The sunrise has captivated me for as long as I can remember. I have seen so many vibrant shades splashed over the dark canvas of night as the sun bursts through the horizon. The excitement of this moment never loses its intensity and provides a constant source of inspiration for me. When I lived in Fiji, I would climb the nearest hill behind my traditional beach hut and each day I was rewarded with a spectacular view as the sun rose above the sea. It was at this time I started reflecting on my appreciation of the sunrise. I noticed that, while I was aware that it was getting lighter during the sunrise, I could not actually perceive the increasing lightness in each moment. It was only when I would compare the level of light with five minutes before that I was able to discern a change. If I attempted to perceive the steady increase in light in each moment I was unable to. In the same way, as the sun crept over the horizon, I was able to notice that it had risen by comparing it to its earlier position. But if I focused my attention on the sun in a single moment I was unable to perceive its movement. My mind could not cognise the change in a single moment but only could recognise change over a prolonged period of time.
This is the same with our ability to perceive the ageing of our bodies. I know that by comparing a photo of myself with one that was taken a year ago that I have grown older. Though when I look in the mirror I seem so stable and cannot perceive that I am constantly ageing. It is this disparity between our lack of ability to perceive the impermanence of each moment and the truth that everything is constantly changing that gets us
into so much difficulty. Of course this ageing is not just restricted to our bodies. Our minds too are growing older, even faster than the turning of the earth, yet it is very difficult to pay attention to their fluctuations and movements. Our relationships with others are also constantly altering and developing. We use terms like “fall in love” and “fall out of love” as if these emotions just come from nowhere, spontaneously, with no causes or conditions. It is this lack of ability to perceive change in each moment that causes us to think of the mental and physical world as permanent. It is only in certain rare moments that we realise how much things have changed within us and outside us. We may see a photo of ourselves from our childhood, see an elderly relative after so many years or visit a childhood home only to find it derelict. This confrontation with reality often causes us to suffer as the permanence that we project onto the world is revealed as only a dream.
How then can we stop this habit of seeing everything as permanent when biologically we cannot help it? No matter how hard we try, it is impossible to notice in each moment the increase in light at sunrise or our ageing when we look in the mirror. The answer lies in how we manage to appreciate the sunrise despite not being able to perceive the momentary increase in light. We appreciate it because we constantly recollect a previous position of the sun or level of light and compare it to the present moment. We may say to ourselves “Wow! The sky has become so red now” and, in doing so, recognise the impermanence of the event.
Of course, in reality, the sky was constantly getting red but we were unable to perceive this constant change. The only way we can value and appreciate the change of sunrise is by constantly recollecting an earlier moment from which we can perceive difference. This practice can be transferred to all aspects of life. Recollecting the difference between our minds today and yesterday, the differences in our appearance over the years, the difference in our relationships with loved ones today and a year ago or noticing the steady disintegration of a building we walk by each day over the years. In this way, this practice recognises the difficulty of seeing the reality of impermanence in each moment and works within the original sense of the Sanskrit and Pali words for mindfulness, “smirti” and “sati”, which literally mean “recollecting.” To begin to view the world as we would a sunrise can be our first steps to a mindful and happy life.