I recently took my three children camping, and it made me think of non-self. Interdependence. How we all need each other to be healthy and happy. Being in nature reminds me that I am part of something much larger than my own existence.

One day we went on a self-guided hike through a grove of giant sequoias in Calaveras State Park. Sequoia trees are both the oldest living organism in the world (the oldest one being somewhere between 3,200-3,266 years old, making it older than Siddhartha Gautama!), and they are also the most massive tree on earth. Children and adults alike are awestruck by these living giants.

I learned that sequoias live in mixed conifer forests, which are interrelated communities of plants and animals. Sequoia trees are vital life sources for other growing plants and animals, and vice versa. They also have a unique relationship with fire. Fires are unfortunately a common occurrence in California, but sequoia bark does not easily burn, and they actually depend on the heat to open their cones and release seeds. Everything in the forest lives an interconnected existence.

Sadly, humans are often disrupting the natural order. Human-caused fires wreak havoc on the wildlife. Climate change has had a significant impact. There was even a tree that had been skinned alive by people. Today, sequoias are endangered.

My children participated in the Junior Ranger program one morning, and I stood in the shade observing. Park rangers are very special people. They teach others about empathy and mindfulness, and they do it in the most gentle way. I listened as the rangers taught the children about how their actions impact nature. The children took a pledge: “I promise to respect the earth, and all living things.” You are not just on vacation. You are in other living beings’ homes.

Anatta, or “non-self,” is a Buddhist teaching that humans do not have a permanent self. Manshi Kiyozawa, in December Fan, wrote that attachment to ourselves is the greatest source of suffering. Buddhism is a way to liberate ourselves from ourselves.

I admit that I exert a lot of mental energy thinking about the minutiae in my life, and I am constantly trying to bring myself back to reality. I am guilty of getting bogged down with unimportant details: how I look, what so-and-so thinks about me, what material objects I have, getting stuck in particular feelings. It’s easy to get lost in our sense of self-importance. Self-centeredness is rampant in society.

Remembering non-self and learning to forget your attachment is an ongoing, never-ending process. Trips to the forest can be great reminders that it isn’t all about me, but this is also the beauty of the dharma. When you listen to the teachings, it helps you self-correct when you find yourself falling into old patterns. In Jodo Shinshu A Guide, it says “We must change our vantage point so that we come to see and respond to the world in the context of interdependence.” This is how we will alleviate our human suffering.

There is that old saying “not see the forest for the trees.” I think the dharma is that spiritual vista that reminds us where we are and who we are in the grand scheme of life. This benefits not only the quality of our own lives, but also makes the world a better place for everyone else.

“The notion of emptiness engenders Compassion. Compassion does away with the distinction between self and other. When one sees the illusory nature of all beings, there is born True Compassion.” - Donran