The knowledge that spending time in on or around the sea helps with our mental health is nothing new. It is a tonic, allowing us to gain moments of calm and often giving us a fresh perspective.
At this time of year, with the short days and long nights, it's a good time to check in on ourselves and each other. Staff writer Zak Rayment explores a relationship with the sea rooted in the internal tranquillity that comes from it and what the sea means to him.
I hadn’t been in the water for almost two weeks. Not from a lack of desire, rather the pressures of a modern schedule aligning with a period of patchy, messy surf. I felt restless… itchy. My skin trying to remember the feeling of salt crystals crusting around my face. Visiting my parents on the North Coast of Cornwall, the beach was just two minutes down the road, teasing me. Checking the clock, I figured I had around an hour until dinner. Plenty of time.
Neither of my parents have a particularly strong affinity for going into the sea. When I said that I wanted to go for a quick play in the waves before dinner, they looked at me as if I had sprouted an extra head. I wanted to make them understand what this meant to me, how it would refresh me and lighten me, both physically and mentally, but it is hard to create an understanding where there is no experience.
I headed to the beach with a curious father in tow, walking down towards the small choppy waves. I didn’t really have a plan as to why I was there. I just knew I wanted to be there. I swam out through the white water, diving under waves and feeling the bubbles buffet my face as I released a breath. Out back I hung in the clear green waters, letting the gentle swell rock over me, washing away the concerns of my week. Turning to face the beach I marvelled for the millionth time at the beauty of the place that I call home. A landscape folded in upon itself. Fields, valleys, cliffs. The contours of the land holding back its secrets, rewarding greater effort with greater reward in seclusion, peace and tranquillity.
Staring up at the blue sky as I drifted in the water, I had a crystallising moment of realisation. What we do when we play in the ocean doesn’t matter. It serves no purpose. When we strike out to surf or splash around in the waves, we’re not making or creating or harvesting anything physical. Nothing that you can touch or eat or smell. We are simply playing. But whilst playing in the ocean doesn’t serve a material purpose, the benefits it gives us are so much more than material. The meaning it holds is far deeper. It is a visceral connection to the natural world. You are not just in nature, but in nature. Not just surrounded, but completely and totally enveloped by it.
In these moments I feel a deep sense of calm. The experience grounds me and the clamour of competing thoughts in my head dies back. It’s a process of letting go; as a thought floats across my mind I acknowledge it and let it pass, not lingering or giving it active consideration. It is not the time for that. Emerging from the waves to walk back up the beach, I saw my father waiting for me. The smile carved into my face still baffled him. But the moment of clarity in the water had helped me realise how to explain.
My father is a Buddhist. It’s something he found later in life but a way of life that he believes in passionately. He meditates every day and is constantly advocating it to me, describing the peace and perspective that it affords him. I have never taken his advice. In that moment though, the sun slowly slipping into the ocean behind me, I finally knew how to explain.
For myself, and many others, entering the ocean is meditation. It helps me to reach a state of mindfulness that I find I’m not able to achieve on land. To live in this precise moment, a tiny speck in the grand ocean of time. It’s a chance to let go of the pressures of society and just get back to being human, experiencing the haptic feedback of the natural world. It’s a moment to remind ourselves of our place in this world. Not as master and conqueror of nature, but as a tiny component of something vast, unfathomable and beautiful. Playing in waves, just for the fun of it.
The sea to me is meditation. What does the sea mean to you?