The Zen of Beach Combing - A Lifelong Passion
You Begin With A Beach
I've heard it said that "life is a beach."
In some ways, I believe that's true. Walking on the beach can be an incredibly healing, refreshing and sometimes insightful experience that allows you to reflect on life and the deeper meanings behind your everyday choices.
For me, beaches have held a definite attraction perhaps since the very first time I set foot on one as a little kid. In the beginning, my enthusiasm might have been simply because it was like a huge sandbox... but the fact is that it didn't take very long before I started "looking for things" in the sand.
Maybe that's part of human nature, but it feels like I have always looked for things, from berries to mushrooms, to lost keys to sea shells. For me, beach combing started out as something fun to do, but gradually turned into a walking meditation to help me stay calm in a stressful world, and eventually beach combing became part of how I make my living. No, I'm not kidding!
So, with no further ado, I'd like to share a bit about my love of walking on the beach and how I managed to turn my life (or at least part of it) into a beach-- the Zen of Beach Combing.
At the Seashore: Age 3
I was born in Denmark, and our first house was no more than 300 yards from the coast. I remember there was a public footpath from our street down to the beach-- and my mom and I would walk down there at least a couple of times a week, at least during the summer months.
Here I am, in August 1963 (age 3) already looking for "things" on the beach. Although I don't remember this, my mom has since told me that I would fill my red bucket with mussel shells, rocks and other "treasures" and get very upset if I wasn't allowed to bring everything home.
Even with the compromise that I was allowed to bring one thing home per beach trip, I still ended up with lots of strange bits and pieces in one of the drawers of my closet. Maybe it was a strange omen, but during the wintertime, I liked to "play shop" with my beach treasures-- "selling" them to my teddy bears and other stuffed animals.
Beach Combing with Dad: Age 5
We traveled a lot when I was a kid-- my dad's job took him all over the world, and we'd live in many different countries for just long enough to "live like locals" in rented apartments, rather than stay in hotels. Somehow most of the places we lived seemed to be near the coast.
On many occasions-- when my dad wasn't tied up with business meetings-- we'd spend a day or afternoon on some local beach. Although he was a corporate executive by profession, I get the sense that my dad was secretly a "beach bum," and it was actually he who taught me the fun of "looking for things" on the beach.
During a 1965 stay in France, we were on a beach where I noticed something unusual in the sand... "something" I went on to call "the little blue stones."
The little blue stones were actually cobalt blue sea glass-- that magical stuff that's the result of broken glass falling into the ocean and getting slowly polished by sand, rocks and surf over a period of decades until the sharp-edged shards have become soft and rounded with an almost "sugary" surface. Although the original "little blue stones" are long gone, I always think of those days in France, when I see a piece of blue sea glass.
The Beach as a Refuge from the Storm: Turbulent Teenage Years
I spent most of my teen years in Spain. My parents divorced and my mother moved to live with the man who was to become my stepdad-- we lived in what was largely a retirement area in southern Spain, and there were very few other kids around, as most people within my parents' circle were in their mid-50's and older. As a result, I spent a lot of time alone.
Like many teenagers, I had my times of being "deeply troubled." Without anyone to talk to, I spent a lot of time wandering along the nearby Mediterranean beach, lost in my own thoughts... most of them being sadness at not getting to have a "normal" teenage experience. As had often been the case in the past, I "occupied" myself by picking up things.
When everything else was completely messed up, the beach offered me a place of solace-- and a sense of peace. When I was walking on the beach, I could "empty my head" and nobody "expected" anything of me. Although I wasn't actually aware of such concepts as "meditation," I can now look back and see that I was already then finding ways to use the beach as a place to "recharge my batteries" from a world that felt extremely overwhelming to me.
In some ways, I could argue that having the beach nearby "saved my life," during times when I had my doubts that life was worth living... at all.
Growing up... and leaving the coast
The above photo is of the beach in Spain where I used to walk, in my late teens... that's the rock of Gibraltar in the distance, and the Rif mountains in north Africa, in the far distance.
In a sense, I ended up spending too many years living too far from the water. In 1981 I left Europe and moved to Texas to go to college. I was suddenly a three hour drive from the nearest coast... and although there were lakes nearby, it was just not the same.
Perhaps it's a merely coincidence, but the majority of the most difficult and trying times of my life took place while I was living "too far" from the coast.
What Does a Beach MEAN, to Us?
Being away from the beach for many years made me think about the importance beaches had always played in my life. For many years, I had to make do with looking at picture books of beaches-- often beautiful books, but a poor substitute for the real thing.
As a "Highly Sensitive Person," someone easily overwhelmed by the noise, frenetic activity and intensity of life, I came to realize how important beach walks were, as a way to keep me feeling peaceful, centered and balanced.
Although I have meditated at various times in my life, I realized that by far the best meditations I'd ever engaged it came while simply walking on a beach.
Beach Walking and the Highly Sensitive Person
I should pause for a moment, and expand a bit on what I mean by "Highly Sensitive Person."
An estimated 15-20% of the population fits the description of what makes an HSP. This basically means they have more finely tuned nervous systems than most people... NOT that they "get their feelings hurt easily." Because they DO "receive" life more intensely, they are also more prone to feeling burned out and overwhelmed by the demands of life.
Rather than go into great detail about what that actually means, I'd like to suggest that you have a look at one of my in-depth articles on this topic, listed in the section below.
If you are a Highly Sensitive Person (or HSP), beach walking can be a particularly healing experience, as well as an important part of an overall personal wellness regimen.
"Alone time" is essential for HSPs, and most beaches offer a way for us to spend time alone with our thoughts-- away from the noise and commotion of the greater world. The soothing effect is remarkable even if there are other people on the beach, because the sound of waves and wind serve as a form of "white noise" that muffles voices and other man-made sounds.
Articles about Highly Sensitive People
- The Highly Sensitive Person or HSP: An Introduction
A fairly thorough-- and constantly evolving-- introduction to High Sensitivity as a physiological trait, rather than a behavior pattern.
- HSP Topics: Understanding The Highly Sensitive Man
An in-depth article about what it means to be MALE and highly sensitive in our modern world.
- HSP Wellness: The Highly Sensitive Person and Coping with Noise Sensitivities
A more recent article about the influence of noise on our lives, and how this can affect the highly sensitive person in a very negative fashion.
Go WEST, Young Man! Or... Moving from Texas to Washington State
This photo was taken from the shores at Scenic Beach State Park in western Washington. It's easy to see how the park got its name...
I took this photo in 2006, on the day I "returned to the coast," for the first time in 25 years. Certainly, I'd been on many, many short trips to many different coasts from Florida to California, but this time I was moving back to the seaside.
As I stood there and gazed at the water and the mountains beyond, it felt like I had come "home"...
Even though I spent my first six weeks in Washington state living in a campground, I almost immediately resumed my long-missed practice of walking on the beach. Although it may sound cliché'd, it was not long before my life started finding new meaning and direction.
The Zen of Beach Combing: Walking Meditation... Or "Why I love the beach so much"
In my adult life, walking on the beach has offered me a refuge; a place to relax and decompress; a way for me to find moments of peace in a world that's often stressful, often noisy, often so fast-paced it passes me by before I even have time to look.
I do walk on the beach, at least 4-5 times a week, come rain or shine. When people ask me why I spend so much time out there, I usually tell them that it's part of my "wellness" program, just like some people go to the gym, or jog, or do Yoga.
There are those who would argue that in order to "meditate" you need to sit down and follow a practice-- but my "practice" is a walking meditation on the beach. It may not be "sitting," but it follows the basic precepts of meditating.
My favorite beach is fairly remote. It get to it from a parking lot in a county park at the end of a peninsula. There are almost no "man made" sounds at this location, and once I am 15-20 minutes into my walk they all but vanish, as there is no further "land access" to the beach.
After a while-- usually 15 minutes or so-- all I am aware of is my footsteps and the sound backdrop of breaking waves and an occasional seagull's cries. Sometimes the waves are tiny and almost silent; sometimes there is a constant roar.
It feels as if the "noise" of daily life gets washed away by the sound of the waves and the air. My mind starts to empty, and I become very relaxed. Sometimes I'm refreshed and "good to go" within 45 minutes. Sometimes I stay out there all day although part of that has to do with my work (read more about that, further down).
I have never found another form of meditation or workout that is as profoundly relaxing and renewing.
"It is solved by walking"
Beach Walking, Creativity and Problem Solving: The Beach as "Therapist."
So, one of the things walking on the beach allows you to do-- especially if you are out there for many hours-- is to basically "empty your head."
I find that once the "noise" of daily life is out of the way, it is amazing how creative thoughts start to flow. Without the constant interruptions from email, ringing phones, people "needing things" and stuff that "must be done," I find myself able to concentrate on exploring ideas and finding answers to problems that have been bugging me.
A few examples:
I actually "write" many of my articles-- on a wide variety of topics-- while walking on the beach. I organize ideas and allow my mind to follow "trains of thought" that may result in new insights. Yes, I do carry a small notebook and pencil with me, and every now and then I will stop and frantically take notes for a few minutes. However, my main objective is to let the thoughts just flow, uninterrupted. Writing things down tends to disturb the flow, so I try to wait "till the end" before actually recording anything.
I often create "organizational systems" while walking on the beach. The absence of "random clutter" enables me to organize problems in my head. Most recently I laid out an entire marketing plan for an international retreat, all in my head, while walking on the beach.
We all have "difficult issues" in our lives. Maybe a situation at work, a friendship that's struggling, some issue that's worrisome at home. I find a long beach walk to be an excellent way to "talk through" a problem in my head... and hash out potential solutions. So I'm only being slightly facetious when I sometimes tell people that "the beach is my therapist."
Wouldn't it be cool if I could get PAID for this?
Shortly after I moved to Washington state and resumed my practice of beach walking, a persistent thought kept poking at the edge of my mind:
"Wouldn't it be cool if there was a way I could get PAID to do this?"
At the time, I had already been involved in the self-development industry for many years; I'd read books like "The Secret" and was pretty familiar with saying like "we create our own reality." I'd even written an article about common sense approaches to manifesting our reality.
Little did I realize that I was doing precisely that, by simply thinking "wouldn't it be cool if I could get PAID to do this" many times during each of my beach walks.
As had been true since I was a little kid, I was always picking up things on the beach: sea glass, bits of pottery, shells, interesting rocks, driftwood and more. One day, I found myself searching for something on eBay and accidentally found myself on a page where someone was selling sea glass they'd found on their local beach. This led me to some extensive research... as a result of which I learned that there are thousands of jewelers and artists who work with "found objects." What's more, many of them buy their raw materials...
And so, a small "hobbyist" business was born, in 2007. And since then, I DO "get paid for walking on the beach."
Don't get me wrong. I don't "make a living" from beach combing-- but I do make "an income stream" that gets added to my other income from writing, workshops, dealing in rare stamps, my art and a few other ventures that allow me to work from home.
Sea Glass and Other Treasures - About the sideline business that grew out of my beach walks
As mentioned above, I turned my love of beach combing into a small sideline business. I am posting these links here for several reasons:
For one, they are part of the story. For seconds, I worked for quite a while to make them beautiful and informative. But most of all, I post them as an example of how FAR "out of the box" we can sometimes go to define what we "do" in life.
- Natural Beach Combed Sea Glass: A Vanishing Treasure
Another article I published on this site-- this one all about sea glass, illustrated with dozens of beautiful photos.
- North Beach Treasures
This is my main beach combing web site, which is primarily about sea glass-- the history of it, an exploration of the different colors you might find (there are MANY!), discussion of rarity, collecting and more.
- My beach combing blog
I use a blog to do a periodic "show and tell" from my beach trips, mixed in with a few general observations about life.
- The North Beach Treasures Facebook page
If you're on Facebook (or not!) you can also check out my page about beach combing and sea glass.
Don't forget to look UP! - There's a beautiful natural world around us!
When you're walking on the beach in deep thought... it's easy to forget time and miss the natural beauty unfolding around you. Sometimes I have to remind myself to "remain present," even while I am thinking through some complex planning, or simply emptying my head... so that I can observe and appreciate the natural beauty around me.
The coast can be a place of extraordinary beauty-- from wildlife and birds to unique pieces of driftwood to the landscape around us. And it would be a great shame to miss out on this beauty!
I was reminded-- a couple of years ago-- of the importance of "staying present," as a sea otter and her three young passed right in front of me, no more than 30 feet away... and I barely noticed them till they were almost at water's edge.
I pay more attention, these days.
And I usually bring my camera, because you just never know what's going to show up!
Please Take a Moment to Say Hello and Leave a Comment!
Thanks for visiting this page!
I'd appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a comment-- share a bit about your own beach combing experiences, walking meditations or leave feedback about the article or just let me know that you were here.
If you enjoyed the article, please feel free to share it to your web site, Facebook page or other social media.
© 2013 Peter Messerschmidt