What the Ocean Taught Me About Myself

July 31, 2023 Joanna Satterwhite

Sometimes, the chaos of life feels so insurmountable that taking advice from another human just won't do—the wisdom needed is beyond the scope of mere mortals. In times like these, a vaster source is necessary. If you're secular and starting to get antsy at the sound of this, don't worry. I'm not talking about your typical humanoid deity. I'm talking about the ocean.

'It's Always Ourselves We Find In the Sea'

I learned, "It's always ourselves we find in the sea."1

Two weeks ago, I took a trip to the beach. The motive for the trip wasn't spiritual guidance, but I was offered it nevertheless, and I'm in no position to turn such guidance down. My life is in an odd space—not a crossroads, but a bus stop, waiting for a vehicle that has no posted schedule. My mind has capitalized on this obscurity, using it as an opportunity to examine forgotten caverns: my childhood, my relationship with my family, and my own intrapersonal dynamic, to name a few. It's been a whirlwind, and it's been all I can do to weather the storm with relative composure.

It was in this vein that I arrived at the beach. On the first morning, I rose at dawn and wandered down to the ocean. I drank my coffee with my feet in the waves and stood there long after finishing, watching the water and occasionally talking to it. Without expressly meaning to, I repeated this ritual almost every day, and at week's end, I felt as though I'd gained a foothold in my life again. What follows are three lessons I learned from the ocean. 

Lessons From the Ocean 

  1. The ocean is vast enough to contain all things: Something I have grappled with for a long time is my plethora of emotions. In my mid-20s, I learned to cope with the negative ones by dispelling them upon sight. This has never been a durable solution, though, as they always return. Watching the ocean on this trip, I thought about all of the creatures the ocean contains. There are beautiful and delightful creatures as well as vicious and ghastly ones. This inherent contradiction is contained without the need to expel one set or the other. Since leaving the beach, I've been playing with this idea. When sadness, anger, or despair rears its ugly head, I haven't been chasing it off. I've been containing it and letting it exist. Like the ocean, I know that the presence of a malignant or unproductive thought or emotion doesn't mean I am that. I simply contain it, and I have enough space within me that its existence doesn't threaten the more beautiful thoughts and emotions.
  2. The ocean is cyclical and doesn't fear its ebbs: I have a tendency to fight my natural rhythm. For as long as I can remember, my creativity and energy have ebbed and flowed, and for as long as I can remember, I have resisted and resented the ebbs. At the heart of this resistance has been fear that the ebb will never evolve back into the flow, but watching the ocean has reminded me that rhythm requires both. The waves approach and recede. The tide comes in and out. The ocean ebbs fearlessly, knowing that it's the very act of pulling back that allows it to surge back forward. There is nothing to fear in the subsiding, nor is there anything to become attached to in the swelling. The ebb and flow together constitute the ocean's brilliance. 
  3. The ocean is so powerful; it need not always show it: The younger sister to two older brothers, I've been fighting my entire life to prove my toughness. This has mostly paid dividends, but it's exhausted me, and it's pulled my focus away from any power I might actually have to the power I am presenting. On this most recent beach trip, I learned a different kind of power. I have always entered the ocean humbly, and this time was no different. Within the first hour of swimming in the slack-tide, I was stung by a jellyfish. I like to think this was the ocean reminding me that even in tranquility, it could bite. The rest of the week, the water was nothing but kind and nourishing to me, but I understood that this softness didn't preclude power. As I drifted about in the serene waves, I thought that perhaps I, too, could soften without fear of losing my bite. 


  1. Cummings, E.E. (1956). maggie and milly and molly and may.

APA Reference
Satterwhite, J. (2023, July 31). What the Ocean Taught Me About Myself , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Joanna Satterwhite

Joanna is a writer and teacher based in Atlanta. Find her on Substack and Instagram

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