Why being by the water could rescue your mind
Updated: May 3, 2021
The stresses of life hold you down, coil constricts around diminishing esteem. Fortified angst like the four walls around you. Ideas too enfeebled to take hold, castles on air, wasted currency deflecting gold. Exhausted, though you haven’t moved for days, let’s try to fly this coop one more time, and return to what humans really need. To put down the drink and instead imbibe we with light playing on colour over expanses of landscape and water. Let’s walk, slowly, to where the sand meets the eddying water, platonic hues of azure and turquoise, cobalt and kelp. With every outward pull of the wave, the coils take breath, ease and release. Instead, the ordered disorder of the water’s kaleidoscope shifts your mind to comfort and relief.
Seychelles. Photographer: Josh Tarr
As you look out at its rippling expanse, you realise it is vast enough to absorb every headache, heartache, that no thought could compete with its presence. No matter how insurmountable it may have seemed, the consistency of water and its healthy expression of seething storms or surging spring tides, gives you permission to feel, permission to heal. It wears light like her body wears jewels, a thousand splendid stars spilled across the horizon. The setting sun pours honey from the clouds, air orange and flush, then the foam-lipped crests offer the moon as they furl. The ocean settles an overwhelming clarity of focus in your mind. Its transience is liberating, its persistence is inspiring.
South Africa. Photographer: Josh Tarr
Maybe you don’t need a miracle, or medicine, maybe you just need (a glass of) water.
Humans have long been enraptured by the presence of water. Making up ‘70 percent of Earth’s surface; 95 percent of those waters have yet to be explored’ (2014: 8), yet its dominance has doused our existence with fishing tradition, maritime voyages, criminal opportunism, ocean exploration and seaside stays. Being 60 percent water ourselves, there may be more reasons than survival and accessibility that draw us so resolutely to its banks. Amalgamating research from ‘Blue Mind’ by Wallace J. Nichols (2014) and my own experience, I’d like to suggest a simple, yet compelling way you may be able to calm your chattering mind and return to a happier, healthier, more connected you: return to the shores.
Falmouth. Gradient sea.
Nichols links the myriad of neurological benefits of being near water to a state of mindfulness and holistic health he coins Blue Mind. ‘In an age when we’re anchored by stress, technology, exile from the natural world, professional suffocation, personal anxiety, and hospital bills, and at a loss for true privacy, casting off is wonderful. Indeed, John Jerome wrote in his book Blue Rooms that “the thing about the ritual morning plunge, the entry into water that provides the small existential moment, is its total privacy. Swimming is between me and the water, nothing else. The moment the water encloses me, I am, gratefully, alone.”’ (2014: 7). Returning to water allows us to escape the restriction of our own cages, tireless screens, institutionalised work hours, unconscious consumption, and dimmed creativity…to open your Blue Mind to water’s wilderness, is to allow space for balance and grounding.
'From one million miles away, our planet resembles a small blue marble; from one hundred million miles it’s a tiny, pale blue dot. “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when is quite clearly Ocean,” author Arthur C. Clarke once astutely commented.' (Nicole, 2014: 9)
Grebe, Falmouth. Photographer: Josh Tarr
Endless distractions demand attention, produce more! More! ‘Monkey mind. Chronic stress […] When sustained over a long period of time the “always on” lifestyle can (and will) eventually result in memory problems, anxiety attacks, depression, autoimmune diseases, and overreliance on alcohol and drugs for relaxation in all but the most genetically gifted among us […] Studies have shown that stress that lasts longer than twenty-one days can impair the function of the medial prefrontal cortex (which affects higher-level thinking).’ (2014:140-1).
South Milton, Devon at sunset. Photographer: Josh Tarr
We feel flat, sleepless, and sick, yet living harmoniously with our natural rhythms is still deemed a luxury, rather than an essential requirement for longevity and health. Nichols asks, ‘what if time spent in or around water was as effective as (and more immediate than) an antidepressant? What if we could treat stress, addiction, autism, PTSD, and other ills with surfing or fishing? What if your doctor handed you a prescription for stress or ill health that read, “Take two waves, a beach walk, and some flowing river, and call me in the morning”?’ (2014: 141). I'd say let's make the change today!
'It is estimated that 80 percent of the world’s population lives within sixty miles of the coastline of an ocean, lake, or river. Over half a billion people owe their livelihoods directly to water, and two-thirds of the global economy is derived from activities that involve water in some form.' (2014: 9)
Photographer: Josh Tarr
I believe that with consistency and patience, committing to time with nature, specifically water, can save us from the majority of modern health ailments. Stirred into the neurochemical cocktail our brains make when exposed to water, is dopamine for pleasure and motivation; gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) for calmness and well-being; serotonin for confidence and tranquillity; and oxytocin for feelings of closeness to others. This invigorating cocktail is served chilled, cerulean and bottomless. And it can be completely free. To return to the water is to hear the gulls squawking, to feel the warm sand between your toes, to see the straining ship sails against air hazed with algae and salt, and to listen to the tinkling of pebbles carried by the tide. It is totally immersive, mediative and beneficial for your Blue Mind and soul.
What happens when our most complex organ – the brain – meets the planet’s largest feature – water?
As vector of recovery, relaxation, energy and health, water is also ‘integral to the creation of myths of ancient civilisations worldwide […] What role did water play in the stories told by your ancestors? What role did water play in the ceremonies and rituals? In what ways has this relationship with water been passed down through time? What has been lost through time?’ (2014). Much like a womb as the place from where life arose, water is depicted as maternal and somewhere to go to be soothed and healed, to have your senses put in order. Poseidon and Charybdis reign the tides, while Christianism and Hinduism use water for cleansing and purification. A source of literary and artistic inspiration, the metaphor or the palette, water can expand our creative intellect all the while welcoming our bodies back into its torrents. It is the most intricately linked element to our formation, existence, experience and future.
Water fills the light, the sound, the air – and my mind. South Milton in April.
Sunrise, mellow, blistering yellow.
Complex mind, striped-blue haze, undefined.
Consume less, care more, brushstroke finesse.
Let it heal you, be your minds rescue.
de Bernières, L (1995), Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Vintage Publishing
Nichols, W J (2014), Blue Mind, Little, Brown Book Group