I was watching a YouTube TEDxFountain Hills video of Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, California marine biologist, talking about the underpinnings of his recent landmark eco-book, 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. He invited the audience to hold a blue marble in our hand and remember when we fell deeply in love with water; to tell each other our “blue marble story.”
“The Blue Marble” is an image of Earth taken December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft on its way to the Moon. This 30,000 km view of our exquisite home has enchanted us for nearly 50 years and is one of the most reproduced images in history.
I knew exactly where my own “blue marble” was: nestled in the gentle hands of my Quan Yin carving, the Asian goddess of love and compassion. I’ve had it so long I can’t remember when and how it came into my life but I do remember I knew deep in my heart that it represented our world to me and I would keep it always. I sat on my urban balcony where I can at least smell the sea, gazed at the blue sphere cradled in my palm and remembered, as my blue thread unfurled.
At two, my first memory, standing thigh-deep in the chilly waters of Northeast England, ignoring my mother’s call and looking across the North Sea to the horizon and my father’s Nordic forebears. At eight, now a Canadian girl, fishing with my dad on lake and stream and wild West Coast. At fifteen, skipping school to walk Vancouver’s beaches and write poetry and song lyrics. At eighteen, asked to contribute music and voice-over for a young filmmaker’s documentary about ocean ecology—an early call to awareness and action. At twenty, canoeing the mighty Fraser River from Interior canyon to the sea. The commercial salmon troller deck-handing up north; the walking walking walking the beaches of the world. Shepherding my stepchildren through years of beach and forest cleanups. Then the writing, articles then books: The Fisher Queen and Beckoned by the Sea.
I returned my blue marble to Quan Yin and myself to Dr. Nichols’ TedTalk.
Turns out we aren’t imagining the changes we experience when we connect with water, especially seawater: calmer, happier, healthier, stronger, clearer. As Dr. Nichols says, “Once you get into it, you realize that it’s chemistry, it’s biology, it’s physiology. It’s deeply personal but it’s also strong science.” And since the ocean surface is larger than all the continents combined, and we are 80% water, that makes it the most powerful healer on the planet.
Dr. Nichols goes on to describe the phenomena he calls “Blue Mind,” the “mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment. It is inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the colour blue to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion.” He says that humans are hardwired to be drawn to and uplifted by water. Just the sounds and smells and colours can urge our brain to release the “happiness chemicals,” dopamine and serotonin, lifting our spirits and grounding our energies.
A simple walk by the sea, a few minutes gazing to a watery horizon can activate what scientist’s call The Awe Factor, our mind’s response to expansiveness and natural beauty. We feel more connected to our world, each other, and the universe beyond.
When people learn of my deck-handing days in my twenties, miles offshore for 10 days at a time, thrown around by wind and waves 14 hours a day, they often say, “You must have been scared stiff!” There were a few times I was, justifiably so, but most of the time I was calmer, happier and more insightful than ever before. Senses more acute, memories bright with detail, creative ideas and images floating by on my inner seas. All the benefits associated with meditation. Apparently, every cell of me was bathed in the enhancing effects of negative ions released by each breaking wave. The infinite horizon shifting my brain waves to the slow roll of the meditative beta.
By the way, it’s believed that electronic devices give off positive ions which contribute to what Dr. Nichols calls, “Red Mind,” a very unsavoury stew of brain chemicals causing anxiety, distractedness, hyperactivity and a host of other modern maladies.
We have known of the sea’s curative powers for millennia, named thalassotherapy by the ancient Greek healer, Hippocrates. Salty air clearing and healing our lungs; walking barefoot on sand massaging pressure points to our whole body; magnifying the sun’s source of Vitamin D which combats depression, strengthens bones, immunity and digestive system; high concentrations of vitamins, minerals and amino acids enhancing antibiotic and antibacterial effects that help keep our skin, hair and nails clear and healthy; even floating changes brainwaves and decreases anxious thoughts as the sun’s heat increases feel-good chemicals.
On behalf of the most powerful healer on the planet, let’s take a lot more watery walks no matter the weather, briny dips even just to the ankles, and a few minutes of horizon-gazing, breathing to the rhythm of the waves. Maybe we can gaze together, as our blue thread continues to unfurl.
Note: the content in this article is not meant to be prescriptive, nor should it replace pursuing the diagnostics, advice and treatments of healthcare professionals.
At Barnacle Babes, we aim to be interactive, engaging, proactive, purposeful, actionable and supportive to all women, their families, their ocean cause and sport.