Reading The Sea | Oceanographic 18
In my new book, 50 things to do by the Sea, I share some activities and practices we can learn in order to ‘read’ and connect more deeply with the sea. In this issue of Oceanographic I’ll share just a few of my favourite ways to creatively explore our ocean connection. By learning to read the sea, we can better understand and respect its power, which allows us to enjoy it safely. This includes spending time watching the sea and noticing its changing moods, energy and patterns, such as the movement of tides and different types of waves. Each part of the coast and every beach has its own unique characteristics – and sometimes hidden dangers. By spending time getting to know the ocean, we can appreciate more deeply all it has to offer.
It’s perhaps little wonder that some of the greatest artists and writers throughout human history have been drawn to the sea for inspiration. The sea is visually stimulating with a thousand shades of constantly moving blue. The famous early 20th century writer Virginia Woolf wrote, ‘each wave of the sea has a different light, just as the beauty of who we love.' Modern advances in psychology and neuroscience have caught up with what Woolf perceptively captured in her writing: how simply looking at the sea has an impact on our wellbeing. The colour blue is associated with feelings of calm and creativity. According to clinical psychologist Richard Shuster, watching the sea alters the frequency of our brain waves – putting us in a more meditative state. This is an important and beneficial effect at a time when increased stress and anxiety threaten to overwhelm us.
“Virginia Woolf wrote, 'each wave of the sea has a different light, just as the beauty of who we love.'”
Next time you go to the coast, why not explore how many shades of blue can you see by taking a sketchbook and colouring pencils or paints with you. Take a moment to look at the sea as a colour palette, drinking in all the shades of blue can you see. Notice how these colours might shift, change or blend into each other depending on the weather. Paint a colour chart in your sketchbook of all the shades of blue you can see. Repeat this exercise on different days and seasons and compare. You may wish to note the weather conditions each day too. You might begin to notice patterns of colour and maybe even seasonal differences that reflect the different ‘moods’ of the sea.
The sea is not only visually stimulating. Listening to it can be an antidote to the daily noises and stressors we experience in more urban areas and cities. It’s the constant fullness and richness of sea sounds, like the rhythmic pulse of breaking waves, that has a soothing effect on our brain. Washing over us like a sound bath, sea sounds have the opposite effect to the shrill, unexpected staccato of traffic and other artificial street sounds that can create stress in the body. The sounds of the sea have a measurable effect on human health and wellbeing, bringing a sense of calm and reducing stress.