The fiery red globe of light sank toward the horizon as the heavens joined the earth. Threads of angelic blue feathered the sky, mingling with white rolling clouds, as buckets of orange, then red, then dark blue, splashed their colors across the skyline until all that was left of the sunset was that mysterious green flash only wise sailors say they can see.
I watched this summer sunset unfold over Lake Michigan one dusk. It had wisdom to teach me as I experienced it first with an open heart, and then with a clinging mind.
Unfiltered by thought, my heart pondered. This is it. This beauty unfolding is in God. Everything is in God. I tasted what was there and now without having to dissect it.
My heart overflowed with awe. I breathed in the joy of being part of nature—a participant with the water, the sun, the sky, and God in a pure exchange. The “oneness” of the moment caressed my lungs. The golden hues of daylight turning to twilight bathed my skin.
But then my mind demanded to step in. It wanted to evaluate the sunset. Name it. Grasp it. Cling to it like there was something beyond, something I had to figure out or capture. I grabbed my phone and clicked a bunch of photos.
While my wife continued to stare at the setting sun, I jammed my I-phone at her face. “Isn’t that a great sunset? Look at this cool picture I took of it.”
Poof! The “in-the-moment” experience of being One with nature’s glory vanished as my talking head pushed aside my silent heart. In the subtle shift from heart to head, our encounter with inner beauty disappeared.
Jon Kabat-Zinn in, Wherever You Go There You Are, says we need to remind ourselves occasionally, “This is it.” This present moment is the gift we’ve been given, and there’s nothing we need “do” with it, except receive it.
Bernadette Roberts, in The Experience of No-Self, echoes Zinn’s wisdom. She details her life-long spiritual journey of learning how to let go of the “ego-self” that grasps and clings with the intellectual mind, and discovering the “no-self” that simply experiences life in the heart-felt present moment.
Roberts writes, “I felt bad about the fact that man lives his whole life in the false expectation that some ultimate reality lies hidden behind, beneath, or beyond what is. And I remembered my own life of searching and looking and now saw what a complete waste it had been. All the experiences of my life had been nothing more than a head trip, a great psychological hoax, a pointless circular affair….”
The Creator’s grace invites us to taste each moment as a spoonful of Divinity. When we move from the head into the heart we awake to where we are. We return to what Roberts calls the “non-reflective mind.” When we come to the realization—the final acceptance—that everything is in God, Roberts says, we realize what we see is all we get. This is it. It’s enough, more than enough. There’s nothing underneath, nothing to look beyond, and nothing to look around for.
As I watched the sun continue its slow descent, I closed my eyes, took several deep breaths, and shifted my focus back to my silent heart.
“This is it,” I whispered to soothe my mind. The beauty returned. It was in me, in the sky, and all around me.
I stopped trying to figure it out—whatever “it” was or is. It didn’t matter. In that moment, I was in the Garden of Eden savoring the fruit of God’s endless love unfolding across a lavish summer sky.
The sunset was my teacher that night showing me how to savor beauty and joy; teaching me how to live from an open heart instead of from a clinging mind.
I didn’t see the green flash as the sun closed its eyes. I did however, feel God smiling in my heart as together we tasted those eternal moments.
As a spiritual practice this week, remind yourself occasionally, This is it.
Notice how your silent heart knows what to do.
—brian j plachta