I met a monk on Bardsey.
This is my life, he said.
The tidal currents rip around our island
and keep us in a place beyond the ordinary.
I follow the rule and the more disciplined I am
the more freedom I feel.
I have no possessions and therefore nothing to defend
and therefore nothing to lose.
I contemplate when I work and I work when I contemplate.
On quiet nights the swish of the foam on the sand
brings me equanimity.
On noisy nights the pounding of the surf
or the screeching of many shearwaters
brings me urgency and power and gratitude.
I am surrounded by the bodies and spirits of pilgrims
with whom I am joined in communion.
Our end is clear.
But you do not need to come to Bardsey to live this life.
There are many currents swirling through life
to take you beyond the ordinary.
Every time you say no to a distraction
you collect more freedom in your life.
All that you own, you can hold with a light touch.
What job cannot be done more mindfully?
Listen to the beating of your own heart
or the chirping of sparrows and find wisdom there.
There is no-one who is not a fellow pilgrim on the path
and you are already joined with them.
And for all of us, our end is clear.
Ynys Enlli, Bardsey Island, was a destination for pilgrims, particularly in the mediaeval period. For some folk, it still is. The island lies a couple of miles off the end of the Llyn peninsula in North Wales. I once went there with some friends for a weekend, and then the weather got up and we ended up staying a week… A wild place at the end of the land. If you are searching for somewhere on the margins to get closer to God, this would be a great place to be a monk.
My ‘meeting’ takes place in the imaginal realm rather than the physical, and is informed by my perceptions of the monastics from Plum Village, in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist tradition. One of them told me once that the more he kept the discipline of his vows, the more liberated he felt.