by Ray Jason
A black-crowned night heron was clinging to my anchor chain, searching the quiet sea for a fish. As the sun eased its orange rim just above the horizon, the little bird looked up, and so did I. This sunrise held exceptional promise because of the cloud formations scattered about. There were immense walls of dense cumulus flanking a high ceiling of delicate cirrus. When the sun fully emerged from the sea, it transformed the sky into a magnificent, amber cathedral. Here was a radiant sanctuary worthy of Mother Ocean.
Spellbound by this magnificent panorama, I found myself searching for the best word to describe it, and then it came to me – HOLY! This led me to a rather startling revelation. I suddenly realized that my life had evolved to the point where my little sailing ship had become a one-person, floating monastery. I had become a seeker of the hallowed and enduring qualities that illuminate the human mystery.
But my quest is for the sacred without the profane - for Spirituality without Big Religion. My pursuit is to go beyond just the material facets of Life and embrace the truly transcendent aspects that give one’s existence extra layers of meaning and richness. And for me, the foundation of that sanctity is Nature. How can one not revere the utterly amazing impossibility of our life here on Earth?
Looking up at the heavens last night, as my boat tugged gently at her anchor, what did I see? I saw thousands of other celestial bodies that are completely barren because they are either too cold or too hot or too dry. And yet we are blessed with a splendor of life-forms that is truly astonishing. They range from the miniature seahorse to the humpback whale – from the hummingbird to the condor – from the gecko to the hippo. And how can we not marvel at the wondrous biospheres where they live: jungles and deserts and prairies and mountains and oceans and glaciers. The mysterious fact that we are the one life-lush planet amidst all of these life-less planets, is a genuine miracle.
So, why do we invent invisible men in the sky to worship, when the abundance and diversity of Nature is far more worthy of our reverence? The answer is fairly straightforward. It is because we have very little choice. Most “believers” have it pounded into them when they are very young and know nothing of the world. They are essentially brainwashed when they are at their most defenseless. Children have established a bond of trust with their parents because they have taught them that fire burns and snakes bite and traffic is dangerous. So why would they not believe their parents when they indoctrinate them with religion?
But these formative children only hear the “religion is good” side of the story. No one catalogs for them the long list of evils that religion is directly responsible for such as:
· Holy wars and Crusades
· Claiming that innocent babies are born “soiled”
· Human sacrifice
· Suicide bombings
· Forcing unwanted children on already overburdened families
· Justification for slavery
· Fostering the terrifying myth of Hell
· Rejection of scientific discoveries
· Subordination of women to second class status
· Demonization of our natural and healthy sexuality
That probably seems like a mind-numbing list of horrors that can be directly laid at the doorstep of Big Religion, but they are all indisputably true - either historically or currently. And to make things even worse, religion is founded upon two beliefs that cannot even be proven: that there is a God and that there is a Heaven. This is a con man’s dream. The claims cannot be verified - and yet the suckers will sign up for it – by the billions!
On the other hand, my type of spirituality, which is reverence for Nature and the Universe, and which is often called Pantheism, has never fostered any of the evils that institutional churches have repeatedly spawned down the centuries. So, the big question seems to be: How can our species ever grow into adulthood, if we continue to view the world through a veil of Iron Age superstitions?
And this brings us back to my little one-person, floating monastery. I have adopted what I perceive as the wisest aspects of the contemplative life. But I have rejected many of the restrictions of both the Western and Eastern styles of monasticism such as hierarchy, rigidity, conformity and surrender of self. Instead I embrace these characteristics of The Monk’s Path: simplicity, reflection, silence, austerity, solitude, cleanliness, slowness, discipline, physical exertion and a simple diet.
This doesn’t mean that I live like a hermit in a cave eating grubs and scorpions. I enjoy going to town for supplies and to visit with friends. And I am not always “out in the islas.” Sometimes I am even in a marina for boat projects or internet essay research or even for some creature comforts. But I do abide by the main thrust of the monastic life, which is the exiling of oneself from the frenzy of the normal world in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of Life.
That quest for knowledge is one of the things that sets me at odds with the Big Churches. They do not want their members to be critical thinkers. They want their flocks to surrender their free will and their rational powers to the dogma that the priests or mullahs or rabbis impose upon them. They want control and obedience.
It took about an hour for that golden cathedral of clouds and sunlight to dissipate. I was amazed that the little night heron sat there as transfixed as I was for the entire time. They normally head for the dark shelter of the mangroves at first light. That glorious alignment of clouds and light was so magisterial that it mesmerized both of us.
Sadly, we humans have lost our awareness that we are still animals. But some of us have retained that ancestral memory in our core being. And so on that enchanted morning, a big animal and a little animal sat together in amazement. How lucky we were to dwell in a world of such miraculous beauty.