With Eyes Wide Open: Nature's Healing Wisdom and Beauty

A gentle and welcome rain falls around us here at our Island home, rippling through our ponds, splashing on leaves, nourishing the orchards, bamboo groves, and gardens -- and the many beings who dwell in this super-natural abode. Returning to our sanctuary on the northern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii, we are once again reminded of what an essential nutriment natural beauty is, how revitalizing it is to be living in closer communion and intimate embrace of the elements, and how inconceivably precious the natural world is to the well being of humankind.

Especially in this day and age when so many torrents of information flood our mindstreams, reminding us of the looming perils and uncertainties of our world, there is great solace to be found in simply touching the earth, watching the clouds, listening to the rains, watching the birds, working in the garden or harvesting fresh fruit from the trees, or even just slowing down to the speed of life enough to sit quietly and eat a mindful meal. While all the holy texts are useful to align and attune ourselves with the mysterious, life-giving forces that sustain our lives, yet, as the illuminated sages of the world's great wisdom traditions remind us, in order to fully comprehend this sacred wisdom, we must also delve deeply into what Sufi mystic and musician Hazrat Inayat Khan reverentially refered to as, "the Holy Book of Nature."

For those of us who live more amidst the hustle and bustle of modern technically tethered lifestyles, we can still connect directly with nature by simply looking at the sky, or being deeply present to the flow of sensations or breath within our bodies. Another wonder-full way to connect with nature is through the arts and streaming media that provide an opportunity to pause, witness, reflect, and attune to the natural forces, sources, and rhythms of our world in deep and inspirational ways.

As we open to receive the many gifts, blessings, and challenges of this New Year, we'd like to bring our readers' attention to an inspiring event that offers a life-affirming interfusion of nature, culture, and film in this spirit. It is the 2014 Waimea Ocean Film Festival, being held on the Big Island of Hawaii from January 2-10. 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 venues are each immersed in pristine elemental beauty, and offered in the Aloha spirit. Stepping into the light at the end of each movie or talk, the natural wonderland and vistas of the ocean, snow capped tropical volcanoes, and grassy cinder cones provide a mirror for deep reflection on the moving messages that each presentation invites.

We've been fortunate to attend and cover this festival in recent years and we've been continually inspired by the rich mix of films that remind us of the profound interdependence of humanity, nature, culture, art, technology, and choice, that weave the fabric of our lives and world. While we'd love to offer a review of all the inspiring films they have screened in past years and in this current Festival, we'll just offer a glimpse here of a few of our favorite picks. We encourage you to visit the Festival's website to explore the full program for a list of amazing and in-spirit-ing films to add to your personal or family watch list.

One highlight for us at last year's Festival was a "talk story event" with Louie Schwartzberg where he shared show clips from his beautiful film Wings of Life, which presents an intimate encounter of the unsung heroes of our natural world, the bees, butterflies, bats, and birds that pollinate flowers. Narrated by the "spirit of flowers" (in the voice of Meryle Streep), visual fantasia features the most sophisticated and elegant time-lapse and slow motion images illuminating the beauty, grace, and essential nature of the pollinators who fertilize the flowers and fruits of the earth. The film is a must-see for anyone who loves nature, eats fruits, nuts, and veggies, and who loves slow motion nature photography. Exploring the global crisis in the die-off of colonies of bees around the globe this year's Festival will feature, More Than Honey, which searches for reasons that 50 percent to 90 percent of the world's bees have disappeared, in an attempt to identify the causes and impacts of this great loss of a treasure in our natural world.

The lineup for the films and events for the 2014 festival features an inspiring mix of cinemagraphic beauty, rock-the-world environmental activism, films on the preservation of Hawaiian culture and oceans, and of course, some of the best surfing movies from around the globe -- including a 50th anniversary release of Endless Summer, the first big hit surfing movie. This year we also look forward to seeing Nathan Oldman's The Heart and the Sea, which explores the joy and vitality at the heart of surfing: family, friends, quiet beauty and intimacy with the sea amidst stunning nature shots from Australia, New Zealand, France and the Basque region of Spain. This promises to be a soulful and enchanting addition to the surf film genre.

On the activism front, the Festival will screen a new movie on the life, work, and teachings of one of our heroines, Jane Goodall, titled, Jane's Journey. Goodall, now 77, has been a lifelong activist and educator on behalf of our natural world and the living beings who inhabit it. Also in the environmental activism line-up this year, Gasland Part II, by Josh Fox, will have its Hawaii premiere at the Festival offering a deeper look into the far-reaching dangers to health and environment of fracking, and how communities across the country are being affected. Premiering at the Festiva as well is Hot Water produced by Academy Award winning filmmaker Don Rogers, which documents the toxic legacy of uranium mining in the west, starting with a focus on health impacts, and the risks of radioactive waste seeping into our water supply. Hot Water gives pause to consider what environmental activism looks like in the context of deep time, reminding us that this nuclear waste will be with us for 10 times as long into the future as Mesopotamian civilization is to our past.

Honoring the host culture of the Hawaiian Islands, the Waimea Ocean Film Festival also features many presentations by cultural treasures, artists, and kumus of the Hawaiian people. This year will offer a number of presentations by the Hula Preservation Society, and by Navigator Chad Klepa Baybayan on the Hawaiian and Polynesian arts of wayfinding, which lead to the vast expanse of Polynesian culture across the entire Pacific Ocean. As Chad says, "The art of wayfinding includes a vast knowledge of astronomy, ocean sciences, meteorology, environmental science and cultural perspectives, integrated in an understanding of how the environment around you works. Studying these disciplines helps to organize my surroundings in the open ocean." Such ancient arts have much to teach us in modern times about finding our way based on careful attention to nature and to our own inner intuitive guidance systems.

Increasingly, we and other leaders in disciplines related to spirit and wellness, sustainability and change resilience, refer to these as "VUCA times," i.e., times defined as being highly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Wise action in such times takes three primary forms:
-- The first are actions that work to stop or slow down the damage being done in our world.
-- Second are actions to create new systems, structures, energy sources, and ways of living together that are most sustainable, sensible, and life-affirming.
-- The third action strategy is to raise consciousness and awareness of critical issues to help ourselves and others be better informed regarding what on earth is going on.

For our readers interested in the profound interrelationships of nature, spirit, health and wellness, as well as cultural healing, climate change/activism, social justice, cinematography, ethnography, ecopsychology, and the thrivability of our home planet, you'll find that the films being offered by the 2014 Waimea Ocean Film Festival will help to inspire you to take action in all three of the above modes. We encourage you to review the complete list of films from or, to put on your aloha shirt and hop a flight to the Big Island of Hawaii and come join us. (Remember your carbon offsets to balance the flight!) Aloha.