Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 3: Relax and Retreat > Chapter 7: Sunset Contemplation

Sunset Contemplation

The two great daily pauses in Nature offer wonderful minutes when we, her children, should pause too. Sunrise is the chance and time to prepare inwardly for activity; sunset to counterbalance it. We do not take proper advantage of the gifts of Nature but let ourselves be defeated by the conditions in which we have to live under our times and civilization.

Dusk is my mystic hour. With its soft coming I am drawn again to turn away from the world and recognize the divine presence within me.

The diurnal miracle of sunrise and the nocturnal fascination of sunset are worth much more than every minute we give them. This is not only because we owe so much to the great orb, but because we can get so much from the salutations themselves.

A profound feeling of reverence for the Sun should be a part of the worship, the visible orb being regarded as the vesture worn by the Great Being behind it.

The distant horizon, bathed in a sunset of quivering amethyst light, gives joy to the heart, uplift to the reverent worshipper of the Holy and Benign.

How lovely are those reddened evenings when the sun is about to bid us adieu! How the heart is warmed and the mind enlightened as it harmonizes with the hush of eventide. It is then so easy to receive what the poet called "intimations of immortality."

Fascinated by the utter beauty of a fiery sunset, held and hypnotized by it, the turning away merely to continue a piece of work, to eat a meal or to go out on some business seems reprehensible sacrilege. And perhaps it is. It is in such moments that a glimpse of God's presence becomes possible. For the consciousness is carried outside the ego, desire is diverted to savouring the mysterious stillness, and thought's constant labour is subdued or, if good luck prevails, even suspended.

The sun's dying touch turned the field to sudden gold.

The minutes between light and dark just after the sun's setting are precious to him.

The Incas of South America plainly taught that God was unknown and unknowable and therefore unworshippable, but that his highest creation being the Sun, the latter was the visible God for man and fit to be worshipped.

Plato tells us of the Greeks prostrating themselves before the sun at its rising and setting. Hence it is not only an Indian custom but one which other enlightened ancients practised.

Consider the tranquillity which comes, either to the mind or the body or both, when men live more in harmony with Nature, at sunset. The orb descends in a blaze of glory in the West. Consider further the Greek idea of the "blessed Western isles" and the Chinese "happy realm of the West" pertaining to the soul.

As I watch the pair of cranes, themselves watching with perfect concentration the sun's last diurnal glow before the coming of twilight, I smile at the thought of what they are able to achieve with such instinctive ease while humans, who are supposedly higher in evolution, struggle vainly for years to achieve it.

In those moments of suspense when light is yielding so reluctantly to the dark, there is an opportunity to look within and come closer to the Overself.

In this mellow autumn dusk, when the passing sun no longer incarnadines the fallen leaves and the night's peace is softly creeping up, a man may fitly turn inwards to cultivate his awareness of the Overself.

Outside, Nature is beautifully still; inside, consciousness is just as beautifully still. The two tranquillities blend into one another.

To anticipate the sunset hour or await the break of dawn, with body unmoving and mind absorbed, is one timing of this exercise which allies itself with Nature's helpful rhythm.

TO BE USED AS A VARIATION ON THE MEDITATION ON THE RISING OR SETTING SUN (GIVEN IN THE WISDOM OF THE OVERSELF) First stage: He should fix his gaze upon the rising sun or coloured sky. All other thoughts should be put away at first and his whole attention concentrated upon the physical phenomenon which he is witnessing.

The rays of light must enter his body through his eyes. In this way alone do they attain their utmost efficacy for the purpose of this exercise. Second stage: The student tries to partake of the profound inner pause wherein the entire solar system is briefly plunged, to experience within himself what is actually occuring within the greater existence of which he is a part . . . to tranquillize all his thoughts so that personal matters are wholly absent.

The Sun behind the sun, the mystical Light of the World-Mind illumes man's mental world and at the same time penetrates it through and through, provided he is present and passive in consciousness to receive its power. Third stage: This stage moves with the outspreading or waning light until he embraces the whole planet along with it. For this purpose he has to:

1. picture a great globe growing larger and larger within himself as a formless consciousness mentally dissociated from the physical body, until it assumes GIGANTIC SIZE;

2. make the conception as alive as possible by permeating it with faith and conviction, holding the sense of countless creatures existing everywhere;

3. reverse the process, until it finally encloses his own body alone (globe gets smaller and smaller);

4. exercise the belief that he is mind not matter;

5. strengthen the perception of the true relationship between himself and cosmic life, his physical and vital oneness with the universe . . . and try to realize that his own existence is inter-connected by a beginningless and endless web with all the other existences around him.

6. There must be deep devotion and heartfelt feeling in his thoughts. Goal: He reaches the goal of this stage when the physical scene vanishes, when he is no longer conscious of it, when attention is turned inward wholly on the beautiful mood or spirit thus invoked, when all form is absent and he feels in complete rapport with the universal being, so complete that he knows he is an integral part of it.

When he feels something of this relationship as a loving response, then he should cease trying to absorb support from the All--whose soul is the World-Mind--and begin to pass it out compassionately and share its grace unselfishly with others.

He sees them in his imagination suffused with its warm light and sublime peace.

First, he directs his effort with his love towards those who are near or dear to him and to any special individuals whom he would like to help in this way.

Then, he directs his effort with his love towards mankind in the mass--whom he must regard as unconsciously forming one great family.

Third, he directs it towards individuals who are hostile to him, who hate, injure, or criticize him. He must consider them as his teachers, for it is their business to pick out and make him aware of his faults. He need not send his love, but he must send them his pity. Close exercise with: Short, silent, personal prayer to the Overself.

The loveliest of sights is the sunset's transformation of Himalaya's snowy summits from pure white to pale gold, and then to rosy pink. And then to wait, in the hushed expectant atmosphere, for night!

It was one of those lovely summer evenings when I sat far into the night: first, enjoying the sunset, then, the darkening landscape, lastly, the lights alone. The curtains remained undrawn: I could not bring myself to attend to waiting work, and shut out this fascinating scene. For it drew me away, held me, melted me. The "I" was going.

I love these long lingering summer sunfalls. Then I can put duties aside, turn from the activities which life amongst men imposes, and go with all this beauty into Mystery Itself.

Thus we let our mind, our life, sink out of activity into rest with the twilight itself. We decline into not only stillness of thought, but also stillness of individuality.

The light in the room gets less and less, the shades draw in upon him more and more, as his worship proceeds deeper and deeper to its silence and inwardness.

Rich are those possible experiences when one sits and gazes at the western horizon before eventide, the sun going out of sight, the heart open to beauty and grace as it longs for the Overself.

Once more when the light starts to fail and dusk takes over, the period of withdrawal from outer activity has come. It may last only a few minutes or, better, an hour, but it will be a beautiful, pacific, and profitable recess.

In those long summer evenings when the day lingers on as if loath to withdraw from our world and admit the night, when colours run through the spectrum around the sky, we may find new incentive and fresh sustenance for this meditational practice.

How beautiful a sight when the last evening rays shine through the shut window on a seated figure whose face is rapt in listening to inner music, whose thoughts lie in stilled abeyance.

About the sunset meditation exercise: The practice itself does not depend on whether the sun is actually shining at the time. For Nature comes to a great but brief pause just then. This cessation of inner activity takes place whatever the outer physical conditions are. It can be felt by sensitive persons. Therefore the meditation need not be abandoned if outer conditions seem undesirable, although the beautiful colouring of the skies when sunshine is present helps those who have aesthetic feeling.

Whether the sun sets with or without a display of colours, behind trees or in the sea, obscured by high buildings or urban settlements, it should fix the direction of worship in this exercise.

As dusk begins, the sacred call is heard and the mind turns inward to its centre.

In the rosy glow of sunset, after a wearisome descent into the world of human affairs, celestial hopes are restored and one can turn around to look within.

I remember the long twilights of Scandinavia and the Scottish Highlands, as reluctant to go as I to lose them. Here the brief tropical twilight bursts with colour but is soon over.

It is time well used and not lost if, in the presence of Nature's masterpiece--the solar beauty at its dawn or declination--he turns his back on personal activity to pause for a few moments or minutes, admiring quietly, even humbly reverent. Such attention is, for the atheist, religion discovered: for the toiler, art appreciated.

Yes! let us worship Eos, Greek goddess of sunset, who accompanies Helios in his sungold chariot. O! sunsets! moving through the most beautiful range of colours in the spectrum.

Why is it that sensitive refined souls would rather a hundred times look down on a long mountain valley than on a long city street? Why does the handiwork of Nature rest them but the handiwork of man disturbs? A lovely sunset, with its glowing colours and peaceful landscape, may move them deeply. Whence comes this emotion? It is aesthetic, yes, but it is also mystical at its root. Hence the sunset's gold mauve and grey tints may start feelings which uplift, console, and spiritualize a man.

The red beauty and hushed serenity of a sunset affect even the insensitive person and make him pause for a few moments. Why is this? Because in that brief while he does what his extroverted life does not ordinarily permit him to do, he concentrates and quiets himself, and thus receives a dim echo of the beauty and serenity which belong to his own innermost being.

To the older Greeks the sun was an emblem of beauty. They looked at it with joy. But to the Hindus it was an emblem of divinity. They looked at it with worship. Both attitudes were right and both are called for today.

Men pass it by every day, disregarded, as if it were not there at all. This sacred moment of truth is bestowed upon them in those pauses of life whose higher use and real importance are missed because unknown.

However hard-pressed, troubled, or fatigued his day has been, this is the hour which relieves--even saves--it, this pause harmonized with Nature's own pause.

These spiritual evenings can serve us Westerners better than the spiritual dawns serve the Easterners.

The sunset brings rest to Nature's activities. Man may stop his own activity for a few minutes and come into harmony with Nature.

He who rises with the rising sun and dies with the dying one in an act of worship gains greatly on all levels of his being.

Exercise: In this exercise the eyes are fixed on the sinking sun, the mind lost in its beauty, and the body kept still on its seat.

It is as if the sun gave a last lingering kiss to this earth, a farewell greeting to act as a reminder to hold on to hope.

If the rising sun stimulates man and many other living creatures to prepare for the day's coming activity, the descending sun warns him to relax from it.

This hour when the sun drops low, glowing with colours as it goes down, is well celebrated by evensong services and bell-ringings of the church.

If there is a sun showing on any day of the month let face be turned toward it when it goes down.

How soothing to sit in the half-light of early evening and let the mind fall away from the world.

When the coming of night brings repose to Nature and silence to the landscaped scenes, we experience a stillness outside the self comparable to the stillness which contemplation brings out inside the self.

To let the mind come to rest in love and with concentration on a vividly coloured sunset or a garden of flowers is to invite the glimpse.

When the sun vanishes in golden splendour there is a mysterious moment: all is still. This is your chance.

The charm of long lingering twilights may be deepened and strengthened by sustained surrender until it becomes a gateway to the mystically hidden self.

Those drowsy sundown evenings which come in the warmer months of the year, so restful and so undemanding as they are, can be used to relax all mental effort and to enjoy the affirmations and mantrams which declare divinity of the human soul.

The evening light is a blessed one. It transfigures a landscape or a seascape. The evening pause of Nature is for many the favoured hour of meditation. When alone I arrange matters, work, and meals so that this hour of sunset watching and sun worship is not missed.

These twilight periods become a veritable oasis in the desert of ordinary living, a sacred sanctuary in the materialism of modern day existence.

How much of his philosophy did Plato owe to that habit of his of watching the sunset from a hillside?

One who never tires of watching spectacular sunsets has been turned by them into a sun-worshipper, a votary of the oldest religion in existence.

There are some sunsets which inspire ebullient joy and other ones which put us in a cathedral by their grave beauty.

Was there an unconscious knowledge of the 365-Day Meditation on the Setting Sun Exercise in Benjamin Disraeli? In his novel entitled Contarini Fleming, a psychological romance written in 1832, he makes Contarini sit at a window and watch the westering sun go down, with the consequence that he exclaims, "I felt a disgust for all the worldliness on which I had been lately pondering. And there arose in my mind a desire to create things beautiful."

Some magnificent play of sun on earth, ocean, or sky may provide a spectacle to hold sense and mind alike enthralled. The effect on feeling may deepen to the point where a sense of uplift, exaltation, and peace becomes overwhelming. This is rare, memorable vision, where faith in an intelligent Power behind things is restored or fortified. It will pass completely, it may even never recur again, but it cannot be forgotten.

It is not enough to practise mechanically: one should love this sunset-watching exercise and never tire of waiting for the sun to go down, never weary of staring at the shimmering fading colours.

The sun sinks and vanishes but his admiration does not vanish: it deepens and sinks into love, till he can repeat the seventeenth-century poet Herbert's lines, "Thou art my lovelinesse, my life, my light, Beautie alone to me;"

There are few persons who are not susceptible to the charm of a failing, highly coloured sun towards the end of the day. But there are fewer still who understand how to use this feeling in order to obtain a mystical glimpse. To watch the sun change the landscape from green to rainbow colours as it makes its last glorious splash of rays before the evening folds, is to invite the glimpse, provided the watching is done with intense concentration and tender feeling for the beauty of the scene.

My happiest hours come when the sun is about to bid us farewell. Those lovely minutes are touched with magic; they bring my active mind and body to a pause. They invite me to appreciate the radiant glowing colours of the sky and finally they command me to enter the deep stillness within, so that when all is dark with the coming of night all is brilliantly illuminated inside consciousness.

In Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, Arabia, India, Malaya, Cambodia, and farther east still, the hour of departure for the sun becomes a conflagration of colours far beyond its Western parallel. The joy it yields or the sadness it suggests never tires a sensitive man, not even the thousandth time.

No hour of the day provides a stronger hint of life's tragically passing character than sunset. What reflection tells us through thought, this period--so lovely yet so doomed to perish soon--tells us through ecstatic sight.

To revel in the sky's twilight colouring, its translucent gold and purple, to wait further and revel again in the afterglow--this is poetic feeling, artistic development, and semi-mystical experience.

It is no waste of time to let activity melt into vacuity when the evening pageant of the sun's departure sets in.

The joy of watching the sun pass away in a glow of colour is not entirely unmixed. At some point in the period, towards the end, the remembrance that all this beauty, so intense at that moment, is doomed to vanish very soon, touches the mind with melancholy.

The sun which is to be seen is a reminder to blind faithless man of That which is not to be seen (unless the inner sight and the inner life are active)--the glorious hidden royal Sun of the World-Mind.

One is reluctant to leave the gorgeous, eye-delighting, heart-satisfying feast of colour.

This is the radiant magical hour of sunset when worship is the instinctive mood.

To sit on a fine day on a park-bench or café-table, watching the late afternoon or early evening sky's light change and the colours of objects darken, provided another setting for this beautiful feeling of inward peace. This has always been the day's finest hour. But it comes to its best with solitude. The company of other people's voices does not help it, only obstructs while their thoughts, vividly felt in that passive mood, may be even worse.

A beautiful, colourful, and paintable waning of the sun is an offer of grace to the human beings who take the trouble to pause and notice their parent--Nature.

The sun is God's face in the physical world.

The uncertain light of sundown, the objects indistinctly seen, helps a little this passing into a half-mystic state; but the primal actuator is his willingness to relax from activities, to let his thought drift back to his aspiration, and wait in patience.

This visual adventure with sunset ends in a mystical one.

Witness a glorious dawn or a golden sunset and let the feeling of admiration grow into adoration.

There is a mysterious pause of nature at sunset, sundawn, and at solstices. The most important is winter-solstice, everywhere celebrated in the ancient world; it is Christmas for us. So the ego-thought should pause and recollect. Just as the visible sun is essential to human bodily life and existence, so the invisible sun of consciousness is essential to its mental, emotional, and spiritual life. It is our Overself and God: give it homage.

During that pause in Nature which is so noticeable in very quiet country places, away from the towns, and during the fall of the sun in the evening, we may hear the last sounds and calls of animals and birds from a far longer distance than at other times or in other places.

We are part of the life of the cosmos. As such, it is possible for us to commune with it inwardly or to be penetrated by it outwardly. In connection with the Sun Worship exercise, it might be mentioned that since both points of the day are equally sacred--that is, the rising and the setting sun hours--the benefit is not only spiritual, but could also be physical. A visitor once told me that having faithfully practised for 365 days the exercise given in this reference in The Wisdom of the Overself, deafness suddenly disappeared. And lately I was told of a Japanese writer who, after a long illness with lung consumption, went on the morning of the Winter Solstice to worship the rising sun. He felt a great fervour. He experienced some kind of illumination, and the same day recovered good health. This happened about a hundred years ago.

When the pause is greatest--that is to say, when the sun is down so low as to be almost on the horizon--there is his greatest chance to merge with it in a beautiful, smiling harmony.

Other men usually worship in the way they are taught; mine came from no outside instruction but from a spontaneous and instinctive reaction of the heart. It is the only religious rite that stirs me, this worship of the declining sun, of its coloured beauty and healing stillness.

When the sun has descended to the line from where it rose--the earthly horizon--his thought can descend too and sink back into its quiet source.

There is a point where this inner world of divine being intersects the outer world of common existence, and therefore where awakening is possible more easily than at other times: the pause between day and night (paralleled by its counterpart the pause between night and day). Anyone can take advantage of Nature's stillness by willing his own stillness in untensed passivity.

One morning a neatly dotted in jacket and trousers, tall and lean man appeared on the doorstep of the little house where I lived in Mysore City (whenever I was not travelling around India). With him, but a short distance away, I then noticed another man standing there, who was shorter, sterner, and stouter. He wore the white robes of a swami. The wiry-figured man addressed me in simple, half-broken but quite understandable English; he introduced himself as a disciple, the other as a guru, and proffered his service as interpreter between us. The guru then addressed me and explained that they had come from the North, that he wished, if acceptable, to teach me a single exercise and talk about certain other spiritual matters, and that he would then depart in the early evening. (They had brought their own food with them.) This is how the knowledge of the Meditation on the Sun exercise in The Wisdom of the Overself (Chapter 14, "The Yoga of the Discerning Mind") was literally brought to me. It must be added, though, that I took a writer's license to adapt the exercise to Western culture. Where the guru showed and quoted some obscure Hindu Veda, to prove that the exercise was a fully authentic prescription--an authority which did not carry the same weight to non-Hindu Western minds--I saw and seized on the possibilities of appealing to the aesthetic sensibilities, the artistic appreciation of the sun's beauty instead. The guru did not object to this adaptation. It illustrates the mysterious oneness of the mystical life all over the world that what was prescribed in some little-known scriptural text in India of several thousand years ago, was practised personally by a European who had never left Spain, never studied any Oriental text at all. I refer to Saint Juan de Cruz, better known to us as Saint John of the Cross, who lived about four centuries ago (1542-1591). (He was the Spiritual Director of the more famous Saint Teresa of Avila.) Such was the genesis of this lovely and easy exercise among my writings. It used physical act--seeing--to yield an emotional consequence, and then led the practicant into a state of consciousness which transcended both. It is an exercise which has helped many people, if their reports are valid. Certainly it has consoled and comforted the ill-fortuned, actually helped some sufferers of bodily maladies, while those who care for art got artistic treats they might otherwise have missed!

Let him greet the new day with a new smile: for dawn is to be welcomed by both body and soul.

To sit in utter silence, while subdued twilight touches us with peace and the room around and the world outside darken in the dusk, can be a beautiful experience.

The falling shadows of eventide worked their ancient witchery on me. I ceased this endless activity and lapsed into a stilled body and a silent mind.

It is a quietening experience to sit in the sinking sunlight and let the play of personal matters recede from the forefront to the background of attention.

It is a joy to gaze reverently during a calm evening at a sunset tinting the sky with soft pink, lilac, and green, and then use this mood for entry into meditation.

When the twilight hour is at its peak, a spell seems to have fallen over the lake, the fields, and the mountains.

It is a lovely countryside experience to let the sunset lapse into a quiet broken only by the croaking of frogs or the shrilling of crickets.

Those who pay homage to the sun whether they admire it for aesthetic reasons or revere it for spiritual ones are obeying a right instinct.

Was it a time of such a sunset viewed from his Thames-side Chelsea home that Carlyle wrote: "From a small window we can see the infinite."?

For evening brings the mild sadness which attends darkness but also the contrary feeling of mild pleasure which attends repose after toil.

Soon the lamps will be lit in the darkening room, this holy pause will come to an end, this strange reminder of a Home beyond home will pass into a gentle memory.

Yes, it is true, one may be a sun worshipper and love those moments when it lights up the pieces, the furnishings, or the pictures in one's room and this is even more accentuated when the sun has its last burst of glory in the evening.

In that mysterious period of the day when the light fades out but lamps are not yet switched on, when the room is half lost in growing shadows, when Nature itself seems to pause for a few moments in its work, lies an opportunity for man. It is an opportunity to create a corresponding pause within himself.

What could be more important symbolically or more pleasing aesthetically than to watch the shining sun rise from behind mountains or over seas? What hope it gives, what help it promises to all beings and not only to mankind. What too could be more beautiful and more tranquillizing than to watch the same sun setting in the evening?

"It came to be my favourite place. It was there that I usually . . . gazed, as I never could do enough, at the setting sun."--Johann Wolfgang Goethe.

The poet Keats knew the richness of this hour, which left "the reader [of poetry] breathless . . . in the luxury of twilight."

What is all this reverence for holiness and appreciation of beauty which come of themselves at sunset but an effect of light upon Nature's land or seascapes?

The light has nearly gone. The city has become a gigantic silhouette in the dusk. The recession into contemplative peace is almost over. Soon--movement begun, activity resumed--the outward phase of life where the ego has to struggle its way through problems while enjoying its few pleasures follows.

As day retreats and night falls, the opportunity enters. When measured in time it stays differently at different seasons of the year, that is, while dusk lingers.

Looking out of the little window and across the lake, after glancing at the mountains to the right and to the left, I stared at the vanishing sun, absorbed in its beauty and its mystery.

The charming hour of sunset brings its message of repose not only to us but also to most of the birds who flock home to their perches.

When the sun dips low and vanishes, when dusk begins to fall and the colours darken and merge, the mind can move with Nature into its great pause. A man whose temperament is sensitive, aesthetic, religious, psychic, or Nature-loving can profit by this passage from day to night and come closer to awareness of his soul.

As the dwindling light and increasing shadow bring on dusk's soft melancholy, it is offset by the still-fresh memory of the lovely colours just passed from the sky.

In those few moments all Nature seems to hold her breath, to rest and be still. But he seldom hears or listens and misses the chance.

The final glimmer of sunlight followed by the closing-in of darkness could be a melancholy event. But the adoration and concentration which preceded it bring enough tranquillity to dissolve all such negative feelings.

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