Grey Cloud Rising


The back of our house faces south west. When I practise Tai Chi outside in the garden before breakfast, dawn is breaking, and for the last few days there have been times when the clouds have parted, or lifted, or thinned in pale grey washes, and sometimes rippled across a clear background like waves of chiffon or melted towards the horizon like smoke.


I’m not much good at Tai Chi. I know very little and I’m clumsy and unbalanced – but looking across the back of the house towards the east I do Hands Waving Clouds, and feel for a moment as if I’m a part of the sky. Even if the clouds are too thick to catch a glimpse of sun, even if it’s raining, I can still sense a brightening, a sense of light, and it’s perhaps the best part of the day. If I can’t grab a camera quickly enough I do another sort of practice later with a brush and watercolour; a similar focus – just a different kind of immersion.

The side of the house and the top of the wooden fence make two sides of a rectangle framing the sky which makes it easier to focus on the clouds and the colours in isolation, and it makes me think of James Turrell’s Skyspace installations. It’s not the same – it can’t be – but in a small way it draws me in and fills me with something of the same sense of quiet wonder. I looked again at this short film about Turrell’s Skyspace in the Deer Shelter at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and realised I’d never truly appreciated the subtle variation of the greys in English clouds, and never consciously thought of England as being an island at sea, and having a ‘maritime light’. (It’s taken someone from a larger continent to draw my attention to that).


I’m never more aware than when I’m watching clouds that peace and stillness come only from within, and that happiness has very little to do with what I have or don’t have, or my circumstances. I’m more and more aware that a deeper, more widespread peace can only come from my being at peace in myself, and from being able to let it spread out in small ripples wherever it can. This season of peace and goodwill I’m surrounded by people in a tearing hurry, pressed on all sides to do a thousand things to satisfy the Christmas spirit. Every now and then someone stops in their tracks to reflect on this, pauses for a moment to declare the need to remember-what-it’s-all-about (I’ve been doing the same thing myself) – and then jumps straight back into the race. It’s the way it is (though not always the way it was), or really needs to be. But to pause in the middle of a race is to feel the best of what it is to be still.

‘After sharp showers’ said Peace, ‘the sun shines brightest.
No weather is warmer than after watery clouds,
Nor any love dearer, or more loving friends
After war and woe, when Love and Peace are masters.
There was never war in this world or wickedness so keen,
That Love, if he liked, could not turn to laughter,
And Peace, through Patience, put an end to all perils’

William Langland (1332 – 1400)
Piers Plowman


9 thoughts on “Grey Cloud Rising

  1. I read all of this and thought, yes, yes. And I have seen the non-maritime skies. Mexico, for example, has skies that are so blue that…
    But at the end, with the poem, I have to think differently. I know everything is OK. I have had moments like that. I recall once knowing just that. But this thing about love conquering all has a snare that is waiting. It is the snare that tells us that everything can be redeemed and saved. But it may not be so for us. The planet can go on, but we may not. Not with pollution and this problem and that problem. Yes, I know – let it all go. Relax in the bosom of the unfathomable. Yes, and it’s true. See how I go back and forth? And someone once said to me just that – that it is what makes us – this going back and forth between ‘everything is OK’ and ‘everything is not OK.’

    Lovey, lovely article.

    1. David I’ve been thinking about this and I know I’m going to go on and on musing on it – as I have often before. In the end I think it’s a matter of scale – that in the bigger picture – the biggest – we are indescribably tiny in relation to the whole universe and can’t see or understand more than our own indescribably minute part of it. Not that that excuses in any way our part in the damage we do and have done to each other and the planet. And yes, I too go back and forth, in fact daily. But I would rather be like that, uncertain and groping and fearful but groping forward in faith, than live with the unshakeable conviction that yes, come what may, eventually everything will be OK…..
      So I do what I can, to think and do what I can, which is not much. As do you – I’ve just read your post about damaged musical instruments. Sometimes you say more by saying less than I can ever say by writing (as all too frequently) too much.

    1. Arvind, I’m so sorry this comment of yours somehow got lost – and I’ve only just discovered it. How kind you are – thanks for such appreciative words! I’ve been enjoying your drawings, which are lovely. Happy New Year!

  2. You leave me with so much to ponder. Small and big, small in this big world, the impact we make the need to notice. To look up and see your beautiful gray sky and really see it. Thank you, another wonderful post.

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