Once upon a time in the land of ration-ality, there lived an atheist who’d never gone fishing. He claimed that he didn’t like fish, though no one actually believed his story about never having tasted fish. He said he just “knew” that it didn’t taste good. After all, they smelled bad and were far too slimy for his taste or lack thereof.

For you see, the atheist had been struggling for years over issues of thinking, believing, knowing, not knowing, proof of either, objectivity, subjectivity, and what is or is not evidence of anything at all. There were days when he didn’t understand the difference between knowing for sure and knowing nothing at all. Did he know for certain about nothingness or was that nothingness the result of a belief in what he didn’t know?

One day when he was caught with his “rational pants” down, he decided that he honestly didn’t know if he liked fish or not. Being caught in such a terrifying moment of honesty and “not knowing,” he had to act. Then with not a small amount of vacillation and uncertainty, his beliefs were shaking as if being tossed about like a dry leaf on a windy day. In the midst of that uncertainty, the atheist decided to test his belief in not liking what he’d never tasted.

At that moment a not so insignificant dilemma arose in his mind, scattering what had just before seemed almost unshakable. Not knowing how to fish had before been a non-issue, but suddenly to admit to himself that he didn’t know, thrust him into an “oh shit” scenario of “what if I can’t figure this out?” Living for so long in his head, where he controlled everything (or so he thought), he was in that moment experiencing the first ray of light suddenly coming through a small crack in his mental armor. Admitting that he “didn’t know something” was an experience he had sealed off from his “mental kingdom” years and years ago. That shaft of light was destined to grow immensely, no matter how hard he might resist.

But by now this man felt he had to know what fish really tasted like, so he continued on his journey. Off to the library he went–his favorite place to reinforce his mental need for control and also to assuage a fear of losing his status and power he wielded over others through his mental superiority. In all this he had forgotten that the fear of losing is always the path to the darker side of reality.

Somewhere on the pages of those books, he found only theory about fishing and words that described various aspects thereof, but words that also fell far short of actually doing it. His frustration mounted. But questions of where, when and how to fish still remained; along with the issues of which bait and which techniques. Suddenly he remembered a small fishing village several miles away from his childhood home town. In that moment came a flash of insight. He knew he must talk with the old fishermen there and find out how to fish for real. At the point of almost giving up on the whole idea; the result of having talked with the fishermen for hours, the vast amounts of information about different ways to fish, different kinds of fish to catch and different techniques for each one, was overwhelming for a man of his lack of experience. He realized that actual fishing involved far more than his mind could fathom; in this moment anyway. He could either give up on a silly idea or be honest enough to find out.

The old man that he asked to go with him and teach him how to fish, was reluctant to spend any time on such a novice. After all, he mostly preferred to sit on the porch and talk of his past memories of fishing. He was, by now, lost in his past more than wanting some new fishing experiences. At that moment, a young boy who’d been listening said, “I’ll go with you and show you how, sir!” Another “oh, shit!” came up in the man’s head; but what was he to do? He already felt absolutely foolish in his admission of “not knowing,” so what the heck? “Let’s go kid” came out of his mouth and off they went.

Not really understanding the depths of the adventure he’d just begun, the atheist pushed everything to the back of his mind except the real taste of fish. The lake was chosen and the boy gathered together the equipment and the bait as they got into his small row boat at the best time of the day for fishing and set off for the boy’s special fishing hole.

Thinking this adventure would be over soon, the man felt he’d still have time later in the day to prepare the notes for his next lecture. Wrong! The lad knew by experience that one must approach fishing with the heart, not just the head. So he took the man on an adventure of that perspective, stopping first where he knew there were no fish at that time of day, then using the wrong bait, the wrong technique and the wrong approach. With each experience the man was growing more and more impatient. When the man was about to give up, the wisdom of the lad had already taken them to “the spot” and worms went on the hooks. In the next couple of hours the man’s experiences grew to include far more than he’d thought possible.

From watching a bobber for the first time ever, the man was learning about some of the most elementary of all fishing principles. Later he would taste fish for the very first time, but meanwhile he experienced the one that “got away”–actually quite a few times until he learned when to pull up his fishing pole and when to just wait a bit longer. Then the sheer delight of catching his first fish was suddenly his experience. But–it was too small and the boy convinced him to throw it back or it would die if he just sat there looking at it too long. Then, taking it off the hook, feeling the slimy scales, seeing blood on the fish’s mouth, and feeling the pain of that sharp hook in his fingers as he freed the fish that was desperately flopping about, and gasping for water, he tossed it back. Now what? he asked the boy. Try again! was the answer. So having gotten past the feelings of being foolish an hour or two ago, the man had nothing more to lose than his pride if he failed to catch a “keeper”–later he could always explain all this away as a fiasco–if he needed to.

The boy, upon catching a particularly interesting fish, decided to put it in a bucket of water and take it home to put in his small pond. The adventure continued. A few more bobs of the bobber, another miss or two and suddenly the bobber went out of sight! Pull! shouted the boy as the man almost fell out of the boat. Catching his balance, he pulled and pulled until he landed his “keeper.” In the ensuing moments he never realized the impact this experience would later have on his life and the false certainty with which he had been holding some rather rigid opinions.

Knowing that if he didn’t quickly take charge of the moment, the boy grabbed the fish, preventing the loss of it, and chaos returned to quiet–a quiet so loud that the man was shaking in the aftermath of a new experience. Having reached his goal of catching a fish, he now faced another dilemma–how to prepare the fish for the tasting he’d been anticipating since the moment he chose this adventure. “Now what?” he queried of the boy. “Time to clean the fish, cook it and eat,” the boy responded knowing the man hadn’t a clue as to how to do any of that.

They headed back to shore where the boy cut off the head of the fish, gutted it, washed it, filleted it, and dropped it into a hot skillet. Thoughts of all he’d experienced in the last few hours, raced through not only the man’s head but somehow was troubling his inner composure or the lack thereof. As the fish was cooked, the time of the atheists life was at hand–actually tasting what he had never tasted before. When he did, he wasn’t sure if he liked it or not, but that issue would not be decided on that day.

That night as he drifted off to sleep he was unaware of what was about to come into his definitions of what the day had yielded. Then, with a last sigh of both fatigue and uncertainty, he drifted off to sleep. It was in the dream that was about to happen wherein he would ask himself questions he’d never before asked. Images flashed through his dream: the fish he threw back, both fish gasping for water, the fish in the bucket, his keeper, its death and his having caused that death just for a taste of its flesh, and more.

Understanding that those fish had probably never experienced air before, nor could they breath it as he, a thought came over him–a thought that was to change his life forever–“Had those fish ever discovered water?” or was water so natural to them they hadn’t noticed? Was water a reality in their consciousness or just a reality that was never noticed or questioned because all their life experiences had been within what they’d never understood as really existing? They knew how water felt, what swimming was, the experience of having oxygen sustain their lives by water passing through their gills, but what did they know about water? There, in the bottom of the lake, totally surrounded by it, existing in it, sustained by it, immersed in it since the day they hatched, they never had a reason to question the existence  of water until–until they were unexpectedly jerked up out of it and into a hitherto unknown world–air!

As the dream continued, he tossed and turned a bit more as he saw fish everywhere. There were the bottom feeders who’d never known about air, the trout that were jumping up into the air and catching insects that knew about air as their means of moving about but they knew nothing about water. There were salmon leaping up the rapids as they returned to their birthing place, jumping through the air but not seeming to understand that air meant life for those with lungs instead of gills.

His dream then switched to the fish he’d thrown back. He could see that fish whose mouth was damaged by the hook, exceedingly still as if it were pondering a thousand thoughts. Having experienced air for the first time and unable to “breathe” it in or, more accurately, extract oxygen from it–that fish wondered why it used its gills, what water really is, and why it had fins and a tail? What keeps me alive here submerged in water, it seemed to be wondering. How can those beings I saw exist out of the water? Why did they hurt me? What is swimming really and why is it so easy? Who/what were those EA’s?(The Extra Aquarians) And, who/what are these other creatures here in the water with me that do not have gills like me? And, ad infinitum, the dream went on and on. What about that fish in the bucket that was destined to the “prison” of that small pond instead of the lake it had known? Would the safety of that pond be a good trade for freedom? Will it ever escape? Will it too be killed and eaten? What does it mean to fish who are suddenly jerked up into a new “reality?” What about all the fish who get caught or die long before they come to know the reality of discovering water?

Briefly awakening, enough to silence the dream that was by now shaking him to the core, he settled back into silence. He was not prepared for the coming experience. As he slipped unknowingly back into sleep he found himself walking down a trail with only the faint light of an impending dawn to make his pathway visible. He knew not where he was nor to where he was going. Walking as if he had no destiny in mind, suddenly he felt that he was no longer alone. An eerie feeling crept over him as he began to toss and turn in his sleep once again. That eerie feeling quickly turned into not a small amount of fright as he heard, “Wait up my friend,” coming from behind him on the trail. Not sure if he should run, protect himself or what, many thoughts raced through his mind as his quandary intensified. His mind, which had always been his best defense suddenly became more like an adversary. Almost frozen in indecision, his mind was of no help in this moment as the “flight or fight” syndrome was closing in upon him. As the image of a man about his own size and stature came eerily closer, he could see no reason to stay in fear though the hooded figure was now much closer. “My friend, may I walk with you?” queried the voice of the one who had now stopped walking, waiting for his response. “Who are you?” came erratically out of his mouth. “Just an old fisherman,” was the reply. “I heard about your catch–your first fish, from the boy who was with you. You learn quickly! Great catch! May I join you?” By now his trauma had subsided into a more pleasant uncertainty as he answered, “sure, where are you going?” “I’m going to a deeper place–not too many miles from here; and you?” Still shaking a bit, he said “frankly, I don’t know. And, if you really knew me and my past, that is a statement you’d know I’ve rarely made.” “I know,” the guest replied. Puzzled by that response he dared not, in this moment, ask how this man could possibly know that.

Walking in silence for a distance, still wondering, thoughts again racing through his mind, feeling a strange sort of kinship with this stranger, the silence was broken with, “That was a nice fish you caught this morning. Been fishing often?” Almost embarrassed to admit it, he shyly replied, “no, actually that was my first time ever. You see, I’d never tasted fish before. It was time to try it, but I’m still confounded by it all.” “Confounded by fishing?” Oh no, not by fishing but rather by the fish I caught and threw back. I mean that haunts me yet. It’s about the two vastly different realities; his confidence growing the more he slipped back into his head. The world of water and the world of air are so vastly different yet they are remarkably similar at the same time. I’m in awe of what I saw and while I know it sounds weird, I wonder what that fish might be experiencing. The total shock of having been suddenly jerked up into a reality totally unknown to it before and being in the control of two humans, whatever we were to it; humans that caused it pain and suffering, struggling for oxygen–well I just wonder! That fish had to have experienced great relief at being thrown back into the water–but then what? Did it go deeper to avoid any more hooks? Did it go and warn the other fish? What possibly could have been happening in its mind after the horror of having been caught? I had a dream about all that you know. Then after another time of pensive silence, the stranger began to speak.

“So, who are you, my friend? Who are  you really; beyond all your past experiences, within all of your mental gymnastics and all you’ve “thought thru” as you like to say? You have put your own definitions onto everything you don’t really understand and somehow you think that those labels are the whole picture. You know better, if only you had the courage to admit it. Congratulations on your choice to step out of that as you choose to actually taste fish for real. Now that you’ve done that, your life will never be the same. The greatest adventure a human can have has just begun for you. You are troubled, shaken and torn apart from within, but you’ll come to understand the beauty in all that.

The truth is, my friend, you are that fish you caught. You’ve been caught! And, you’ve been thrown back too! Now is the time for you to awaken from your sleep. Just as a fish can only discover water when, by an unexpected experience, it has been jerked out of the water, felt the pain and fear, and then be thrown back into it, you too are now conscious of a disconnection that up to now was not in your awareness. You’ve been jerked out of an unconscious “norm” into a new perspective. For you it is like being caught with your mental pants down. You’ve read a thousand books, attended hundreds of seminars, listened to more presentations than you can remember and still you just don’t get it! All that information has floated through your head as you sorted out what you wanted to keep and what you wanted to throw back, pardon the pun, but do you know why you’ve categorized and labeled absolutely everything you think you know? When did your heart stop yearning to know the deeper truths–those you fear but are not willing to admit that your mind cannot grasp by itself?

You are like the fish that is satisfied with what is familiar–satisfied with externals filed neatly in your brain. Yours too has been a world of externals because while you’ve entertained more thoughts in your mind than there are fish in the ocean, you’ve yet to take the longest of all human journeys–the trek from your head into your heart! Perhaps you’ve taken the first step with your choice to go fishing. You are more like the fish that has been caught and then thrown into a very small pond. The ocean is far beyond its consciousness there in that place of smallness. That pond is your mind–your prison if you will. It is far easier to stay in that pond and think you know what the whole world is like. You do not! How much do you know? I mean, of all that there is to know; all that the biologist knows, the geologist, the oceanographer, the chemist, the astrologer, the botanist–do I need to go further? Of all that those scientists know both individually and collectively, together with another hundred branches of science and philosophy, what percent of all that information do you personally know? 1%? Of course not. 1/100 of 1%? Absurd! Einstein himself said that if we were to put together all the knowledge of all scientists from all time, we’d only be on the fringe of all that is possible for us to know! So if you could even qualify to be on the fringe of the fringe, how much do you know? How big is your self-made aquarium? And, how long are you willing to be so confined?

There are three main factors to the Aquarium Syndrome that can trap people in very small places. It is necessary for us to understand the trap in each one them and to choose to live beyond and above them. In surrendering to them we lose our own Self. The first trap is enslavement to religion. Religion is nothing but artificial water for fake fish. All religions are but the fabricated lies of fearful men who desperately need to control others so they can feel better about their smallness. They’ve never found a legitimate answer to their constricted views of life. Religion is nothing more than a worship of fear. Beliefs are the fake substitute for shame, blame, and the soul-twisting pain that comes from condemnation. Like a fish flopping desperately in the bottom of the boat, people sing hymns, worship beliefs, shout hallelujah and pretend it is all real. Flopping around for Jesus is not the answer to their self-created aquarium of pain. Now this one you’ve mostly overcome. But the other two present a challenge for you

The second factor in the aquarium syndrome is capitalism. Capitalism is the lie that says; I have the right to catch you, kill you, and eat you if I want. You are caught in the worship of a three dimensional world of goods and services, corporate greed, beer, sports, politics and television. The god of the visible has ensnared you when you are compelled to compete with others for everything you have or want. Individualism has given birth to competition instead of cooperation. Having a house full is no substitute for having a heart full! Do fish hoard worms? Driving a fancy car is never to be desired over walking in the woods. Spinning your wheels in greedy acquisition of things is worth far less than certainty in the quiet! There are more than three dimensions, my friend. Perhaps one day you’ll become tired of the desert of things and look beyond just the usual three.

The third factor in the aquarium syndrome is wherein lies your greatest blindness. That factor is the worship of the mind as seen in a dependence upon philosophy and/or thinking as the only way to know something. No philosophy or mind exercise could teach you what fish tastes like. And, you still don’t know because you’ve only tasted one kind. In that light, philosophy is the worship of ignorance wherein one is caught on the hook of being satisfied with less than all that is possible. No fish floats around saying it doesn’t believe in air. But then, does it believe in water either? How do you know? No one can say they believe in something they’ve not yet discovered–nor can they disbelieve it. And, therein is the mental trap of philosophy–or atheism as you like to call it. A-theism is only the absence of a belief in theism, which is the man-made doctrine of very insecure men who found it necessary to organize a church in an attempt to create some validity for their belief system. Atheism is but the choice to refuse to be deceived by theology. That is a very good choice. However, there are many kinds of atheists with different value systems of their own. Some keep seeking to “know” beyond belief, and others do not. Then there is the fundamentalist atheist! He is the one who boldly proclaims, ‘I know there is no god, you know it too, but you won’t admit it!’ There is a close cousin of the atheists who have gone beyond the old theism to admit they don’t know: the a-gnostic. (The g is silent) But in their circles are some fundamentalist agnostics who rather boldly declare, ‘I don’t know, you don’t know, and no one else knows either!’ To them I simply reply, ‘how is it possible that you know that I don’t know?’ Silence is the usual response. The truth is, both the atheist and the agnostic are hiding the same issues. Like the fish who has never discovered water, in one moment they fear that there is a god, and in the next they fear there isn’t. It is their unknown inner landscape that holds their true identity, but that idea scares them too. Those caught in the trap of religion are exactly like them both–having traded spiritual reality and the truth therein, they too reject what they don’t know or understand. In all their religious activities and futile attempts to rid themselves of fear, they refuse to look deep within, not knowing that fear is in the head, while truth lies deeper in the heart. They falsely label intuition as the voice of the ‘devil’ and by that miss the beauty of serendipity staring them in the face. All three deny The Divine Within because in their brains they cannot find The Divine. In the desert of religion, capitalism and philosophy you find people who are like fish in a lake dying of “oxygen thirst” having denied that water is real.”

Taken aback by the words of this unknown guest, the atheist responded. “How do you know so much about me? You’ve told me more about myself then I’ve heretofore experienced. How can that be? Why? And with that the stranger lowered his hood with words that totally shocked him. “I am you!” he said, as the dream ended.

Note: Quite honestly, I have more in common with my atheist friends than with many Christians. My experience with them is that their minds are far more open than the Christian mind usually is–I used to be one–I know. The closing paragraphs reveal the deeper truths I’ve discovered over the last 17 years. And, I’m still learning.

Humans have come up with many different names for Deity; the Source of all that is, and also many different descriptions of how to see and what to expect from it. “God” is the most common name for all for Western people and a very harsh sounding one at that.  It is no wonder that so many people have reacted very negatively to the Christian’s god–not only because of how they describe “him,” how they say “he” is supposed to act and why “he” is so angry at us all. Perhaps the Christians and their god is the biggest reason there are so many atheists and agnostics on the planet. Add to that the one called Allah and the behavior of so many of “his” followers, and we find but another reason to be an atheist. If these two were the only possibilities, I too would be an atheist, for I cannot and will not relate to masculine deities that are pissed off at the human race and demand worship from them.

Then there are a vast  number of other names for and understandings of whatever “God or Allah” fall short of being. Creator, Universe, The Almighty, Krishna, Elat, Elohim, and on and on the list grows. Not one of these names nor any name can reveal or contain ALL of what that One is–nor do we need to know even if we could. The point being that it is enough to go on the quest to begin to understand–the quest of a lifetime. Far beyond anything external, whether that be some god, your career, or your lawn that needs mowing, it is the reality of who you are, who others are, and what you are doing about it that counts. The greatest issue for all of humanity is to understand that religion has driven a huge wedge between them and love–love for self and love for others. We must reject remoteness, shun separation, eschew external deities, and arise to personal responsibility as never before. It is easy to get lost in beliefs. It is also easy to get lost in “not knowing” wherein humans become an island unto their own self. That kind of “freedom” can also become an “aquarium” that is far too small.

Part of our task is to soften all parts of ourselves that have become rigid, not flowing, and have restricted us to our own ego. As we learn how to free what has been imprisoned, to open to what we have shut out of our own small reality, and to restore the inner garden we have not watered, we begin to gain wisdom on a far larger scale than we’ve known. There is nothing smaller or more cramped than the mind of the man who thinks he has all the answers and loves to make sure others realize that. The “god” of intelligence is a sorry replacement for wisdom.

In your quest to know deeper truths you can be very certain that any       belief which does not allow for the celebration of your making mistakes and learning from them, is simply a trap. Any system that focuses on “sin”, shame,   and punishment can be trashed in favor of that celebration. (See my book on Amazon–Liberating Jesus From Christianity. Or check out my website–www.MeetJimStacey.com)

Any “belief system” that does not include a healthy perspective on the “human shadow”, is itself much darker than that shadow which actually is our teacher about the Light. The human shadow is not “sin” as preachers preach so often. Jesus said that it is only covering our Light–our Divinity within.

Where are you right now on your temporary human journey through space and time? Trapped in a three-dimensional world of externals? Or, opening day by day to the Beauty of who YOU truly are? We can attempt to define the meaning of life, or we can experience the beauty of fully being alive. The aquarium or the ocean? The choice is yours!

Jim Stacey–all rights reserved