July 31, 2012
Beginning in 1968, Richard “Dick” Proenneke spent the majority of 30 years living alone in a log cabin he built by hand in the Alaskan wilderness. Throughout this time he lived off of the land and was mostly self-sufficient, catching or growing all of his food and chopping wood for warmth in the deathly freezing winters. By Dick’s own account, the wildlife and seasons gave him his repose, and such adoration of nature showed in his many journal entries that notated the life of the mountains and stars.
In another tale of personal isolation, a recent Reuters article wrote of a man who has been living as a nude hermit off the coast of Japan for over two decades. The 76-year-old Masafumi Nagasaki has his own reasons for seeking solitude, but has determined that the sun-drenched Sotobanari Island is where he will follow nature’s course until death.
On the beach of Tel Aviv, Israel, there is yet another interesting character pursuing his own unusual bliss. Known to a few of the locals as “Yoga Man,” he is a permanent fixture on the shoreline, only moving to calmly change poses. As a writer, spiritualist, and a purveyor of the eccentric, his intrigue caught my attention since my first arrival to the city nearly a year ago. Yoga Man was always within sight during my frequent visits to Banana Beach, from dawn to dusk (literally), rain or shine.
Such wayfarers of alternative lifestyles abound. Of course, seeking an unconventional or secluded existence doesn’t preclude or necessitate that one is following a spiritual life. But at the heart of these solo paths is an allure of the wild, one that beckons the primordial heart of man and tugs at his neatly hemmed, domesticated sleeves. The folks who pursue these wayward paths often garner a certain amount of perceived exceptionalism, particularly from those still traversing bus lines and calling bleak office desks home for much of the day.
The “Three Jewels of Buddhism”—the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha—are what give guidance and refuge to the life of a Buddhist. The latter gem specifically entails a sense of support and community that is a shelter for those who are on a path that can be easily misunderstood— if not for its curious simplicity, then for its divergence from the norm.
Naturally, our ecology of personal relationships is most often structured around other human beings. Yet amidst the realizations of interdependence comes the awareness that community is intrinsic to everything, branching out and casting roots wherever we choose to look. Akin to fashioning musical instruments from everyday items and otherwise mute rubbish, meditation halls and yoga studios may be found or conjured in improbable places. Just as the most unlikely candidates can become makeshift gurus that offer us their unsolicited guidance, these self-defined “guerilla sanghas” can also be an amorphous entity, created in small interest groups or even discovered alone.