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Testing the Water

How to trust its creative powers.

When I used to take my young daughter to the beach, she’d splash around in the water for hours. Me? I’d sit in a chair and watch the waves. Still do. Maybe my passivity has something to do with a fear of sharks that developed shortly after seeing the film Jaws.

But I never felt like I was missing out. On the contrary. Watching water move has always made me feel calm and creative. There’s nothing like an ocean to clear my head or cleanse my palate.

Fortunately, I live 20 miles from the Pacific. I grew up five miles from the Atlantic. So no wonder I have this connection!

Today, as I sit on the sand watching the waves come in and go out, nothing’s changed. And since I muse here regularly, I decided to take a little dive into my laptop to see if there was any basis to my theory that water is an elixir for the soul.

Turns out there was plenty. Psychology Today, for example, features a blog in which innovation strategist Kathryn Haydon writes, “Water and creativity are alike in so many ways. Not only does describing water force us to think creatively, the nature of water is similar to the nature of creativity: it’s ubiquitous, keeps us alive, comes in many forms, has an infinite variety of expression, and its strength can alter the very landscape.”

Thank you. I couldn’t agree more.

Maybe it comes down to the fact that nobody can live without water. Water = life. We’re made of water (mostly, anyway). I’ve noticed that when I make an effort to stay hydrated, I’m cognitively more focused, less tired.

However, I believe that it’s more spiritual than that. Oceans are deep. Perhaps they subliminally send an invitation to our brain that says we too have depth that invites exploration.

Many people claim to get their best ideas in the shower. You may be one of them. While it’s true that showers are not especially deep, it makes me wonder if our minds mimic the flow of the water. After all, movement inspires movement. This speaks to how the back-and-forth motion of ocean waves provokes the mind to do the same, instilling rhythms in our soul — rhythm being one of the intrinsic components of music, of course.

A Harvard study suggests that when a person gets distracted, his or her mind gets a break and the dopamine released during that time helps the brain to conceive some new creative ideas. That may or may not be true for everybody, but water in motion certainly always distracts me. Gets me out of my head. Puts some space between me and my worries, calms my over-excitement, loosens my writers block.

I realize that not all of us live near an oasis. But a lake or a pond will do. A swimming pool. Even a bathtub! I notice that when I’m at the gym, looking out the window as I tread away on the treadmill, my eyes inevitably veer toward (and stay focused on) the swimmer in the lap pool and the water she is causing to ripple. Not surprising.

I’m grateful that I live near the ocean’s powerful muse. Every time I put on my favorite cable-knit, fall into my frayed yet faithful beach chair and look out onto that vast body of H2O, I hear her creative calling.

In his book Blue Mind, marine biologist Wallace. J. Nichols argues that when we’re physically immersed in water, our body doesn’t have to work so hard to support itself, which liberates the part of our brain which would ordinarily take part in that support.

Isn’t that exactly the freedom we strive for, wait for, work toward, welcome, covet, yearn to hold on to?

Maybe I should get out of my chair and get into the water more often.


Check out Shelly’s other postings.

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