Wallace J Nichols

The Water Man: reshaping the water narrative through the crucial wonderful « Blue Mind »

 One-of-a-kind Dr Wallace J. Nichols, Marine biologist with degrees in economics, Spanish, policy, wildlife ecology and evolutionary biology, says he wanted more than science but « a problem-solving toolkit ». The core of his motivation is to reshape the water narrative, restore that value equation, not just its economic and ecological benefits, but the emotional value of water. Lover of new unique things, feeling « itchy » with redundancy, the author of Blue Mind (and creator of Blue Mind Movement), feels water like « home » since very young. The forest is made of water, says who is all about flow, from the freedom to think to the freedom to do what it takes to preserve all wild waters and what he calls ‘the Seven forms of water’.  

“I was quiet and introverted, and around people, I was just uneasy and uncomfortable. But whenever I was in or under the water, I felt at home. Then I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist because I could live that feeling as a career. And as I went along, I realized I didn’t want to just study. I wanted to be useful to the water. I wanted to be a problem solver, not a problem describer. Who picks research up and does the work to create the change and solve the problems? I wanted to do both.

« As far as my academic preparation, I tried to fill those spaces in. So I have a degree in biology, in Spanish, in economics and policy, wildlife ecology and evolutionary biology. And if you put that all together, it’s a problem-solving toolkit ».

Emotion and Neuroconservation

“I realized the big thing that was missing and was so frustrating in academia was the emotional piece. You were told to leave that part out because it wasn’t serious or it wasn’t scientific. And it is serious. The reason I signed up in the first place was that emotional connection, 100%. My whole life was being driven by that emotional connection

“That led me to explore the neuropsychology aspects of this connection with nature and water. For the past 15 years, I’ve been doing that in addition to studying sea turtles and doing things with plastic and marine protected areas. 

“The Blue Mind work has grown out of noticing that that was completely missing from our toolkit, in terms of restoring and protecting lakes and rivers and oceans and forests. So that’s the combination of work now is conservation biology, but also what I call neuro conservation, which is connecting neuropsychology to the restoration of the natural world.

I feel rich when I have intellectual freedom and I can think of something, imagine it, and start doing it without depending on other people who don’t understand. I’ve been in roles where I was a senior scientist and I couldn’t do anything because there was so much bureaucracy. 

« I walked away and I decided I can’t go back into that box in any form. So I started crowdfunding my salary, it gives me a lot of freedom to be creative and just do things that I know are good. I can get a lot done ten times more than I would if I was stuck in somebody’s box. And that feels good. That’s more important than money to me.  I think some of my work is more within the academic confines, but some of it allows for the poetry and the art to be woven together with psychology and neuroscience« .


Blue Mind’s mission

“First and foremost, we undervalue water in all of its contributions, especially the emotional benefits of water. We don’t teach that in school. We don’t really talk about it. And when we undervalue nature or we undervalue each other, bad things always happen

“The same thing happens for nature, especially for water. And so that’s the foundation of the motivation for me, is to fix that value equation, tell a better water story. Not just the one that talks about the ecological and economic benefits, but the emotional benefits, the spiritual benefits, social benefits. So that’s the foundation to the conversation.

« Recognizing that the trees outside are made of water, the grass is made of water, the wildlife is made of water. We are made of water. We were born from water. It’s not just one little niche of the conversation; it’s the whole conversation. In fact, if you don’t understand that, let’s spend a little time until you do. 

« And that’s not a poetic thought only, it’s a simple fact. And somehow we don’t get that in school. So how do we create a new story? How do we create the new water cycle that includes human well-being, and how do we get that to become knowledge for everybody? 

« This is an ancient idea, that water is medicine. Every culture, every spiritual tradition for all of human history has told that story. Now we have to bring it back. Every sacred text has some reference to blue mind. We’re just giving it a refresh and a name that it didn’t have and backing it up with science for those who desire and need that backup. Water is good for us, for creativity and it calms us down and it connects us to each other and it supports healthy compassion, can make you feel more courageous when you need it ». 

The Seven Forms of Water

« When I talk about water, I’m talking about wild water, of course, the water that flows in rivers and creeks and gathers in ponds and lakes, and of course the ocean and waterfalls in ice, snow and ice and clouds and fog. That’s all water. But also the water in our homes, domesticated water in the tubs, in the pipes and the tanks and the sinks and the showers and the pools and the spas and the hoses and the sprinklers, and then the urban water, which would be the fountains and the urban waterfronts and all the different ways water is used in towns and cities, which isn’t quite domestic and it isn’t wild. It’s this special kind of urban water so important to life in towns and cities.

« Then it gets a little more, slightly more esoteric. The virtual water would be music and poetry and art and paintings and films, songs about water and poems about water are a form of blue mind. All that makes the wild water portable. 

« The feeling of awe, a painting makes that feeling portable. So you can hang it on your wall and feel the ocean through artwork, through a song about water, through Vivaldi, through Pablo Neruda, through anyone who has artistically made nature portable. I call them the seven forms of water »

« Then there’s imaginary, the water that you see when you close your eyes and remember your childhood or your walk yesterday, or even imagining water you’ve never actually seen. We carry that imaginary water everywhere we go, and then the embodied water. So that would be the green space, is all water, mostly water, 90% water.

« If you’ve ever experienced a forest fire, you’ve seen the removal of the water, the evaporation of the water in the reduction of the green space. It really emphasizes how much of our forests and our plants and our meadows and our wetlands are water. In fact, that’s maybe why we call it forest bathing, because it’s bathing, because the forest is made of water

« And then metaphoric water, which is a little different from imaginary or virtual water. And it’s sort of how water creates metaphor and how it is the greatest source of metaphor in language. I ask people, think of your favorite water metaphor, and then once they get going, get flowing ». 

Bluescriptions

« These water metaphors, even in science, are useful. It helps us explain new things. Metaphor is so powerful for being creative and thinking of new things. So when I talk about water, I’m not just about wild water. It’s all these other depictions and forms. 

« And I’d love walking through that with people and having them take notes in their own life and realize when they put on paper all of their water in those seven forms, it’s an incredible list. My life is water in all of these forms. And from my house to my ideas to my imagination, to my metaphors to my memory. 

« I call them Bluescriptions. I can give you a blue scription. You can give me a Bluescription. We can give our neighbors Bluescriptions. We don’t need permission from the doctor or the therapist to say, let’s do this little exercise and come up with your plan, like a very bespoke plan for who you are and where you are right now. 

« That you can say I’m going to practice Blue Mind every day in some form. And I’ve seen that it works. There’s clinical research, usually compartmentalized into float tanks and blue space, or walks in urban blue space or green space. But in reality, life is lived in this big mess. When I work with people or groups, I try to do this blue scription exercise that I think is much more personal and as a result, maybe more likely to have some efficacy in their lives ».

« The seven forms of water, as the seven ages of Blue Mind, start with birth and goes through death. So you can imagine this sort of three-dimensional matrix that creates your potential Bluescription. And as you get older water plays a different role. Birth plays the lover, then the fighter, the justice, then ebb and flow is kind of when we need water for healing, mentally and physically, and then death. That’s a simple framework borrowed from Shakespeare’s play. All is a stage.

« When you’re a little kid, play is what water is all about. The lover, the fighter, and the justice: you’re falling in love with people, with places, with ideas, things you care about. You’re fighting for the people, places, and ideas you care about. And then the next middle age is the justice, where you’re responsible for the people, the places, and the ideas. Soyou need to be creative in solving problems. And we need water to keep us creative and resilient. Then ebb and flow is when chronologically tends to come later in life. Then, of course, at the end of life, water plays a role in memorialization, mourning and grief. 

« Many people imagine that they want the people they love to gather by the water. And they’ve even been exploring the possibility of just a water-based death. So if you know you’re going to die, why not do that floating in water rather than in a bed? I would sign up for that. That would be the perfect circle. You come back to where you come from. Yeah, it’s not dust to dust. I think it’s water to water. And if logistically it made sense, I think I’d rather be floating in a warm, salty tub, maybe with the people I love by my side when I took my last breath and drifted away. 

« If you go to your water to take care of yourself, that’s great. Now go find someone who needs it, just go get them and take them and get in the water, or go do that activity. It’s not just me. It’s us. It’s we. And always thinking who do you know that needs it? And that’s how the movement builds ».

 

Ph: Courtesy Wallace J Nichols – Blue Mind – , Rachel Moore and (for Outside Magazine) Jeff Lipsky. 

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