What I Learned at the Inspire Speakers Series

How many of us have experienced peacefulness and relaxation, or maybe even a spiritual connection when we are near water?

I am a scientist by training, but my passion is water…  I’m inspired by its beauty, stimulated by its playfulness and energy, and calmed and soothed by its healing forces.  So I was captivated by GBA’s recent Inspire Speakers Series lecturer, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, and his book, Blue Mind.  Nowhere else have I seen scientific methods applied to show why water relaxes and inspires us.  Sure, we all intuitively know that it does these things and seek it out, but who knew there were real biochemical and neuro-physiological explanations for this?  Using the field of neuroscience to study the human brain and how it functions when we are around water, Dr. Nichols showed us the science behind how water causes our nervous, endocrine, and brain functions to react positively to water, pictures of water, and even the color blue.

This scientific data provides the sound science needed for effective communication necessary within conservation movements.

Cheryl and her husband on the water.

Cheryl and her husband on the water.

To make this connection even more personal during his lecture, Dr. Nichols asked each audience member to share an individual memory of water with a fellow attendee.  It was amazing how each of us “lit” up with happiness as we described special moments we have experienced on or near water – family moments, romantic moments, moments of awe and wonder.  Dr. Nichols believes being near water creates a “blue mind” that is relaxed and free from the toxic stress of our society, which contributes to diseases, mental illnesses, and a focus on “me” rather than “we.”  He contrasts this mildly meditative state – the Blue Mind – with two other states: the Red Mind (an overstimulated state characterized by stress, anxiety, and fear) and the Gray Mind (a numb, lethargic, and demotivated state).  He writes that the Red and Gray Minds are products of our modern lifestyles, while the Blue Mind is a natural state that we all instinctively know, but that many of us have forgotten or are too busy to rediscover.

Although most of us are probably aware when we are stressed or anxious and in need of a “blue” vacation, Dr. Nichols writes in his book that even focusing on a picture of water can soothe our cluttered minds and allow for an increase in focus and concentration, an increase in our ability to connect to others, and even an increase in the ability to heal emotional and physical disorders.  This is not just a subjective observation, but rather is demonstrated by scientific experiments using tools like EEGs, MRIs, and fMRIs.  This data provides the sound science needed for effective communication necessary within conservation movements.  This is termed neuro-conservation and I take it to mean that healthy nature is good medicine. Although the scientific data is extremely valuable, Dr. Nichols believes that some environmental movements can cause people to feel guilt and stress and that using lots of statistics and numbers is not always an effective way to make a point.  He would rather encourage an environmental movement that utilizes emotion and how we feel when we are in nature…better to invoke the positive and stir souls.

Cheryl and her fellow water lovers at GBA's Blue Mind book club.

Cheryl and her fellow water lovers discussed Dr. Nichols’ research at GBA’s Blue Mind book club.

Dr. Nichols concluded his lecture with the story of his Blue Marble Project, in which he presented each of us with a blue marble, a beautiful symbol of our watery planet.  He assigned “homework,” asking each of us to share Random Acts of Blue Gratitude Around The World.  We are to give our blue marble away to another person as a token of gratitude while sharing our own stories.  By invoking this emotion and our appreciation, we engage others to once more feel their strong connections to our watery Earth and remind ourselves that only we can protect the planet’s resources.

By invoking this emotion and our appreciation, we engage others to once more feel their strong connections to our watery Earth and remind ourselves that only we can protect the planet’s resources.

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