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.