Grounding, Happiness, The Projects

The Great Maternity Leave Projects: Watch a Sunset

Why read this article?  I teach you how to break out of the mould of an average day on maternity leave, how to boost memory retention and prevent the maternity leave foggy memories.  I include fascinating further reading on sunsets and talk about how they reconnect us with being present and pull us out of our minds.

Reading time:  less than five minutes.

Sounds ambitious right?  Watch a sunset with a little one?  Pfffft, yeah right. 

So that being said, please know that I write this with the full knowledge that you may see a portion of a sunset.  Maybe a milli-second before you have to chase your baby if they are crawling, maybe a few seconds if they are a toddler.  Maybe the full thing if they are sleeping.

Both maternity leaves, I have been excited to do this one.  On my most recent maternity leave with a spring baby, even more so.  I couldn’t wait to do it again.

Why, you ask, would I put something like that on my list?

There were two very important things that this project did for me:


It made me realize how quick and easy it is to break out of the “average day mould” and make a day extraordinary.  Those little “pops” of colour in our lives make it feel special. 

I threw a picnic blanket, a bottle of wine and a little camping glass in the bottom of my stroller.  Let me tell you – SO many people stopped to tell me they were jealous, or to say it was an amazing idea.  The funny thing is, any one of them could have done it.

I come across at least 20-30 people walking this beautiful ridge overlooking the mountains every day.  I have never, ever seen someone break out of the mould of walking and doing something unique.  Even stretching or yoga on the many grassy spots.

I think it is because when we are not doing things with intent, it’s easy to go into our automated, habitual “default mode.”

It maybe took an extra 2 minutes to walk to the fridge, grab the bottle and go downstairs to my camping gear.  Easy, yes.  Time consuming, no.  There are no barriers to anyone doing this.  Why do so few people forget about pleasurable things like this?  Why do we wait until we are on holiday to do this?!

Okay, maybe there is the whole little “open alcohol containers in public” thing that I, the European, struggle with.  But there’s coffee mugs for that, okay?

It reconnected me with being present.

All my life my head has been in the clouds; I am big level, strategic, creative, innovative thinker.  Unlike my hubby, I have to work at being grounded, working with details, and in the present.

That means I can be up in the clouds, lost in my head and thoughts.  When we are stressed, we become a more amplified version of ourselves.  It is so easy for me to miss out what is happening right now.  To be clumsy, forgetful, detached.

This is precisely the reason why I’ve built so many “being present” practices into my life.   It’s a real area I work to improve upon.

When I forced myself to sit down and enter the slow pace of a sun setting over the western horizon, I dropped from a rat race pace down to the natural pace of the earth.      I instantly felt my stress levels dipping with the sun behind the mountains.  As I sat there in peace and quiet, I also noticed for the first time in ages, that my senses were coming back online.

There is a practice that special operations forces use to ensure they remain alert and in the present.  It is called Stop. Look. Listen. Smell.  I indirectly experienced this technique, and received the exact same benefits these military men and women do.

As The sun sank in a sky of fire, I found myself noticing the hundreds of tiny birds in the tree, the sounds of the wind rustling through the grass, and the rich smell of late summer bushes wafting across the ridge.

Okay, I also found myself noticing my 10 month old nom-noming down on a pile of dirt beside me – which momentarily broke this beautiful sunset reverie… but as short as that moment was, it still sticks with me today.

I managed to crawl back out of the deep blue hole that is my mind.  Away from over-analysis, overthinking, and back into a peaceful place.  I didn’t bother with my gps walk tracker, my music, anything like that on the way back (I promise you it wasn’t because of the wine.)

The final thing that made this project special was the effect it had on my memories of my first maternity leave.

I remember that evening SO well, right down to what my little girl was wearing.

You can ask me what I remember from that week, or that month. I couldn’t tell you.  The first year blurs together in a fuzzy memory.  That frustrates me. Have you ever scrolled through your iPhone when your babies were really new and thought “noooo, that cannot be her!” It’s like the hormones that help us forget the pain of labour also help us forget the details of our little ones’ first year.

But special moments inject clarity into our catalogue of foggy memories.

They insert crystal-clear moments that we will forever remember.

Doing something as simple as watching a sunset, adding a little extraordinary into your day, is like inserting clear tabs and dividers into our giant binder of memories.  We can turn to the 6 months part of our mat leave and think “ah yes!  That’s when we ___ and ____!  I remember that so well!”


All I did was walk down the street and watch the sun set.  And added a little pop of pleasure to the experience with an extra treat for myself.

Try it sometime.  You may be amazed.

Fascinating Further Reading

This discussion on Quora on what it is about a sunset that is so enjoyable. 

The Brain’s “Emotion Code” that is activated by a sunset. 

For the scientists:  The Physics of a Sunset

The World’s Most Beautiful Sunset Locations


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