I lived these past six years aboard a sailboat and learned how to navigate the surface of the water with Bodhisattva Great Atlantic Ocean. This watery world is a place Beat Generation poet Gary Snyder would call the “primary temple of wilderness.” In my practice I have come to know nature as a temple, earth herself as a Dharma talk. I have learned to hear her whispers and recognize myself as Earth Sailing.
Thich Nhat Hanh sent me on this path. He said dharma is found in life; a flower is in itself a Dharma talk. In his Five Mindfulness Trainings, he first instructs disciples to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. Later, he says we are to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. This instruction to protect the lives of things animate and inanimate, to love and care for both sentient and non-sentient beings, makes me suspect the entirety of the cosmos embodies divine wisdom; it is possible to learn important things from the teachings of natural order.
My life at sea reveals this is true. My sense impressions of the sails of my boat teach me how thin cloth can stand tall to power a vessel; from this I learn that I can create powerful change through skillful means. The hull of my ship is like a monk; pushed and tugged in a mix of opposing forces, it models grace and peace in chaos. Flying fish breaking the surface of waves, defy gravity, and leap great distances to show me how to transcend perceived boundaries.
In my experience, the first and perhaps most important step toward appreciating a loved one is spending un-hurried time together. To hear Earth’s message, I give myself a regular diet of nature. But, it is not necessary to leave society and take a ship out to sea. I can experience inter-being with earth when walking outside, gardening, biking, sea-shell hunting, skiing, or even when sitting in the shade of a tree. I can see nature’s ways in the cracks of sidewalks or in veins of cheese. The wisdom of natural order is everywhere but up to me to stop, look, and understand.
When I do this, I come to know my place in the cosmos is not inferior, superior, or equal to the surrounding ecosystem. I am Earth herself. With this insight, as Buddhist Scholar Joanna Macy says, caring for the planet becomes an act of self-defense.