When we moved to our apartment two blocks from the beach, I envisioned that I would get up many mornings and watch the fiery sun rise above Lake Michigan. Maybe do some yoga, maybe meditate. Just take in the calm, zen moment before rushing into another busy day.
Well, we’ve lived in this apartment three years, and I had yet to catch that daily sunrise until today.
Now, I’ve seen the blazing pinks, oranges, and yellows sparkle across the still lake in the early morning many times, and I’ve also seen 5 a.m. on several Sundays, but always because I’ve been running, often during a long run before the humidity settles in.
However, I am taking a break right now from running for health reasons, and the mornings are mine to do with what I please. Sometimes I write, sometimes I read, most often I sleep until I need to get up for the day.
Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I thought to set my alarm for 4:45 a.m. Maybe I will get up and watch the sunrise, I thought before sling-shotting myself back to reality with, but I will probably just hit snooze and go back to bed. When my alarm went off, I was half-awake from a recent trip to the bathroom and my head was buzzing, trying to decide what one thing I should worry about at that specific hour. I turned the alarm off, thought for two minutes about blowing off this loose plan of watching the sunrise, but knowing my brain was likely going to find a reason to keep me up, I rolled out of bed.
It wasn’t unbearably hot yet when I walked outside at 4:50 a.m. My block was deceivingly quiet; there was not another person around. In the city, very rarely is there not another human within hearing distance or eyesight, but scanning the block, it was just me and the birds. However, once I got to the beach, there was more life. Cars going in and out of the beach parking lot, groups of young adults who were burning off the last remnants of the night before, couples sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the rocky sand, and lone persons, like myself, who abandoned their soft, comfortable beds to watch Mother Nature do her thing.
I found a nice seat at the end of a cement structure that stretched 100 feet into the water. The show had started with hints of pink and yellow peeking out from the clouds. The lake shivered small ripples but was mostly calm as a gaggle of black birds dove in and out of the water, trying to catch breakfast. The colors intensified as the the day began to stretch but without any shape. They were the warm up act, preparing us for the star who was a bit behind. Soon enough, a finger nail sliver of bright light emerged from the surface. It expanded into a half-moon and then a full circle. Bright. Defined. Consistent.
What a simple thing to do in order to have a beautiful, soothing experience—waking up early to watch the sunrise. For a moment, I tell myself I am going to do this more often, and yet, I know that is not true.
In Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, she decided to optimize her life in small ways in order to acquire more general happiness. In this experiment, she gets honest with herself about the type of person that she is and is not. For example, she always thought she could be the type of person who goes to the opera regularly. She could have a favorite piece and study the different singers and directors. She didn’t know much about the opera, and had maybe been once or twice, but it was the idea that she could be an opera lover that she held on to. However, in honing on what truly brings her joy in her life, she had to let go of the person she thought “could be.” She was never going to get into the opera, but that was OK. By accepting that, she could lean into what she did enjoy.
I am notorious for collecting things that I could be. A gardener. A kombucha brewer. A jazz enthusiast. A baker. A painter. A hiker. A nomad. A French speaker. A knitter. An ocean swimmer. A daily meditator. A yogi. And, a person who gets up daily to watch the sun. I feel like I have to be all of this and do all of these things to live the life I want, or the life I am supposed to want. Sometimes, I am so bogged down by the things that I think I could be doing, or should be doing, that I forget to enjoy the things I am actually doing, or worse, end up doing nothing at all.
A lot of us are like that. We have big dreams and aspirations to be different versions of ourselves, and it becomes a disappointment, even a failure, when we aren’t them. We live in the shadow of the person who is X or does X. We ridicule ourselves for not being more. We wonder why we can’t just be that person, that something is wrong with us.
We aren’t broken, though. We can’t do it all, or be it all. And sometimes we let too much external influences define our lives. By accepting who we are, and letting go of who we are not, we give ourselves permission to be. We focus on what truly makes us who we are and shed the rest.
I am not going to be a person who gets up every morning to meditate as the sun rises. That’s OK. I can get up some mornings to run or write, or I just sleep in and give my body rest. I don’t have to be one thing or the other. All of those things can be good for me, and yet none of them define me. I am not less of a person because I do not watch the sun rise every morning.
Once I abandoned that idea of having to get up at 4:45 a.m. every day to watch the sun because it will lead me closer to the life that I think I should be living, I was able to enjoy the moment, to actually watch the sparkling colors and absorb the tranquility of this everyday act. It lost the expectation and became something special. I got up to watch the sun enter into the day, and I may not do that every day, but I did today, and it was pretty wonderful.