Article Living Earth

Ocean of Wisdom

The Ocean has been the greatest source of inspiration and wisdom in my life. During my childhood, every Monday there was a TV program called Blue Planet showing the films of Jacques Cousteau. This and trips to the beaches in the south of Costa Rica, my country of origin, made me want to be a marine biologist at the age of four.

Photo by James Donaldson

As I grew up, this aspiration became clearer. When I was 16, I had a serious conversation with my mother about my future study at university. “I will study Marine Biology or Psychology,“ I told her. Her eyes widened and she said she did not understand the relationship between these two professions. Like a normal teenager, I rolled my eyes and answered: “Mom, the ocean is as deep as the secrets of the human spirit”. Today, I look back to this comment and I realize that all my adult life I have aspired to understand the relationship between these two disciplines, guided by the wisdom of grandmother Ocean.

I call the Ocean ‘grandmother’ because life was created in her waters some 3.5 billion years ago, and a little bit later the continents also emerged. These are the beginnings of the Biosphere as we know it today, whose secrets lie deep within her. Slowly but surely, the first photosynthetic organisms started releasing tiny bubbles of oxygen from her depths into the atmosphere. The ocean’s oxygen production continues to this day and according to NOAA, phytoplankton produces up to 50% of the oxygen on Earth.

Grandmother Ocean spreads her wisdom across the world, sustaining the health of our planet and nourishing all living organisms. If you were a drop of seawater you would need to travel about a thousand years to complete the ocean’s thermohaline circulation: the way that Ocean waters move around the world. Oceanic currents flow like gigantic rivers regulated by seawater density, which changes in relation to salinity and temperature, constantly responding to and balancing the Biosphere’s changing conditions.     

To prepare ourselves to dive into Grandmother Ocean’s mysteries, I put on my blue cloak and light the sacred sage in an abalone seashell to smudge myself and our  surroundings. Close your eyes. Can you smell the sage burning? Can you see the smoke ascending to the realm of Spirit? I blow my conch in the seven directions to call on her powers. Here she is, soft as a breeze, powerful as a storm, sparkling like mother of pearl. Listen carefully because her voice is like soft rolling waves…

“Dear child, arrange  yourself in a comfortable position and get ready to travel. Today I will take you into my currents so you can experience directly how all life is sustained.

We begin our journey at the North Pole. Breathe in and admire the beauty of the North Atlantic glaciers. Breathe out and listen to the rumbling thunder, as big ice blocks break off and fall into the water, making it colder. In winter, if it’s cold enough, new salt-free ice is created, leaving behind increased salinity. These cold and salty waters, full of nutrients, sink deep to travel fast along the eastern coasts of the Americas.

Photo by Annie Spratt

We are now near the coast of New Jersey. Beneath my waters, deep inside the Earth’s crust, freshwater is hidden in aquifers. You would not expect to find fresh water here, under my most salty waters but so it is. Freshness can be found in mysterious places, even in the darkest ones.

Continuing our journey South. I move like a snake along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, dividing the American plates on one side and Eurasian and African plates on the other. Yes, what you see are underwater mountains. When they are tall enough, they become islands and when they are very large, you call them continents. For me, they are my children where land-based life flourishes.

As we arrive between Patagonia and South Africa, circulating alongside Antarctica, we find more cold and deep waters. The current gets stronger and divides into two pathways: the wider one goes North to the Indic Ocean while the other continues along the coast of the Ice continent, with some water eventually moving up into the Pacific ocean. 

Heading North, these currents start to surface, sharing the nutrients that support oceanic life, which feeds humans and other animals. Remember Child, the waters of the planet are like blood nourishing the body. They transport nutrients and clean waste, including waste that comes from human activities. Large sewage tubes, for example, enter my body. As wastes travel deep within me, they are transformed and reinserted as nutrients in the water cycles, or stored in the oceans floors. 

Let’s continue our trip North along the East coast of Africa to the turquoise and warm surface waters of the Indic Ocean, where marine life blooms in extravagant ways, thanks to the nutrients we have been carrying. In this region, olive ridley sea turtles arrive by the thousands to the beach of Orissa – on the East coast of India – to lay their eggs in a huge arribada, knowing that the hatchlings will find enough food to thrive.  

Image courtesy NASA

Remember that the deep waters which gathered nutrients on their way South through the Atlantic ocean, were divided in two in the Antarctic. The rich waters that travel along the ice continent support the life of large whales and swimming birds, the penguins. This current continues its path to the Pacific Ocean. Traveling along the ‘ring of fire’ – a horseshoe-shaped belt of volcanoes around the Pacific ocean – the current starts to warm up and many types of large fish travel with me. The beautiful tunas enjoy the abundance of food and the strength of the current to exercise their fast tails and strong muscles.

We have reached the furthest end of the thermohaline circulation, where one can find my oldest waters, some of them moving along with the current while others are stored in the “shadow zone of the Pacific” trapped in cavities on the North Pacific Ocean floor. Now is time to start our way back, together with the Whale sharks and large marine mammals. In the South Pacific waters, for reasons which still remain largely mysterious, the El Nino or La Nina southern oscillation takes place: waves of hot or cold surface waters move toward the Americas, affecting the rain cycle, (through changing evaporation conditions), and modulating the average weather around the world. These phenomena allow the planet to self-regulate and have started to change as human activities disrupt climate patterns.

Photo by Giga Khurtsilava

The  Pacific is a very special place for me. Its human inhabitants, living on a multitude of small islands, have long understood and cherished my wisdom. They are the guardians of these sacred waters, taking care of my oldest memories in the North and in ‘Mother Earth’s kidneys’ in the South, the root energetic center that guides the global water cycle.

On my way back though the Indian and Atlantic oceans, I recover some parts of myself that nourished life along the coast of West Africa. As I move North, I gather the warmth of the Gulf Stream in the Caribbean sea and bring it to the shores of Europe, allowing its inhabitants to enjoy a temperate climate, now threatened due to human-induced climate change.

Dear Child, this is a short version of the story of my waters traveling around the planet to sustain life. It is part of a broader Cycle of Life that I have witnessed and nourished for Eons. Creation and destruction are always present in this evolving cycle. I usually do not speak in a clear voice; I use the waves and the beauty of the horizon to help you experience my wisdom. But my health is declining rapidly and I want you to understand that you need to take care of me so I can continue to take care of you. Otherwise, I will recover, but in the process of my recovery, humans will suffer greatly. I need storms, huge waves and changes in the rain cycles to restore the natural order. You belong to nature; we are all part of the great Cycle of Life and each of us needs to find its place and role in this sacred order.

It is time for me to go, I have shared my wisdom and my love with each of you that wanted to travel with me. But before I go, I want you to hear my final words

Who am I?
I am the grandmother of every water drop on this planet,
I am the vast ocean that goes deep into the darkness of ocean ridges,
I am the power of a storm,
My waves sing lullabies to all beings, 
My oceanic currents are rivers of life,
I, grandmother Ocean, have given life to this planet.
I am the nourishment that sustains life,
My ancestral wisdom emanates from the planet’s history
Each one of you needs me strong and thriving to live
Here I am calling your attention to remember that we are One
One Planet, One Ocean …”

The smoke is still burning. Her voice is gone but her wisdom is there for us, tangible and real as water, mysterious as the abyss. In these two dimensions the human spirit must find balance as well.

Return to Wisdom in All Life, Kosmos Journal Edition 2023, Issue 3

About Emelina Corrales

Emelina Corrales is Marine Biologist with a Master Degree in International Environmental Law and a Certified Senior Coach. She is a visionary of possible futures, with her knowledge and abilities she supports individuals and companies to envision their individual path or the path of an organization embracing consciousness. For more than 20 years she worked with NGO’s, Universities and the private sector, in sea turtle conservation, deep sea research and in coastal and marine management. Her mission is to support the understanding of the Ocean  and share her wisdom. She is an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing in the Plum Village Tradition and she is a founder member of the Sacred Earth Council as well as the co-creator of the Politics of Being, She lives in the South of France with her husband and two daughters besides Plum Village, the Mindfulness center and Monastery founded by the venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.  

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