This is part of a series highlighting some of the poets anthologized in Poetry of Presence. We thank the poets for providing the material. Today we shine the spotlight on Laura Grace Weldon.
Short bio: I live on a small farm where I cook weird things, sing to livestock, and stay up late reading library books. I’m the author of a poetry collection titled Tending and a handbook of alternative education, Free Range Learning, with a book of essays due out soon. I also write about mindfulness in prose and poetry. These pieces include welcoming mistakes and celebrating humanity as well as finding meaning in coyote songs and spider webs.
Summer is a perfect time to gaze at clouds.
The traditional spot to indulge in this pleasurable activity is sitting in the grass. Better yet, lying on the grass. Stay there as clouds drift into view over treetops and roofs, slowly changing form. Linger long enough, you might insist you can feel the planet moving.
Looking at clouds is a perfect way to disengage from all the buzzing, ringing distractions that claw our attention to shreds. Those puffs of air vapor seem to invite contemplation. And that’s good. Daydreaming is so rejuvenating that it can boost creativity. It also helps us to relax, review emotion-laden situations calmly, generate new ideas, and get to know ourselves better.
When we let our minds wander, we’re in what neuroscience calls the “default mode network.” An L.A. Times article titled, “An Idle Brain May Be The Self’s Workshop” notes,
Just as sleep appears to play an important role in learning, memory consolidation and maintaining the body’s metabolic function, some scientists wonder whether unstructured mental time—time to zone out and daydream—might also play a key role in our mental well-being. If so, that’s a cautionary tale for a society that prizes productivity and takes a dim view of mind-wandering.
Even when you don’t have time to lie in the grass, take the time to notice the sky. Really look at a starry sky, overcast sky, rainy sky. You may be getting more than a glimpse of the firmament.
I learned this when I helped conduct a psychology study in college. We went to urban office buildings and asked people two questions. First, we asked each person to describe his or her mood. Second, we asked them to describe the current appearance of the sky. These people were in offices or hallways when we talked to them and the windows in most buildings were shuttered with horizontal blinds ubiquitous during that decade, so the only way they could have described the sky is if they had paid attention on their way to work or during a break. Here’s the interesting part. People who identified themselves as pessimistic, angry, depressed, or in other negative terms tended to be the ones unable to describe the sky’s appearance. You guessed it. The happiest and most optimistic people either correctly described the sky or came very close.
That study was never published, but research these days now indicates that pausing to experience nature in our daily lives is powerfully positive. Just a few minutes of regular exposure has been shown to improve our emotional and physical health. It leads us to be more generous, to enhance relationships and value community. The effect of nature, even looking out a window at nearby trees, seems to lead us, as one researcher noted, to be “our best selves.”
Go ahead, look at some clouds right now. You may see a cloud pig sailing a cloud boat. The sailboat may morph into French fries before the whole thing breaks apart into a shape resembling a bongo-playing octopus. Good thing the images we see in clouds aren’t a meteorological Rorschach test.
Website and social media: