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The Zen of Beach Combing - A Lifelong Passion

Updated on May 30, 2016
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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.

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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.

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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.

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The World's Beaches: A Global Guide to the Science of the Shoreline
The World's Beaches: A Global Guide to the Science of the Shoreline

This really cool book it about HOW beaches and coastlines develop... why certain beaches look a certain way, etc.

 

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

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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?

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A Grain of Sand: Nature's Secret Wonder
A Grain of Sand: Nature's Secret Wonder

I absolutely love this book! It's a collection of micro photographs of individual grains of sand... the variety is stunning, and it's truly amazing what sand is actually made up of!

 

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

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Waves
Waves

Some really beautiful photos of waves... nice display of the power of the ocean.

 

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.

Go WEST, Young Man! Or... Moving from Texas to Washington State

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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.

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Beach Stones
Beach Stones

A photographic essay that invites us to take a closer look at objects that appear by the millions on beaches around the world-- the common beach pebble or stone.

 

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"

~St. Augustine

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The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation
The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation

I don't normally recommend "how to" books when the subject is a spiritual practice-- after all, we are all immensely different people. This, however, is one of the very few books available, dedicated entirely to WALKING meditation techniques. Highly recommended.

 

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."

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Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature's Vanishing Gems
Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature's Vanishing Gems

This is a truly BEAUTIFUL book by one of the world's foremost authorities on the history of sea glass. Loaded with gorgeous photography of both sea glass and the original containers it came from, this is a "must have" for beach combing enthusiasts.

 

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.

Don't forget to look UP! - There's a beautiful natural world around us!

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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

Please leave a comment! Are you a beach lover? Do you do walking meditations? Do you find the seaside relaxing?

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    • profile image

      jeannemil 11 months ago

      Great article. I too find myself walking the Lake Erie Shore several times a week. It clears my head and brings a sense of peace. I find the solitude welcoming and the sound of the waves mesmerizing. There is nothing as beautiful as a Lake Erie Sunset and I am fortunate to live just a few miles away.

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      Sandy 14 months ago

      I have always needed to be by the water when times get overwhelming. Even if that means surrounding myself with beach related art and home furnishings. Thought maybe it's because I'm a Scorpio. Maybe it's that and being a HSP

    • Kathryn L Hill profile image

      Kathryn L Hill 2 years ago from LA

      Thanks for sharing.

      I love the warm water we get to swim in along the coast here in So Cal.

      I spent a year in Ft. Bragg, just above Mendocino. Pudding Creek lets out on the sand so the fresh water stream is solar heated on its way to the ocean. My young son and I lived on the beach that whole summer wading in pudding creek on the beach! It was blissful.

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 3 years ago from UK

      A great lens, I share your love of beachcombing and at over 65 I still have shells and pebbles as reminders of wonderful family holidays. I must admit that I do not like crowded beaches so it has a lot to do with the restfulness of solitude

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 3 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      I enjoyed your story about walking on the beach. I'm also a person who finds walking therapeutic and I especially enjoy walking on the beach. I live in Washington state, too and fortunately only a couple of miles from Puget Sound where I can walk on the beach.

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 3 years ago

      Made me wish I were near a beach.

    • Babu Mohan profile image

      Mohan Babu 3 years ago from Chennai, India

      Nice article. You are very enterprising too. I am glad you had mentioned my favorite book "secret".

    • mel-kav profile image

      mel-kav 3 years ago

      Wonderful lens. I love the tranquil, peaceful, and carefree feelings that envelop me just by sitting on the beach and looking out to sea.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      Life is a beach - so very true:)

    • davenjilli lm profile image

      davenjilli lm 3 years ago

      Love this! Spent much of my life on the beaches of the world, now I'm landlocked. I do miss being able to see forever - there is so much peace in that.

    • profile image

      Doc_Holliday 3 years ago

      This is a great lens. It has certainly given me food for thought.

    • HappyTom LM profile image

      Tom Christen 3 years ago from Switzerland/Ecuador

      WOW what a wonderful lens! Thank you very much for sharing, it is very pretty and just awesome. Have a wonderful sunday, best greetings from Ecuador.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      Great post Gary.............thanks for sharing!

    • BrownEyedGirl69 profile image

      BrownEyedGirl69 3 years ago

      I love the beach. And I totally agree that walking on the beach is an important part of life. I don't have the pleasure of living near a Beach but I hope to retire and become a Beach bum!

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 4 years ago

      I am a beach lover and probably going there next weekend :)

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      How you feel on the beach is how I feel when I am swimming. All I hear and feel is the water around me. It is the most relaxing sensation in the world. I loved your article. There is another lens I had read previously about sea glass so as soon as I saw the blue in your hands I knew what it was.

    • profile image

      Ruthi 4 years ago

      Oh my goodness! I think I need to bookmark this article and read it at the start of every day! Seriously, it has been that peaceful of a visit here today. I totally agree with you about the lakes and streams just being no comparison to the sea. I walked many a mile many a night for years to cleans my spirit. I, too, moved away from the beach for many years but have recently returned and I sure hope I never have a need to leave again.

    • profile image

      poutine 4 years ago

      Love beaches

    • rattie lm profile image

      rattie lm 4 years ago

      A beach will tell you everything about the health of the ocean. Many years ago we lived on a beautiful island in PNG, It was Paradise itself and as you walked along the sand it would crawl with hermits crabs. Some ten years later we returned to the sme beach. Not one crab was to be found, the direct result of the sludge that the mining company poured into the sea.

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 4 years ago from New York City

      I'm a city walker and sometime hiker, but the beaches have always had an allure. Some transcendental about staying in motion and letting it flow, wherever you are.

      Thanks. Very nice treatment.

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