Speaking of the Sea:
Psychology, Language & Natural Communication

by Amy Lenzo

Poets and mystics have long claimed that nature is alive and speaks to us, but recently this idea has been gaining popularity with even more prosaic folk. The following article records my personal engagement with communication within the natural world, and was written as an exploration of my 'sense of place' in an urban coastal town in the southeast of England.

I know nature is all around me, yet when I look for it, it seems to elude me behind these city streets. I can sense it in the air I breathe, and feel its enduring presence beneath the layers of pavement on which I walk, but still, I seek more tangible evidence.

The grace and beauty of nature in an English garden calls to me; if I sit and listen closely to its voice, I hear a lovely, cultured tone, reflecting centuries of breeding- exquisite, yet constrained somehow.

The parks, too, with their profusion of scent and colour, seem bound and limited by a language of human origin. Even the gentle, calming shape of the hills cradling the land outside town communicates the history of human cultivation.

Searching for nature speaking its native tongue, I find myself drawn to the sea. Here I find what I am looking for. All my senses are alert to what surrounds me; the variety of colour and texture that greets my eyes, the salt tang on my tongue and fishy smell in my nose; the sound of waves crashing in my ears, spray dancing on my skin. Even though it is only yards from the seafront promenade and surging crowds, it seems that perhaps the vast open stretch before me is the last truly wild space around.

The raw power of the sea is almost overwhelming, dangerous. Vast aquatic lungs thunder and sweep away all that is superfluous or untethered. They sound a siren call, promising the excitement of adventure and luring me into uncharted territory: ancient depths holding the secret origins of our collective lives. Here past and present blend in the fluidity of endless change. The ceaseless rhythm of oceanic breathing is calming, too. I listen to the sound of its movement, scraping the shingle clean with each outgoing ebb, exhaling gratuitous bounty with each incoming surge.

There is a sense of space, solitude, and freedom in this expanse, unmarked by roads and fences, though many creatures live here. At low-tide, in the strip between land and sea, a vast hatchery is exposed- the spawn of myriad species inhabiting a microcosmic world where each one draws sustenance from the other and the landscape in which they all struggle to survive. Teeming with energy and life, the inter-tidal zone is that liminal area where diversity and abundance are forged from limitation and difficulty. I sit on the shore in awe, witnessing the ocean's vitality; it is connected to each one of us, wherever or whoever we are in the world, it flows between us and connects us to each other, and yet remains independent, uncontrolled, free.

While listening to the symphonic chaos of the sea, I can still hear the noise of the human crowds behind me and can't help but reflect on the fact that while we may not be able to control the sea, we do have the power to affect it. Humans have already made a terrible impact on this amazingly robust environment; we've flushed great quantities of waste into it, drawn from our homes and factories and over-full storm drains. Chemically saturated water runs to the sea in rivers from our food producing fields. Rubbish from our boats and seaside visits accumulates, and threatens to smother indigenous sea life. Oil spills. Acid rains. Our actions- conscious or not- endanger the health of this great body of water and the creatures who are dependent on it, including, ultimately, ourselves. In our thoughtlessness and greed, we not only damage this precious element, essential to all life, but we also threaten one of the rare instances of wilderness left to us, a quality no less essential for the health of our modern, confined psyches.

What the sea had to say to me today seems relevant in both psychological and physical terms. We are physically dependent on the sea and the natural world in many ways, but our relationship with nature is no less important to our mental health. It is essential to our sense of well being that we feel in harmony with its rhythms and know ourselves to be part of its pattern. We need to feel connected to the rest of this web of life we are born into. However, the relationship between humans and the natural world, like that between humans, is a reciprocal arrangement. When we disrespect and disregard the natural world, it holds no value for us and it is hard to feel our connection with it.

Nature is what gives us life; we are made of the same elements and share the same environment with all other forms of life on this planet. On one level, we ARE the natural world. When we fully understand the deepest implications of this inter-dependence, we embrace our responsibilities to care for this world with respect and gratitude. Perhaps it is only at this point that we can fully perceive the value and depth of what this relationship might have to offer us, as individuals and as a species.

Suggestions for further reading:

Heart of the Mind and Soul of the World, James Hillman, Spring Publications

The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abrams, Vintage Books

The Sacred Balance, David Suzuki

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