How to discover your home

 

How to “travel” while sheltering in place

The best thing you can be doing as you shelter in place is to find new, creative ways to stay connected with others.

The second-best thing is to learn how to not go nuts at home. And one way to do that is to get to discover your home.

Umm… Discover your home?

I know: How can you discover something already so familiar that you can find your way around it with your eyes closed? Because conceptually, that’s what you’ve been doing your whole life—going through your home without really seeing it. So here’s the idea: Use this downtime to discover your home, or perhaps rediscover it, in a whole new way.

In my new book, Hidden Travel: How to Discover More (set to hit the shelves later this fall, assuming the coronavirus crisis doesn’t push it back), I look at how to explore places in ways that are meaningful to you. Basically, how to discover what matters to you. Anywhere.

And yes— even at home.

But first, let’s start with an obvious question.

Why bother?

Glad you asked. If you’re like me, you’re already sick of seeing your furniture and walls (or family members). So the simple answer is: taking time to discover your home in more detail will make you feel better. And who doesn’t want to feel better?

The longer answer:

  • Because you’ll appreciate the space you live in and the people you live with more,
  • you’ll discover wonders you never knew existed,
  • you’ll be reminded of joys you’d forgotten and best of all,
  • you’ll be learning the skill of how to discover.

Anyone who’s played hide and seek knows how to discover. But only to a certain level. We see, but not really. We don’t think about expanding how we engage the world. Even the world you know really well like your home. So consider the following hints, exercises and prompts to expand your discovery chops so when you once again can return to the world outside your home, you’ll be better equipped to uncover even greater wonders.

Do try this at home

Okay, ready? Read through the following list and then chose at least three of these to practice so you can discover your home in a whole new way. I’ve grouped these discover-your-home exercises into categories. Start anywhere with whatever applies or appeals most to you.

Discover your space

  • Start with just one room. Explore it in detail using the exercises below. Then go to another. And another.
  • Measure. Do a game with a house mate or with yourself where you guess the size of a room (or couch or bookshelf or lamp or…) and then you measure it.
  • Make a map. As long as you’re measuring things, jot down your findings on a map. It can be like a blueprint or more imaginative, perhaps recording key events from your life or meaningful memories in different areas through your home. X marks the spot.
  • Look upside down. Yep. Lie down on the floor or couch or do your best yoga pose to invert your head and view your room upside down. If you hold this pose long enough, you start to believe you can walk on the ceiling. If you hold the pose even longer, I’m guessing you’ll black out from all that blood rushing to your head. Don’t do that.
  • Rearrange your furniture. Or objects. Move things around. Heck, no one’s coming over any time soon anyway, so go hog wild. Treat it as your staycation retreat setup. You’ll discover your home in new ways when you have to navigate around furniture in unfamiliar places.
  • Explore at night. Discover your home with only a flashlight. If you have kids, they will love this. If you don’t, you’ll love this if you do it like a kid.
  • Determine which area of your home smells best. Describe the scent. Note that some places smell better at certain times (kitchens after cooking certain foods but not others), bathrooms after a bubble bath, etc. You choose your all time, overall favorite smell spot.
  • Listen to your house. You can do this as part of the Pay Attention in Love exercise (noted below) or separately. Sit or lie down in a room. Close your eyes. Then don’t just listen for any sound (e.g. cars outside, neighborhood kids yelling, planes overhead, your spouse asking why you’re lying there, etc.). Instead, listen to your home. Creaks, groans, clicks, etc. Or, as I just discovered last week, a woodpecker tapping on our chimney.

Discover your stuff

  • Find one thing you’ve never noticed before. Not necessarily a whole object but one aspect of an object: What’s on top of a top shelf, what’s behind a painting or poster, new growth on a plant you barely realized you own, a bookmark in some forgotten book buried on a shelf, etc.
  • Catalog your treasures. This relates to my article on souvenirs and how useful it is to write down the provenance of each item noting where and when you obtained it, etc. Or go practical and take photos for insurance purposes of any item worth more than say, $100. Back these photos up to the cloud should the item be destroyed or stolen.
  • Look under things. Beds, shelves, jars, drawers (a good place to see something you’ve never seen before), shoes, tables, etc. Look especially under seat or couch cushions. You’ll either walk away richer by a few cents or be totally grossed out. Or both. And avoid looking under pets. That gets, well, awkward.
  • Count the number of items in one room. Then, after recovering from the shock of how much you really own, call Marie Kondo or do your own exercise of cleaning out drawers, closets, shelves, refrigerators/freezers, etc. You’ll be amazed at how many things stopped sparking joy years ago.
  • Get crafty. With whatever materials you have, make a new display of a favorite object in your home or create some new work of art to display using items around the house. If it works, make some others. If it doesn’t, no one else will see.
  • Read a book. But first, find one on a shelf that you’ve never read. And yes, kid’s books, comic books and other picture books count.
  • Explore a closet. From the inside out. Yep. Get inside. Close the door. See what you can identify only by touch. Then use a flashlight or open the door to see what else you can find that is novel or treasured but forgotten. When you’re done, look for something you haven’t used or worn in ten years and donate it.
  • Do a scavenger hunt. Yes, you do need other house mates for this, but especially if you have kids, have them track down a list of objects you believe you own (meaning, you may not even know where they are of if you still own them). Here’s the kicker: Keep track of where you found the items so you’re more aware of your space and where you store things.

Discover your family

Most of these exercises are geared toward discovering your home with those currently living there. But you can also do some of these exercises and share them via phone or video conference with family who have moved away. Memories are memories and it can help those not living there to connect with home in new ways.

  • Change where you sit. For families or anyone with house mates, change where you normally sit or recline for meals, for entertainment, or for relaxing. Mix up your usual locations and see what you notice, not just about your space, but about the person who normally sits there.
  • Say thank you. As you’re going through your rooms, certain items will stand out. If they were gifts, use this as an excuse to write to the giver a belated thank you. That works well for distant family and friends. But do something closer to home, so to speak. Gather everyone under your roof one evening and do an affirmation circle where everyone takes turns saying one thing they appreciate about each person there. Prepare for initial resistance and ultimate laughter and tears.
  • Make a top five list. If you have family at home or house mates, have each person secretly write down their five favorite items (however they choose to define “favorite”). It’s harder than you think to limit it to five! Then come together and share one at a time your list and why the item is meaningful.
  • Review old photos. Either ones on display or ones hidden away in boxes or scrapbooks, take time to look at family photos, preferably together. You’ll uncover old trips and experiences that will spark memories to keep you going during this sheltered time at home.
  • Sleep in a different room. For families, swap rooms or choose unique locations (though there’s a reason you’ve likely never slept in the laundry room). Then jot down or share what you learned about the person who normally sleeps there or what you noticed: sights, sounds, smells, feelings and maybe, tastes. Or, maybe not the tastes.
  • Name your favorite room. Have each housemate or family member write down a list of ten reasons why a particular room (or area of a room) is meaningful to them. Then share the results with others.

Discover your food

  • Find your food. Do a hunt of your home to find any traces of food outside your kitchen or dining area. Be prepared for both a fun and an “Ewww!” response.
  • Make a three-item meal. Choose any three ingredients in your home. Then challenge yourself to create something (preferably edible and even appealing) from those three ingredients. Bonus points for using unlikely combinations or restricting yourself to only items in your fridge.
  • Best meal ever. If you’re with family or housemates, gather together and share what was their favorite meal ever in your home. Then, if possible, try to recreate it together, possibly taking one dish from each person (appetizer, entree, salad, dessert, etc.) to create a new feast.
  • Expiration Exploration. Find every expired food item in your home. You know what to do.
  • Clump. This means to rearrange your pantry or storage areas so that all like items are stored together. You don’t have to go all OCD for this, but do it more to really understand what food items you actually have.
  • Choose a recipe. Have each person (or yourself) randomly open a cookbook or cooking magazine (if you have either) or go online and randomly select a recipe. Then try to make it. If you don’t have all the ingredients, see what you can substitute with what you do have. This one is a bit higher up the culinary difficulty scale, but hey, why not try!
  • Inventory your gear. Go through all your cooking utensils and eliminate any duplicates or those gadgets you never use.
  • Label look. As you’re going through your food items, make a contest, with others (either at home or connect online) or with yourself to find the following:
    • The most beautiful label.
    • The most unique label.
    • The label of a food you’re most ashamed to admit having in your home.
    • The label of your favorite (or one of your favorite) foods.
    • The item with the longest ingredient list, and the one with the shortest. Guess which one is probably better for you.
  • Take a course online. If all of these are making you realize your cooking skills could use some help, go online and take a course or find a recipe and give it a shot.

Discover in time

  • Linger and stare. Find an object you’ve not noticed for some time. This could include a family member. Then stare at it/him/her for at least five minutes. Or more. I guarantee that the longer you look at it, the more you’ll see (and the more weirded out your family member will get). Make a list (even mentally) of all the details you’ve never noticed before. Time and attention reveal much more than you’re used to seeing.
  • Pay attention in love. This is one of my favorite exercises from the upcoming book that I got from the book Awaken Your Senses. Sit comfortably in one room for at least five to ten minutes. Don’t rush this. Then write down three things you see, smell (if possible), taste (probably more difficult unless food or drink are nearby and if so, describe the flavors), feel (like your seat cushions or a breeze) and hear. Pretty basic, right? Now the fun part. Do the same thing through the eyes of love. Find three examples, if possible for each sense, but this time do so through a lens of deep appreciation and gratitude. You may see an apple you ignored before and this time, you’re incredibly grateful for its taste, nourishment, color or maybe appreciative of all food. Seeing through the eyes of love will change both what you see/sense in your home and how you see/sense the items.
  • Write a story. Choose an item or section of a room and write the real or imagined history of that object. Or make up an entire story that uses it. You’ll never look at that object the same way again.
  • Remember why. Think back to why you moved here, why you still live here, why you like some aspects but not others. Share your memories with others.
  • If these walls could speak. Find a particular wall and then think about or share stories of what that wall would have heard if it could hear. This will force you to rethink your space, as well as how the same space changes with time.

Discover your creativity

  • Hunt down your works. Do a scavenger-type hunt of every item in your home that you have made. This will force you to appreciate all the things you have made (and be generous: leftovers represent a meal you’ve made). Best of all, this exercise will likely spur you to want to create more. Do so. 
  • Learn something new. With all the courses available to you, there’s really no excuse not to learn a new hobby or expand on one. The hard part is getting started. Try this: Commit just 15 minutes to it for the next week. All you have to do is say, “For this 15 minutes, I will learn something new.” Then do so. Start with a wild idea like, “I want to learn how to make videos.” Google that. See where it leads. Bookmark the sites for tomorrow’s session. You’re on your way.
  • Do an inspiration audit. You’re stuck at home. But how can you make your home more inspiring? As part of the above exercises, as you go through your home, determine which space makes you feel most energized. What could make it even more inspiring? Think also in terms of time of day: When often affects your where. Use your inspiration zone to spend the above 15 minutes of creative time. Not sure what to work on or learn? Consider something to make your creative space even more creative.
  • Play. You did it as a kid. You can do it now. Hide and seek (really challenging in a small apartment but made more fun with a 60 second time limit), tag, or any physical activity can be fun. Try board games, card games or any game that appeals to you. Go online for ideas. Mostly, just play. Research shows how much play can help you creatively.
  • Reflect. One of the greatest aids in creativity is distance from and reflection on the work at hand. You have time now for this. So in addition to trying new projects, make a list of ones you’ve started but haven’t finished. For each, ask yourself:
    • Why haven’t I finished this? Then, once you’re done with the fairly weak excuses, try to figure out the deeper reason.
    • How could I make this better?
    • How will I know when it is finished?
    • How committed am I to this work? Am I better off focusing my efforts elsewhere?
  • Collect, Connect and Share. This definition of the creative process can become a game, either for yourself or for added fun, with others. Here’s a general outline. You can modify it as you like:
    • Collect: Select five random items from around your home, preferably small ones you can use or modify like different types of paper, cups, bags, straws, old toys, fruit, all those rolls of toilet paper you’ve been hoarding since the onset of the coronavirus, shoelaces, some of those leftover cables or chargers that go with something but you don’t know what, etc.
    • Connect: Individually or as a team, choose what it is you want to create: A vehicle? A building? An animal? An abstract work of art? Then go for it. Set a time limit if you want.
    • Share: If you do this individually working in different areas, come together and have the others guess what it is you created. Share ideas, techniques and mostly, the sense of accomplishment and fun you’ll have experienced. You’re not only discovering how familiar items can be used in new ways, but you’re likely discovering some amazing creative abilities from your family members or housemates. 

Final thoughts

In all of this, remember to be thankful not just for all the stuff or even for family and friends, but for a warm, safe place to live and sleep. Many people out there right now don’t have that. So as you huddle up in your home — house, apartment, RV, whatever — use this isolation time to realize how blessed you are and to think about how you can help others. Both now and after we return to normal.

It may be a new normal, but that’s OK. Because if you practice these exercises for how to discover your home, you’ll come out of this coronavirus time with new eyes and the ability to see just how much beauty, goodness and love there is. Not just in your home. But in our shared world.

You’ll also have learned that sometimes the best things to discover aren’t the unknown areas no one else has ever seen before, but the things that are most familiar that you’re truly seeing for the first time.

Find what you love

Find what you love - Puppet Maker's ShopUse your trip to find what you love

Trips provide intriguing opportunities to find what you love. And for me, the best moments on a trip — those powerful, defining, magic moments — are ones so filled with meaning and emotion that I wish to linger long and absorb them. And yet, I never quite can, for I must inevitably move on. That leaves me with a poignant sensation of both loss and gain. I find something that deeply moves me in a place (gain). Yet as a traveler, I cannot stay in that place (loss). Still, I can take something of great value with me from the experience of having been there (long-term gain). I lose the place but gain the moment and all that it entails.

These defining moments are ones I can create for myself or others (as I discovered in Italy and Slovenia). But they often arrive unannounced. I open a door, sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally (as what happened to me on a recent visit to Erfurt, Germany) and I enter a different world. And in that world, in unexpected ways, I discover a great passion and even, sometimes, a greater sense of purpose.

Erfurt's Kramerbrucke (Merchant's Bridge)The puppet maker of Erfurt

In the heart of Erfurt sits the Krämerbrücke (Merchants’ bridge). Built of stone in 1325 over the Gera river, half-timbered homes and businesses sit atop the bridge making it the largest and oldest inhabited bridge in Europe (sorry, Ponte Vecchio in Florence: you’re number two). Over time, a number of craftspeople have moved in with studios and shops. One of them, Martin Gobsch, makes hand-carved wooden puppets there. Or so it seems. For what he really creates is magic.

Outside his shop is a miniature window theater.

Theatrum Mundi, ErfurtDrop in a euro, and a sinister-looking queen pulls back her cape-draped arm to reveal a fantastical scene of Snow White and industrious dwarfs moving about. It’s a mechanical marvel that would delight any child. And yet those who linger longest and whose expressions reflect the most childlike wonder are adults like me.

Step inside his shop, and the awe grows. Magnificently carved wooden figures and corresponding drawings make you feel as if you’re part of a fairy tale. Most people who enter Martin’s workshop leave enchanted. But for me, it was something more.

I had found what I love.

A different kind of connection

If you look at the factors that Dan and Chip Heath note in their book, The Power of Moments, as most contributing to a magic moment, one of them has curious dimensions beyond its obvious intent. The concept of “Connection” normally implies that you have moments where you feel a deep relational tie to others, a collective experience of joy, pain or deep sentiment as in a wedding or funeral. But Connection works as well on the emotional level where you connect to something within you, a past memory that triggers all sorts of associations and feelings.

Martin Gobsch at workMy favorite visual example of this is in the Pixar movie, Ratatouille, when the food critic Anton Ego tastes the dish of the same name as the movie. Immediately, he’s transported to his mother’s kitchen as a boy eating the same food. So it was for me in Martin Gobsch’s shop. The lighting, architecture and decor took me back to Merlin’s Magic Shop at Disneyland where I worked as a magician through college. And his Theatrum Mundi (the name of the window theater) also reminded me of the elaborate window displays at Disneyland I used to marvel at as a child.

Tie all that into my adult experience working in my own wood shop at home (equally untidy yet remarkably well-suited to the work at hand) and you get a collective experience that is more than a trip down memory lane. Stepping into Martin’s studio provided a connection of deep emotional resonance to the subtle factors and ingredients of delight that made those past experiences so formative for me, in my youth and even today.

Martin Gobsch's shopFind what you love: The power of inspiration

In the video above, Martin Gobsch says that one of his goals is to inspire others, not just to experience wonder, but to create and make things by hand. It’s not a craft, he notes, that’s been passed down to him so much as one that has died out that he is now re-establishing. When I spent time with him in that shop, examining all the details of his work and asking him questions about it, I too was inspired to spend more time drawing, carving, woodworking and making more things by hand. All of these are things I love but rarely make time for.

A friend once noted that we value more something we’ve had, lost and have found again than gaining something new. I think that’s true, in part because of the emotional attachments we form even with inanimate objects that have become part of our lives. In a similar manner, I find that when I return to what I love but have left unheeded too long, it’s like a brand-new discovery only better. I get the same delight of connecting with something I enjoy, but along with that comes all the memories of past related experiences. I find what I love all over again.

Find what you love - Drawings of puppets

Find what you love – Drawings of puppets – copyright 2019 by Steve Brock

Find what you love: The takeaway for you

When you’re someplace new, whether on a vacation or just in a new situation, pay close attention to what triggers your attention. When I first read about the puppet maker, though I have only a passing interest in puppets, the fact that this artisan carved them from wood by hand intrigued me. I’m always interested in seeing artists, particularly sculptors and woodworkers, at work in their shops or studios. I wanted to make sure, if possible, that I found his place of work and I’m so glad I did.

For you, if something even hints at connecting to a deeper interest, pursue that. It may feel silly or unimportant at first, but you never know where it will lead. Make it a quest to find what brings you your greatest joy. Trips allow you the freedom to do this in ways you can’t — or won’t — at home. You won’t usually find what you care most about unless you go looking for it, even if you’re not entirely sure how it might manifest itself. And even though you may come across it in an unexpected place or manner, often it is the effort of the pursuit that gives you the eyes to see it – or clues of it – when you come across it.

Puppets and sketches - ErfurtWhen you do, you leave transfixed and transformed. In cases such as this one, where it connects to creative passions and interests, it leaves you inspired. Not just to keep discovering. But to eventually return home and make something yourself.

And when you do that, you find what you love all over again.

 

 

Get more from a museum by getting less

Museums: HuntingtonHow to enjoy a museum more

Museums, particularly art museums, overwhelm me. And the bigger the museum, the greater the feeling of being thrashed by a wave of sensory overload.

I want to see it all. But in museums like the Louvre in Paris or the Prado in Madrid, I simply can’t. Not at least in a few hours. And if I go beyond that, fatigue tends to mar even the best viewing experience. So, what’s the solution to getting the most out of an art museum in a short amount of time? Here are three solutions I’ve found that work well.

Choose your battles carefully

Museum: bust of insane man

As this and the following head shots show, art museums have interesting characters.

The same strategy that works for parenting works for visiting museums. Knowing you can’t see it all, choose only a few sections and concentrate on those. Forget the rest. Maybe you can come back later. Maybe not. But many museums now put their collections online so you can see what you missed when you get home. You’ll at least have seen in person those works of art that seem most interesting to you. I pay special attention to visiting exhibitions knowing that these will be the hardest to see again.

Play reconnaissance

Intentionally go fast just to see what stands out. No one said you have to appreciate every single artwork. Zip your way through until you find something interesting. Then, move into the next approach.

Go deep

Chinese sculptureStop and stare. Then stare some more. If you’ve found something you like, take time with it. This New York Times article from a few years ago recommends essentially the same thing. Peruse the paintings or sculptures until you find something that speaks to you. Then really look at it.

Here are two additional approaches I’ve found to help you do that even more effectively.

Sketch it

I’ve recently resumed an earlier attempt at drawing. I’m still no good at it (if “good” means capturing the image in its exact proportions), but that doesn’t matter. The very act of trying to sketch something helps me see it so much better. You literally see things you miss with a cursory or even extended examination. It’s like learning anything. You learn best when you teach others. Drawing is like that as well. You see best when you have to translate it into a different medium line by line, shape by shape, color by color.

Museums - The Five Senses - Sight painting

There’s a lot going on in this painting, The Five Senses – Sight by Jan Brueghel the Younger (1625). It’s a great candidate for looking more closely at the details.

Snap a detail

Can’t sketch? No worries. Try this. Take a photo instead. You can shoot the whole painting, but lately I’ve found a greater enjoyment of the whole work when I concentrate on just a part of it. Taking a photo of just one section that appeals to me is again, another form of translation. But instead of translating what I see onto a piece of paper, I’m translating what I see into an emotional experience.

Museums: The Five Senses - Sight: Detail

Here’s a detail of the same painting. There’s plenty to keep you interested in this one small section.

Let me explain.

Unless you’re an art historian, student or critic, you’re likely going to an art museum simply for the delight of it. I know this is hard to imagine if you don’t like museums. But somewhere along the line, we picked up this notion that art museums were all about culture and appreciation. They are, but that’s not all.

Let your jaw drop

Greek SculptureArt museums are, to me, places of wonder. Sometimes I’ll come across a work that staggers me. It is usually some piece I’ve never heard of before. Something that isn’t bogged down in expectations or hype. Other times — and this is where the details exercise fits in — I’ll see a piece and I may like it. But if I spend time with it, I find that there is some element that speaks not to my head about technique or lighting or the historicity of the piece, but to my heart.

With these small sections of details, my reaction isn’t to tuck the ear piece of my glasses in the corner of my mouth and nod philosophically. Instead, it is to smile. Maybe even sigh in a happy way. In those moments, I’m completely disarmed by the beauty of that one detail. It triggers something inside me. It connects to some inner longing or interest. I may try to figure out what that connection is. Or maybe not. Often, it is enough to just stand there and be enchanted.

Go slow and small

Roman sculptureSo if art museums tend to overwhelm you, don’t “go big or go home.” Instead, slow down and go small. Find the artworks that appeal to you, but also focus on the small sections or moments within those. Take a photo (where allowed) and capture that section as its own work of art. Some artists hate this. They feel you should appreciate their work as a whole. And quite often, you will. But other times, take the opportunity to find what matters to you in their work. Treat each piece like a “Where’s Waldo?” book or poster: find the secret gem within the bigger whole that resonates with you.

One aid in doing this is my guide to seeing the right details. Check it out if you want to get better at noticing and capturing details, either in photos or in writing.

However you do it, finding the works or even the details of the works that resonate with you will enable you to walk away from the museum happier, more energized and more inclined to visit other museums in the future.

 

Pin it!

Museums: How to get more by getting less

Museums: Get more by getting less

 

Why sunsets move us

Why sunsets move us - Cambria Sunset

Why do sunsets move us?

Just look at the number of photos of sunsets to know that as trite as they may seem, we still marvel at something that happens every 24 hours. In this second of a three-part series on sunsets, let’s look at seven reasons why sunsets move us.

Sunsets move us…literally.

We rarely appreciate sunsets from inside. We have to step outside – or even walk or drive a ways – to see them unobstructed. When I’m inside, I feel I’m missing out on the full effect and so I head for the nearest door to see – and feel – the sunset better. If you look at most photos (your own and others’) you’ll find they usually occur on vacation or at some other relaxed moment when we’re already outside. Since most of us live and work indoors, we have to be intentional to behold the sunset. And in moving physically to view them, we’re also moved emotionally by what we end up experiencing.

Sunsets make us aware of time.

In the first part of this series, I referred to the Celtic concept of “the time in between times,” the twilight hours where the boundaries between this world and the next seem thinner. Sunsets make us more aware of the mystery of time itself as we witness day transition into night. Too often, our lives feel like pure process, a non-stop blur of activities. We note time only as a resource that feels far too scarce. But with sunsets, we stop looking at our watches or cell phones because we feel behind. Instead, we’re aware of time passing in a different way; we appreciate time without resisting it. Odd how something as visible as a sunset can make us aware of something as invisible and powerful as time.

Sunsets are non-essential.

We don’t have to stop and watch that big orange orb drop from the sky each evening. But we do, though usually only when we’re not working or distracted with daily routines. “Squandering” our time on something so useless by all practical considerations gives the event even greater value. It reminds us that the most important moments of life aren’t the ones we measure but the ones we truly live.

Sunsets help us enter into night warmly.

Night is, in most cultures, associated with death. But sunsets help us to recognize that the nocturnal period is bookended with light. In the Christian faith, for example, death is not the end of the story. We need not fear what the night brings. Sunsets remind us of that and make the coming of night just a bit more welcoming.

Sunsets are real.

We can’t manufacture them (though we can mimic them). We’re surrounded by so much superficial beauty that when we encounter the real thing, we get lost in awe even though we may have seen thousands of sunsets before in our lifetime. Never underestimate the power of authentic beauty to touch our souls, even in something as cliché as a sunset.

Sunsets involve waiting.

I won’t begin to count the ways my impatience manifests itself each day. Given how little I like to wait, why will I take long stretches of time to stare at an object that at any other time of day I barely notice? I think there’s something freeing about waiting in situations where we’re not aware we’re waiting. We learn to be present…and learn that waiting is possible. We discover the anticipation that comes with waiting enhances the experience and makes us appreciate the experience even more. Sunsets reward our waiting with more than just a show of color and light.

Sunsets are beautiful.

I’ve saved this obvious statement for last. But why are they beautiful? First, there are all those colors. Warm colors, like a welcoming fire on a cold night, the color of home and hearth and even romance. Second, sunsets are a changing, even surprising beauty. Like snowflakes, they are never the same twice. Third, when clouds are involved, we experience both color and a kind of texture that even the best images can’t replicate. Sunsets are not just multi-sensory (we feel them as much as we see them). They are multi-dimensional and in the best cases, envelop us in their beauty.

That’s my take on why sunsets move us. How about you? Why do you value a beautiful sunset?

And be sure to come back next time when we explore some simple ways to get your best photo ever of a sunset.

 

 

The light at the end of the day

A light at the end of the day - Mal Pais SunsetAt the end of the day, or really anytime, when you get to the “T” in the road, you have two choices. Three if you count continuing straight and driving into the Pacific Ocean.

Turn right and you enter the bustling town of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. Small hotels, shops and restaurants line the bumpy main street paved, curiously, only in stretches of about a hundred feet here and there. Along this popular dusty thoroughfare walk or ride – primarily on motor bikes or four-wheeled ATV’s – an assortment of locals and foreigners (mostly surfers). The whole town has a surf vibe due to the quality of the consistent break that lies behind the trees off to your left as you drive into town.

If, however, you go the other direction at the “T” you’ll find only an isolated building here and there amidst the jungle that encroaches on the road. From the trees, howler monkeys gaze down and call out in voices too big for their diminutive size. At the end of this road lies the tiny harbor of Mal Pais (“bad country” in Spanish, a misnomer it seems to most modern-day tourists). Here, you can greet the fishing boats each afternoon as they bring in the day’s catch. If you feel like cooking your own fish, you can negotiate your way to a lovely rockfish or tuna.

Or, you could do what we did and have a fresh seafood meal prepared for you in a setting as astounding as the food.

The light at the end of the day - Our table at CaracolesCaracoles restaurant in Mal Pais has no dining room per se. Sure, there’s a covered area with tables and chairs next to the building that houses the kitchen and bar. But my wife, Kris, and I chose instead one of several tables out beneath the palm trees right on the edge of the beach. At first, it seemed more picnic than fine dining until we tasted the food.

Walk 30 feet from our table and this is the view.

Walk 30 feet from our table and this is the view.

As we neared the end of the day, it was still quite warm so we ordered something light and cool. For me that meant ceviche and a salad, both perfect. Kris, went for the shrimp in mango sauce. We both oohed and aahed our way through every bite.

And then the floorshow began.

We looked out over a strand of white sand between us and a stretch of rocky tide pools backed by the incoming waves. That scene alone, framed by palm trees, would be worthy of a travel brochure cover. But then, out of nowhere, a lone horse meandered down the beach like the opening act.

The light at the end of the day - horse on the beach near Caracoles

The view from our table as the horse casually wandered down the beach.

The real show began as the sun and the horizon met and the sky exploded. Blues and oranges bled and morphed. Pinks and yellows seemed to change by the second in a kaleidoscopic display of cloud and color; raw yet orderly, vast yet intimate.

We experienced one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen, a fitting end of the day.

But it made me realize something.

The light at the end of the day: Post sunsetThat same sun rises and falls each and every day. But sunsets usually pass me by unnoticed or at least, unexamined in their routine familiarity or even over-familiarity (after all, what inspirational poster doesn’t have a sunset on it?). But here, on this trip, all the factors aligned to get me to not only notice, but pursue the beauty as it unfolded. As the sky faded finally into a soothing deep purple and then into the color of night, Kris and I did not let the moment go unheeded. We watched. More than that, we were a part of it, consumed by each transition of light and color.

We understood then what the ancient Celts referred to as “the time between times,” the bookends of each day filled with extra possibility, awe and magic. We realized that the end of that day is what made that day. But more than that, we remembered what only beauty or affliction seem to force us to recall; that the possibility of wonder comes around every single day.

We will likely not see such a beautiful sunset any time soon. But at least now I will make more of an effort to look, even if there’s no horse or beach nearby.

For more on sunsets, check out these two entries: Why sunsets move us and How to take better sunset photos