Article Appears in The Wayfarer Vol 3 Iss 4 | Winter 2014 | Visit our Shop to Order»
by Staff Writer Jamie K. Reaser
“Blue Mind is, deep down, about human curiosity,
knowing ourselves more and better.”
—Céline Cousteau in Blue Mind
I’ve twice had the honor of being in the audience while Wallace J. Nichols (‘J’) spoke on the topic of blue mind. The first time was in 2013, at London’s Royal Geographical Society, when he joined two other Earth Watch lecture series panelists in exploring “Why Emotion Matters in Conservation Science.” The second opportunity occurred just three month ago, when he addressed students and faculty in the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture. My impression of him was the same on both occasions: this is a man in love.
It would be hard to say exactly what J is in love with—the list might be quite long. Stories about his two daughters, wife, and father will cause tears to well up on the surface of his eyes. Watch him while he talks about sea turtles or the people with whom he has shared a career in sea turtle conservation and you’ll notice that his voice softens, his cheeks flush, and his throat constricts. His heart is choosing the words. And then, there is water—everything about water. To J, water is muse, spiritual teacher, and refuge.
J is not your average scientist. He is a wayfarer, a captain of the Earth Ship, charting the way for us to become more fully human by re-claiming and celebrating our relationship with water, the element in which our lives took form.
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 is more impassioned missive to humanity than technical treatise on the linkage between hydrogen and hydroxyl ions. Largely for that reason, the book made the New York Time’s Best Seller list within a month of its July 2014 release. In Blue Mind, J draws on recent scientific findings to explain the impacts that proximity to water can have on human cognition and physiology, including a sense of ease and greater connection with other people and the natural world. His personal stories—punctuated with wonderment and awe—inspire the reader to reflect on the depth of his or her own relationship with water.
On every page, J beckons, “Come in, the water is fine.” He hopes that we will release our pathologic grip on the shoreline. He hopes we will re-member that we are water creatures (the average adult body is 50- 65% water) and engage in a relationship with water that helps heal our personal and collective ills—the ailments of Western Culture that result in toxification of this water planet.
Some 72% of the Earth is covered in water. Water quality studies indicate that at least one third of the freshwater bodies in the United States are polluted, and every year at least one-quarter of our beaches are closed due to pollution. Worldwide, approximately fifty percent of the ground water is not suitable for consumption. Every minute, two to three children die of a water-borne disease. Falling in love with water is a matter of survival.
Some scientists might think that J has lost his marbles; being openly emotional about one’s research topic is often considered “unprofessional.” J, however, gives his marbles away freely. Blue marbles are J’s hallmark. Meet him and you are likely to walk away with an iridescent, deep blue, glass orb. If given the opportunity, look into it. Begin to re-imagine the possible for water, for humans, for humanity.
For more information on J’s work, please visit www.wallacejnichols.org. This is a place for conversation around all things blue.
Jamie K. Reaser has worked around the world as a conservation ecologist, environmental negotiator, and wilderness rites-of-passage guide. She is the author of several books; most recently, Wild Life: New and Selected Poems. She lives in Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.