Today it’s a great honor to share an article by Nate Montgomery, from Precious Metal: the blog. As Nate says in describing himself, “I am just a guy trying to have some fun, help a few people and raise some awareness on issues I think ought to be raised.” His article today on enlightenment and the power of just “slowing down” does a wonderful job of just that: raising awareness. His reflections on society should also bring some smiles and, if we’re lucky, we too can share in some “bits and pieces of enlightenment.”
Recently I was lucky enough for the opportunity to take my family on a vacation to the Bahamas. We spent three days and two nights at Atlantis, a phenomenal water-park on Paradise Island and then we traveled to a remote Bahamian island called Little Exuma. My mother-in-law owns a small Cape Cod style shanty within walking distance to a beach on the Tropic Of Cancer. We spent six amazing days on the island. I wasn’t just soaking up the sun though, it was a lesson in history and life.
There is much to learn about Bahamian history, and I was given a brief overview by many of the locals. After years of British rule, like the Americas, slavery was abolished. Soon after, the islands started to make some progress besides being a place for pirates to frolic and corruption to run rampant. After abolishing slavery many of the landowners left the land to their slaves, arguments on deeds ensued but it all worked itself out. One of the largest of the owners was a man named Lord John Rolle. To this day, a large part of the locals share Lord John Rolle’s surname, there is even a town called Rolle Town. It was customary back then for slaves to take the surname of the masters. The locals speak of their history not out of anger or shame, but as a source of pride, hence the reason they still retain the surnames. I met many of the Rolle family members.
Life on Little Exuma is a far cry from the bustling life I, and others consider a typical way of living. Many of the locals do not own cars, they walk. I’m not just talking down to the corner store, there is no corner store. They have to walk over an hour, or more, to get to anything larger than a general store. The closest grocery market is about 45 minutes away, by vehicle! I can’t even remember passing a clothing store, or any sort of department store, still I wonder where they get their basic clothing. If I were to guess they’d probably have to hop a flight to Nassau. For those of us accustomed to the “instant gratification” life of America this might bring about a great amount of anxiety, not knowing where or how we am going to get what “we need”, quick. You get used to it though as thing’s slow down a bit, quite a bit. Tourist’s call that slowed down feeling “island time”.
Back at home, my wife and I have yet to have anyone outside our family babysit my youngest son. There are news stories all the time about crazy babysitters, so it’s hard to separate from our son and trust someone we don’t know. Oddly enough, this was not the case on Exuma. My mother-in-law knows quite a few of the locals and one of them recommended this 17-year-old girl named Michelle. We were willing to meet her and see if we were ok with possibly leaving her for a bit with the kids. Not that it really would have been that hard, my oldest is 13 and is almost ready to start babysitting them on her own. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here, the point is– yes we did leave the kids with her with a strong sense of trust in her abilities, yet we didn’t know her from a hole in the wall.
See, the kids in Exuma are way different from most kids in America and I really don’t mean to generalize but most kids I’ve met from America don’t have great manners or respect, none. We met a lot of Bahamian kids, even had one, Sasha, spend the night with my kids to hang out and have some fun at the beach the next day. At all times she was very appreciative and respectful, full of “yes ma ‘ams” and “yes sirs”, plenty of “pleases” and “thank you’s”. It was truly amazing to see these things,we’ve tried to teach our own children this stuff and they don’t get it, how come these kids do?
I didn’t mean for this article to become a run down of my vacation and the comparisons of US and Bahamian culture, but I swear it all ties in to what I’m getting at and that is– what is enlightenment? And how does one define it?
Something I’ve learned in the short time I’ve practiced Buddhism is people have varying perceptions of what enlightenment may be, which is truly a wonderful thing. Each tradition defines it differently as well, such as:
Dzogchen.org says this about enlightenment… It is experienced by the heart-mind liberated from the fetters of ignorance, dualism and delusion, and freed from conflicting emotions including attachment and desire.
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi says enlightenment is “nothing special. You may say ‘universal nature’ or ‘Buddha nature’ or ‘enlightenment.’ You may call it by many names, but for the person who has it, it is nothing, and it is something.”
AmidaBuddha.org, a Pure Land website, says “By practicing Nembutsu and following the Right Practices, one is assured of rebirth in the Pure Land as the result of Amida Buddha’s Vow. Once reborn in the Pure Land, Enlightenment can be achieved through proper study and practice of the Holy Path of Buddhism.”
I’m starting to form my own opinion and for that I can thank the local Bahamian folks on Little Exuma. Enlightenment to me is not some all-encompassing “wow” moment where everything makes sense all at once, it’s a series of those moments, bits and pieces that accumulate as we gain the wisdom it took Buddha six years of silent mediation under that Bodhi tree to accomplish.
It’s not only the “island time” feeling, the slowing down, but it’s noticing and paying attention to the things that are really happening at that moment. I learned that I could entrust a perfect stranger with the health and well being of my children. I learned that life isn’t about the stuff we have, or needing this or that, it’s about the life you live and what you do with it that matters. I thought I knew these things already, but I really understood the meaning behind the words.
As I follow along this path I hope to continue gaining these little insights, these bits and pieces of enlightenment. I’m also sure that you have a different definition of enlightenment than I, but I hope the experiences I had can help in at least the smallest of ways.