Monday, October 9, 2006

Our relationship with the ocean

This is an extract from Why Lawyers Should Surf co-authored with Dr Michelle Tempest which is now available on Waterstone's website here or can be ordered from XPL Publishing on 0870 079 8897 (p&p is included). Further extracts can be found here. To see a review of the book in The Independent click here.

Rachel Carson wrote, “For all at last return to the sea – / To Oceanus, the ocean river. / Like the ever-flowing stream of time, / The beginning and the end.” Whether we are lawyers, doctors, accountants or from any other walk of life, perhaps we all return to our roots at some point on our journey through life. This was illustrated in Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist, where the hero went out in search of treasure only to find that it was in fact lying where his journey had begun: his home, his heart, ultimately, love. John F. Kennedy said, “We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch - we are going back from whence we came”.

Perhaps that’s the point. Just as all the rivers flow inexorably towards their ultimate source, the ocean, perhaps our lives equally flow back towards their beginnings. The meanderings along the way are all part of that journey although at the time this may not be particularly obvious. T.S.Eliot wrote in The Four Quartets, “In my beginning is my end… / We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”

The ocean as the metaphor to explore life, our relationships with each other, love, God. The ocean as a conduit. Without form and void and yet a connection to something greater, something we can only imagine in the fringes of our thoughts. The ocean as the depths of our subconscious. In The Face of the Deep, Thomas Farber reminds us of what lies beneath and that, “When we look out at the vast blue, we see not ocean, exactly, but surface: master trickster, chameleon, boundary between water and atmosphere, barrier or seal between two realities.”

The breaking wave as the boundary with the conscious mind, the route into the subconscious. Jung’s anima and animus in one. The guide to the subconscious. The light to the shadow. Perhaps it is something to do with the timeless quality of the ocean. The fact that whilst it never remains the same, it appears on the surface to be unmarked by the ravages of time. In Caught Inside, Daniel Duane says that his friend Willie described surfing, “as having the quality of Japenese dancing on rice paper, in which the dancer steps so delicately that the paper never tears, and pointed out how each wave washes away all that has come before.” So, mountains, valleys, living creatures. All bow to time’s dominion. The ocean on the other hand appears as a constant. As Henry David Thoreau said, “We do not associate the idea of antiquity with the ocean, nor wonder how it looked a thousand year, as we do of the land, for it was equally wild and unfathomable always.”

However, just because its physical appearance on the surface does not change, that is not to say that events do not take their toll and this is perhaps never more clearly illustrated than the present day when the ocean is being polluted to such an extent that many forms of sea-life are now struggling to survive. Water’s memory is more subtle but no less profound. Perhaps again, a symbol of the subconscious. In Water, Ice and Stone, Bill Green talked about “how water retained, like a childhood memory, a trace of its past as ice. How it never forgot that. How it carried that singular fact with it…all the way to boiling point.” A.R.Ammons, “The very longest swell in the ocean, I suspect, carries the deepest memory.” Keats, “Wide sea, that one continuous murmur breeds along the pebbled shore of memory!”

The voice from our souls, our relationship to the world around us, the meaning of life itself. These are all issues which very often are not particularly dealt with in many of the slightly mechanical quick-fix motivational manuals. This is undoubtedly because of the difficulty of pinning down any specific causes, effects and solutions. However, to ignore the deep murmurings of the soul is to turn away from life itself, just as it is to turn away from the sea. Edith Sitwell once wrote, “What are you staring at, mariner man / Wrinkled as sea-sand and old as the sea?”

Go visit the sea.

Look out on its ever-changing mass and wonder.

Maybe even consider paddling out.

Then look far out the back and reflect.

As surfers do.

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