Photograph by Luke Shadbolt

How’s the Weather?

words by willow defebaugh

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers a holistic look at life on Earth, seen from above.

“The water in your body is just visiting. It was a thunderstorm a week ago. It will be the ocean soon enough. Most of your cells come and go like morning dew. We are more weather pattern than stone monument.”

Jarod K. Anderson

We are water. By now, I’m sure you have heard that the curious substance that brought life to Earth makes up as much as 75% of your body. Even your heart is 70% water, perhaps the reason why so many cultures have connected water to our emotions. But have you ever paused to ponder the journey those miraculous water molecules have made—that you have made? The water cycle may be among the most elegant and efficient of Earth’s natural systems. It should come as no surprise that it’s a cycle we mirror on the journey that is being human. 


It’s impossible to say where the water cycle “begins” because circles do not have a beginning or an end. For the purposes of this newsletter, though, we’ll start with evapotranspiration: the combined processes by which water transforms from a liquid into a gas. Most evaporation comes from the ocean, though it also comes from snow and ice (sublimation) and plants (transpiration). It happens when enough kinetic energy has been gathered—from heat, humidity, wind, and other forces—allowing the molecules to eject themselves from a surface and rise as vapor into the atmosphere. It starts the way all our journeys do: when the conditions are just right.


Water vapor is nearly imperceptible, making up between 0-4% of our atmosphere—and yet it accomplishes much, acting as an important greenhouse gas, transporting latent heat, and driving weather patterns. Similarly, across a thousand microscopic moments, we lose ourselves—but only for a time. These vapors travel through the atmosphere by wind and accumulate into clouds. When the air contains more water than it can receive by way of evaporation at the current temperature, condensation occurs; the water molecules begin to turn back from vapor into liquid. 


So comes the storm, when the sky reaches its tipping point and can no longer contain the water within. The excess of water begins to fall from the sky in the form of precipitation; based on the temperature, this may be rain, snow, or hail. Depending on the circumstances, it can come with floods and hurricanes, blizzards or thunderstorms. Catharsis can take many shapes, after all—but at its heart is always a release, a letting go of all we have been carrying.


Finally, the water brings its journey full circle by way of transportation. Some of it nourishes the Earth where it lands, percolating in the soil. Some of it is absorbed by growing things, the greenery that abounds. Some of it evaporates quickly back into the atmosphere. The rest returns to the sea, carried by rivers and streams back to its immeasurable source. After its many transformations, rising and falling, gathering and release, it comes home. Back where it began, at its conclusion and commencement, it finds itself again.


While linear thinking has dominated our world, like all of nature, we exist in cycles. How much more suffering do we create for ourselves in denial of that simple fact? As Pema Chödrön writes: “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” 


I don’t know where you are on your particular journey, but I do know this: you will not be there forever, or even for long. Life keeps flowing. The measure of wholeness or emotional wellbeing is not our ability to weather any storm, but to know in the deepest depths of our watery hearts that we are the weather itself. We are the sea and all we cannot see above it. We are the clouds and the storms they sire, the rainfall and the rivers that return us home. We are water.

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