As children, we stared upwards and saw clouds morph into shapes of bunnies and dragons, mountains and valleys, smiling gods and wrathful demons. We occupied a mind closer to the mythopoeic (myth-making) minds of the ancients. All our mythologies arise from a time when people saw the world as an interplay of supramundane realities—palaces and gods in the sky beyond commonplace human activity. Ironically, if one studies the myths of the past, these fantastical worlds are actually closer to reality than the worlds we conjure up through our conditioned mind.
I can watch Icarus fly with wings made of feathers adhered to a wooden frame by wax. He is trying to escape from the labyrinth, a prison constructed for the bull-headed Minotaur by his father, Daedalus. But he flies too close to the sun and the wax begins to melt. I feel my own imagined wings melt in the heat as I plunge into the sea along with Icarus. I watch the insanity of trying to escape the prison of my own bull-headedness, and drown in my delusions.
I see this scenario play out in the clouds of my mind. But clouds are simply clouds. They spontaneously appear and take shape—then disappear just as quickly. I can project upon them whatever is in my mind at the moment and conjure up entire worlds out of nothing. When we do our visualization practice in Vajrayana Buddhism, we are essentially doing the same thing. The difference is that we know from the beginning that everything is dreamlike and insubstantial. Nevertheless, things seems to arise. The trick is to imagine a world as a field of enlightened intention and then dissolve any identification with the form.
One of the practices in Dzogchen, the self-liberated state, is sky gazing. Here we simply let the mind rest in the spaciousness of the sky. We watch clouds arise and disappear. We notice thoughts do the same thing. They arise and naturally self-liberate—if we do not cling to them. Whether we see the story of Icarus, the mandala of Green Tara, or any world arise in the mind’s eye, they have no inherent existence apart from the mind. Realizing this, we experience the natural lucidity of the awakened mind and notice we can create worlds of infinite form.
Joni Mitchell was really onto something:
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all