Some of you may remember the old ballad by Judy Collins:

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from win and lose and still somehow, it’s clouds illusions I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.”

This is a metaphor for life. Clouds often symbolize sadness and depression but can be bright, fluffy, and filled with water and rainbows.

Perhaps you got up one morning recently to look out at a cloudy sky. Gloom, depression, irritation, getting soaked, and your newly washed car getting spotted. Dang. The day is off to a bad start. That is unless you are from California where skies are decidedly not cloudy all day but they haven’t had but a smidgen of rain in nearly four years. North and West Texas are suffering from some of the same. Here on the wet Gulf Coast, we have gotten plenty of good soaking rain this year. Let’s be grateful.

On the other side of clouds is always the possibility for positive or negative imagery.

Try to imagine those clouds as big bellies pregnant with rain and giving birth to spring plants, flowers, and flourishing trees and later raising wonderful summer children of vegetables, fruits, green grass and roses.

When we penetrate the gray and lowering clouds, say in an airplane, the sun is always bright and shining. In fact, on a flight last week, I had an amazing cloud-based experience. I was hurtling along in a small plane. Apparently planes larger than a foil-wrapped street taco don’t make the direct flight to Pittsburgh. Crowded uncomfortably into a delayed flight, I looked out the windows at the cloud formations as we entered the Houston airspace.

There were peaks and valleys, smooth areas and rough pileups, lush forests, undersea corals, and every shape of mushroom. Almost anything the mind could imagine was visible in the clouds. If my mind had been dark and brooding, as it sometimes is, I would have seen unhappy and glaring faces, ugly masks and sneering harlequins among the clouds. Instead, I saw the Pillsbury doughboy, a raft of Tolkien-esque elves, dancing children’s theater characters, and more. All these were elating, beautiful, and calming. Another few deep breaths later in the flying taco and I was slaloming down the puffy clouds like I used to do skiing in the mountains of Colorado.
A few moments later, I had to take a few extra deep breaths as the pilot brought us throu

h a mountain of clouds and suddenly we couldn’t see a thing ahead. I went into a short panic until I remembered the pilots use radar and really don’t need to see through the clouds. Also, they aren’t likely to bump into other traffic or a stalled F-150 pickup. Breathe.

How does all this relate to your health and healing?

In the same way that we can view clouds as threatening, dark, and gloomy, we may also experience our feelings, thoughts, and attitudes in a negative light. Thoughts are not reality though and feelings can change. By reframing or reinterpreting our view of inner dark clouds, we can move from despair to joy. Similarly, even looking at bright clouds, our negative or depressed thoughts and fears can project and create a cast of cartoon faces and characters that are menacing and dour, aligned with our shadow feelings.

How do we “reframe?” Clouds can be seen from both sides as good or bad. Nonjudgmental moment-to-moment awareness like we attain in states of relaxation or mindful practices can alter this subjective feeling to an ease-filled and natural accepting state. If meditation isn’t your thing, similar results have been found with repetitive prayer, exercise, yoga or tai chi exercise, dancing, or deep conversations with a trusted person.

Refreshing our perspective with positive imagery, a few mindful breaths, and/or some cleansing and cognitive shifting thoughts can help us see the same clouds in a very different and more healing light. One way to dispel clouds of worry and negativity is to realize that joy is a choice. One other way that you can choose to shift attitudes for yourself and for others is using the so-called loving kindness meditation: “May you be healthy, may you be happy, may you be free from pain, may you be at ease. “ Picture those you know, love, and especially those you may not like so much embraced in this kind of affirmation and blessing.

Watch the clouds just float away. Oh, and be grateful they left us some water.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.