Every single day on Maui, an amazing thing happens. As evening approaches, drivers pull off to the side of the highway and stop their cars. Why? Because the sun is setting.
They interrupt the journey they’re on, cut the engine, and sit and watch, occasionally with their car poking into the road! Some days the line of sight to the sun is clear. Sometimes the colors lean more red, sometimes more blue. Some days it’s nothing but clouds. The sun goes down, they pile into their cars, and get back on their way.
I’ve been blessed to spend time in Hawaii several times over the years, first for my sister’s wedding, then to study with one of my yoga teachers, Nancy Gilgoff, in Haiku. Among the many aspects of Maui life that have inspired me, this tradition of stopping for sunset has made one of the strongest impressions on me. I couldn’t believe people would take the time, especially when likely tired and eager to get home from work, to stop and watch the sunset.
Living in cities on the mainland, I haven’t found much duplication of this tradition. For sure, no one is pulling over on the 405 during rush hour in Los Angeles. I’ve commuted along the Pacific Coast Highway now and then, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone blocking the road as they watch the sunset. The best I’ve been able to do myself is to take photos of the sun in my rearview mirror with my iPhone and then post them on Facebook, which I’ll be the first to admit, is not the same thing.
If there’s one thing I’ve most admired about life in Hawaii, it’s how in touch people are with the earth’s natural rhythms. If sunset is important, sunrise is possibly even more so. One of the most breathtaking customs I’ve ever had the honor of sharing is the morning practice of the Kihei Canoe Club. My sister had moved to Maui, fallen in love, gotten married, and taken up the new family’s sport of competitive Outrigger Canoeing (yes, really). The new ohana was a bunch of badasses and did things like compete in IronMan triathalons and paddle about 40 miles across the Ka‘iwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu.
This paddling sport involved a lot of getting up before dawn, and it was prior to the days I rose early for yoga, so their prowess was beyond impressive to me. One morning they invited me to join them, and I managed to drag my lazy butt out of bed and get in the car for the half hour drive down to the sea in what felt like the middle of the night.
I stumbled after them across the sand, and when I hung back as we reached the boats, they pulled me forward and showed me how to help navigate the 400 pound boat over the wave at just the right moment and then hop in. (“Everybody helps get the boat in the water.”)
My sister’s father-in-law gave me basic paddling instructions, but I could only hold the paddle up for about 90 seconds at a time. That was okay, though, because there was a little bucket I could be in charge of to bail water as the strong arms of the others catapulted us through the ocean in synchronized rhythm.
Once past the first waves breaking at the shore, the boat surged forward with great force. The sky was moonless, and I saw nothing before us, nothing behind us, no coastline, no boundary. From what I could tell, we were heading straight out to sea, in pitch black, plummeting towards an unseen horizon.
The only sounds were the boat striking the surf and the call for the stroke or the paddles to switch sides. I could feel the power and the breath of those around me, and I broke my own sweat trying to match the paddling rhythm a few seconds at a time between my bailing responsibilities.
For me, there was no telling how long this went on. There was no past, no future, no day, no night. Only an endless push in a wet, cacophonous blackness. Despite variations in the call, nuances of steering, and shifts in the rhythm of the paddling, in my novice, instantly fatigued experience, it was a blind, exhausting dash into oblivion.
Then a sharp call from the steerer rang out, and the paddles halted. We were bobbing lightly in the water, surrounded by a different silence than I was used to. A paddle dipped into the water here, a paddle there, delicate slices, this side and that, and then we had turned around. Before us loomed the immense silhouette of Haleakala, the main volcano of Maui, silent and imminent, the faint penumbra of sun barely defining it against the sky. As we sat, the mountain emerged, turning from black to green, the sun rising behind it bled from red to gold. We sat. And we watched.
The steerer’s sharp cry came again, and the paddles came out of the boat, plunged back into the sea, and we were off again. Now the coastline was in clear view, we raced parallel on our way back to the boathouse, now visible in the distance ahead. Somehow, those minutes watching the sunrise had breathed life into me and I could now wield my paddle several minutes at a time! Onward to the volcano, full speed ahead!
After we landed, I helped pull the boat onto the sand with the others, helped pack up the gear. We got into the beat up old car and drove back up the mountain. We showered. We started our day. And I have carried that experience with me ever since. Can you believe that there is somewhere in the world where this takes place every single morning? If there is a way to have a little bit of that each day, I want it.
It’s not that easy to duplicate that experience in everyday life. I can’t be a competitive outrigger canoe racer. But I’ve discovered that even when filtered through the noise of mainland city life and the technology which supports (dictates?) all our actions now, cultivating an awareness of the earth’s rhythms has a calming and centering effect.
Here are 3 ways you can align yourself with the earth’s natural rhythm:
1. Set your phone to alert you to sun times.
I’ve set my phone for sunrise, noon, and sunset. At sunset it rings 10 minutes before, so I have time to bring whatever I’m doing to a pause. Whenever possible, I go outside, look in the direction of the sun, and see what I can see. Some days the line of sight to the sun is clear. Sometimes the colors lean more red, sometimes more blue. Some days it’s nothing but smog. Then I go back and continue my day. I’m not in an outrigger canoe, but it still feels good.
There are so many apps for this. The one I use is from a few years ago, Sunrise Alarm, and there are probably many more now with even more options. This one lets me set multiple alarms for different geographic locations (I set one for a rest area just north of Malibu to perfectly time a stop on the way home from the winery!) and multiple alarms for each location for each day. Alarms can be turned on or off at will, and all the settings preserved.
2. Put the phases of the moon on your calendar.
Load a moon calendar on your phone (here are instructions for Google calendars; iCal has one, too) or look up the moon days online and add them to your planner. (NOTE: the times vary with your location.) You’ve got to look at the calendar anyway, so it’s nice to know when the moon is full and go out and have a look. In the yoga tradition I studied, our energy is thought to be more expansive around the full moon, more conservative on new moons. If you know when those days are, you can see what you feel.
3. Get up with the sun.
This is a tougher one. I hate waking up knowing that I’ve missed hours of sunlight, especially in winter when night seems to threaten from early afternoon. And yet… I frequently have to get up at 4:00 or 5:00 am for my day job; I’ve also done it as a yoga student, later as a yoga teacher, even for Drivers’ Ed when I was a kid. But why is it so hard to get up without an external motivator? Aargh. I don’t know the answer to that, but I have a great solution. I recently discovered this book: The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life. I know, that sounds hokey. But I have to tell you, I downloaded this on Kindle, read it in one night, and have been getting up before sunrise 6 days a week since and maintaining a significantly heavier writing schedule. I wish this book had existed when I was a teenager. Every night I look up what time sunrise is coming and reset my alarm clock. I have to tell you, when daylight savings time came, it was weirder than ever. (Noon on DST is also pretty strange.) I would love to hear what your experiences are if you try The Miracle Morning.
For those of you who have experienced paradise and had to leave, do you have ways you incorporate that lifestyle into your current one? I’m always looking to add to my repertoire.
* Much love to the Wilson-Gerry clan.