Better is everything from this point forward.
I’ve made a habit of taking morning walks. Stepping into the morning air in any weather (with the air growing increasingly frigid as winter comes in for a big hug), I always have to acknowledge the reality of what hangs above me: not only the sky but also my thoughts, cloudy or clear.
One of the most resonant natural images of mythic meaning shines in the rays of light that reach from behind horizons and clouds. Weather stretching up or down, these crepuscular rays have been endowed with varied and contrasting meanings: Led Zeppelin paints them as a heavenly stairway while Connor Oberst regards them with cyclical cynicism; Christians point to them as proof of the divine while scientists use them to demonstrate the value of empirical inquiry. Whatever these rays mean in the prism of representation, they always provide me with substance in their brilliant displays.
The importance of perceiving these rays has held a particular significance for me as I’ve turned waking into a habitual activity. Deciding to keep my alarm set at 6am every day was in part inspired by secondhand mentoring, but it’s a benchmark I’ve continually exceeded—to my own satisfaction. I often wake before my alarm, disable it, and reset it as I head out the door. Part and parcel of my morning wake is my morning walk into the lightness of a new dawn. The sunlight itself is not only symbolic, but also a key factor in directing my day as I often feel connected to changes in the climate.
One of the main struggles of working at home is being too sedentary—especially when my job requires me to be at the mercy of long-winded students—I purpose my mornings with a walk to a nearby shopping center. In addition to the active engagement of my body; the re-spiration of my body that fills me with breath again; exposure to the outside world and a sample of the weather; and adherence to my commitments; this process allows me sufficient time to reflect on my relationship with myself.
The symbolic ray of light that provides the image of this clearer sense of self may only be a metaphor, but the relationship it offers reminds me that the sun is always there: we make it significant. Depending on the exact time I leave, this often allows the perspective of the sunrise, the clouds in the way, or the recognition that I’ve left too late to catch it all. These elements of my settings speak to me personally as the backdrop of a reality: that I make meaning with the day. Whether you consider a sunrise as a beautiful act of God or a natural phenomenon that may also highlight a copious amount of pollution, the act of acknowledging it brings you into yourself—back into a relationship with your conscious mind.
Having risen to plenty of mornings that highlighted my own loathing or allowed me to release my breath back into the world, I know from experience that a ray of light is as dull or sharp as we want it to be. But by committing into our own agency, the ways we constitute the world determine if our sun is rising towards opportunity, falling from expectations, or just a sedentary object we ignore.
My challenge to myself that I invite you to consider is to walk with that decision every morning, and to bring to light the consequences. During many morning walks, I have intervened in the inner dialogue of my worst critic to look directly into the sky fire; to burn up all the passive intentions my disappointments might hold me to—weighted with fatigue or lack of accomplishment—in order to make room for my rays to shine. Because each new day is bound to take us somewhere, I try to remind myself that the way forward is clear, and it is up to me to participate in that .
Every morning when I head towards the shopping center—my legs either happy to be in motion or my body angry about enduring the cold—I return to the ray of light that I hold onto: that I am able to rise with morning to become more than a fixed object in the universe. By a conscious act of waking and taking a moment to look up, I become ready to engage with whatever the day may hold. And if that means enduring the burden of a beautiful sunrise, so be it.
The first phase of my reflections will be on the Wealth of Relations: taking images from daily life to show how I make my day a little less banal, and how you can, too. Continuing next week with the sun’s counterpart, the moon, I will complement this forward thinking with backwards reflection. I hope you will join me.