Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Review: Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols

My wife works as an aquatic rehabilitation therapist, and each year at Christmas, she and her coworkers exchange gifts. This year, one of the items she received was a book called Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, Or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, And Better At What You Do by Wallace J. Nichols. When I saw the book, I have to admit I was a little intrigued. Even though it is Jamie and not I who spends much of the day in or near water, I really wanted to read what this book had to say. Anything that seems to offer me an opportunity to live better piques my interest, and so I was really curious what Mr. Nichols might have to say.

The book did not follow the path I had expected. I expected to learn more about how Jamie's job in the pool was simply adding to her joy and helping her to care for others better (but, with or without the book saying so, I know that it is). What I found was an amalgamation of different threads. Mr. Nichols clearly has a deep love for our liquid planet, and rather than just writing a book about why we should work to preserve and protect our waterways, he wrote a book that looks at strong data to make his argument. Personally, I love the angle he takes. Unfortunately, it is a little too easy to be written off as an 'environmentalist' or 'sentimentalist' when a person talks about taking steps to be a good steward of the created world. Unfortunately, the truth is that more and more of us are losing a sense of connectedness to the world around us. And not just to the world around us, but to the creatures, even the people who live around us. We are growing more isolated and more stressed, and we are starting to diminish our care for other things all in the name of efficiency.

Mr. Nichols' book shows us that there is, not surprisingly, a connection to our mental wellness and the time we spend in the creation. Not only is there a connection to our mental wellness based on time in creation, but, our time near water brings even higher levels of brain activity in the places where we need it most. Time spent on or near water has been shown to help rehabilitate those with PTSD and even people who are struggling with addictions. And yet, so few people make time to spend in or near the water.

One thing I was not clear about, but I assume there is at least a corollary relationship, is whether it matters if the water is from a "natural" source like a river or ocean, or if my wife's time in the pool is equally beneficial. My guess is that it is less beneficial, but that it is definitely better than being away from water altogether.

The book ends with what I believe is a tangent from the main thesis, but it is still a powerful point of connection. Mr. Nichols carries blue marbles with him when he speaks, and gives them to his audience. As he shares data about our blue planet and how spending time near the water benefits us, he takes his listeners down a different path with the marble. He encourages listeners and readers to reflect with gratitude for all of the memories we have made in, near, on, or under water, and then to think of one person for whom we are grateful. As we bring the person to mind, he suggests giving them the marble, and telling them how grateful we are for that person.

While it seems a tangent, I believe that it is an important gift to carry for this reason. When we are grateful, not only are we mentally better, but one small point of gratitude can help us to bring our entire life under the sway of gratitude. When we are thankful, we are more considerate, and that level of consideration extends toward every person or thing we encounter. By associating his audience's gratitude for a person with a blue marble that represents the earth, one cannot help but feel a bit of gratitude for the life we have been able to live on this blue planet, and to develop a "blue mind" in the process.

I recommend the book for anyone who cares about our planet and our waterways, and even for those who don't. Because if one doesn't care, maybe taking a look at all of the benefit we glean from this watery world might nudge one to a greater sense of gratitude and care for the gift of water.

May we each find some space to sit near, on, in, or under the water in the days and weeks ahead, and, as a result, may we find ourselves filled with gratitude, hope, peace, rest, and refreshment, so that we can bring our very best selves to this world around us.

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