Today is Earth Day, 2016: a moment when we should do something to honor the importance of the earth in our lives. Here is my contribution.
While watching the new version of Point Break I was fascinated with the concept of the Ozaki Eight: eight ordeals that honor the forces of nature. According to the film, the challenge is to create a perfect line, a path, to achieve balance and enlightenment with nature; to use the teaching for liberating oneself rather than material gain. These forces and the trials in the film include:
- Emerging Force — whitewater rafting the Inga Rapids in the Congo
- Birth of Sky — BASE jumping from Mt. Everest
- Awakening Earth –skydiving into the Cave of Swallows, Mexico
- Life of Water — surfing waves > 60 ft; in film at Teahupoʻo, Tahiti / Jaws, Maui (Cortes Bank)
- Life of Wind — wingsuit flying after jump from the Jungfrau, Swiss Alps
- Life of Ice — snowboarding from the top of the Aiguille de la Grande Sassière, France
- Master of Six Lives — free climbing Angel Falls, Venezuela
- Act of Ultimate Trust — jump from waterfall after climbing Angel Falls and place life in nature’s hands
Like many people I was disappointed to learn that this was a fictional challenge. They were all extreme sports accomplishments where even the most accomplished person would be able to complete 2 or 3 of the ordeals, certainly not all eight. In fact, even “Ozaki” supposedly died after finishing only three ordeals. They didn’t seem very enlightening unless dying is what you are after.
So based on the concept discussed in the film I set out to develop my own eight experiences that would honor the energy and power of the ocean. To do that I wanted to build on some foundational concepts. First, I used the Ten Pillars of Enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition: ethical precepts that provide a comprehensive moral guide for life. They are:
- Abstention from Killing Living Beings; or Love
- Abstention from Taking the Not-Given, or Generosity
- Abstention from Sexual Misconduct; or Contentment
- Abstention from False Speech; or Truthfulness
- Abstention from Harsh Speech; or Kindly Speech
- Abstention from Frivolous Speech; or Meaningful Speech
- Abstention from Slanderous Speech; or Harmonious Speech
- Abstention from Covetousness; or Tranquillity
- Abstention from Hatred; or Compassion
- Abstention from False Views; or Wisdom
and are included below — were appropriate — in parentheses. Then, I used a few words from the Chinese and Hawaiian languages, unique in mythology and unifying concepts, to define some of the eight events that honor the forces of the sea. These experiences are meant to be both challenging in their entirety — they represent a broad range of water skills and talents — and insightful as they each focus on a different aspect of the gifts and challenges the sea and shores present to us. Although I make some suggestions from my own experiences these challenges can be completed anywhere and in any order, although the order below has some advantages. However, and although you have likely completed some of these previously, I urge you to repeat them with a focus on the gifts, challenges, and energy as a focus of your efforts.
Disclaimer: Please exercise caution and common sense as you undertake these events. It is good to challenge yourself and even push yourself to your limits but risking your life is not the goal here, just enlightenment (and fun!).
Gift of the Reef: Scuba Diving [tranquility]
The ocean provides many gifts, among those are the beauty, complexity, and tranquility of its reefs. To truly experience this gift one must go underwater for a significant length of time and just exist. Clear the mind of everything and absorb the energy of the ocean’s incredible reefs. This gift is best experienced through Scuba diving but there are other ways to experience it (e.g., a submersible). Once underwater, whether in a kelp forest, on a rock or mud bottom, or on a coral reef, focus on the energy of life flowing through the community and imagine its patience and persistence.
In the Hawaiian language, the coral head, Pūkoʻa, can be thought of as a person beginning in a small way who gains steadily until becoming firmly established. The coral is small and patience, growing over hundreds, thousands, and even millions of years, but yet through its determination and persistence, despite hurricanes and giant waves, the reef persists, and can grow to form those most magnificent of structures in the ocean, atolls, which leave a lasting mark on the planet. Even the smallest creature can make a difference with patience and persistence.
Gift of Breath: Free Diving [tranquility]
Although we are creatures of the seaborn of the sea, live by the sea, will return to the sea – we are tied to the surface through our breathing. On the surface, we take our breaths for granted but underwater while free diving we do not. Freediving is pure: you are unencumbered with gear, it is quiet, and you are all alone in your experience. You glide slowly through the water and feel at one with the sea. It is a spiritual experience: the feeling of being deep underwater while mastering control of your body and your mind in the deep blue water.
To truly experience the gift of breath, which is the gift of life, you need to push yourself underwater to your limits. Dive down as far as you can and listen to the sounds of the sea, feel your lungs and body urging you to return to the surface. And as you take that life-giving breath rejoice that you are alive.
Gift of ‘Ohana: Family [love]
Family is at the core of who we are. In Hawaii ‘Ohana means family but includes relatives, those adopted, and close family friends. The concept emphasizes that individuals are bound to one another, need to cooperate, and must never forget each other. Here I use the term in a very broad sense to include all living things, our kin in the sea. In the Hawaiian creation chant — the Kumulipo — man is descended from the coral polyp and hence all living things are related, part of the same universe.
For this gift, you must find a place where you can be surrounded by marine life. Be still and notice that animals will eventually move closer to you. Like you they are curious. Feel their presence, their life force, and know that they are part of your ‘Ohana and you are part of theirs.
One of my most memorable diving experiences was in the Poor Knights Islands in New Zealand in 1991. I entered a deep, dark cave along a cliff wall which turned into a narrow vertical tunnel that opened up onto the island. The light was shining down into the cave which was completely filled with fish. Sitting underwater, literally swimming in fish, the currents swirling around filled with bubbles, and the rays of light shining through was an intensely spiritual experience. I felt truly connected with the sea and its life. It was the gift of ‘Ohana.
Trial of Tao: Surfing
At its core surfing is a pure experience. And one of the most primal experiences in surfing is riding the tube. For in the tube you can feel the essence of Tao, a thing that cannot be described but only experienced. While riding in the tube — water rushing up the face of the wave, thick lip peeling overhead, the stiff wind blowing back the edge, sharp reef below, the open sky at the end of the tunnel — one feels harmony with the natural order of the world. Of water, wind, earth, and sky.
The trial of Tao is best experienced while riding the largest, hollowest wave you feel comfortable riding. One that pushes you to the edge of your comfort zone, where you fear both the wave and the reef and must chart a course right through the heart of both: the tube. Only there, inches away from possible destruction by either water or stone (or both!) can you experience Tao: the path of emptiness and fullness, fluidity, and change. Time slows down, the world grows silent. For now, for this brief moment, you exist in another universe. Remember that feeling.
Trial of the Sacred Mountain: Hiking [compassion]
Hiking can be both fun and challenging. While hiking into the mountains, along a river, or along the ocean, your mind settles and you are able to leave your life behind you, for the moment. The beauty of your journey is reflected in every step and ultimately it can change your perspective on life; help you to see what is important and what is not.
To accomplish the trial of the sacred mountain you should choose a site that is important to you, one that is both beautiful but challenging. You want to push yourself beyond your normal limits, to experience narrow trails and steep mountainsides that keep your mind focusing on the now, not yesterday or tomorrow. Slow down and notice the beauty around you, step by step. Surrender yourself to nature and see what feelings arise, what thoughts and emotions.
One of my most profound experiences was hiking along the Kalalau Trail in 1981: an 11-mile trail that leads from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach along the Na Pali Coast on the island of Kauai. Besides being incredibly gorgeous there are numerous sections where you are on a narrow trail that drops vertically into the sea. And as you hike in and out of an amazing number of valleys and streams you eventually emerge onto Kalalau Valley and its incredible beach. It is a fantastic hike known for its beauty, remoteness, and steep, spectacular drop-offs. I can still picture it in my mind.
Trial of Pono: Sailing [wisdom]
The thrill of sailing on the ocean’s surface is an unparalleled experience. Racing across the sea, the wind filling your sails, bow slicing through the oceans swells, sun up high; it is the perfect alignment of forces, of the balance between the energy of the wind and the waves. In the Hawaiian culture the concept of pono means being in balance with all things in life; in balance with the creative energy of the universe. Sailing embodies part of that spirit at it requires dedication to excellence, to correct and proper procedure. It requires a keen knowledge of the sea, innate wisdom of the winds, a sense of the ocean’s complex swells, and most importantly the integration of all of these to chart a course through the chaos.
The trial of pono is best accomplished by sailing (or windsurfing). Ideally, this should occur under challenging conditions of both sea and wind, far from shore, or at least far enough to have a sense of detachment. As you chart your course through the water reflect on the balance you have achieved in all the dimensions of your existence: are your thoughts, word, and deeds in harmony with the energy you feel flowing through your body? Are you a good steward of the land and sea? As you balance the complex and myriad dimensions of the interface between sea and sky look to create a perfect relationship with your creative energy and let that challenge serve you throughout your life. Capture that feeling, rise up to that challenge, and seek pono in everything you do.
Trial of `Āina: Nature Fast [contentment]
In Hawaii, the ‘āina is the source of all life. It is both land and sea and a place for restoring spiritual, cultural, natural, and individual balance. But what sustains life can also take it away and one way to experience that feeling is through a nature fast. The nature fast is both a personal trial and a rite of passage. It is a way to cleanse the body and soul and reconnect with nature. To truly experience the power of the ‘āina you need to let it all go, you need to escape from your daily routine, your fast-paced life, and busy mind, and abandon your worldly possessions, at least for a few days. You need to separate yourself from civilization and surround yourself with nature and just “be.” Simply exist and be present with an open heart, mind, and soul and accept the gifts that nature bestows on you. It will not be easy.
To conduct the nature fast you must journey to a remote place where you can be alone, preferably by the ocean. Alone, fasting, time will slow; the days and nights will last for an eternity; more importantly your mind will become quiet. You will be alone with the ‘āina. During your trial reflect on all of the experiences you had before this one and what they have brought to you. Travel back to each and every one and try to hold the feelings from those moments in your mind. When you head back to the “real world” remember what you have learned and carry it with you. Your trial will change you so stay forever changed.
Nature fast involves planning so see here for details on how to conduct a safe fast.
Gift of Aloha: Service [generosity]
The last gift can be both the easiest or the hardest depending on who you are. The gift of Aloha is more than a word or a greeting, it is a way of life. To truly “live Aloha” you have to show aloha spirit in all you do. It is not just giving but joyful giving. Joy in sharing your emotions, your actions, your words. It is a way of sending out positive energy to everyone and living in harmony in your relationships with others. As Rell Sunn (a well-respected Hawaiian surfer) once said:
“The Aloha Spirit is real simple. You give and you give and you give… and you give from here (the heart), until you have nothing else to give.”
The gift of Aloha can be experienced through service to others which can take many forms: your time, your attention, sometimes just your presence can be important to others. And sometimes giving isn’t necessary at all, sometimes service just involves taking nothing so that there is plenty for others. Hopefully, you are already doing this in your life but take a day and do something for the ocean. Clean up a beach, help to restore a reef, learn something new and teach others. Do something to make a difference in the world! You’ll be amazed at the gifts you’ll receive by giving. For in the end, the only true gifts are the ones we get from helping others.
- The Ten Pillars of Buddhism
- Kapa Kulture: a blog dedicated to Hawaiian Kapa and matters related to Hawai’i
- The Meaning of Being Pono
- The Kumulipo Translated by Martha Beckwith
- The Trail to the Sacred Mountain: A Vision Fast Handbook for Adults
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