Water Is… In the Time of Climate Change

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Coastal BC stream

Put simply, the “blue mind” is the mildly meditative state we feel when we’re near — or immersed in — water.

Based on the American bestselling book “Blue Mind” by Wallace J. Nichols, the concept is something many of us already feel and intuitively “know”. As I mention in my book “Water Is…”, moving water—from creating negative ions to the infrasounds it makes—influences the well-being of all life in ways we are just beginning to comprehend.

Zachary Slobig of PrimeMind explains: “Cognitive scientists using the latest in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) are gathering evidence that shows that proximity to water, and even recalling aquatic memories, floods the brain with dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, those happiest of enzymes; and at the same time levels of cortisol — that stress-filled enzyme — plummet. Water seems to trigger the parts of the brain associated with empathy, encouraging a shift from “me” to “we.”

In Slobig’s article, Nichols proclaims that water makes us our best selves and gives us our most vivid experiences. “It’s not simply the matrix of life. It makes life worth living.” I reiterate this in my article “Water Not Only Makes Life Possible—Water Makes Life Wonderful.” In the article I describe several personal experiences I’ve had with water, which helped me strengthen my spirit and joy for the world.

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Nina on the Credit River (photo by Merridy Cox)

Slobig reports that over fifty percent of Americans still deny the existence or importance of climate change. “We are a nation that conquers—not communes with—nature.” This mentality, he says, fails to account for other hard-wired human needs; the biochemistry of the brain, says Nichols in his book, deeply craves awe-inducing contact with the natural world. In my book Water Is… I describe the first time I experienced Niagara Falls:

“When I was ten years old, my family visited Niagara Falls. My dad found a parking spot far away from the falls and, for my little feet, it seemed as though we walked for miles to the falls. the prize was worth it, though. Our destination was the small fenced off promontory adjacent to the Horseshoe Falls, where water cascaded over a pressurized limestone rock cap, sending almost the same height of spray above it. Soaked and in pure bliss, a thrill beat inside me as I stood so close to the falls that I felt as if I could almost touch that smooth green mass of water. Inexplicably drawn to it, I watched that powerful green water spill over the edge with an absurdly calming effect. I imagined myself flying over with it—as I’m sure we all do—and felt exhilarated, terrified and somehow free in it. I was following a river, falling.”—Nina Munteanu, Water Is…

In my article “Spring on the Little Rouge River” I write about my short walk in this park on the edge of suburbia:

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Nina on the Little Rouge River

When I enter the cool forest of cedar, pine, maple and beech, chipmunks scatter and scold me for interrupting their calm. I chuckle and think that I’ve seen more within the space of one minute here than I have in a year in the suburb I currently live in.

The Little Rouge River calls me to sit and listen to its flowing song—a joyful playful symphony of breaths, chortles, cackles and open-throated froth. I scramble down the overhang to the cobbles and rocks. I sit. And still my breath. I find my whole body relax from the tension of the suburban drive. I am home, sighing with the rhythm I’d forgotten. Realigning. Bones with rock. Rock with twig. Twig with root.

The animals no longer scold me. They have resumed their natural rhythm, as I merge into scenery. I notice the huge maple tree above me on the bank overhang. The bank is a tangle of roots; I’d used some of them as steps to get down. They wind a braided network, thick snakes that hold the bank in place. A mysterious never-ending Ouroborous. 

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Maple tree overhanging the Little Rouge River

Science tells me that all the trees of a forest are really one organism, connected by roots and the microorganisms inhabiting them, communicating through the micorrhyzae in the ground and the hundreds of aerosols the trees exhale every second of every day.If you sit long enough in the forest you will start to feel this too. You will breathe it in. And in doing so, you will realize that we are all connected and we are all one.

In a July 6th 2017 article in Tales By Trees entitled “Let the Forest Make You Happier”, Lauren Sedger writes how letting oneself feel awe ultimately leads to kindness and happiness. She starts, of course, with poetry:

stream“Back in 1778, William Wordsworth sat upon a river bank and noticed that ‘an eye made quiet by the power / Of harmony’ offered respite from ‘the fever of the world’. Poets have long known the power of nature to incite awe and cast light upon our musings. Now we have the research to prove that those feelings of awe, like when you marvel at an infinite expanse of treetops, can actually make you feel a lot better.

Sedger cites the study by Jennifer Aaker at Stanford, who showed that “experiencing awe leads to a monopoly of benefits including an expanded sense of time, an increased willingness to help others, a preference for experiences over materials and generally greater life satisfaction.”

The reason for this writes Sedger, “is because when something incites awe it makes us feel smaller, and it throws our life and problems into perspective, which makes us much happier.” Happiness leads to kindness and patience and a whole suite of traits we aspire to having and using.

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Joshua Creek cottage

Open yourself to discovery. Go find Nature, even if it is in the city. Connect with something natural, green and wild. Find and savour the wonder of it.

Find something to love.

When you do, you will find yourself. And that is where you will find resilience.

When we take a moment to appreciate the awe-inspiring aspects of Nature—whether it is simply to stop and watch a bird singing in a tree, the recursive patterns of turbulence in a stream, or the Fibonnacci spiral of a blooming flower—we are stepping outside our mundane selves into a wider sphere of wonder—and connection.

 

nina-munteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

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