Sacred Water, Healing Ocean
The primordial womb of life on Earth has been the Ocean. She is our Great Grandmother. We owe her our deepest gratitude—for out of her creative chemical womb, life emerged. From the simplest of cells, life on Earth awoke, began to respire, produce oxygen, and reproduce, generating the foundation for the complex flow of life. It is with profound awe we look back over the millions of years in which life has evolved within her bounds, creating a grand synchrony among living beings, forces, and elements.
Then, 425 million years ago, life forms crawled out of her mysterious depths, to populate the land—the fungi kingdom, then the first lycopods such as mosses, ferns, and then trees.
Water is the essence of life. In springtime, water begins unthaw and flow again, or the cold winter rains turn to warm nourishing rain. As with many living beings, water is a primary element in our bodies. When we are born, water comprises 78% of our bodies falling to around 60% as adults. Through veins and arteries, water (comprising 90% of blood plasma) assists in delivering oxygen, flushing waste, enabling cell growth and digestion, protecting vital organs like the brain, and lubricating joints and membranes.
In a mirror image, the rivers, creeks, lakes, and wetlands are the veins and arteries of Mother Earth, carrying this precious liquid to all green and living beings. Soil moisture, called "green water," is vital to Earth resilience.[i] When water dries up, life dries up or goes into stasis. Water needs to flow and circulate. When it is trapped, it begins to stagnate, then die.
In the great hydrological cycle, fresh water always runs to the ocean, back home. It then evaporates, condenses, and falls as precipitation over land, once again starting its homeward journey, above ground or through the ground, back to the sea. The ocean covers 71% of the Earth’s body, similar to our own composition, making this a blue planet from space. As the largest ecosystem, the ocean provides 90% of the living space for species on the planet. Yet, it is often the “forgotten part of our planet.”[ii]
The deeper we go, the less we know, says Sylvia Earle, one of the original marine biologists and oceanographers, now 87 years of age. Called “Her Deepness,” she speaks about the “depth” of our ignorance about the ocean. Almost 80% of the ocean is unexplored and likely 90% of the species have not been identified. We know more about the surface of the moon than about the deep ocean!
Humans have only been able to scuba dive into the Twilight Zone of the ocean, about 330 metres deep. At 1000 metres deep, no sunlight penetrates. Yet, many sea creatures in this zone create their own light…called bioluminescence. Some whales, such as narwhals, dive up to 1800 meters deep and elephant seals up to 2300 meters deep. Some creatures like goblin sharks are “living fossils” as descendants of species that existed 125 million years ago. Even in the most extreme conditions, such as the hydrothermal vents, where sea water passes through extremely hot volcanic rocks releasing toxins, life finds a way. On average, the ocean is 3678 metres deep. In the Abyssal Zone at 3990 metres, the temperature is near freezing. The deepest areas are the deep sea trenches called the Hadal Zone, where the tectonic plates meet. The deepest point found in the Mariana Trench is 10,914 metres deep, far deeper than Mount Everest is high. For a great infographic containing this and more information, see The Deep Sea (neal.fun).
Perhaps the old adage “we don’t respect what we don’t know” is true. However, the necessity of ocean health for Earth health and human health is now becoming clear. “A stable and healthy Ocean is critical to the lives of billions of people around the world, as it: generates oxygen; provides food security, climate resilience and storm protection; preserves biodiversity; and creates cultural and economic opportunities for humanity.”[iii] We know now that the ocean is not limitless in its resilience (see documentary Breaking Boundaries by D. Attenborough and J. Rockström).
For instance, the ocean produces over half of the world’s oxygen (every second breath we take), through the photosynthesis of phytoplankton. The ocean also regulates our climate and weather patterns by transporting heat from the equators to the poles.[iv] Water frozen in the glaciers also helps cool the atmosphere. Recently we have become aware that 90% of global heat is absorbed by the ocean, as is 30% of the carbon dioxide, both leading to significant temperature changes, marine heat waves, and acidification changing the ph of the ocean.[v] This impact on oceans has been masked until 40 years ago when we began losing 40% of the sea ice. The ocean is reaching her limit for absorbing heat, one reason for a global temperature rise of 1°.
Coral reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems, where about ¼ of ocean species live, called the “rainforests of the sea.”[vi] “Some estimates say that over 1 billion people depend on food from coral reefs. Reefs as a whole might be worth around $172 billion every year in providing essential services, like food.”[vii] Marine heat waves and acidification are key reasons we are losing coral reefs at an astonishing rate. Between one third to one half of the global coral reefs are severely damaged or have died already. It is predicted that all corals will be threatened by 2050. If we do not limit climate change to 1.5°, they will all be gone between 2070 and 2100. This is a horrendous legacy to leave to our grandchildren/great grandchildren and all human descendants.
Each coral is a polyp who house themselves in calcium carbonate structures, which gradually build up the reef. They are the only living structure visible from space, yet they are fragile. Coral bleaching occurs when the coral colony is stressed and expels its life-giving algae that lives within its tissues, providing its food. If conditions do not improve quickly with the algae returning, the coral starves and dies. Further, absorbing carbon dioxide leads to acidification which impedes coral formation and dissolves existing reefs. Where there is toxic runoff from sewage and farm fertilizers, algae growth then decomposition is stimulated, which consumes too much oxygen, starving other marine life. This creates dead zones, such as in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
In Australia, the home of the Great Barrier Reef, while still growing, has suffered tremendously from marine heat waves, particularly in 2016-2017. Over 50% of the beings who live in the shallow reef are declining in numbers, which is over 500 species, some by 30% or more, qualifying them for threatened status. Within that, 138 species are endangered or critically endangered, many of whom only occur in Australia.
Here in British Columbia, in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest, are glass sponge reefs, which are soft coral reefs, initially formed in the Triassic period and thought to have disappeared 40 million years ago. However, in Howe Sound in the 1980s, these reefs were discovered. A similar reef was found in Hecate Strait between Haida Gwaii and the BC mainland, like others along the Alaska coast. They sequester as much carbon per day as that stored in 3.3 million trees. They are now under threat from proposed undersea oil and gas drilling, despite a current moratorium.[viii] Numerous NGOs are working vigorously to ensure offshore permits are opposed and existing permits voluntarily given up by the companies.
Other coral reef damage has come from boat anchoring and bottom trawling which can decimate a coral reef as well as contribute to significant sea life decline. My daughter Erin spent December in Bali at Blue Corner Conservation, learning coral reef ecology, reef health assessment, then participating in reef restoration. In the area where she was working, reef restoration has been very successful in the absence of significant pollution and heat events. Indigenous groups, young people, and hundreds of NGOs around the world are working like this to help the Ocean heal and regenerate Herself.
Many marine fish stocks have declined by 33%, given that 55% of the ocean is open to industrial fishing, progressively emptying the oceans of life (see documentary Seaspiracy). One of the most encouraging new developments was the COP15 landmark agreement, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which aims to place “30% of the planet [land and waters] and 30% of degraded ecosystems under protection by 2030.”[ix] Bold new agreements and then national policies around the globe (as discussed at IMPAC5 (https://www.impac5.ca/)) are working to mitigate the damage that unrestrained human activities and corporate greed have created. There is hope, when so many are working together as ocean guardians and water protectors.
“With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea.” — Sylvia Earle
What are other ways we can respond to the water and oceans around us? Water has a spirit and is very responsive. Many religions and spiritualities have considered water a primary life force and one of the four primary elements of earth, water, air and fire.
Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto states in The Hidden Messages in Water, like water “moving, changing, flowing—this is what life is all about.” “To understand water is to understand the cosmos, the marvels of nature, and life itself.” From Emoto’s experiments, water copies information and responds to vibrational messages. He found that words, music, thoughts, and images presented to water formed different kinds of crystals, which he was able to capture when the water was frozen after the experience.
Beautiful words and images created amazing crystals (seen here) whereas harsh words, music and images created either distorted or fragmented crystals, or none at all. Polluted water or tap water that has been heavily treated does not form crystals (Toyko tap water seen here). He says water has memory and transfers information, not just the amplification of sound. His conclusion is that how we approach water and relate to it can help to strengthen the health (molecular structure) of water. If we were to live with a healthy and loving spirit, he says, this would ripple out from our cells and consciousness to all living systems, permeating water. In particular, he demonstrates how unhealthy water responds to prayer (see https://masaru-emoto.net/en/crystal-3/).
These views connect to the concept that water is sacred. Many spiritual traditions use water both symbolically as well as physically for cleansing, purifying, and nourishing, whether Hindu pilgrimages to wash in the Ganges River, Muslim washing before prayers, Christian baptism, or Indigenous rain dances calling the rain to kiss newly planted crops. Sacred springs exist globally from Ireland to Japan, where a rich mineral hot spring or natural spring aids communicating with the spirit world as well as bestowing the blessing of wellness. Jung considered dreams of crossing over water as a symbol of transformation…which our world much needs.
Over the coming month, think about how you can honour water. Create a ritual for yourself (or a group), which could include:
Ritual Bathing: ritual washing in a bath that is done mindfully with special cleansing Epsom salts (as a salt water bath), oils like lavender or cedar, and/or flower petals, while offering gratitude to water;
Moon Water: speaking loving thoughts to, or wrapping beautiful words around, a jar of water and/or setting water under the full moon for three nights to enhance its sacred power, which can then be poured ritually on the earth or into a river or ocean accompanied by greetings and well wishes;
Water Blessing: pouring a glass of water and taking time to feel gratitude for all the qualities of water, learning how it is to flow through life, then drinking and savouring these qualities of water, which can become you;
Water Origins: tracing the pathway your drinking water takes to get to you and meditating on how the source and pathway of water has helped create you, and what you might need to do to ensure its continued health and longevity; and/or
Beach Ritual: collecting some shells and stones at the ocean’s edge and creating a sacred circle, placing offerings (biodegradable) within the circle in which you can sit as well. Lighting a candle and meditating on the blessings of Ocean and Her health. Offering your blessings. Dismantle the circle when you leave.
Thanks to Terence Pieters for his amazing ocean photography. See https://www.orangerocks.co.za/. Used with permission.
Thanks to Erin Christensen for her gorgeous photo images of coral reefs.
Coral reef bleaching image is from Earth.org.
[i]Wang-Erlandsson, L., Tobian, A., van der Ent, R.J. et al. A planetary boundary for green water. Nat Rev Earth Environ 3, 380–392 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-022-00287-8 [ii] IMPAC Bulletin, February 18, 2023, International Institute for Sustainable Development, enb.iisd.org/international-marine-protected-areas-congress-impac5 [iii] Ibid. [iv]Credit to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). [v] https://marine-conservation.org/why-protect-the-ocean/ [vi] https://www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/planet-earth/oceans/coral-reef-destruction [vii] https://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/saltwater-science/why_are_coral_reefs_important/ [viii] https://thetyee.ca/News/2023/03/08/Rare-BC-Reefs-Fight-Climate-Change/ [ix]United Nations Environment Program (2022, December 20). COP15 ends with landmark biodiversity agreement. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/cop15-ends-landmark-biodiversity-agreement.