Since I can remember, any moment of fear, sadness, or anxiety is quelled by the noise of lapping waves on the beach. When I picture the beach, I don’t see palm trees and white sand, but rather melting snow with spring sun working hard to warm the ground and welcome new life into the world.
I was fortunate enough to grow up near the water and would walk there often before high school to center myself and watch the sunrise. At 7 am the sun brought such peace and reassurance that the dark would soon fade into longer days. The solitude I felt, as if I was the only human sharing the planet with the ocean, was incredible and was one of the biggest factors in my journey of self-discovery. The repetition of waves beating on the frozen sand and the sun starting its day the same way as every other day was something that triggered the need for my own self-reflection about how I was spending my time. Standing alone on the beach in the middle of February, I felt so tiny compared to the rest of the world. I remember thinking to myself that if the sun and the ocean are some of the most beautiful and vast things in our universe, then my life could also hold this beauty and healing, especially with the chance to wake up and have control of what I do each day.
When I got to my senior year of high school, I found myself plagued with a lot of anxiety around graduating and leaving home, which is a fairly common experience. Sometime in April, I had one day where I could not get out of my head, could not do my work, and couldn’t communicate with my family or friends in a positive way. I needed a way to reset and ground myself, and I found myself crossing the bridge at sunset towards my favorite beach. It was nowhere near warm outside, but I had a towel in my car and decided to jump in. I ran down the steps with the cold sand sticking to the bottoms of my feet. After a long winter of being bundled up, my skin felt raw and brand new against the spring wind. As my body ran into the water my mind followed. The 40º water shocked my toes, legs, torso and then enveloped me as I dunked my head under. Freezing in that millisecond I spent underwater, the only thing I could truly know was the way my body felt. I was unable to think about the future or the past, only in protecting myself from getting too cold and tuning in to how every inch of my body, heart, and mind felt.
Driving home wrapped in my towel with the heat blasting and my heart racing, I felt renewed. Although I cannot always just leave whatever I am doing to jump into the ocean, I try to connect with the ocean and the peace that comes from breathing in and out as the tides do. Watching the sun come up and wake up all of the critters in the ocean, or how the sand stays sturdy under the pull of the ocean’s waves has become a way to center myself within the world and within myself. Tuning in to how each of my senses are, how my skin feels, or how my mind feels are things that the ocean has taught me. There is a presentness that comes with being one in nature, watching your surroundings, and understanding yourself as a being in an ecosystem. Whenever I feel anxiety or sadness start to overtake my mind space in an unhealthy way, I try to connect with the feeling I have in the water, where my only job is to breathe, stay afloat, and take that with me as I grow into the big wide world.