Why being near the Ocean Calls to me
We are Ocean, comprised almost entirely of water. We evolved from the ocean, to live on land.
Since ancient times, humans have assigned healing and transformational properties to water. In early Rome, baths were an important part of cultural life, a place where citizens went to find relaxation and to connect with others in a calming setting. In ayurveda, the ancient Indian medicinal wisdom, and traditional Chinese medicine, the water element is crucial to balancing the body and creating physical harmony. Rivers have long been seen as sacred places, and in a number of different spiritual contexts, water has symbolized rebirth, spiritual cleansing and salvation.
Today, we still turn to water for a sense of calm and clarity. We spend our vacations on the beach or at the lake; get exercise and enjoyment from water sports like surfing, scuba diving, sailing, and swimming; refresh ourselves with long showers and soothing baths, and often build our lives and homes around being near the water.
Our affinity for water is even reflected in the near-universal attraction to the color blue. We're naturally drawn to aquatic hues -- the color blue is overwhelming chosen as the favorite color of people around the world, and marketing research has found that people tend to associate it with qualities like calm, openness, depth and wisdom.
Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, believes that we all have a "blue mind" -- as he puts it, "a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment" -- that's triggered when we're in or near water.
"We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what's broken," Nichols writes in Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, published in July. "We have a 'blue mind' -- and it's perfectly tailored to make us happy in all sorts of ways that go way beyond relaxing in the surf, listening to the murmur of a stream, or floating quietly in a pool."
Here, Nichols speaks about how water can heal the mind and body and help you tap into your most calm and creative state of being. Here are six important benefits of finding your "blue mind."
Water gives our brains a rest.
In our everyday lives, we're constantly bombarded with sensory stimuli, whether from our devices, busy homes and offices, or hectic city streets. Our brains need downtime, but they rarely get enough of it.
Being around water gives our brains and our senses a rest from overstimulation.
"The sound around us, from an auditory perspective, is simplified. It's not quiet, but the sound of water is far more simple than the sound of voices or the sound of music or the sound of a city," Nichols tells the Huffington Post. "And the visual input is simplified. When you stand at the edge of water and look out on the horizon, it's visually simplified relative to the room you're sitting in right now, or a city you're walking through, where you're taking in millions of pieces of information every second."
When we're near, on, in or under water, we get a cognitive break because there's simply less information coming in. Our brains don't shut down -- they keep working, but in a different way, according to Nichols. "When you have that simplified, quieter 'blue' space, your brain is better at a different set of processes," he says.
Water can induce a meditative state.
Many of us love to sit near the ocean or a river and gaze out at the water -- often, we can sit for long periods simply observing the gentle movements of the water. Why? Though we may not be conscious of it, the water could be inducing a mildly meditative state of calm focus and gentle awareness.
When we're by the water, our brains are held in a state of mild attentiveness -- what Nichols calls a "soft fascination." In this state, the brain is interested and engaged in the water, taking in sensory input but not distracted by an overload of it, as we might be with the "hard fascination" we experience while watching an action movie or playing a video game.
Being in a mindful state -- in which the brain is relaxed but focused -- benefits the mind and body on a number of different levels. A growing body of research has found myriad benefits associated with mindfulness, including lower stress levels, relief from mild anxiety, pain and depression, improved mental clarity and focus, and better sleep quality.
Water can inspire us to be more compassionate and connected.
While in the restful, contemplative state associated with observing or interacting with water, it's also common to experience feelings of awe, Nichols' research has found. The emotion of awe invokes feelings of a connection to something beyond oneself, a sense of the vastness of nature and an attempt to make sense of the experience.
"That switches you from a 'me' orientation to a 'we' orientation," says Nichols, citing research findings that feelings of awe can increase our capacity for connection and empathy.
It's no coincidence, then, that many of life's most romantic moments take place by the water -- engagements, weddings and honeymoons overwhelmingly occur in waterside locations.
"We hold important ceremonies by water. Both in life and in death, we gather by water when we can," says Nichols. "If we can't gather outside by water, there's often a water component indoors."
The Ocean is unimaginably vast and indifferent
I have been an avid boater for over 30 years and being on the water I have also an immense repsect for the ocean, for it is unimaginably vast and indifferent. Being near the ocean from the comfort of land is one thing - but being at sea with no land in site in any given direction is a uniquely humbling experience. It immediately reminds me f may place in the cosmos...pretty insignificant. Also the ocean has the power to calm and also the power to take life. Without fanfare. It is indifferent, and this also is a lesson. This is zen.
If you live by the sea you probably know these things. If you do not, I encourage you to seek it out, take a trip to the coast, experience these sensations.
with thanks to Caroline Gregoire
I write about things that I myself need to be mindful of. ways in which I would like to improve. It is not from the perspective of preaching - but rather writing helps me work out what I myself need to do - we are all in this together.