Well, all that sea swimming continues to remind me that I can do brave things…
…So this weekend I moved through the anxiety I get about public speaking, (especially about Sea Soul Blessings, I seem to be able to talk about screenwriting with ease!) and gave a short talk at Ocean – An Exhibition for Change at Jupiter Gallery in Newlyn.
This wonderful exhibition, hosted by PlasticFreePenzance, featured colourful art by Dan Lewis and Mini Beach Cleaner, all created entirely from found marine plastic. Along with beautiful and heartbreaking images taken by Adam Hill during Ben Lecomte’s Vortex Swim through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch currently contains the highest concentration of ocean plastic in the world – it’s a stark reminder of our plastic consumption and its negative impact.
Other exhibition highlights included a life-size metallic shark swimming from the ceiling, and the world’s first granite surfboard – crafted to highlight the tensions between surf industry mass consumption and a passion for the sea.
I also learnt some fascinating but terrifying facts from Surfers Against Sewage – did you know that we all currently eat a credit card worth of micro-plastics every week? Yikes.
It’s a thought that becomes even more concerning when I realise that as sea swimmers, we probably swallow even more than that!
I’m forever gulping down accidental mouthfuls of micro-plastic-filled sea – most often because I’m too busy grinning a huge toothy grin at a friend to notice that a wave is about to slap me in the face…
But best of all, my talk was part of a film night that featured Cal Major’s Vitamin Sea. This wonderful film tells the story of Cal’s arduous journey by stand-up paddleboard from Lands End to John O’Groats – by canal and sea.
Cal pauses to engage with communities and environmental projects along the way, including a stop on the Isle of Arran, where I spent so many of my childhood holidays visiting my lovely granny – that’s where I fell in love with the sea myself.
Cal made her film to raise awareness of plastic pollution and funds for mental health charities – after the loss of a dear friend, a fellow vet, who struggled with depression. She describes the power of the sea to soothe and strengthen her – and how that only serves to increase her desire and capacity to protect it. The scenery is stunning, Cal’s effort immense, and the emotional journey she makes is deeply moving.
I’ve never met Cal, but I’ve chatted to her on instagram. In fact, I sent her some Sea Soul Blessings a little while back to see if they might help her through the challenging days, just as they help me and others. Rather wonderfully, she loves them, and uses them as a way to connect to the sea when she’s far from the water – so it felt especially lovely to combine our shared love for the sea via this very special exhibition.
After the film, I talked about my own relationship with the sea, and how starting to swim all year round had changed my life for the better in every way – mental, physical and spiritual.
How it helped me to manage the anxiety and mood swings of peri-menopause, to feel braver, more compassionate and more connected to the natural world.
How it even improved the quality of my marriage – I just had to jump in the sea after any marital row, and I’d become a nice calm person again in minutes!
And to try and encourage everyone to get into a cold Cornish sea in February, I shared some of the amazing evidence I’d learnt about the power of spending time in and around water, from Wallace J Nichols’ book “Blue Mind” – but in truth, that all pretty much still applies, whether you swim in it or not, so I don’t know that I convinced anyone a cold sea was worth the extra effort!
I’ve also been on many a beach clean with Rachel from Surfers Against Sewage, (who organised the whole exhibition in just six weeks – an amazing feat). So this talk seemed the perfect place to share my recent realisation that a mindful beach clean may just be one of the very best things we can all do for our mental health (especially any eco-anxiety we might be feeling).
It combines mindfulness and focus, connection, time in nature, physical activity, taking positive action – and of course all those “blue mind” benefits.
The same is true of any litter pick in nature – you don’t have to be by the sea to feel these benefits. But water makes everything better of course, so you could try litter picking around a puddle at least…!
I’ve written lots more about the benefits of mindful beach cleaning in our newsletter this month (you can sign up for that here). I talk you through some ways to bring the benefits of mindfulness and self compassion into your own attempts to beach clean – and I’ll share more on that here too.
Rather excitingly, you might also like to find out more about the retreat we’ll be running in April in Penzance – hot off the press!
We’ll do some mindful beach-clearing together and get curious about the benefits of different sea-soul nurturing activities.
We’ll play with some simple tools that can boost our self compassion, help us connect more deeply to the sea, and increase our capacity to stay active and positive in the face of our current environmental challenges.
Because like Cal, Wallace J Nichols, and probably all of those whose work was exhibited in Ocean – An Exhibition For Change, I believe that we can use the sea to heal ourselves – so that we can heal the sea.