The Ocean: Seven Life Lessons

Other than my home, my very favorite place is the beach. Not because of the beach itself. Because I love the ocean. The sun, the sand, and great seafood make for terrific vacations on a beach, but the main draw for me is the ocean. I can watch the ever-changing ocean for hours. It’s simultaneously calming and energizing, inspiring and rejuvenating.

The ocean symbolizes all of life’s adventurous beauty, danger, tranquility, and violence, providing many analogies that help me stay in tune with the meaning and purpose of my life.

#1 Tranquility

Contemplating a Sunrise

The ocean calms me. It stimulates feelings of peace and tranquility, and helps me understand my life and my place in the totality of life. Subconsciously I realize the ocean represents all of life, and it helps me understand my life and how I fit in to all life. It’s simultaneously complex and simple, extremely difficult, yet easy.

Watching the waves hit shore for a few minutes, I’m calmed by the repetitive rise and fall, crest and crash of each wave. Even large waves, obviously carrying much energy, calm me in their repetitive, predictable ways of being. Each wave comes into existence, flows forward, grows and crests, only to crash into rock or shore and dissipate gently on the sand.

Someone once said to me, “It’s natural to be at the ocean.” That’s true for me, my soul yearns to be there—because there I can more easily see my truths about my life. When I’m away from the ocean for too long I start to feel a deep longing to return. Like Alaskan salmon returning upstream to where they were born, I yearn to return to my ocean.

#2 Mystery

The ocean is vast, mysterious, and multifaceted. It can be peaceful one moment and terrifying the next. The ocean is deep, unexplored at its deepest reaches. Filled with an incomprehensible array of life, it is simultaneously complex and simple. Our lives are also vast, mysterious, and multifaceted—I’m peaceful one moment, terrified the next. Seeing a reflection of life outside of me helps me to accept the many unknowns about life.

#3 Eternity

Peaceful Sunset

The ocean reminds me that life is eternal. The ocean is relentless, ever changing yet always the same. Each moment of the ocean is different from the moment before. Colors change with the shifting light. Waves change with the shifting wind. Water temperatures fluctuate, sometimes abruptly. Yet with the constant change there is also a familiar continuity. This reminds me that life goes on. Though a wave may crash upon the beach and appear destroyed, the inherent life force of the wave silently retreats to eventually form a new wave. I’m comforted knowing that the end of my physical life is just a change in form.

#4 Accept and Allow

To co-exist successfully in life I must join an oncoming force at just the right time. Waves can batter or propel, as can life’s new circumstances. Standing firm in the face of a wave requires me to be rigid, muscles tensed, and body braced against the battering onslaught. I can stand firm against each wave, but the energy required eventually takes its toll. Or I can catch a wave at its peak, join with it, and ride it out. The ride can be exhilarating and joyous. Such is life. Accept and join with the force of a new life circumstance—the ride might be exhilarating and joyous. Have life intentions, but accept what comes along, unexpected as it may be. Allow life to guide at times.

#5 Being Is Enough

Being with the ocean is satisfying in itself. At home I’m doing things most of the time. Yet at the ocean I can just sit and be with it for hours on end. I don’t have to accomplish anything to feel the day is successful—success is simply being there. Absorbing the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the ocean environment satisfies my inner desires for accomplishment. Each day of life can bring the same inner satisfaction—just by absorbing my surroundings. I am enough, without accomplishing anything each day other than being.

#6 Diversity

The ocean supports a near endless variety of life forms. No one form seems favored, none is chosen. There is no single way to succeed within the ocean’s depths. Lifeforms take different approaches to feeding and reproducing. And the ocean accepts them all. We tend to search for the one right way to succeed in our lives. Self proclaimed experts tell us their way is favored, their way is right. But observing the ocean reminds me that any way that works for us is right—we’re all right. Different appearances, different beliefs, different approaches to life aren’t wrong. They’re just different.

#7 Connection

MBSky&SeaI feel connected in and around the ocean—not only to other people, but also to all of nature. We remove our protective barriers at the beach, exposing more of who we are. We shed our clothing and spread our bodies to the elements and each other. Contrast the body posture of people at a beach with those on a subway or city bus. On the bus, people turn inward with shoulders hunched, eyes down or set upon some distant place to avoid contact with others. Arms are folded and legs are crossed. On a beach people turn outward, arms spread wide, legs wide apart, and eyes easily making contact with other people.

Perhaps I’m closer to God at the ocean—or I’m paying more attention there, being more open to her communications.


  • Earlier version of this post, Seven Reasons to Visit an Ocean, published 2003
  • Featured image courtesy Igor Kasolovic
  • Man viewing sunrise image courtesy Arnaud Mesureur
  • Sunset image courtesy Andre Benz


3 thoughts on “The Ocean: Seven Life Lessons

  1. Beautifully said, Jerry, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve always loved the sea… “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there [God’s] hand will guide me, [His] right hand will hold me fast.” It’s no wonder that RV Williams’ “A Sea Symphony” always haunts me. Thanks for your lovely insights.

    Liked by 1 person

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