The most inspiring quote I’ve ever read comes from the late psychologist Carl Rogers.
Carl Rogers was an influential figure in psychology who worked to bring a more human touch to the field. He wanted to see psychological professionals apply more empathy and emotional authenticity to therapy, as opposed to using the cold and detached forms of psychological analysis which dominated his time.
The essay in which this quote is found is a reflection on what helped Rogers to communicate well with others. Rogers writes mainly about the attitudes he has brought to certain situations, and whether or not those attitudes facilitated good communication.
Although the quote discusses a certain attitude as he applies it to people, I have found that this is a beautiful attitude to bring to every aspect of life. When I can relate to life with this attitude I am able to be much more peaceful in the face of adversity, and I am able to be much more grateful for the good things in life.
The Dank Quote
Without further ado, here’s the quote from Rogers’ book A Way of Being:
“One of the most satisfying feelings I know — and also one of the most growth-promoting experiences for the other person — comes from my appreciating this individual in the same way that I appreciate a sunset. People are just as wonderful as sunsets if I can let them be. In fact, perhaps the reason we can truly appreciate a sunset is that we cannot control it. When I look at a sunset as I did the other evening, I don’t find myself saying, ‘Soften the orange a little on the right hand corner, and put a bit more purple along the base, and use a little more pink in the cloud color.’ I don’t do that. I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch it with awe as it unfolds. I like myself best when I can appreciate my staff member, my son, my daughter, my grandchildren, in this same way.”
— Carl Rogers
Life gets a lot easier when we can just let things be.
Letting Ourselves Be
I’d like to share my thoughts on this quote and a few examples of how it’s helped me. My hope is that you use these examples to look for a way that this attitude of appreciation, of letting things be, can help you in your life.
We can apply this attitude to ourselves. We can watch ourselves like a sunset — with awe as we unfold.
Using this attitude, we choose to appreciate ourselves for who we already are — instead of wishing we were different. We choose to appreciate our life for what it is right now — instead of comparing our current situation to the situation we wish we had.
I’m all for personal growth. It’s important to work hard building good habits, a career you’re proud of, a healthy body and mind, and anything else you’d like in life. The human drive to work toward goals is natural, awesome, and helps us out a lot.
But often this drive, when left unchecked, takes on a compulsive quality. We come to believe that we have to accomplish something — or else we’re not good enough. We hold ourselves to a standard, and if we don’t meet that standard we beat ourselves up on the inside.
Moving Past Performance Judgment
In the past this compulsion ruined my fun on a skateboard. I would become too concerned with landing a certain trick. If I couldn’t land it well and consistently, I obsessed over it. I started to believe that my progression was stagnating if I couldn’t land the trick. Doing other tricks wasn’t fun until I finally got the one I obsessed about.
In those moments I stopped having fun and skated even more poorly than before. This kind of obsession only hurt me — there was no benefit to it.
This used to happen to me often, but I’ve become much better at just letting that pesky trick go. I go to another spot and try a different trick. Maybe I’ll come back to the first trick, maybe not.
Instead of losing my enjoyment, I decide to appreciate my skate session for how it is. I do tricks I can land. I do tricks that are hard but are more fun to try. I don’t judge how good I am that session or how good I think I am becoming. I just let my session be, and look for the fun I can have now.
I have a lot more fun that way.
The Futility of Forcing Positive Feeling
This attitude of non-judgment, of letting things be, was essential to growth in my meditation practice.
When I began meditating, every now and then I would have a great session. I would finish feeling present, relaxed, and peaceful. It was awesome. It was a sign I was getting somewhere — or so I thought.
After having a few of these experiences, I began to look for them. I began seeking them, or trying to create them, during meditation practice. Or during a walk in the woods. Or while listening to music.
I would try to recall that feeling of presence and replicate it. Somehow, I thought, I could scour my mind for the place where I experienced these wonderful meditative feelings — and tell my mind to stay there.
It never worked that way. No matter how hard I tried. Actually, the harder I tried to find or create presence, the more it eluded me. And the more frustrated with meditation I would become.
As I studied meditation I found people saying time and again that it wasn’t about presence, peace, or relaxation. Yes, those experiences do arise as we practice, but they aren’t the meditation itself. Meditation is about being with whatever experience is already there.
It took me a while to believe that, to learn that through my own experience, but after some time I did.
I found that when I just felt my breath, I stumbled upon relaxation. I needed to stop looking for relaxation in the sensation of my breath, and I needed to stop trying to relax my breath.
All I needed was to just feel the sensation of my breath — the way it is now. All of a sudden I would catch myself relaxing!
Instead of trying to make the present moment into a moment that’s full of beautiful meditative feelings, I just needed to feel the present.
You Can’t Color the Sunset
I was trying to color the sunset my way — color the present moment my way. But when I let go of the need for control, when I just watched the colors of the present how they already were, I started to find all those wonderful meditative experiences I had sought.
Sometimes the colors of the present included joy, other times sadness, other times an uncomfortable knee, and other times a stuffy nose. Not every experience I found was pleasant. It was through acceptance of every experience — pleasant and unpleasant — that I could find a slice of peace and presence.
Acceptance in Relationships: The Real Challenge
I struggle with bringing this attitude to my relationship with my brother.
I love my brother. I enjoy spending time with him. Overall our relationship is great. But like all siblings we bicker — even now as adults.
Our personalities are very different. He golfs, I skateboard. He likes hotdogs and hamburgers, I like vegetables and sauces. He’s studying criminal justice and is signed up to join the military after college. I’m writing this article about acceptance, letting go of control, and just feeling — man.
At the same time we share an annoying stubbornness. We can both be inflexible in our own ways. This, combined with our differences, makes fertile ground for lots of petty conflict.
Sometimes I can appreciate him for who he is, instead of seeing him through my ideas about what he should be. In these moments I respect his strengths and can laugh off the things he does that annoy me.
Other times I fail to take on this attitude and I let our differences get to me. We both act less maturely than we can and end up pissing each other off.
I certainly haven’t mastered this skill, but when I appreciate my brother like a sunset things go very well. If you can bring this attitude to your relationships at all it will work wonders — so please try.
A Good Sunset
If you can appreciate anything the same way as a sunset, then please do. It will help you enjoy the good things more. It will help you accept the difficult things. There’s a certain calmness, a certain comfort, that I feel in my heart as I watch a good sunset. I, for one, need more of that in my life.