The Sunset Paradox


On a recent flight from New York to Los Angeles, I experienced an extended sunset as we traveled West, chasing light.

Objectively, there is no such thing as a sunset: it’s as subjective as a rainbow. Imagine seeing a sunset from a plane, where the horizon might be hundreds of miles away. Call somebody in the place where the sunset appears to be, and tell them, “Look out the window! There’s the most amazing sunset over you right now!” They won’t see it, because the sun hasn’t yet set where they are. And yet with a fast enough plane, we could follow the sunset around the world, seeing it with our own eyes in perpetuity.

A sunset can’t exist without a person to perceive it; and a person can’t perceive a sunset without the atmospheric conditions that create it. It takes both our mind AND the world to create.

The sunset paradox, then, is that a sunset “happens” in two places at the same time. From our point of view, a sunset is always happening somewhere else. But since it wouldn’t be a sunset if we stood in the place where it appears, the sunset also happens right here, exactly where we are.

Leadership is doing what you love

Have you ever begun a project or a journey simply because it excited and inspired you, and then when people started following you, you changed the work or the destination because you thought you had to create something that was “worthy” of being followed?

When you’re doing something you love, and people start following you, they do so because they see where you’re going and they want to go there too. When you start getting attention for doing what you love: keep doing what you love! That’s leadership: doing what you love, no matter how much success or attention you get for it.

(Bonus: leadership is also doing what you love even when NOBODY is following you)

A Meditation On Awareness

During my meditation this morning an image of a ball popped into my head, and I heard my internal voice say, “Stay aware of the ball.”  Then my critical self-observer said, “No, you’re meditating, stay aware of yourself.  The ball is external; it isn’t the point.”

And then, a flash of insight: when I am aware of the ball, I am only ever aware of it in relationship to myself.  Moreover, this is true of everything I observe: when I am aware of anything outside myself, I am only ever aware of it in relationship to myself.  In other words, I perceive only from the perspective of my own consciousness, and therefore to be aware of anything is simultaneously and automatically to be aware of my self.

Put another way: I can’t conceive of what it would be like to be aware of something outside myself completely divorced from its relationship to me.  If I observe that the coffee table in front of me is there, I am necessarily aware that I am here, even if I don’t have that literal thought in the moment. “But what if I just look at a photograph of a painting that hangs in the Louvre?” I might argue with myself.  “I’m now aware of that far-away painting even though I can’t see myself in relationship to it, and I’m conscious of the painter even though he died long ago and I never met him.”  Even here, conceiving of the painting as “far away” is only possible because of my awareness of myself as “right here.”  And understanding the painter as an inhabitant of the past amounts to a recognition of myself as existent in the present moment.  Awareness of anything else as removed from me in either space or time not only leads to, but actually IS awareness of myself as present.

In my meditative state, this insight led quickly to a collapse of my perceived distinction between the world and myself.  My perception of anything else is just that: a perception, a function of my consciousness, and therefore also an expression of my consciousness.  If I go unconscious, I will no longer be aware of the world around me, and therefore will also no longer be aware of myself.  Awareness of myself, I think, actually arises from awareness of things outside myself.

This understanding leads to a transformation of consciousness: it transforms the experience of daily life from an automatic interaction with the other to a perpetual meditation: every interaction with the world becomes a direct experience of my own consciousness.  By devoting my attention to the world, I gain directly proportional access to self-awareness.

As I move into my day, I will take this insight with me.  I will be kinder, gentler, and more attentive to the world and the people around me, supported by a new recognition that there’s not so much of a distinction between us as I once thought.

Why wait for Jubilation?

First, watch this video: it’s Isabel Allende on how to live passionately.

Towards the end of her talk, Isabel tells us that in Spanish, “retirement” is “jubilación”: JUBILATION.  First of all, this is a beautiful way to view retirement.  But second, the question I would ask is this: why wait?  Why wait until retirement for jubilation, when we could start living it right now?

Quitting your job is an event, and one which has the prerequisite of having accumulated a certain amount of money.  But retirement–especially retirement qua jubilation–isn’t an event: it’s a state of mind, and therefore has no prerequisites.  I, for one, have no intention of waiting around until a certain age to start living jubilantly.  I’m starting today, and I invite you to join me.

Feeling Thankful vs. Giving Thanks

There’s a difference between feeling thankful and giving thanks. We can feel thankful passively, almost without noticing, but giving thanks is more active–and ultimately more deeply satisfying. Saying grace at the beginning of a meal; telling a friend how much they mean to us; even exclaiming our awe at the beauty of a snow-spotted sunset: expressing our thanks externally brings gratitude into consciousness, and from there it can blossom into the world.

Too often we feel thankful but don’t give thanks. Keeping gratitude to ourselves not only robs others of sharing in our appreciation: it also prevents us from feeling our gratitude fully.

My challenge to you, today: dare to express your gratitude, and thank someone for whatever it is about them that you appreciate. Giving thanks just might be the greatest gift you can give–both to the people you love and to yourself.


Photo credit: my cousin Clay (and his son Ozzy)
Photo credit: my cousin Clay (and his son Ozzy)

The importance of a dream

Today we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all that he stood for.  We remember him as a leader and a visionary, and as a man who guided our country onto a more righteous path.

His most famous speech–I Have A Dream–delivered a resounding message of racial equality.  Today, the manacles of segregation are unclasped and the chains of discrimination are weakened, but King’s speech still resonates for its messages of freedom, justice, and the steadfast pursuit of happiness.

In addition to the messages of the speech, the concept of its refrain–“I have a dream”–resonates in its own right: we each need to have our dream.

We need a dream as a goal, a destination, or a picture of the future to motivate and give us meaning when our circumstance is tough or tiresome or even bleak.

We need a dream as a compass and a guiding point, that we may better stay our course when the occasional fog of daily particulars diminishes our visibility.

Finally, we need a dream as a statement of purpose, which puts our lives in context and gives us meaning.

We each need a dream.  What is yours?

Six rules of good writing

I have just read George Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” and I encourage you to do the same.  The focus of the essay is largely on political writing, but the observations are broadly applicable to all kinds of writing (and speaking, for that matter), from blogs to academic papers to job applications.  Orwell is insightful, concise and frequently hilarious, and I doubt I could do him justice by paraphrasing.  Click here for the full text.

Here’s a teaser, and perhaps the most immediately helpful section of Orwell’s essay: Six rules for good, clear, effective writing:

i. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Now go read the full essay.

You Can’t Steal Christmas

This year, in the words of TechCrunch, “Best Buy ruins Christmas.”


According to a TechCrunch article published on Friday, titled How Best Buy Stole Christmas, Best Buy made some errors and has had to cancel many orders placed this month and last.  As a result, some of the people who were counting on delivery of Christmas gifts purchased at will have to change their gift-giving plans.  In the most dire cases, some people may not have ANY wrapped presents to give their loved ones on Christmas!

Best Buy’s error is unfortunate.  It doesn’t seem fair.  The affected customers have a right to be irked.  But the suggestion that Best Buy has RUINED Christmas makes me sad.  I appreciate the value of selective hyperbole in order to make a point, and I don’t think Matt Burns, who wrote the article, actually believes that Christmas is a wash this year just because a big consumer products retailer had some fulfillment issues.  But the fact that this discussion is even on the table says something about the degree to which Christmas has been hijacked by an excessive focus on STUFF.

What is Christmas really about?  If Christmas were only about the exchange of electronic devices, then I suppose Best Buy really might be able to ruin the holiday–but it’s about so much more than that.

I think that in the final analysis, Christmas is really about love, and this is what makes it appealing to many people of all religions.  It is an opportunity to spend time with the people we love, and to express our feelings of affection for them.  The tradition of gift-giving is a wonderful way to do this, and its origins are embedded in the story of Christmas itself: the very first Christmas gifts were given by the Magi to baby Jesus as an expression of their adoration for him.

But gift-giving is just one of many ways to show our loved ones that we care about them. At Christmas, we set aside work and cell phones and sometimes travel long distances to be with our families.  We carry on traditions passed down to us, and sometimes start new ones of our own.  Sharing a special meal or going ice skating, baking gingerbread cookies or helping out at a soup kitchen or decorating a tree: however big or small your family is, and whatever your traditions are, your time and your presence and your love are gifts that no retailer can sell online.  And they certainly aren’t anything that can be cancelled by Best Buy.

Merry Christmas.

The language of moods

I’ve noticed that we often speak about moods the way we speak about physical places:

“I’m IN a great mood!”

“I’m IN Vermont!”

“I need to get OUT OF this apartment.”

“I need to get OUT OF this bad mood.”

What might be the implication of this parallel?  I’ll offer a suggestion: In the same way that we make a decision and then take action to move ourselves into or out of a room or a building or a country, we can also make a decision and take action to move ourselves into or out of a particular mood.

Three additional thoughts:

1) If you can’t just snap your fingers and get into or out of a particular mood, don’t feel bad about it: sometimes the circumstances really do make it difficult to change moods, just as walls or gates or embargoes can make it more difficult to get into or out of a particular place.

2) If you’re in a particular mood and DON’T want to be there, it may be easier to get out if you can visualize the mood in which you DO want to be.

3) If you’re stuck in a bad mood and can’t seem to get out, try laughing: make yourself smile, force a chuckle.  Laughter has a tendency to break down walls.