Weathering the Storm

“Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.”
“All anybody ever talks about around here is the weather.”

cloud_250How many times have you heard these expressions, or how often have you thought something like them yourself? The local state of the atmosphere is so entwined in our lives and emotions that we rarely stop and think about it consciously. The weather just IS so we bundle when it’s cold, take a raincoat when it’s wet, and shelter from the storm. Weather is at the center of our lives, yet relatively few understand its physical causes or have deeply considered its more subtle emotional affect, outside of railing against the gloom of long wet spells or rejoicing in a day of sunlight. (Speaking for the Northwest, at least!) It’s really no wonder that people talk about the weather. But why is such talk often viewed with disdain?

Perhaps talk of the weather receives bad press because we rarely go below the surface. Gloomy weather begets gloom, but that awareness is as far as most people take it. We say, “what a nice day” when the sun shines, even though we may be in the midst of an economy-strangling drought. Is the weather really “nice” when it costs us so dearly?

Our relationship to weather is full of contradictions: powerful storms do terrific damage, yet many feel exhilarated in the face of one. Some love thunderstorms, even with the fearful undercurrent of lightning threat. Who doesn’t have powerful emotional reactions to awakening on a winter morning to a world veiled in white even though it means a struggle to get to work, and don’t we groan or feel cozy at the sound of Bing Crosby singing longingly of a White Christmas? The weather reflects our own contradictory nature.

Besides the effect weather has on our emotional and economic lives, the state of the sky is a visible demonstration of physical phenomena that permeate our whole universe: fluid dynamics, evaporation, condensation, turbulence, refraction, diffraction, electrical flow, and more.

Physics meets emotion in the clouds. The turbulent towers of thunderheads, or the smooth laminations of mountain “lee wave” clouds (those flying-saucer shaped clouds you often see downwind mountain peaks), have their emotional equivalents, once you learn something of the processes which shape them. Even without conscious knowledge of these processes, we are adept at intuiting forces that run parallel in emotion and the physical world. “He went through town like a whirlwind!” We don’t have to know much about the physics of tornadoes or dust devils to understand what that means. Little puffs of cumulus clouds reflect a distinct emotional state, as do high cirrus, or autumn fog. Frequently the emotions associated with weather state are practically inseparable from the physical processes involved.

If our talk of the weather seems boring or trivial, it may be because we don’t think deeply enough or notice well enough what is really going on around us and within. Zen sages say that boredom can be a mask for fear and that examining the heart of boredom can lead to fascination. Look and listen deeply. Weather says it all.