17th September, 2015
As a coastal coach the littoral zone (the seashore line between high tide and low tide) is simultaneously my workplace and a playground and so I have been reflecting upon some of the many insights it has to offer us as a metaphor for living wisely!
First let’s consider our habitual activity when we go to the beach. Most of us would have a tendency to look out to sea observing the vast blue horizon marveling at its beauty. It would be unusual to sit with our backs to the water, facing inland… and yet how many of us do exactly this when it comes to making changes and setting goals? We cling to the past, resistant to change, holding onto the known, fearful of the abstract, facing steadiness, running for shelter and failing to see, (or should that be “sea” – seek, explore and act).
Now don’t get me wrong the land is home, it grounds us and is where we come from, a place of family, habitual activity and tradition. To fishermen their harbour is a reassuring sight after a turbulent trip to sea… and yet whilst our roots ground us and provide the very foundation for our future, shaping the way we experience our world, it is important to note that if we are to expand our boundaries, occasionally breaking anchorage, taking risks and heading out into uncertainty is both necessary and desirable. Even a limpet clinging to a rock face has to loosen its grip to feed and grow, our homes and backgrounds should not constrain us like nets, they should provide navigational ports of call.
Edges are figurative and when spending time at the coastline we are literally (or littorally) at the edge of earth and water. And yet the tide is continually shifting and these boundaries are fluid rather than fixed… and so it is with ourselves, the term boundary is a verb not a noun (coming from “to bind”). Perhaps we could ask ourselves how are we currently boundarying / binding and how we would like to free ourselves?
So much of our perceived limitation is very much within our control. When we look at a horizon some aspects are clear, some aspects are vague and yet this open expanse offers a metaphor for options, space and freedom. The one thing that is clear as human “becomings” is that we have choices as to where our interest takes us, what excites us and which areas of potential we choose to explore and develop further.
Let’s take a look at the tideline next. When we walk along the tideline we see flotsam and jetsom, a blend of naturally occurring objects mixed with man-made items. If we consider these a metaphor for our beliefs, values and behaviour we could suggest the most organic and naturally occurring ones are likely to exist most effortlessly within the natural environment. Sadly however it is often the manufactured ones, which jar the ecology and impose (like plastic marine litter) that have longevity. The unhelpful stories we tell ourselves and the less resourceful conditioning can suffocate our ability to be transparent and healthy in our mindsets and actions. Corrosive not only to us, our negative ideas and attitudes drift with the tide, through our physical boundaries, impacting others and polluting their world. These pollutants can range from contagious enthusiasm to poisonous negativity. Happily we can consciously select the energy and attitudes we hold and subject others to…. Choose well!
Now let’s consider significance and scale, the marine environment provides great perspective. A grain of sand compared to an ocean is small, but in relation to plankton is huge. In the scheme of the beach a grain of sand might seem insignificant and yet each individual sand grain is so unique, its precise qualities unreplicable. Anybody who has experienced sand in their picnic sandwiches will know that even the smallest particle of stone hitting tooth enamel (the hardest substance in the human body) is impactful. Sand has ability to cling to rock or move through water making it both infinitely flexible and at the same time resistant, it’s hard surface can erode and yet it is the result of erosion.
And what about the weather? The impact of the elements can be extreme causing cliff falls and dramatic changes to the natural landscape and yet some of the most beautiful rock formations and stones on the Cornish coast have a smooth and tactile quality having weathered storms and these shapes invite connection. Lines, form and character that could only ever have been achieved through exposure to a range of climate conditions.
How about colour? If we take an overview the coast is largely speaking a pallet of blue, beige, grey and green… and yet looking closely the lichen on a rock face can be bright green, burgundy or maybe a magnificent orange ochre. Heather on a Cornish cliffside can be the brightest of yellow or perhaps vivid purple and many colours in between. How many greens are there in the grass on a sand dune, how many shades of gold or brown in handful of sand? If you wanted to paint the sea how many shades of blue, lilac, grey, silver, brown or green might you need to mix?
Sometimes facts are distorted and what first appears to be true on the surface is on closer inspection something quite different. The multicoloured landscape or variation between shallows of the tideline and the depth of the ocean provide a metaphor reminding us to look deeper, question further, explore more closely. We can be awed by both the complexity and simplicity of our environment, which of course includes ourselves, because of course we are a significant part of the environment that we inhabit. Power, strength and status become irrelevant, it is impossible to compete with the magnitude of the Atlantic Ocean in terms of beauty, scale and fluidity, and so spending time in the littoral zone reminds us that valuing biodiversity is essential.
Which brings us to ecosystems I guess one of the biggest messages that I see is a beach coach is the impact we have on our environment. And the biggest message relating to how we interact with people and place might well be to explore how we can decide to be symbiotic not parasitic. Think about it – if we approach World at large and others with a sense gratitude, looking for the good, acting with awareness and compassion, being courageous and valuing beauty and creative insight… then the lessons of the littoral zone are well learned and applied. When you walk in the sand what footprint you leave behind is up to you. In the words of Wallace J Nichols (author of Blue Mind) “I Wish You Water”