Nature and light can engender mystical experiences—for example, anyone on this planet can enjoy the beauty of a sunrise or a sunset.
The Baha’i teachings abound with mention of nature’s majesty in passages like this:
By Thy glory! Every time I lift up mine eyes unto Thy heaven, I call to mind Thy highness and Thy loftiness, and Thine incomparable glory and greatness; and every time I turn my gaze to Thine earth, I am made to recognize the evidences of Thy power and the tokens of Thy bounty. And when I behold the sea, I find that it speaketh to me of Thy majesty, and of the potency of Thy might, and of Thy sovereignty and Thy grandeur. And at whatever time I contemplate the mountains, I am led to discover the ensigns of Thy victory and the standards of Thine omnipotence. – Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 272.
Correspondingly, the Baha’i writings also mention light in abundance; for instance:
For thus the Master of the house hath appeared within His home, and all the pillars of the dwelling are ashine with His light. And the action and effect of the light are from the Light-Giver; so it is that all move through Him and arise by His will. – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 22.
So let me tell you about a few of my experiences, when light powerfully elucidated nature’s bounty: in Alaska, Portugal, New Mexico, and 30,000 feet above Siberia.
The Midnight Sun
In the mid-eighties, my family lived in Anchorage, Alaska. In the high latitudes, our conception of light shifted. With sunsets in the afternoon, winters often caused “cabin fever,” a depression resulting from staying indoors and not getting enough sunlight. Summers, however, brought the flip side of the problem—the sun didn’t set until late at night. Heavy shades covering the windows allowed a normal sleep. The first time I experienced this, it was surreal to observe the sun shining as late as ten or eleven PM.
If we were lucky in the wintertime, after dark, another treat appeared–the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. Such light shows, which must have bedazzled the ancients, are caused by collisions between electrically charged particles released from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen. They appear as beautiful, ghostly green, purple and pinkish phantoms, twisting their forms and oscillating in the darkness.
The Tip of Portugal
Medieval Europeans thought that Cabo San Vicente, on Portugal’s southwestern tip, was the end of the world. After that point, vessels sailing West would eventually fall of the face of the flat earth–but not before they encountered myriad imaginary creatures, such as dangerous sea dragons and mermaids. Later, in the fifteenth century, this area was a hotbed of navigation. Portugal, in its own version of the “Manhattan Project,” sent the ships that eventually reached south, and then east around Africa all the way to Indonesia, and west to South America. This historical anomaly was the reason I wanted to visit this area initially back in the fall of 1995.
While history spurred my visit there, Mother Nature provided a light show. On the beach at sunset, the low waves lapped the sand. Light rays from the westering sunset made the sea appear the reddish color of Cherry 7-Up, and the whitecaps on the Atlantic reminded me of that soda’s fizz.
Above ground, the Chihuahuan Desert, full of sand and sagebrush, surrounds the area of Carlsbad, New Mexico. But underground, an entire kingdom awaits at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The caverns house an array of 119 caves, carved out when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone eons ago. I saw the place when I was eight years old, and then, much later, in my mid-thirties.
After the visitors center, we descended in an elevator to an underground path. An array of mighty, yet eerie formations greeted us in the dim artificial light. Stalactites pointed downwards from the cave’s roof, while stalagmites pointed upwards. My favorite rock formation was the Chinese Garden, in which the figures strongly resemble the players in an ancient Chinese Opera.
Until spelunkers were intrepid enough to descend there, starting in 1898, darkness masked everything. It is unfathomable to contemplate what they first felt when they held a lantern near those walls.
In February 2016, I was on a flight from Detroit to Tokyo. After finishing a book and between watching movies, I checked the GPS flight tracker on the seat’s video console. Our plane was travelling high above Eastern Siberia. The screen noted that the outside temperature was about forty below zero Fahrenheit. Curious to catch a glimpse of another corner of the earth, I opened the shade. Thousands upon thousands of feet beneath us lay a snow-covered mountain range. The valleys and crevasses, from that height, resembled pruned, wrinkled fingers after a long bath. But the lighting, shimmering on the vast whiteness, was staggeringly luminous, like a heavenly sun shining on the crags and crevices of the world.
Abdul Baha’s Perspective
Watching the sunlight suffuse my room late at night, meditating on pinkish ocean waves at a corner of Europe, excitedly exploring Carlsbad Caverns, and even simply opening an airplane window shade were gateways, for me, to the idea of light illuminating nature’s majesty. In fact, Abdu’l-Baha explored this relationship:
If we look reflectively upon the material world, we realize that all outer phenomena are dependent upon the sun … It is clearly evident, therefore, that the sun is the source of life to all earthly and outer phenomena. In the inner world, the world of the Kingdom, the Sun of Reality is the Trainer and Educator of minds, souls and spirits. Were it not for the effulgent rays of the Sun of Reality, they would be deprived of growth and development; nay, rather, they would be nonexistent. For just as the physical sun is the trainer of all outer and phenomenal forms of being through the radiation of its light and heat, so the radiation of the light and heat of the Sun of Reality gives growth, education and evolution to minds, souls and spirits toward the station of perfection. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 270-271.
Wouldn’t it be fabulous if we took these examples of light illuminating our natural world as lodestars for our inner lives?