Author, Speaker, Addiction & Relinquishment Consultant, Relinquishee, Adoptee, MPE

The Man Who Returned Me to My Mind:
A Tribute to Blue Mind Scientist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols

 “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

~ English-American poet W.H. Auden

I wrote previously: “It is water that can lead us to attachment and connection. And to love.

Today I would like to add: “And to our sound mind.”

It is impossible to talk about the influence of the author and marine biologist, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols without talking about one of his greatest contributions, and a breakthrough in my own personal daily practice of philosophy and spirituality, called Blue Mind (The Blue Mind Theory). In short, Blue Mind[1] refers to the mildly meditative state people fall into when they are near, in, under or on water. This theory highlights the beneficial connection between people and blue water, and how it can improve our well-being, creativity, and productivity.

I’ve always had a feeling that being near water did me a lot of good, but it wasn’t until I read it confirmed in Dr. Nichols’ work that my biggest “aha!” moment happened. And for that I am immensely grateful; I consider coming across Dr. Nichols’ work – and meeting him eventually – one of the most formative events of my life.

I had no idea that I would ever write a post such as this one, as Dr. Nichols (“J” as he was known to many) was one of those figures in my life that seemed ever-present despite the fact that we didn’t correspond nearly often enough (though we shared many values and experiences, and we were both adopted). But he was someone I admired dearly and to think that he’s gone seems absolutely impossible; I’ve been struggling with writing this post for days, actually, because it seems something inside is struggling to accept that he passed.

In my professional life, I had the pleasure to collaborate with Dr. Nichols in leveraging Blue Mind science and practices to assist those in recovery from substance use and/or behavioral disorders. This was very important work, as I’ve learned that his methods can be significantly beneficial and universal for the populations who have a hard time buying into the strict methods of 12-step meetings or other recovery, but can also be used as complementary to those who do abide by 12 steps (or other recovery). One of the biggest struggles that people have upon getting sober is the ability to quiet their mind. You take the substances away – and all the unhealthy rituals that go with it – and you end up with a lot of empty space that must be filled with something. I’m not just talking about boredom (although that one is particularly difficult to solve), but I’m talking about the going-ons in your head that many recovery methods say should be filled with some form of meditation, whether that’s classic body-scanning meditation or prayer or something else.

For minds as busy as the ones of people with trauma, who often have a hard time with intrusive thoughts, meditation might sound as the worst possible solution. “Do you mean that I’m just supposed to sit here and suspend my thinking? And do what?” I’ve heard – and experienced – varieties of this question enough times to know that it’s a prevalent and an important one. That question is only part of the struggle.  The second part of the mediation dilemma has always been: “How? How do I get myself into a state that is conducive to quieting my mind? What sort of optimal circumstances do I need to get there?”

This is why for me as a professional discovering Blue Mind has been revolutionary. The Blue Mind theory is one that is absolutely relatable to everyone, and I could “prescribe” it to my clients immediately. There’s not a person on this earth who doesn’t understand the power of water. And to know that Blue Mind is so easily attainable and free, and that sometimes all you need to get in the mood is a glass of water (or even a poster of the ocean, or even just the color blue you can stare at), resolves any objections as to accessibility of meditation as a way of finding peace within yourself. As a way of fighting stress. When I read about Dr. Nichols’ findings, I instantly understood what he was talking about, and I was immediately inspired to share my findings with clients. For that, I will never not be grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: A “Bluescription” from Wallace J. Nichols.

As for my personal life, his influence and his discoveries seemed like a piece of the puzzle that’s been missing. I grew up near the water, and today I live by the lake of my childhood. Even as a young boy I’d find solace and a special kind of meditative peacefulness while on the water, and as a man I’ve spent years sailing (still do!) and watching the sunlight reflect off of the dancing waves. You don’t have to tell me twice that water is something that helps quiet a busy mind and that it is an endless source of inspiration.

As a relinquishee, I’ve always been interested in connection and reconnection, looking for pieces of the puzzle that would make sense being put together, such as when I learned about my biological mother’s problems with substance use. I didn’t know that when I settled into my house on the lake as an adult, I was doing another type of reconnection. Yes, I knew that I was going to live in my most beloved spot on earth and I deliberately sought that estate, but I didn’t know yet that I was reconnecting with my own peace of mind by coming back to the body of water. I experienced real happiness by the lake as a child and while my return was sentimental, I didn’t know I was also returning to my own Blue Mind, to the place I consider the closest to a spiritual (relational, if you prefer) experience I’ve had.

Reading about Dr. Nichols’ findings and figuring out how to apply them to my work with clients clicked something for me as well, and I experienced that “Aha!” moment – and the puzzle locked in place. For that, I am grateful beyond words, because in some ways it feels that Dr. Nichols’ named something for me that was always in the back of my head and that I longed to name for as long as I remember. Meeting Dr. Nichols’ and learning about his work gave me a feeling of instant recognition and ultimately a gift of belonging, of a confirmation that I was on the right track and that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Thank you, Dr. Nichols for returning me – and so many others – to the quiet waters of our mind.

On a more personal note, I’d also like to thank J for, well, himself.  Who he was.  His essence.  His identity.  And for sharing himself with me and so many others. I have learned so much from you, and have incorporated your Blue Mind wisdom and teachings into my life’s philosophy and daily actions in service to that philosophy. You are already horribly missed.

As you wished so many of your fellows: “I wish you water.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: Navigating my own Blue Mind in the Sir Francis Drake Chanel, British Virgin Islands, December 2023.

 

Read other blogs about Blue Mind and Dr. Wallace J. Nichols here:

BLUE MIND AND ADDICTION RECOVERY

BLUE MIND AND RELINQUISHEES/ ADOPTEES

MY BLUE MIND EXPERIENCES: RECASTING THE NARRATIVE

IS SECULAR SPIRITUALITY EVEN POSSIBLE? FINDING YOUR BLUE MIND

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[1] How Blue Mind Works

The presence of a large body of water emits negatively charged ions into the environment, promoting the release of serotonin in the brain and improving our moods. The senses of sight, sound, and feel all contribute to the benefits of water:

  • Visual stimulation: The color blue has been associated with feelings of calm and peace. The sight of water, especially blue water, can create a sense of tranquility.
  • Auditory stimulation: The sound of water can be soothing and help reduce stress levels. It can also promote mindfulness by encouraging individuals to focus on the present moment.
  • Tactile stimulation: Interacting with water through activities such as swimming or wading can provide a sense of relaxation and rejuvenation.

Water can have several positive effects on our mental and physical health:

  • Improved mood: The release of serotonin induced by the presence of water can lead to improved moods and overall well-being.
  • Decreased stress: By decreasing cortisol levels, water can help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Increased creativity and problem-solving: The involuntary attention triggered by water’s changing yet consistent nature can enhance creative thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Compassion expansion: Water can serve as a source of awe, expanding an individual’s compassion and empathy towards others.
  • Physical health benefits: Staying hydrated is crucial for various bodily functions, including digestion, nutrient transportation, and maintaining body temperature.

To experience the benefits of Blue Mind, consider incorporating activities involving water into your daily routine:

  • Visit a nearby body of water (e.g., pool, river, or ocean) and spend time interacting with it through activities like swimming or walking along the shoreline.
  • Create a calming environment in your home or workspace by adding elements representing water, such as an aquarium or a fountain. Observe the aquatic life for at least 10 minutes to lower blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day to maintain optimal physical health benefits.

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