Sensational Living®

April 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall

Sensational Sunsets: the Mindfulness of Sensational Living®

With spring’s arrival, I tend to think of the outdoors even more than I usually do. As a scientist, I have an innate interest in all natural phenomena, and that includes sunsets. As an artist, I pay extra attention to sunsets. As a hopeless romantic, I exploit sunsets (when appropriate). I am devoting this column to sunsets for two specific purposes that will be revealed as you read on.

I have had the good fortune to travel extensively, and have seen some spectacular sunsets. Each one has a different character, and paying attention to the minor components that comprise each one is the first step toward the mindful appreciation of sunsets, which in turn is a stepping stone toward the mindful appreciation of life in general.

Perhaps I misspoke. Before one can actually notice the subtle components of each sunset, one has to actually notice the sunset. I realized this explicitly almost 15 years ago, and have been grateful ever since. I had been working in an office building in downtown Chicago (which itself often provided spectacular views of sunsets seen through the western skyline). I remember being tired, and the weather was warm, and that was making me feel groggy. I couldn’t get a seat on the bus ride home, so I had to stand as the bus made its way north on Lake Shore Drive. I have no doubt I was grumpy, and was probably staring down at the bus floor since I have difficulty reading while standing. I just remember feeling a bit “tight,” so I looked up to attempt a discrete “stretch” amidst the other riders. It was then that I had an A-HA moment: as the bus barreled northward, I looked west, and saw the most glorious sunset I had ever seen! Rich in the smoky, cerulean blues I love (you’ve seen my website colors), with highlights of gold, orange, red and violet splashed on faint wisps of clouds. Amazing! And I was invigorated. How long had I gone without paying attention to such magnificent displays?

This caused me to reflect on other sunsets I had appreciated. One was from the hot tub of a fantastic B&B in Provincetown, MA. Yes, it was decadent and hedonistic. And your point is? Anyway, I had been working at a convention in Boston, and had planned this little escape over to P-Town, my first visit there. The purpose of the trip was to have fun, whether that meant exploring and learning new things, or just taking the time to enjoy more physical, sensual pleasures. Sitting in a hot tub, sipping champagne, smelling a variety of aromas, listening to some mellow background music, watching the sky change colors from pale blue to yellow and gray and purple as the sun set … it doesn’t get much more sensual than that!

Then there was a wonderful trip to the Lost Coast of California, where I was sitting on the “patio” of my lodgings, watching the ocean and sky interact (and glancing at the small herd of deer that crept into the yard nearby). The hedges of rosemary filled the air with Mediterranean influence. A beer quenched my thirst while birds sang nearby. A warm breeze brushed my skin, and my eyes were filled with the beauty of silvery skies with red streaks. Sensational!

Another trip to northern California in late December included a stop south of Mendocino at a rather rustic lodge. It was getting late, but my traveling companion and I got settled, and then settled ourselves on the porch to watch the sunset. We could hear the crashing surf of the ocean and inhale the evergreen scent of the adjacent redwoods. We were sipping wine from a local producer whom we had visited earlier in the day, and our skin got goose bumps from the brisk wind. The setting sun was just a ball of orange in an otherwise cerulean sky, and we were experiencing the moment with every sense in our bodies.

There’s a recurring theme here, I realized. So much of the time I was stumbling through life, and missing some of the most magnificent moments. The exceptions were when I took myself away from the hustle and bustle of my job/career. Once I made that connection, I was saddened by the waste! How could I allow a job to prevent me from appreciating a gift like a sunset? What else was I missing? What else are YOU missing?

Two additional significant sunsets each occurred in Florida: one in Key West a decade ago, and one in St. Pete a week ago (late March, 2004). Along the western coast of Florida, sunsets are a major tourist attraction. This was especially obvious in Key West, where huge crowds of people (tourists, locals, vendors, entertainers and more) gather at the Pier to watch the sun set. The “prize” is a flash of green as the sun drops into the ocean (figuratively, not literally); even without the “prize,” the crowds cheer as the sun touches the ocean. It’s fun, it’s innocent, and it’s cheap fun (even the palm frond basket I bought was affordable).

I wish I could say the same thing for my recent experience in St. Pete. As a travel planner, I had done research on dining in St. Pete, and discovered one restaurant actually revolved on top of a hotel, which in turn sat right on the beach. I immediately thought, “Sunset dining!” Well, that thought was not original with me, and when I arrived at the restaurant, discovered that this sunset scene played out every night. But, I arrived early, and was seated without difficulty … and the evening was downhill from there. Aside from crappy service, food that almost made me gag, and having revolved to the opposite side of the sunset (thus missing most of it), the evening was delightful … NOT. And it wasn’t cheap, it wasn’t innocent or fun, and the attitude of the hotel (which deserves NO publicity … but call me!) was one of indifference. I don’t need to travel across the country to be treated like crap.

And neither do you! Sometimes it is better to appreciate what you have in your own backyard than to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars to go somewhere less pleasant and less comfortable. Fortunately, I was traveling on business, so the impact on my personal pocket was minimal. But, the impact on my level of appreciation of my own home, my own city, my own sunsets, was not minimal. We all need reminders to be mindful of what is right before our eyes, and I am grateful for the gentle reminder regarding sunsets!

Even though I now help others with their travel planning, I generally take the attitude that to really appreciate travel in general and particular venues in particular, people must travel with intention, purpose and mindfulness. A “laissez-faire” approach to travel can be fine, but is not something I can or will help people with. However, I can (and do) help them with their prioritization. Prioritize your life to be more mindful, more intentional, more purposeful.

Stop and watch a sunset. Tonight. And tomorrow. And the next day! THAT is Sensational Living®. And call me at 773.508.9208 or email me if you need help with prioritizing your travel plans.