My favorite art exhibit absolutely ever is Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds housed at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA. To experience Silver Clouds is to become a child again lying in the backyard lost in a summer sky, your imagination bobbing about gently in big puffy clouds. You frolic with dogs and kite-wielding dragons or pilot a cirrocumulus pirate ship through the great sky sea.
Silver Clouds doesn’t hang on a wall or sit atop a table. It’s a room with four black walls and low light. The only objects in the room, aside from a couple of low-blowing floor fans, are 25 big square silver Mylar balloons. The balloons are filled with a mixture of helium and air. They drift around the silent room bouncing lightly off of one another as they half-float, half-sink through the gentlest breeze from the fans.
The first time I experienced Silver Clouds, I walked into the room and closed my eyes. The marshmallow clouds swaddled me like a baby as I left my worries on the still earth below. I was enveloped in warm sunshine and an open blue sky. The clouds felt soft against my skin like chick feathers. Then I became a cloud, floating weightlessly. I felt euphoric and free for just a moment. It was bliss.
Weightless oneness as I floated with the clouds
I recalled Silver Clouds the other day as I was watching my almost three-year-old son, August, try so earnestly to hug the bubbles I blew gently toward him on our porch. He moved toward each bubble, arms open wide with expectation as it disappeared in his eager embrace. He had unwavering trust in each bubble that it would hug him back. August hugging bubbles reminded me of the weightless oneness I felt as I floated with the clouds that day. He engaged fully and gleefully with each new opalescent orb headed for impact, its predecessors forgotten. He was completely lost in time with each bubble as he became one too. I like to imagine a billowing bubble bouncing off his soft little cheek in a happy wriggle instead of going pop!
I march enthusiastically alongside my son on his imagination-fueled journey through constant discovery. The woods where we live are resplendent with magic. Squirrels, banana slugs, and buzzing honeybees are the protagonists in his forest fairyland. Every play of light is a newborn mystery. Each butterfly opens a portal to paradise, her fluttering wings tickling the air around her. Those tickles float in waves through the air and land on my son making him giggle and squeal with delight. Then he spins in circles yelling, “I’m a helicopter”. Within seconds he transforms into a robot and then a dinosaur. He invites me to become a bug and flit about with him under the morning sun. Together we dance through the crisp dewy air to euphonic bird song and ingest the scent of fresh forest musk. I am utterly dazzled by this moment.
August spends most of his time in a state of either awe or wonder. He lives fully in each moment as it presents itself to him. He is utterly unconcerned about tasks and chores that lay ahead or regrets for things undone. My son lives totally in the here and now, seeing every color and shape and breath of the earth with a wondrous new perspective. Spending so much time with him on his adventures has helped me figure out how turn off my adult mind sometimes and reconnect with the child still in me. We crawl around on the ground roaring like dinosaurs and do somersaults until I’m too dizzy to move. I assume full character as we travel through the untamed lands of make-believe. I focus on simple moments of discovery and try to see what he sees. Evoking all of my childish enthusiasm and silliness, I push away the to-do list sketching its way across my day and just play. Sometimes I lay on the ground, staring with him in wonder at the sky high above the tall redwood canopy, waiting for a happy cloud to caress my cheek.
Trading grownup tasks for a few minutes of childhood
As adults, we crave to recapture the wonder of discovery that is unique to youth but it evades us. We find its poor substitute in alcohol, drugs, sex, television, shopping, or whatever else western society shoves at our dopamine receptors. With age, we become jaded and desensitized as we confine ourselves to the tightening paths we’re forging through life. Just a moment of child sight is so cleansing. I usually end up being more productive during the day for having traded my grownup tasks for even just a few minutes of childhood.
Whether you’re two and trying to hug a bubble or a teenager falling in love or in the florescence of social awakening at college, there is so much beauty that is unique to youthful discovery. The awe of seeing a bubble or a butterfly for the first time or floating with the clouds is pure magic. To remember that springtime of our lives evokes a beautiful, painful, nostalgic longing. As adults, we find awe in our children, travel, or self-discovery. We find it through art and nature. I’m utterly lost in awe sometimes when I look at my son. Just being in his presence makes my head swim in an ocean of epinephrine. When I pair that with the nourishing moments of child sight I have the perfect cocktail of happiness.
When I look through the sparkly rainbow lens of my inner child, I become a graceful western tiger swallowtail navigating the winding creek or an agile honeybee, my legs ballooning with orange pollen as I buzz devotedly alongside my flower-tending comrades. There’s a kind of mindfulness to these moments as the pure magic of child sight takes over, much in the way that Silver Clouds invites mindfulness through touch. The grownup world recedes into the void, a black hole distant from warm yellow sunshine and imagination.
I am free to be a child again, playing with abandon
Seeing the world through the eyes of a child doesn’t require having a child, just having been one once yourself. It requires shutting out all of the noise and frenzy that make up your grownup day. Reach way back to remember the sweet little child who used to live inside you. I have several sensory memories that serve as gateways to this place, whether it’s my dad tickling me while I laughed until my tummy muscles hurt or sitting in my grandpa’s lap while he pretended to eat my ears. It was just the silliest most fun thing ever. He smelled like scotch and cedar.
Calm washes over me as I close my eyes right now and inhale that scent deeply into my memory. It makes my eyes wet so these words are blurry as I write. That’s it though; I am through the portal and free to be a child again, playing with abandon. I become a child becoming a unicorn with great rainbow wings and an amethyst horn or an earthworm burrowing under the vegetable garden. My eyes closed, I feel the grains of dirt massaging my skin as I push languidly through the cool garden soil. I lose myself completely in the moment.
Our discoveries change as we age, as do the conduits for joy that overwhelm us. My son has taught me that freeing myself in childhood sensation might just be the key to happiness. Several times over the last couple of weeks, August has run through the house exclaiming spontaneously and exuberantly, “I’m happy! I’m so happy!” His proclamation must be pure and genuine because he is living only in his moment. He doesn’t know how to do otherwise. Hearing him exclaim his joy fills my heart with such rapture that I’m giddy and my arms sprout happy little goosebumps.
My husband took me on a surprise date a few years ago to see Silver Clouds at a museum in Arlington as the exhibit traveled its way across the world, as clouds do. It wasn’t the same. It was still serene and beautiful but the childlike feeling of discovery was marred by expectation having had such a profound experience twenty years earlier. I’m grateful for how the memory of Silver Clouds still affects me though because I can channel it anytime I need to become a child again becoming a cloud. As I float high above the earth, my gossamer cloud arms swaying to the melody of the earth below, I am free.
The clouds came by today, just briefly, to say hello and share with us their many hidden pictures. What do you see in these clouds floating gently above the redwood trees?
If you want to read more about Andy Warhol’s art piece Silver Clouds, click here.
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