Nesting my toes under the burning sand, I wondered what makes the beach so special. We flock to it every chance we get, but why? Is it that humming noise, the constant sound of the crashing waves, or that salty smell in the air? Or does gazing into the horizon provide us with a calm and serenity that we’re unable to experience in our daily lives?
At the beach, we watch a spectacle unravel that we can’t quite find anywhere else. That’s what it felt like, anyway, that October morning on Murrays Beach – a long stretch of white sand and turquoise water tucked away between the bushes of Booderee National Park.
The warmth of the sun of my back and the taste of the sea on my tongue, I watched seagulls dip their claws into the water before flying away. I stared at a woman running into the ocean, her eyes glowing with excitement, like she was entering an alternative universe, one that swallowed her up and returned her to Earth once she’d absorbed a sufficient dose of happiness.
I believe I felt very much the same – energised, relaxed and content. A world away from the stresses of work and the cacophonous sounds of Sydney.
Jervis Bay – the jewel of New South Wales
Gilles and I had come to Jervis Bay to escape the the city for a weekend. Only a couple hours drive away from Sydney, I was told it had some of the most beautiful beaches in New South Wales. The bay area, including its surrounding national park, home to Australia’s only Aboriginal-owned Botanic Garden, is filled with secretive beaches boasting clear water and the perfect shade of white sand.
Jervis Bay is also famous for dolphin and whale sightings (sadly I didn’t see any) and a favourite amongst sport lovers, who can enjoy a range of activities including kayaking, windsurfing, jet skiing and other water sports.
One of the bay’s main draws is Hyams Beach, a long stretch of fine white sand, the type you’d find in an hourglass.
Layers of ocean crash into the sand, revealing pools of varying shades of blue – like a droplet of blue ink had entered the ocean and diluted itself unevenly. Then there’s the neon green moss wrapped around rocks like pillowcases.
When I returned to Sydney on the Sunday, I couldn’t stop thinking about the sea, and why it made me feel a certain way. As a child, my parents wouldn’t usually choose to holiday at the beach, favouring mountainous landscapes instead. I’d spent a fair amount of time by the ocean during my backpacking trip in South East Asia, but I hardly took the time to reflect and try to understand the impact of the seaside environment on my wellbeing.
So I Googled it, and came across this article from Wallace J. Nichols, a field scientist who’s dedicated his career to studying the human-water connection. He coined the word Blue Mind (also the title of his book which I’m very much looking forward to reading) to explain this phenomenon.
According to neuroscience, we can alter our brain’s positive neural pathways by being near or exposed to water. This allows us to experience a meditative state filled with calm, peace and contentment with the present moment. In order words, our connection with the ocean makes the pursuit of happiness much easier.
When we’re at the beach, we don’t just exist – we live.