“The frosty sky, like a furnace burning,
The keen air, crisp and cold,
And a sunset that splashes the clouds with gold
But my heart to summer turning.”
The first stanza of “A Winter Sunset” by Lord Alfred Douglas sums up a few emotions I have towards the end of the year.
We’re well into the sunset days of our year. The penultimate day of each year is often a more reflective time for people than New Year’s Eve. At least this is true for many of my friends and acquaintances.
Tomorrow is the time to obliterate the old year in celebration, and for many, drunkeness. Partying and drink do not foster thoughtful reflection upon the past year. The 31st is about oblivion. Figuratively speaking, on December 31st, the last edge of the Sun is on the verge of vanishing below the horizon.
Sunset is the most photographed daily event. It’s when the sky is most colorful and when most people are awake to witness it. Sunset is unlike sunrise because of the wakefulness of the population.
I was inspired to think about this year’s sunset days by a chance encounter with a Taoist Saying by the antique Chinese scholar Huanchu Daoren. There is much to contemplate in the little verse.
“At dusk, the sunset is beautifully bright; at year’s end the tangerines are even more fragrent. Therefore, at the end of their road, in later years, enlightened people should be 100 times more vital in spirit.”
I love the double metaphor in this saying. I’m drawn into the acts of reminiscing and contemplation by them. The remembering is beyond mere nostalgia. The remembering rides the timeline of personal and species history. We can recall the ambiguity of our definitions of space and time.
What is regarded as small depends upon what we are comparing. A jumping spider is tiny, compared to me. A dust mote is small, compared to the jumping spider. A calendar year seems like forever to a five-year-old child. The same year feels like just a few moments when we become a senior.
Despite what the dogmatists proclaim, the small is not too little, the huge is not too much. There really are no limits to our arbitrary means of measuring dimensions. The wordy texts of scriptures are, at best, approximations of what life can be.
Something very holy is lost in the rush of our society’s fetish of accomplishment. We rightfully salute the craft of getting things done. The arts and sciences have achieved many wonderful, beneficial things to help us cope with life. On the other hand, there is the grand art of leaving some things undone. Just as there are no limits to space and time, our minds can be just as limitless, if we allow ourselves to be truly free. Some things can never be completed.
The daily sunset is a marker within the cycle of the Earth’s rotation. Likewise, each rotation is a marker within an even greater cycle of the Earth’s progression along Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The orbit traces an imaginary spiral as we are transported in an even greater orbit accompanying the Sun through the galaxy. Likewise, this pattern continues with our galactic cluster, and so on and so forth through limitless Space.
A person can sit in silence and merge one’s being with all that there is. We discover there are no holy books, no singular path, no crafts that lead us to ultimate wisdom. We find that life is beyond mere words and mind. These things can give us a mental boost, but the rest depends upon leaving some things undone and accepting what is.
There are countless sunrises behind and before humanity. There are also the countless sunsets of the past and future until humans ultimately become extinct. What will our ultimate sunset be like?
If we take some time to contemplate the sunset of today and this year, we may discover how to accept our amazing lives as they are in totality. In this span of time, it is possible to break through to the revolutionary act of loving all living things, our home planet, and all that stretches beyond our limited perceptions.