Human beings carry with them a cognitive toolset that allows them to plan, compare, and contrast. It is both useful and horrifying. We need to use it – but we also need to learn to rein it in. Unless we learn to rein it in, peace of mind, wholeness, and happiness are elusive.
A Sunset Mode of Mind
Imagine a sunset that you look on with profound appreciation. It is unique. There is not another such sunset on the planet. Wow.
When looking at a sunset we can experience simple appreciation. All of us could go back into a problem-solving mode of mind of course, as if it was important that there should be a little more pink here or a little more blue there. But we do not, or at least not normally. It would violate the beautyof the moment and we sense that. Instead we appreciate.
A sunset mode of mind is transformational. It is every bit as powerful as a problem solving mode of mind. And just as a problem-solving mode of mind is available every conscious moment, so too is a sunset mode of mind.
What would your marriage look like if you looked at your spouse as you would a sunset? What would your friends look like? What would your own history look like? What would that scared or sad little kid inside look like?
Several days ago I was at a party celebrating a successful doctoral defense. There was speech after speech about the much-loved new doctor. Finally his mother stood up and explained that she had never in her whole life spoke in front of a group. Never. Not once. It was far too frightening. But in honor of her son she proceeded to give one of the most loving and moving speeches anyone had ever heard. When she finished every one of the 200 eyes in the room was wet. The love in the moment was tangible. It was like whipped cream you could gobble down in gulps without feeling full. It was wonderful.
I would bet a thousand dollars not a single person sat back and focused on a thought like “what is wrong with her that she has been so afraid?” Such judgmental thoughts, if they occurred, were allowed to drift by because they were so irrelevant in the face of the beautiful sunset of a mother’s profound love for her child. Fear did not matter.
Such is the power of a sunset mode of mind.
On this day after Valentine’s Day is worth taking just a moment to appreciate those we love. I do not mean to evaluate them as being wonderful. I mean simply to appreciate their wholeness and humanity, beyond any judgment. Full of pinks and blues, each of our loved ones is a sunset, if we but see them for who they really are. Take a moment and look with wonder. Your problem solving mode of mind may object but your sunset mode of mind can see what else is true.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Steven C. Hayes
University of Nevada
(and thanks to my colleague Kelly Wilson for the sunset metaphor)