Combing the beach

Beaches are wonderful things. Roll on metaphors, poetry and big thoughts. Or not.

What I like about them is the small stuff. I like the rocks and the pebbles and the shells.

Yes, I know that Water is the King of All That is Soothing and yes I love the expansive views onto limitless horizons and most especially I love the tide and the waves – their noise and their motion and most of all the affect of hearing that noise and watching that motion repeat and repeat and repeat.

So that we can skip all the schmaltzy stuff about how sublime it all is, here’s just one example of the vast ocean of meditations available online about the power of the actual ocean on our brains.

On top of this the ocean is credited with an almost magical range of medicinal benefits – from preventing tooth decay to treating tuberculosis to alleviating inflammation to keeping us fit especially when we’re old or otherwise physically strained by torn muscles, damaged ligaments or torn cartilage.

But for me it’s the walking alongside the ocean that works wonders which is why combing the beach makes it to the list of the best mind-wandering activities of all time. And just recently — having had access to a long beach at Camber during our writers retreat, I noticed that when I walk the beach I don’t seem to look out at the ocean. Instead, I watch the ground.

I’d been walking a good 20 minutes when I noticed this. Yes, of course I looked out at the water, but my gaze prefers to fix on the sand. On my toes sinking into footprints and on the pebbles and shells I might bend down to pocket.

Unlike train-dreaming, combing the beach is not what works best for me when I have a thorny problem to solve – how to structure my book, what to do about my finances, whether to date online. Combing the beach quietens debate so that I can actually hear something underneath all the noise of wondering what to do. When I comb the beach I’m more likely to think things like – I know what I’ll buy Francesca for Christmas, I know where I want to live, I know what I’ll do tonight, I know what I’ll read next, I know what I’ll tell that person.

Combing the beach helps me do that thing that others may find easy, but I do not. Searching for shells and watching my feet helps me realize what I want.

All of a sudden questions I might have asked a day ago or a year ago come in with the tide.



Filed under States of mind

5 responses to “Combing the beach

  1. I love the sea too (odd really because I’m quite nervous of water). I found it like a magical cure when we were away on writing retreat – every time I came upon a problem in my novel, I’d walk along the beach and, without fail, come back with a solution. For me, I think that’s because of its mind-clearing powers. Nothing puts life into perspective for me like the sea does. My mind really does wander – amble even – and it’s in that cleaning process that I find solutions.

    I mostly do watch the sea though rather than the ground… which tends to mean I fall in puddles and sink into bits of sand I probably should have walked around!

  2. nathaliehourihan

    I too am nervous of water. Especially the Ocean. It’s just too deep and murky and odd things that can swim faster than me call it home. I mean honestly, swimming in the Ocean is just asking for it.

    • I really wanted to go for a swim when we were there! But I figured it might be too cold. Weirdly I didn’t go for one walk down to the sea in the daytime. I nearly went down in the darkness. I got most of my sacred space style thoughts from sitting looking out at the sea and smoking a cigarette.

      Showers and baths are the places I tend to get all my solutions to forgotten questions and pressing concerns.

      I read this article (on my iphone due to checking my facebook stream 😉 which made me think of this blogpost and your boredom them in general. It’s sort of a plea for the best of boredom:

      I do agree with much of what it says but I think that the in-between space does happen in a fragmented sort of way when have all your devices on and are plugged into your music, there’s a sort of meditative state that comes with information overload I reckon. Like how your mind can go when you tune into music.

      • nathaliehourihan

        hey thanks for the link … I REALLY like the author’s last idea – about pursing a state of no-intent. The goal-less-ness of that state has been on my mind lately and I’ve been thinking about embracing it as a way to be with certain projects rather than just a way to be for the 10 or so minutes he recommends. I’ve always been obsessed by goals and getting greater clarity about where I’m going, but there’s a lot to be said for doing something without knowing what your intent is or where it will bring you.

  3. Yeah, totally. That’s sort of the approach I’m trying to integrate into the way I approach getting better acquainted. Relaxing and enjoying the process rather than the product alone. Accepting that it isn’t a sprint but a long distance race and all that stuff.

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