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'What lies (beneath) us?... 'What lies within us?'

'We think we understand the rules when we become adults, but what we really experience is a narrowing of the imagination' 

(David Lynch)


There is an intersection, a point of convergence where the sea and human sensibilities overlap. The sea does not end abruptly at the tide line on the shore but flows continuously in our veins, literally and figuratively. Science explains that salt air enters our lungs. We exchange atoms and molecules. It peaks and troughs through our emotional intelligences and roars in our hearts, minds and souls. It has danced in the imaginations of human beings for all time. Over the years I have grown increasingly curious about the 'truth' of old sea myths and legends, and separating fantastical 'human'  imaginings from genuine possibility. Which of these legends may be rooted in aquatic truths versus what is just a projection of human imagination. What is the nature of this 'dance' between us and why does it even matter?


I surveyed the 'adult' members of my family recently. I prefaced the question with an acknowledgment of its unusual nature, then blurted 'Do you believe in Mermaids or are you open to the possibility of the existence of Mermaids?' I assume from their reactions they feared some Sea Fever really affected my thinking. A rational and conservative 'No!' was the answer I received. I tried pushing a little harder for a moment of genuine consideration and was still met with the anticipated response 'No... I don't really'. I wonder if I had respectfully asked these same (very much) loved ones, 'Do you believe in the possibility of life on other planets or galaxies?', would they be able to dismiss the proposition with the same level of earnest conviction. And while the scope and scale of 'space' may not be directly comparable to the water world of our blue planet, I would argue it poses an interesting question when considered in comparison.  But indulge me if you will and let me explain how I arrived here. 


I meet some very interesting people in my line of work. I have met my share of old salts and always found myself taking the opportunity to ask them if they are 'believers'. I suspect they find me curious.  A pang of jealousy invariably creeps over me during these interactions. I long for their courage, and the opportunity that courage must afford. (I'm worse in the company of divers. Oh the bravery! The freedom! The oneness with the sea!) I ask them this same question because I assume (perhaps erroneously) they have a more intimate connection with the truth than I could ever hope to glimpse from land. A couple of these sailor men and women confessed (much to my delight) they glimpsed a flash or heard a melody on some solitary moonlit night. At some point during these conversations I start to reflect on why I keep asking this question.


This feeling bubbled up again recently when I binge-watched the Netflix documentary 'Mer-People'. Curiously a wistful feeling swept over me, (perhaps even a pang of jealousy?). These self-ordained 'Mer people' appear to be unquestioning believers. If you haven't watched the show, a brief synopsis is that it follows the very real community of human-esque 'mermaids', who mermaid professionally for a living. It is a highly competitive, athletic environment and a technicolour dream coat of fish scales and mermaid tails,  the foundation of which surely underpins many a childhood fantasy. And it's big bucks! I confess I sometimes seriously ponder if my Merchant gig doesn't work out if I could become a Weeki Wachee Mermaid?


I arrived at my current 'working' philosophy shortly after I left my old day job. I was walking the beach alone one day trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life, and I stumbled across a fish washed up on the sand. Upon closer inspection, I got the shock of my life when I discovered it had a 'unicorn horn'! I blinked a few times and then pondered the enormity of my discovery. Had I just discovered the world's first Unicorn Fish? I hurriedly reached for my mobile camera, and snapped a shot and hurried home. I showed my husband who immediately called his family for a positive identification (as they are seasoned fisher people). Much to my disappointment they told me it was 'just an old leather jacket' (A fairly prolific fish available year round in Australian waters). After I bounced back from my disappointment I started wondering why I didn't know about this and how on earth could there be a fish that looked like a unicorn and why? 


The same shocking discoveries kept happening to me. More questions arose. I discovered the world of  Sea Urchins and fell deeply in love. A concealed candy store of the most deliciously perfect coloured patterns hidden in plain sight. But why? Why would they be so heavily patterned only to be eternally concealed?  But I think my mind was finally blown open when I read the book Quest of the Curly Tailed Horses by Noel Monkemon and his description of the teeming microscopic life of the sea. Invisible but arguably more functionally refined and sophisticated than its conspicuous counterparts (which includes us - hard to believe I know!). What else was invisible to us? Or at least invisible to the closed mind.


Australian photographer Kara Rosenlund created a piece called 'Sirens', and the feminine consciousness she captures in the Tasmanian Waters is palpable and very much alive.  Looking at this photo I wondered 'What are the chances that almost every past and present culture attributes some minor variation to a Mermaid or Siren myth? Mere-Maids, Sirens, Sea Nymphs, Melusine, Winged goddesses. Water Sprites. How could older independent civilisations that weren't connected in the way we are now, have simultaneously arrived at the same idea of Mer Folk.  Word of Mouth is not a plausible explanation. Between many of these cultures there was never any convergence. The roots must go deeper. It must have a broader metaphysical explanation, originating either from within or outside us.


But I understand this reasoning may not be sufficient, so I began looking for hard evidence. 


And what I did discover was the evidence of what we simply 'don't know' is compelling.

"The ocean remains poorly understood"

So what do we know? Well according to NOAA, (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the ocean is 'the largest living space on our planet covering nearly 70% of the earth's surface'. It is not 'Static'. Most shocking... 


"We have only explored five percent of our world's ocean. That means that 95 percent of our ocean is unknown".


And of this 5%, NOAA explains, the knowledge predominantly involves 'shallower waters'. What could exist within the depths of our unmapped oceans? What possible cures? What histories? If I was a betting woman I would say there is a good chance that there are a lot more types of unicorn fish existing in those waters and blue holes awaiting discovery at minimum. 


James Nester makes a very compelling argument in his speech on understanding whale communication.  He states "In the next ten years the US Alone is going to spend 100 million to look for signs of intelligent non-human life in the skies, but there is already intelligent non-human life and it's here on our planet deep beneath the sea'. He is speaking here of the intelligent life which we do know, but what about the intelligent life we don't? And why aren't many searching for it?


But it was the evidence James presented about us human beings that expanded my thinking and sparked my belief in possibility again. Human beings and the sea are inextricably linked. And James explains just how linked:

'Each of us literally has an ocean within us. Human blood holds about a  98% similar chemical composition to sea water. We are only missing a molecule of iron. Sea water is missing a molecule of magnesium. The human foetus develops in an amniotic fluid that's about 99% similar to sea water. And our first characteristics are fish-like. We grow fins first instead of feet and are one misfiring gene away from growing fins instead of feet or hands.We are born to dive. The human infant when placed in water can hold their breath comfortably for about 45 seconds at a time...We only lose this ability when we are taught how to walk, but regaining it is pretty easy'.


I have witnessed the mammalian reflexes and love for the sea in my own family. Before my daughter was even born, she had an affinity with water that was beyond my understanding. Anytime I bathed or swam, she would enliven. Her unborn body would rise to the very surface of my skin interacting with the very medium I was submerged in. And the way she moves through the water now isn't explicable for me.  She is as streamlined and efficient as any cetacean. When her grandmother was a toddler, she would crawl down to the waves, where she would be cradled in her father's arms. Waves would crash over her head and every time she would come up laughing, spurring equally spontaneous joy from her parents. The love for the sea and the pull of the ocean is instinctive to most human beings, I believe. 


And their Sea Fever is much like a cabin fever of sorts. A growing disquiet broods over both Grandmother and Granddaughter. It's palpable. The colour of my daughter's skin and follicles of hair look different. Symptoms of 'anxiety, lassitude, moodiness and dissatisfaction' over their landlocked confinement pervade until finally they experience the release that can only come from the sea. Perhaps you yourself may know what I am referring to here?

The Danger of the Closed Mind

So do I believe that Mermaids look something akin to the beautiful imagery we see? Probably not. (But then again, why not?)


If I am honest, it is not even about proving the existence of mermaids, (the fantastical sort anyway), it goes deeper than that. It is a caution against self-limiting beliefs. At some point in our collective histories we relegate certain beliefs, possibilities and even dreams into the childish basket and then spend most of our lives not considering whether such a dismissal was warranted or helpful. I have spent most of my life this way. 


From my own experience it matters because something deeper is at play within ourselves. Our minds become narrower to possibility. Our imagination recedes. 


It is the open-minded who are the adventurers, explorers and discoverers, who pursue science to test theories. It is the open-minded who can glimpse the beauty of an existential truth and express it through art, poetry and beauty. These limited self-beliefs are insidious and creep weed-like, strangling us internally, infecting our hearts and minds. Once we stop playing with ideas, I believe we cut ourselves off from one of the very things that make us human. Once we open ourselves to possibility the imagination ignites.


I believe we have many more senses than the basic five that are attributed to homo-sapiens. The truth is I feel something at the water's edge and on the ancient rock platforms. Possibility. It dances on the periphery of a sense I cannot name. From the beauty that I have seen I know there is very real magic in the sea. And I know there is very real magic within us. With these mammalian traits I often wonder if we are projecting what exists deeply within ourselves, our own aquatic roots. And in always looking outward for beauty, are we overlooking the inward, to explore the great ocean within us? 


Is it possible I wonder, if we ourselves may be the original merfolk we are still chasing?


Now when I just go to the water's edge I no longer have that internal struggle. I simply smile. I know it is more beautiful than my mind could imagine. It must be felt in the soul. I know that there is a world that exists that is invisible to the human eye, but that does not mean it doesn't exist. 


Sometimes I daydream back to another time and I am sitting on a hard chair in a hot classroom learning about old 'Doubting Thomas'. But 'Happy am I now, who believes, and has not seen'. And the words of Walt Whitman join in sweetest overture...


'I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell'. 


And so I have grown to become a believer. I choose to be. I sit in that 95% unknown but possibly knowable. Life is much more interesting that way. I 'know that I don't know'. And what I don't know excites me!


And there is I think a beauty to be found on the wings of that.


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