimes they form out of vapor and then an errant gust of wind scatters them into nothing again just minutes later.
Sometimes clouds linger for a while, filling up the sky so you can’t see the sun.
Yet regardless of how many clouds there are or how long they last, if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the sky, the best strategy available to you is simply to wait.
Thoughts work the same way. If we’re hoping for a calm, peaceful mind, trying to achieve it by eliminating or forcefully quieting thoughts is an unfruitful strategy. As the Buddhists say, that’s like trying to smooth rough water with your hand — you’ll only create more waves.
Clouds always leave if you let them. Just like thoughts.
We can understand this aspect of the nature of thought better by looking at another of its characteristics.
3) We don’t control clouds
To the chagrin of weathermen and -women everywhere, we simply can’t control the weather. As much as we would like the weather to be gorgeous for the upcoming picnic we’ve been planning for weeks, sometimes the atmosphere has other plans.
Thoughts are similar. They always come and go at their own pace. We would love to be in charge of them, but we’re not.
At first this might sound like bad news. But on the other side is a massive sigh of relief. Whew.
Since we can’t control our thoughts, it’s pointless to try. When we see that, we don’t have to do anything to stop trying. Truly seeing it means the behavior stops making sense. And when we stop trying to do something that can’t be done, it frees up loads of energy to accomplish things that actually can be done.
We become lighter and more effective and focused because the relationship between us and thoughts has been righted.
One last characteristic of clouds ties this all together…
4) Clouds stand out more than the sky
On a day when the view is 50% cloudy and 50% clear, what do we notice when we look up?
Usually the clouds.
And that’s not a bad thing. They stand out. Like how as you’re reading this post, you’re focusing on the small black squiggles that form letters and words, and not the blank white background. It makes sense that our minds work like that, and it’s helpful in many ways.
But if we spend enough time only noticing the clouds, we might get tricked into an illusion. We’ll stop seeing the sky completely and think there are only clouds. Some might even see clouds so clearly and persistently that they’ll believe there is no sky.
Yet everyone knows how tremendous a clear blue sky feels. It’s splendid, and makes you want to sit outside with people you love until the stars appear.
And then clouds return, and we focus on them again.
On the journey of life, we can rediscover the wisdom, peace, and wellbeing that are always inside us, and we do that by learning things about the nature of thoughts – which happen to be pretty similar to clouds.
5) Tying it together
Understanding that thoughts continuously arise but are impermanent, take any variety of forms, and can’t be controlled, weakens the grip they have on us.
When their grip weakens, we regain a magical ability. We stop focusing just on thoughts, and develop an organic fascination with the thing that makes thoughts possible: the space in which they occur.
We see the sky again.
When separation grows between us and thoughts, positive change happens spontaneously. That’s because who we really are — each of us — is happy, peaceful, mentally healthy, loving, and confident. Expressed uniquely through the prism of our individual personality.
Those traits re-emerge because thought is the only thing that can obscure our true nature. When thoughts stop mattering so much, we get in touch with who we are underneath them.
It doesn’t require effort, willpower, intention, or repetition. It happens by understanding the nature of thought for yourself.
The world doesn’t ever become perfect, and we don’t become divine spirits who evaporate into nirvana. We’re still in the human form, as long as we’re in the human form. And human is actually a great thing to be, when we know who we really are.
We are not our thoughts. We are the sky in which they happen.