Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D., introduced the Morning Forum of Los Altos audience Nov. 1 to the many benefits of being in, on or near water – a phenomena he refers to as “Blue Mind.”
Nichols, a marine biologist, best-selling author, conservationist and self-proclaimed “turtle nerd,” pioneered the concept of Blue Mind, which acknowledges the physical, ecological, economic, cognitive, emotional, psychological and social benefits of being on, in or near water. Nichols’ research, expeditions and work as a guide have taken him to coasts and waterways throughout the world.
Nichols opened the program with a short video demonstrating how the sight of water in its various forms comforts the brain.
In describing the many gifts provided by Blue Mind, Nichols referred to the “six C’s: calmness, clarity, creativity, compassion, connection and courage.
The understanding of these benefits is nothing new and transcends all cultures, according to Nichols. More than 3,000 years ago, the 23rd Psalm expressed the soothing power of water with the words “The Lord … leadeth me beside the still waters.”
Throughout his talk, Nichols referred to other great thinkers as diverse as Herman Melville, Dr. Oliver Sacks and a 16th-century philosopher, who all can be considered, like Nichols himself, “water warriors,” intent on highlighting the multiple gifts people can receive from water.
To offer metaphorical lessons about the transcendent power of water and the creatures who live there, Nichols introduced the story of Adelita, a loggerhead turtle he referred to as his “mentor.” Adelita had been in captivity in Mexico for 10 years when Nichols, then a graduate student in marine biology, set out to free her. He attached a satellite transmitter to her shell and tracked her 12,000-kilometer journey across the Pacific Ocean to Japan. As the first loggerhead to be tracked across the ocean, Adelita’s story captivated people throughout the world and led Mexican fishermen to reduce turtle deaths in their fishing waters.
Blue Mind has become especially important to today, Nichols said, as Red Mind – the world of grind, stress and information overload – has become “our new normal.” While these qualities may be essential to striving for progress, he said, “if it’s all we have, we burn out.” Cultivating a Blue Mind, Nichols added, is an important antidote to counter the negative effects of stress.
Many agencies working with troubled children and veterans now incorporate the beneficial power of water into their programs. Nichols described how in Wisconsin, foster kids are taken to lakes and rivers. One child said, “For the first time in my life, I felt peace.” One participant in Operation Surf, which takes disabled veterans surfing, stated, “The ocean gave me my life back.”
Nichols is encouraged that technology, often an obstacle to attaining Blue Mind, is increasingly being used in hospitals to bring the comfort of water to patients. To illustrate the benefits of using virtual water to alleviate pain, he showed a picture of a young girl in her hospital bed enjoying swimming with dolphins through her headset and screen.
Inspired by Dr. Sacks, a neurologist and best-selling author, who said that “water gets my mind going as nothing else can,” Nichols spent five years writing “Blue Mind.” His purpose in writing the book was to make the importance of the medicinal and spiritual benefits of water common knowledge and to promote increasing accessibility of water to those who historically haven’t had access to its gifts.
Nichols’ parting words to his audience: “I wish you water.” Just then, the skies opened up and Morning Forum members walked to their cars, reveling in the magical comfort of a November rain.
The next lecture in the Morning Forum series is “Supercomputing for Science: Los Altos Native Works on Big Iron,” with Los Altos native and Mountain View High graduate Katie Antypas of Livermore Berkeley National Laboratory, scheduled 10 a.m. Tuesday at Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave. Lectures are also available via livestream.
The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets twice monthly. For membership details and more information, visit morningforum.org.
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