Treading water

the Pacific Ocean in the early morning

This morning I woke early, my mind awash with thoughts, and so I decided to go for a walk by the sea. It’s the best time to go, especially on summer days when the temperature tops 30˚C and the UV index is extreme. In the cool, dewy light, I joined scores of others who had the same idea. Some were jogging, others were setting off for a swim or to surf, and a few were simply sitting and watching the sun rise up over the horizon. It’s as though all of us needed to be close to the vast wilderness that borders the suburb where I live, this great expanse of water that mirrors the sky.

Like most people, I’ve always loved being close to water. As a child, I was seldom happier than playing on a beach or exploring rock pools. Beaches meant holidays and fun. Growing up in South Wales, my best friend and I would often spend summer evenings exploring and playing and discussing the world on the banks of our town’s gentle river, the Usk, as sand martens flitted about and locals fished for salmon.

Most major cities are built on rivers which were used for drinking water and drainage. You will struggle to find many important cities in the world that do not in fact border water of some sort.

The practice of feng shui has clarified many of my feelings about water. In traditional Chinese thought, water is money, which is not surprising given that water is the medium on which ships could set sail for new places, new markets, and bring back new merchandise (and slaves). Think of spice routes and the maritime trade winds. Having flowing water in front of your home is generally thought to bring good fortune, especially if the home is backed by a mountain. A wealthy city such as Hong Kong is a great example of this. And I don’t have to look far from home to see the wealth-generating aspect of water in my own city, where even a tiny glimpse of harbour, bay or sea will command a premium.

But water is a wild, unpredictable energy, too. It’s incredible that something we can barely hold in our hands can have such a tsunami force, easily toppling people and buildings. And water seeps and spills, getting into everything, making it the energy of secrets and sex (think of the sleazy ports of the past). It flows like words and thoughts. It’s the flow of life itself, like the blood coursing through our veins. But too much water in your life can mean you have a tendency to overthink or be a chatterbox or have too much happening in your life – literally being swamped by life itself. Too little is the opposite of all that. And water is the energy of fear, which can develop into phobias when unbalanced. It can be an interesting exercise to imagine the type of water that characterizes your life. If you’re like me, it might change each day, running the gamut from ocean storm to stagnant puddle and back again.

Calm in Gunnamatta Bay

So I came back from my walk feeling hot and sweaty (dripping water) and needing a glass of water to refresh me. But I felt good. My morning thoughts had swirled about as wild as waves and then, once home, they settled and became orderly. The water in my life had ebbed and flowed and become calm again.

Do you have a favourite place to be close to water?



Categories: feng shui, Other, TravelTags: , , , ,


  1. Lovely post. Water is life itself. I love the unpredictable and uncontrollable force of the sea, the wilder the better. I can watch it for hours

    • Yes, it is life itself, trickling through everything. I love the days when we have wild weather here and people gather at a certain place to just watch the huge waves roll in. Utterly mesmerising. I think you’re well placed to choose between a bit of Atlantic madness and some calm Mediterranean sanity (not a couple of words often seen together but in this case, appropriate.)

  2. What a lovely post! We were in Hebden Bridge last year and we walked along the side of a river running over stones with trees either side and the sunshine coming through the leaves and catching the water. It was incredibly beautiful. But my early memories of water are of standing shivering staring at the North Sea while my twin great aunts (in their sixties) ran into the sea wearing those fabulous flower power swimming caps. Both my mother and father had been brought up going to the seaside in Norfolk (Horsey/Cromer/Blakeney) so they took us but God it was cold! My sister and I also used to go off into the Broads in a rowing boat and I loved Surlingham Broad on a hot day with the reeds waving in the breeze and the dragonflies and kingfishers skimming the surface of the water. I also remember the shock of how blue the Mediterranean was the first time I saw it and how warm it was!

    • So many different types of water, and all so accessible in the UK. I think the Broads are particularly ‘writerly’ – they stir inner thoughts. And in my opinion everyone who enters North Sea waters should have a medal. As the famous ad for Skegness said, “The air’s so bracing!” They should have added “and the water’s f*****g freezing!” Thanks for sharing such lovely memories, Vicky.

  3. What a beautiful post, Colin. Very lyrical. I think I will need to reread it several times, it contains so much fabulous information …
    Thank you for sharing it all.
    Water. It is such a vast subject.
    We live by the sea and I love how you call it a ‘wilderness’. I love living by the sea because it means an area with no people. Whenever we are driving home, I get that great sense of relief that I am driving to an area of calm (in a population sense).
    There is a tradition here that on Boxing Day morning everyone goes into the sea for a dip – I haven’t managed it yet, but maybe someday …

    • You’re right, it does create a feeling of calm, even when the waves are crashing on the shore. All that mystery so close to home. I wonder if you feel different when you paint with watercolour or add water to your paintings?

      • That’s a very interesting question.
        I very rarely use watercolour – in my view it is the most difficult of the paint media. It is very delicate and needs to be accurately deployed from the start. The great thing about acrylic paint is that it dries very quickly and you can paint over it, and with oil paint you can just scrape it off the canvas!
        I spray water onto canvases to direct the flow of the paint, and that can be a rollercoaster of an experience, as water does like to go its own way.
        But I do find water baptismal.
        My favourite colour is turquoise and my favourite paintings of mine are paintings that contain that colour.
        I feel there is so much to say about water, that we need a further post!

      • Mmm, the baptismal quality of water…Yes, water is a huge subject and it’s interesting to hear you say that watercolour is a difficult paint medium, perhaps because it is so fleeting and delicate. The transience of water. Beginning to think I need a book on this, not just another post!

  4. I love the water too, ever so true to my piscean nature. The only sport I love is swimming, I lived near the Swan River in Perth and walked along the beach in Fremantle at University and now I live on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean 😉 Your post made me a little nostalgic for home as this time of year in Australia is about being near the water, my Australian body is craving the sun and the taste of salty water, thanks for bringing it all alive for me.

    • Glad that evoked ‘home’. Oddly, although I live minutes from the sea, I never swim in it (my partner does every day, rain or shine) but I love my daily walk beside it. Funny how the ocean is such an icon of Australia. But as I write this on the morning of Australia Day, the blue sky is obliterated by grey clouds and the rain is falling heavily. Water, water everywhere!

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