December 31st along the Oregon coast, and the sun is completely committed to going down at the end of the day. It will not be deterred by what anyone may say, think, do, feel. The earth is equally committed to being here—to hosting sea, sand and all creatures who dwell on or within it. Earth persists in service and beauty even when we’re unskillful in returning that commitment, and our flawed efforts become brightly colored plastic bits that scar sand and tide. The sunset, the sun itself, the very nature of water: all have grace and power far greater than any damage we could do. I look into the year’s final setting sun and see an eye of spirit meeting my own, looking back without blinking, without judgment. It gives me fierce example of simply going on. I celebrate that, and give thanks.
The sun has no use for our artificial calendars, anyway. Those too will only fragment in the tides, when we discard last year’s schedules, tasks and tattered goals. For the sun—for all of us—this moment is not truly the beginning or end of anything. It’s just another moment in a seamless continuum, beyond any lines of time we may draw.
The elements of sunset gather long before it begins, as an orchestra’s musicians gather long before a symphony. Wisps of clouds artistically dance across the afternoon sky, preparing to tint and redirect the day’s last rays. Waves dance too, warming up to catch and change later light before passing it along to us. Sea stack rocks add a solid frame, as rhythm does to music. The arc of horizon provides a context, bending as continuously as the arc of time.
Sunset unfolds without announcement, sound, or any seeking of attention. The color palette progresses with a freedom from solid form paints will never attain. Breezes are chill but gentle and enlivening. The taste of the salty wind, the sound of the ceaseless waves, the solid yet shifting sands underfoot: these too are elements of the sunset. They add a sensory depth to our experience, which crosses from sight into touch into feeling.
Since the earth sees the sunset through our senses, we’re an essential element of sunset too—not merely observers. We’re integral to the bright sky we breathe. Our love and wonder become central elements of sunset too, as we gather on the shore to share the moment. All who celebrate it become a family, together for this one and only time.
I can more skillfully celebrate the sunset because I’ve practiced watching the world’s beauty for decades now. I realize that the sun’s mastery in setting is a result of practice too. Even considering the solar system’s first billion years as the mere doodling of a novice, the sun has artistically set over the edge of the earth over one trillion times since, always with complete commitment and no resistance. No wonder it’s good at it by now.
The sun is equally committed to rising again after darkness. In my predawn New Year’s Day meditation, I know that is what the world now asks of me too. It asks for joyful recommitment.
On one level, that means recommitting with joy to all that it is my purpose to create and to love. That includes daily devotion to my aging mother next door; to a creative path of gratitude, actively built to shelter others; to turning my wounds into gifts; to nurturing the land and those who stand beside me there; to being as nonjudgmental as the sun.
On a deeper level, it also means recommitting to joy, and not just with joy—for it’s in joy that commitment moves beyond resistance, and into ease. Within joy and celebration are where our living mastery emerges, regardless of hard circumstance and inner imperfection. Joy is what inspires and motivates all other commitments.
I will never be able to practice joy for a trillion sunrises, but I can practice again this morning. I can savor this moment with all my senses, including my sense of spirit within the rising sun’s great eye. I can practice loving my New Year’s Day family in a way that makes no demand, just as sunset and sunrise never demand that we watch. I can let the perfection of silence speak far more wisdom than my words ever will.