The Sacred Ecology of Service with the Sea
byRose Baillie

In my previous practical assignment I mused over the path of my life and tried to make sense of it in the context of treading a path towards the sacred and the social in nature. As I concluded my musings, I realised that the notion of service, of action, was indeed my greatest challenge. The question of how to bring the social and the sacred and nature together into my ordinary day-to-day life has been there waiting for illumination, and as each day passes I like to think I am going somewhere with this. In this exposition I would like to explore the notion of service and its role in creating and being nourished by the sacred in nature. To do this I am going to tell you a story:

This afternoon, I put on my jogging clothes and headed down the hill to Safety Beach. The wind was cool and still strong, after two days of raging storms. I felt a bit bored with the beach and approached it absorbed in my thoughts and worries, still living from a head- space and not really noticing anything except the cold. I started to run, on a mission for chocolate and the local paper. I ran fixedly towards my destination.

After just 5 minutes I noticed something shimmering in the grey light of day on the damp sand. “Just a plastic bag” I thought to myself, and kept on running. But my head, looking for something to engage with, initiated a series of thoughts:

“How horrible to find all this plastic on the beach…… It must be from the storm…… Aren’t people irresponsible?….. There’s some more…. I suppose I should pick it up….. I suppose I could pick it up…but I’m in a hurry, I’ve got to jog, it’ll get dark soon….okay, just this one big piece here…this could kill a dolphin or fish if it goes back out to sea; I’ve heard they swallow plastic thinking it’s a fish….”

As I reached down to pick up the plastic bag, I noticed a small silver plastic wrapper:
“And that shiny silver plastic is even more deceptively like a fish…I better pick that up too.”

At that moment I looked out across the shoreline, really looked, and saw plastic littered in profusion. I had a sudden feeling that it was no accident that I was there on this beach at this time. It was no accident that I had just confirmed my acceptance of a job offer as a marine environmental educator.

With a swift flash of intuition, I knew that the sea had called me there for a reason. It was as if my senses and spirit had suddenly woken up and I found myself alone on a windswept beach that was littered in plastic after the storms. The waves crashed onto the sand around me, crawling out to tickle my toes, and pulling me in closer and closer. I felt that the sea required me to be of service. It was as if she was calling to me to say that this is the true meaning of the sacred. In this moment I felt called to be of service, simply because I was there and I could pick up plastic. It was as if I had become an instrument for nature, a channel of her tendency towards healing and wellness. Almost as if I had no choice in the matter: I would pick up every piece of plastic as an act of devotion, a sacred act of love for the sea and her creatures.

When I saw more and more plastic, I questioned whether the task was too big, a waste of time. I remembered the story of the girl who returned starfish back into the sea, saying “I made a difference to that one’s life at least”. And I saw that if picking up one piece of plastic could save one fish’s life, then it was worth doing. I saw a picture of life where all forms were sacred, from dolphin to fish to worm to grain of sand. Nature held all her forms in a matrix of grace, of intricate Presence. I was a part of this matrix and I had a part to play in maintaining it. I experienced a real sense of my place in the web of life, and with this knowing came a sense of responsibility and also a sense of pure joy.

As this joy flooded through my being I began to chant as I collected bagfulls of plastic. I created a chant in honour of the sea:

Sister Sea
I hear you call me
like the waves
like the waves
Upon the shore

As I sang this gently over and over, I felt as if the sea really was listening and speaking to me with the rhythm of her waves, a whole seething consciousness of divine water. My awareness had expanded to a point where I felt joined with the whole of life, I was swimming in the beauty of life. I experienced the blissful feeling of existing in a relationship of cooperation with nature, a sense that the sea and I were working together towards the promotion of life.

As I collected the plastic, I started to notice an amazing array of life-forms washed up onto the shore. There were vibrant red and pink soft corals, orange sponges, cuttlefish, sea cucumbers and other unnamed species. It was as if the sea was rewarding me for my labour by presenting me with her seldom –seen hidden treasures. I realised that nature and I share a synchronous relationship, the more I give, the more she gives me. The more I support her, the more she supports me. I realised this is something I want to share with others. We can care for nature not only because it makes good sense (“you ought to pick up rubbish”, etc etc) but because nature gives us so much back.

As I stared at the waves, I realised that we can learn so much from nature, and if we can see this then we may come to appreciate nature in and of herself. I realised that we were all travelling on this earth together, all life- forms, human and non-human, and that my role in picking up some bits of plastic off the beach was symbolic of the role that service has to play in bringing us all together. If we can recognise our essential interconnectedness, and the sense of the sacred that this brings, then we can tune in to our role in service to the earth and each other. When we realise that we are interconnected with all nature, we realise that it is an illusion to think that plastic on the beach is “not my problem” or that “the people who threw it should pick it up”. Through seeing with the eyes of the sacred, we can sense our relationship to a “problem” and we can act out of a space of responsibility: a responsibility that is given us simply because we are of nature. When we act from service, we can reconnect with the sense of sacred interconnectedness between all life, human and non-human.

And so it is I came to experience the synergistic relationship between service and my sacred relationship with nature. Through a simple act of service I was automatically able to connect deeply and unexpectedly with the natural world. Through this connection came a sense of responsibility and care which flowed on to further service, and hence a deepening relationship with my environment. And with this came the bounty of nature’s gifts.

In a magical end to this tale, the next day I went down to that same stretch of beach and, for the first time ever, was blessed with the sight of a pod of dolphins leaping just 100 metres offshore from the clean beach where I stood. I could have sworn they had been watching me all-along as I worked joyfully in service with the sea. What a gift!