The Microclimates of Life

Thursday, February 11, 2016 - 8:34 am

The Microclimates of Life

I’ve gotten to spend much of the last few days in one of my favorite corners of the planet, the gorgeous Canadian city, Vancouver. It’s an amazingly cosmopolitan city: snow-capped mountains meeting the Pacific Ocean, forests galore, an enormous park in the middle of the city that makes New York City’s Central Park blush. Extraordinary Asian food. What’s not to love?

Well, the rain. It rains, and rains, and rains, and rains in Vancouver. Rains in the morning. Rains in the afternoon. Rains at night. Rains in your dreams.

I remember walking in a forest and seeing a sign that said that it rains 300 centimeters per year. That’s three meters. For those of us more accustomed to inches and feet, that’s almost 10 feet of rain.

When I arrived in Vancouver, I had a few commitments that left me with very limited free time to explore the beautiful outdoors. I had a long list of walking trails and hikes to check out. I have always been someone who senses the presence of God not merely in scripture, but even more in human beings and in nature. Seeing the forests named “Cathedral Grove” makes perfect sense to me, as nothing could be more sacred. Being in such a beautiful and scenic place, I was eager to get to places where the sacred shines in tall cedar trees covered by moss, shines in water running off of mountains in spontaneous waterfalls, shines in snow-capped mountains.

Except that in my visit, there was little shining of the sacred. Or any shining, for that matter. There was rain, rain, rain. And the rain was periodically interrupted by… more rain.

I found myself checking the weather forecast, looking to see when the rain would let up for me to go on my much-awaited hike. I found myself looking ahead at the weekly forecast, thinking: “Well, Wednesday afternoon looks like a good time for a hike.”

And that was when I came across a Canadian saying:

There is no such thing as bad weather.
There are only poor clothing choices.

It struck a chord. I stopped looking at the weather report, and actually looked outside. There, in the rain, I saw people. Lots and lots of people, walking in the same rain. Jogging. And yes, going for hikes. No, they were not wearing my walking shoes. They had on rain boots. They didn’t have my winter jacket on, but the additional layer of a rain jacket. They were not clutching to umbrellas. They had rainproof caps on. They carried on in the rain, walking, hiking, living, breathing. Not waiting.

(Helen Haden / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved.)

I wonder how often I have thought of life as something that happens in perfect, sunshine conditions, instead of thinking of life as the whole thing: the rain and the sunshine, the soaking and the drying, the puddles and the umbrella, the rain gear and the cap, the boots and the water soaked inside the boot.

Coming back to the Canadian saying:

There is no such thing as bad weather.
There are only poor clothing choices.

Poor clothing choices. I also wonder what the “clothing choices” of life are. What do good clothing choices and poor clothing choices in my own life look like? What if we start to think of differing “clothing choices” for different microclimates of life? What if I started to think about what would be suitable for thriving in each transient experience?

What if we — starting with myself — thought less about the superiority of tenderness versus toughness, and thought more about when the proper clothing is kindness, softness, and tenderness and when the proper clothing toughness, resilience, and strength?

I wonder how it would change our own relationship with the microclimates of life if we thought of life as being all of it: the tenderness and the anger, the love and the heartache, the hurting and the healing. What if we thought of all of the “climates” and “weathers” of life as necessitating different “clothing choices,” choices that are not permanent, but ones that we put on and take off? What if we thought of these clothing choices not as ultimately who we are, and more as “guests of our guest house?”

There was one other result that came from pondering the distinction between weather and clothing choices. It moves me from complaining about the weather to acceptance, and even relishing. All of a sudden, walking in the rain — yes, even the cold rain — when accompanied by proper clothing, has its own beauty. Who knew that the sand shimmers in falling rain? Who knew that, when walking on a beach, one can see a thousand little streams that all flow back into the ocean? Who knew that the raindrop is suspended from the edge of each leaf for a couple of precious seconds, and in those seconds all eternity is contained?

Somehow I moved from complaining to accepting, and then relishing, cherishing. I wish I could say that I was already at the point of being indifferent to the weather. No, I still loved the sunshine, and when it came out, oh, it was welcomed with open arms.

No wonder there are some religious traditions that see rain as the descent of Divine Mercy.

Gratitude for all the weather, and prayers that each of us is equipped with the proper clothing choices. May we pay attention not just to the weather that happens to us and around us, but also to the clothing in which we wrap ourselves — and our hearts — each and every day.

(Maga Soto / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved.)

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York TimesNewsweekWashington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads an educational tour every summer to Turkey, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trip is open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.

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