Nature, Spirit and Wellness

We all know how nourished and enlivened we feel when we are immersed in the natural world. Walking or sitting quietly in the verdant forests, gazing into a clear, starry night sky, or beholding vast vistas from mountain peaks, the inner nature of our own psychophysical state comes into resonance and alignment with the greater harmony, balance, vitality, vastness, and mystery of our natural world.

When we are living close to nature, we sleep better, breathe easier, are more at ease and less distressed, think more clearly and creatively, and are more likely to be more resilient. As many great scientists, innovators, and mystics have realized, time in nature brings us greater peace, deepens our reflection, and refines our receptivity to emerging streams of insight, revelation, and guidance. Is it any wonder that most of the great sages of our world such as Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Lao Tsu, Milarepa, and Black Elk were all illuminated during their long immersions in what Sufi sage Hazrat Inayat Khan often referred to as, "the Holy Book of Nature"?

As we contemplate this blog, two powerful terms come to mind:

Soliphilia: The love of and responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet, and the unity of interrelated interests within it.

Solastalgia: A combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root -algia (pain) referring to the pain or anguish experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides -- and that one loves -- is under immediate assault. Solastalgia is the form of homesickness that one experiences while one is still at "home." (Thanks to our colleague Glenn Albrecht for these terms.)

Soliphilia describes a psychological foundation for sustainability that seems to depend on already having the values that make sustainability possible, while Solastalgia is how we feel when those natural places that we love are being threatened or destroyed.

Earlier this year we had the good fortune to participate in the Waimea Ocean Film Festival on the island of Hawaii, which offered a profoundly-inspiring mix of edutainment including exquisite films, amazing hikes, and inspiring "talk story" events with filmmakers and the subjects of their films. Throughout the three days of immersion in this outstanding event, the words of contemplative scientist Francisco Varela, co-founder of Mind and Life Institute, often came to mind: "When a living system is suffering from ill health, the remedy is to be found in connecting it with more of itself."

Nestled amidst the stunning natural beauty and rolling green hills laced with rainbows at the base of Mauna Kea (the world's tallest mountain from base to summit) and along the Kona ocean coastline of Hawai'I Island, the Waimea Ocean Film Festival's stunning venue immersed all attending in pristine elemental beauty. Stepping into the light at the end of each movie or talk, the natural wonderland provided a mirror for deep reflection on the moving messages that each presentation offered.

The relevance of this film festival is highly compelling in the light of increasing and undeniable evidence that the integrity of the life support systems of our collective island home, planet Earth, is threatened by rampant greed and aggression reflective of a fundamental ignorance of our place and responsibility in relation to the web of life. In recent weeks, the news has been filled with reports of accelerating disintegration of glaciers and the Antarctic Ice Sheet and the coincident meltdown of meaningful talks or action at the Doha Global Environmental Summit,
the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. and typhoon Bopha in the Philippines, and the launch of Bill McKibben's impassioned "Do the Math" tour to raise global awareness of the dire facts of climate change and a call for courageous direct action to reduce its devastating impacts.

This is a time when compelling media and stories play a vital role in helping us see more clearly the preciousness and precariousness of our lives and world and point toward wiser ways of living and courageous actions required to slow the damage, create new systems that allow us to thrive, and to raise consciousness regarding our place in the world and our responsibility for caring for it.

While we'd love to review each film, talk, and outing of the festival, we'll just mention a few films that touched us most strongly and invite you to visit the festival's website to explore the full program for a list of films to add to your family's watch list.

In the epic movie Home, narrated by Glenn Close, filmmaker Yann Arthus-Betrand offers a stunning view of our planet with aerial footage from more than 50 countries that inspires a sense of awe, wonder, and concern for the health and balance of our world.

Hokule'a -- Passing the Torch takes viewers on a journey with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, traversing thousands of miles of open ocean, relying solely on non-instrumented traditions of navigation that have nearly disappeared in our world. In the last 40 years, the renaissance of Pacific voyaging has been a profound force of cultural healing from the wounds of colonization, extermination, war, and exploitation of the island people.

We were also deeply touched by Clive Neeson's moving film Last Paradise, which follows the lives of a group of adventurous young friends growing up in New Zealand who would one day become the pioneers of today's extreme sports. Cinematographer and physicist Neeson mastered 45 years of film to tell this story of how the pristine natural world of mountain peaks, glaciers, and surf spots that he and his friends grew up exploring was increasingly threatened or destroyed by development, pollution, climate change, and gentrification.

Last Paradise invites us all to reflect on those places in nature that we hold most dear, and the profound grief and loss that we feel when those pristine environments are threatened or destroyed. Taken to heart, such reflection can open our hearts and minds with compassion as we imagine the grief of billions of people around the world over time past centuries who have witnessed such devastation and experienced such deep solastalgia.

The City Dark is an insightful documentary about light pollution and the consequences of a rapidly disappearing night sky. After moving to New York City from rural Maine, filmmaker Ian Cheney unravels the myriad implications of a globe glittering with lights in this definitive story of light pollution and the impact on our health and psyche of disappearing stars in our night sky.

At our own home and sanctuary on the Big Island of Hawaii, we have witnessed firsthand how profound it is for guests from urban areas who haven't seen the stars in the night sky for years. As they sit outside under a completely clear night sky and witness the vastness of the heaven unfurled from horizon to horizon, the visceral effects of this view of outer expanse opens and affirms our intuition of the inner vastness of the heart-mind that embraces all things and all beings.

During the festival, numerous speakers and movies reminded us of the value of Lokahi, wholeness, which is an essential theme in Hawaiian wisdom teachings. In practice, one envisions oneself living within the "Lokahi Triangle," whose three points of reference, or reverence, represent nature, spirit, and humanity. As a navigation aid for charting one's course through life, one is encouraged to be mindful and to pause often to reflect: "What is the quality of my relationship to nature, to spirit, and to my human community? Am I living in right relations -- or in what the Hawaiians call a "pono" way? If I am not pono in these vital relationships, then how might I best restore harmony and balance and return to a pono state of right relations with nature, spirit, and the members of my family or community?"

Such wisdom teachings invite us all to imagine what the quality of our lives, communities, relationships, health, ecosystem management, and society could become if more of us were truly dedicated to living in a pono way within the "Lokahi Triangle."

The universality of this wisdom is helpful for anyone in any culture seeking to go beyond mere sustainability, in order to thrive and become more resilient in the face of change. These ways of living, working, and planning are a most compelling beacon of moral imagination. As John Muir reminds us: "When we try to pick anything out by itself we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." Taking this wisdom to heart, whenever we align and attune ourselves in harmony and right relations with spirit, nature, and humanity, it sets up a resonance in the web of life that affirms this innate potential within all beings.

For readers interested in the profound interrelationship of nature, mental health and wellness, climate change, cultural wounding and healing, climate activism, social justice, cinematography, ethonography, ecopsychology, and the beauty of nature and the thrivability of our home planet, we encourage you to review the complete list of films from the 2012 Waimea Ocean Film Festival, and to preview the upcoming films scheduled for this year's 2013 Waimea Ocean Film Festival, showing Jan. 3-11.

In closing, we invite you to contemplate these words of Einstein:

A human being is a part of a whole, called by us 'universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in all of its beauty.

May we and all beings become ever more adept in expanding our capacity for success in this vital task.