Friend, teacher, mentor, healer. For Matt Smith, manager of our Ambassador team, the sea has played many different roles throughout his life.
Now a father, transitioning into yet another new chapter of his life, Matt reflects on these myriad relationships; how they’ve developed over the years and the meaning that has brought to his time spent in the ocean.
The other night, during one of the longest days of the year I had the thought, what is the sea to me?
It floated into me like a leaf falling from a tree, lightly touching my deepest memories and feelings, just like leaves fumble from side to side as they fall. Recently my life has fumbled from deep satisfaction and joy to depression and rage. And I noticed that each time I was on the more tragic side of life I longed for the ocean. I wanted to be so close to it that no excuse in the world could keep me away, because during dark days I’d lack any motivation to do what I knew would bring me back into presence and appreciation.
From my house I can see the sea so I can easily connect with the ocean, but the 9 miles and 15min drive allowed time for a million excuses not to go and be relieved and energised by the warming Atlantic. During the content, joyful times I’d happily veer off to the beach on the way home and flounder in the small longboard waves. I’d chuckle at myself for being so daft in the desperate days and vow to not be so foolish. Knee high waves would pick my 10ft mal and transport me to the shore, I’d have a blast. When we feel good the twinkling of life is mirrored back at you with magnified vibrance. But unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
When did the ocean become such a key part of my wellbeing? Perhaps when I was 13. I remember my father telling me to go and wash it all away after I’d had an argument with my mum. I was stuck, sad and confused and I called him up for advice. Although there was resistance (because the waves were messy and the day was miserable) I did as he said and my confusion disappeared. Or maybe as a teenager, when I started boozing and I found the best way to get over a hangover was to dive in the sea. Hundreds or thousands of times I’d do that; submerge myself under the waves and hope that when I took my next breath my head would be cleared and I’d be sharp again.
Years later I’d often count on it to sober me up if I woke up still drunk after a big night. What I learned to do for a hangover unconsciously became a tool for staying present in difficult situations and I counted on this so many times in my life, but not ever really knowing what I was doing. And here is the crux; unless you make that unconscious decision conscious at some point, it will fail. And for me, it did. For 6-8 months I forgot. And I promise I will never forget how much the ocean plays a part in my wellbeing on so many levels. There is the purely physical element of it being such a great form of exercise but the mental health function of submersion, to completely get out of your head for a few moments, has been so supportive for a reset in the day and pretty much always leaves me feeling more awake, happier and a more loving person.
It’s late, and during this exploration of what the sea means to me, I’m led on a tangent. A deeper, soul-based check in, and an analogy comes to mind of my current position. Life is like a computer game, as you get more skilled the levels become harder and the baddies at the end more fierce to test your skills. I feel like that’s been happening to me, and the last level is so badass that I forgot it was a game and took it so seriously.
Speaking metaphorically, my spirit is the king and I have just finished the final battle. My king is alive and so are some of his allies. They have lost many men, women and children. Whole regions were wiped out and the king is injured, but alive. He will reign again, but for now it’s a long journey back to his castle. More will die of injury and hunger on the way home. His financial reserves and army were almost obliterated and he and his queen almost left. The king will become healthy and his domain will flourish like never before, but he has seen too much suffering. Some things became so clear in that pain that he will not allow mistakes in his kingdom again. He must get back to the kingdom and heal. He thinks to himself ‘we go to war when we think we have no other choice’. He’s already made the first mistake.
For some context I'm 34 and I've pushed life pretty hard. I can’t remember a week when I didn’t do at least 55 hours work. In the last year I have moved house 5 times and my partner and I welcomed a baby boy into our lives. I’ve been so passionate about my work in regenerative agriculture and environmental activism for 10 years I think with this recent life shift (and getting older) I’m experiencing some burn out...
And so, I wonder, on this eve a few days past midsummer, what has been my first mistake? Do I need to change my current strategy or can I put a system in place so that, the moment I find an excuse not to surf or swim or walk by the sea shore, the new system forces me into the oceanic connection? Can the new awareness be enough? Or am I hoping for another system or strategy to save me from darkness? There is only one cure; light, presence, attention, love, being here and now. I believe that each unconscious act births another, until the wake up call comes.
I have oriented around the ocean since I was a tiny baby. The first house I lived in was less than 100m from Porthmeor beach in St. Ives. I spent 8 years sailing and living on boats, lifeguarded for 6 at Lands End and surfed at least 4 days a week since I was 8. This reflection on what the sea means to me is just how I see it now. Over the years it's played so many roles; it’s been a playmate, a mentor, a teacher and a master and it seems now it’s fulfilling the most beautiful function of the healer and medicine (wo)man. Those are just the archetypes that the ocean has assumed at different times of my life, some of the characters it has imitated, but it’s always helped me dream, wonder and celebrate.
There hasn’t been a time in my life where upon diving into her liquid embrace I didn’t laugh aloud and instantly feel childish joys.
Words by Matt Smith