Book Review – “Ocean of Insight” Offers Memorable Dharma Journey

Heather Mann
Author Heather Mann: SnowFlower is her “root sangha”

Ocean of Insight Offers Memorable Dharma Journey
– Review by Curt Pawlisch

With her newly released Ocean of Insight, A Sailor’s Voyage from Despair to Hope, our dharma friend Heather Lyn Mann has written a lovely book that is both heart-pounding narrative and thoughtful inquiry of “how to live in a suffering world.”

This is no normal Buddhist book, you know, the ones in which revered monastics explain the sutras or the practices of their traditions. Instead, in Oceans Heather invigorates the ancient teachings by weaving them into a memorable recounting of her times at sea. Indeed, not many Buddhist books begin with a scene such as this:

I look upon the jagged shore to calculate the time until impact. It’s difficult to know exactly because the anchors scrape the ocean floor, slowing our approach. The storm is building. Waves slam against the bow and drive us backward. The ship’s engine picked this moment to stop functioning, so Dave and I are suddenly, inexplicably, without power. The sun is slipping low and soon we will be without light.

Moored sailboat
Sailboat Wild Hair mooring with its hair down

The author writes of her six years sailing off the Florida coast, among the Bahamas and in the Caribbean with husband Dave, cat Dinghy, and at times their young adult children aboard Wild Hair, their sturdy sailboat. Heather discourses about volcanoes, describes a chilling encounter with pirates, and shares her delight in the play of dolphins with sea gulls.

But travel, as Miriam Bird once said, “…is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” As if to affirm this wisdom, Heather delves into the Buddhist teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and seeks answers from “the Great Atlantic Teacher” (nature) to confront the suffering that climate change has already brought and is certain to bring.

Cat Dinghy charts a course forward
Cat Dinghy charts a course forward

Somewhere in her life, Heather learned to write, and with humor. She fills her book with memorable one-liners describing, for instance, her teenage children as “walking, talking enigmas,” or wondering, “Who knew that Thich Nhat Hanh had so much in common with pelicans?”

We know Heather through her years with SnowFlower Sangha and her leadership on such issues as climate change and diversity. And even though she now lives in South Carolina, she remains grateful to her “root sangha,” which she humorously describes in her book as a “nice bunch of remarkably ordinary folks [doing] our best to figure out ancient teachings and apply them to daily living.”

As world temperatures rise and disrupt climate patterns with catastrophic droughts, floods, and storms of unprecedented ferocity, each of us is aboard our own sailboat, hurling forward upon an unforgiving ocean with a calamitous wreck seemingly inevitable unless we together quickly develop our skills as “sailors.” To help guide us, Heather offers a series of guided meditations, a list of other resources, and a description of the new international Earth Holder Sangha, a Plum Village affinity group. (More on this new affinity group is planned for a subsequent post.)

Heather and Dave Mann
Heather and Dave safe on land

Rare is the book that upon finishing I feel a loss. Closing Oceans of Insight, I longed to stay in the world of the Great Atlantic Teacher, nestled aboard the trustworthy Wild Hair with its intrepid cat and middle-aged adventurers—please, just one more voyage, one more dharma lesson, one more insight.


Parallax Press released Ocean of Insight on November 8, 2016. Readers may purchase it in paperback through the publisher; other web sellers offer both paperback and electronic versions.

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