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Likes and dislikes, sunlight and overcast

Posted Aug 26 2008 4:29pm
It has been raining heavily in San Francisco these last few days, in counterpoint to what has been a pretty dry winter. Last night, hail the size and shape of ball bearings clattered down for about a minute, covering the streets and cars in pointillist whiteness, and then, gone, followed through the night with stabs of rain, and a clear sky this morning.

S.F. is similar to Boston, where they quip that "If you don't like the weather, wait fifteen minutes." I've always preferred these storms to the long stretches of overcast--"pointless clouds" as a friend recently put it--that characterizes winters in my home town, and it's probably not coincidence that I've ended up in a town with such micro-variable weather. There's a sense of aliveness in the clatter and crash and flash of a decent storm that's hard to find in day of dim light and canvas-simple clouds.

Now, as I sit in my office, there's medium-heavy rain slanting down onto the roofs below the balcony window, and sunlight slanting in my French doors, through some gap in the clouds. I notice that I like it. And that noticing gets me to thinking about what one does in a life with the experience of "liking," and what it means to manage "liking" skillfully or unskillfully.

The "pointless clouds" used to affect me deeply. My mood would often track up or down according to whether the sky was hidden or not, which went largely unnoticed until I was walking down a hill in North India, under one of these pointless skies. Suddenly the bondage of having my mood selected directly by the weather pattern became starkly obvious. "This has to change," I declared to myself, and over the years it substantially has.

Yet all deep patterns have increasingly subtle layers; like strata of rock, all of the same composition, but with the course gravel on top, pebbles under that, sand below, and fine dust at the bottom. As you dig through a pattern or habit of mind, you will go through levels of course and fine expressions of the same pattern. So it is with the preference for types of weather, having cleared much of the gravel, sitting here in my office I notice some of the sand or dust. It can't be denied: I notice the visceral, sensual effects of the light versus the gray clouds, the thoughts of "I like" or "I don't like." Affinity definitely exists.

But the recognition of like and dislike does a funny thing: it exposes the experiences as relative and constructed. And this offers a very important opportunity to change one's proclivities from something one identifies with ("I'm just a person who hates to be in nature") and therefore must rigidly defend ("Stop ASKING me to go hiking! You KNOW I'm not that sort of person!"), to something more akin to raw information ("I notice that when I'm in the woods, I feel an uncomfortable prickly sensation in my back."). Then you're free to act on it in different ways, more fluidly and openly, without ruling out whole swaths of experience ("Oh! I get it. If I get enough rest while hiking, and don't go for long, I can actually enjoy being on the trail!").

Applying it to my overcast aversion: if I decide that I am simply a person who cannot deal with this type of weather (identification), then I might move to a sunnier climate, or stay indoors, shades closed, hunkered down till the sun comes out. Or I can see that the overcast has certain effects on me--sluggishness, dimmed vision, etc.--and decided as occasions arise what to do, rather than have one reaction to fit all situations. Some time I might sit with the slowness and see what joy is in that. Other times, maybe when I'm at work, I might turn on the lights and have some coffee. Another time, I might ask a friend about their different experience of the weather and experiment with taking that on like an actor. And so on.

The point being that by dis-identifying from likes and dislikes, you don't become a bland person, but actually come to know your "working" self more intimately, the result being greater freedom and flexibility. Or more simply, not being tied down by your own likes/dislikes, you become happier.
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