Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Just Weather

It’s hot. The kind of hot, combined with humidity, that reminds you that living in a large city is not the healthiest place to be. The air is thick with the smell of steaming asphalt, lingering car exhaust and rotting garbage. People hurrying along the blistering concrete look wilted and get easily irritated when someone is blocking their way or moving slower than they are. Strangely the heat does not seem to lift much at night. I got up at five this morning, walked out onto the balcony hoping for some relief, and stepped into a warm soup of heavy air.

There’s a saying about Canadians- that if you ask us how we are or what we have been doing, we will give you a weather report. There’s some truth to it. Maybe it’s because we experience such extremes in one place- forty below to forty above (that’s Celsius- which translates at the bottom end to just about the same and at the top to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.) We tend to keep an eye on the weather so we know whether we need snow shoes or flip flops. I like it. It makes me stay in touch with the environment, reminds me that some things are beyond my control and that the only thing I can do is try to prepare for the possible while knowing it is unpredictable. When I spent some time in Los Angeles I found it disorienting not to have to check the weather report or the temperature before leaving the place I was staying. The weather was pretty much always the same. You needed a light sweater or jacket in the morning or evening and otherwise, could simply stroll out in the same clothing each day. It made it too easy to disconnect, to feel as if my tiny human intentions and plans for the day determined everything about how the world unfolded.

Weather is particularly good at giving us perspective because it is so impersonal, so beyond our immediate control. Oh, we may complain a bit, but the truth is that we are aware that our reactions to the weather are pretty ineffectual in influencing more than our experience of whatever the weather is. That’s the point: weather just IS. If you want to go skiing but it warms up and the snow melts, it may be disappointing but you don’t take it personally (most of the time.) If you plan a picnic and it pours rain you may feel some frustration, but there’s no one to yell at, no one to blame- and that’s a good practice to develop.

So, one of my mantras when I am feeling frustrated about things that are clearly beyond my control (like, for instance, other people, interest rates, and- some days- my health) is, “It’s just weather.” Because, if it’s just weather, I know a number of things are true: it’s not personal (so there is no point in making myself miserable by taking it personally); it will pass and change; and there is little or nothing I can do about it, so I may as well do what I can (put up the umbrella, shovel the walk, wear a hat) and not suffer over what I can’t do (control the uncontrollable.)

This is perhaps surprisingly challenging to remember even when dealing with the small stuff. Years ago, when my son Nathan was about twelve, at the end of a long and tiring day, I dropped a macaroni and cheese casserole meant to be our dinner. It shattered on the kitchen floor. I stood there in disbelief, staring at the mess.

Nathan, seeing my look of frustration (and no doubt anticipating where that frustration might unfairly land) said, “Oh no. Who can we blame for that?”

And of course, I laughed, my anger dissolving in the recognition that as much as I wanted to direct anger somewhere it wouldn’t be warranted or do any good. So, I just started cleaning up the broken glass and macaroni. In some ways, the broken casserole was “just weather.”

This seems to be some kind of key to living a happy life: recognizing what is “just weather,” that which is beyond our control and will inevitably will change. Sometime when we prepare for “weather” (the uncontrollable) we guess right- we have our umbrella handy when it starts to rain. And sometimes we get wet. Either way, it’s just weather.


  1. I too live in an area of extreme temperature changes: yesterday was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, yet this past winter we had the most snow we have had in years. I have a tendency to long for the season in which I do not find myself. In winter I long for the warmth of summer sun, when melted snow has given moisture to the earth to water the much loved trees in my yard; in this summer heat I long for the first really cool night when a blanket is needed and the first snow fall that will kill all the weeds in my yard. And so it goes.
    As I read your words this morning and reflected upon all those things that are uncontrollable in my life, I also thought about all those things that I can control. Amid the circumstances of my life right now, I sometimes feel that I have very little control over anything, and I think that is when life gets difficult for all of us, when we feel we are powerless over anything.
    So sometimes, when this feeling of helplessness comes heavy upon me, as it does most mornings when I first wake, I simply ask myself “how do I find meaning amid this, what choices are mine to make” then I move within those things I still find are controllable--my willingness to continue, the choices I can make, the place where I source my joy and love and hope, and how I chose to see the uncontrollable.
    Then I forget about the winter and cool respite from summer’s heat, and I hear the bird’s sing up the sun, I notice that roses are blooming even in this heat. I am grateful that I can provide water to the trees, and I take a blanket, find shade and lie down and do nothing. I imply find joy in knowing I am here to experience the uncontrollable, I am alive. That counts for a lot.

  2. Thank you so much Oriah. As always this was so insightful and helpful, There is so much in life that is 'just the weather' and you have opened my mind today to not worry about the things I can't control. Thank you :)

    "Why worry about things you can't control, when you can keep yourself busy controlling the things that depend on you?"

    Phoebe, England xx

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  4. Hello Oriah,
    we're having some weather here in Italy too, hot, close, humid, sudden thunder and dark clouds, then baking heat again. You are right, it has its way whatever I want it to be and there is a certain pleasure in that, I'm not responsible for everything.
    I found my word this week, it just crept up on me and within minutes quietly established itself as having been there since early childhood. A lot of past, present and future is illuminated. Thank you.

  5. Oriah,
    Thank you for your words on letting go of what we cannot control. I needed to read this today. I am currently in a power struggle with my childrens father. We have been together 11 years and have struggled financially due in-part to lack of money, but probably mostly due to the fact that we struggle with budgeting the money we do get. I have a desire to change, to try different things to see if they will work, but he isn't on the same page with me. He seems to feel that if he continues to do the same thing, he will get different results, that eventually we will get caught up. But in 11 years that hasn't happened. So our daily lives are based on feast-or-famine, and in such unpredictable patterns that it makes my head spin.

    We have two children who are learning by our actions which exacerbates my need to control the situation. But I am learning painfully that I cannot do a thing to change his ideas about money, that I can only change my own. I have tried to talk my version of sense into him, but he doesn't seem to see it as that. And maybe he is right. As I write this, I see that it is futile to try and force-teach anothers lesson to them. The hardest part with letting go of my need to control in this situation, is that we are all affected by his decisions. He is the sole income in the household and I am a student trying to get an education so that I can get a career and help support our family. It is hard to see the kids go without and try to find unique ways to fill their lives that don't involve spending money. But this is what I have to work with right now, so I have to make the choice to let go or it will only create further tension in our relationship and waste precious time finding solutions for the only person who's behavior I can control: mine.

    It's amazing how we can have such different realities even that though we are in a partnership. But we each have our own lessons to learn. Maybe this letting go stuff is a part of that growth for me. Of course I know it will change, and will probably change more smoothly if I take action and do what I can rather than freeze and feel sorry for myself because he won't. I like your "It's just the weather" analogy. I can use that phrase when I want to believe that his stagnation has anything to do with me or our kids. It is his own path after all. Thanks for your insight.

  6. Liz, wow- that's a tough one- letting go of wanting to control or convince another when their actions can have an incredible impact on us and the conditions of our life. Remember, when you know rain is predicted you bring an umbrella. So, I guess the question is, given that you cannot change the other (and will only cause misery for all if you keep trying) what's your "umbrella"- that which can protect you and your children from possible/probably consequences of actions beyond your control? Don't have an easy answer but heading into a fairly predicatable storm without the right equipment (whether it's an umbrella or sun hat or snow boots) can result in real consequences. All the best, oriah

  7. What I can say is that it is not just the weather when someone makes a conscious choice to share their life experiences with others. It's great. To you Oriah and all those who do respond to your blog - Thanks

    I am glad that you hang with us. : )
    (as in hang out - oh this kid talk)

    gennefer (who lives in sunny CA)

  8. Gennefer- well sometimes weather is lovely :-) O

  9. "the only thing I can do is try to prepare for the possible while knowing it is unpredictable."

    Inspiring words to live by.

    And so why is it we use the phrase "the sun came out" rather than "the clouds moved away"?

  10. Maybe "the sun came out" reminds us that it never went anywhere- was there behind the clouds all the time- and now we can see it. :-)

  11. Hi Oriah,

    Your post reminds of a beautiful song from my part of the world downunder

    everywhere you go, always take the weather with you.

    I was trying to think of some advice to give my 21
    year old son who has gone to study in germany.
    He knows such a lot about life already, and those words kept ringing in my ears.

    Jen B, brisbane,
    couldnt work out how do a profile!

  12. Good evening,

    could you pls inform me if there are translations in the Dutch language???

    I would like tot read them in Dutch.

    Thank you,


  13. The fun part is remembering to bask (and believe) in the sun even when we don't see it.

  14. Oriah, thanks for your reply. I was thinking after I wrote the other day about possible solutions to take action, to have that 'umbrella' so-to-speak.

    I was reading "The Power of Now" the other day and one thing that stood out was that when one is in an unsavory situation regardless of what it is, there are essentially 3 choices: "Leave it, change it, or if you can't do those; accept it," because otherwise you are clouding the ability to be in the moment.

    I am not ready to leave it, as we have built our relationship on more than just finances. I can't change him or his choices, so I have to accept it and work with what I have. I know that my ability to do this and take action to change myself can change the dynamic of these financial issues in the dollar sense, but also in a psychological sense, because this financial strife has only been able to exist thus far because of our combined contributions. We created it together. It cannot be the same if I don't play the same old game. Even if he continues to refuse to do something different, it can change without me playing or without having power struggles with him.

    Also, I have noticed that there is power in setting examples in our relationship. We learn from eachother a lot by watching the other engage in positive action and getting good results. So rather than me trying to convince him to get on board, I need to just get on and let him choose for himself whether or not he wants to stay and risk drowning. Of course that is not something I want to see, but I cannot control him. I have tried to do that a long time, and that's my issue.

    My umbrella construction has started by picking up a book on finances to get an idea about where to even start. That in itself has elicited some engaging conversation betweeen him and I, but whether he follows through or not, my hand will be writing a budget. It's a start anyway.

    Umbrellas can take some time to build, but you are right Oriah, it would be dangerous to stand by and expect those dark clouds in the distance to dissipate before they reach me, so it is good to be realistically prepared for that bad weather.

    Saying "it's weather" in this situation gives me the ability to detach in love as opposed to grip on tightly and try to force-change him, which isn't what love is about. When I can do that, it helps my conscious choice about being in a relationship with another live up to it's greatness.

    Not easy, but I am learning which is what I always hope for.

    Thanks Oriah for the input! It's great to come here to read and learn.


  15. I am not sure where to post this, but I wanted to tell you that "The Invitation" was part of our service this morning (we are Unitarian Universalists). Once in a while, I hear something that speaks to me. This spoke to me in a voice so profound it left me, in turn, speechless. It's as if in those few lines you summarized my entire world view and value system.

    I just wanted you to know that your words moved me and were very meaningful. It's comforting to know someone else "gets it."

    Thank you.