with a Foreword by Celine Cousteau

Back Bay Books; Reprint edition, 2015

Pbk: 368pp

ISBN: 978-0316252119

Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain


The long but lightweight-sounding subtitle of this book: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You Do, gives the impression that it is simply another volume for the self-help, pop psychology shelf, but in fact it is far deeper and more scholarly than that. Ranging as it does from in-depth explanations of neuropsychological processes to personal stories from surfers, divers, fishermen, sailors and others, it is so impressively comprehensive that it could have just as easily been subtitled ‘Everything you always wanted to know about our human relationship to water and lots more that you never even imagined.’

Hanging in space like a blue marble, our Earth has 70% of its surface covered by water. And as creatures of the Earth, we, too, are composed of 78% water when we are born, and dry out only to 60% as we age. Little wonder, then, that our bodies and our minds, and no doubt our souls as well, all have a strong affinity with this element. As Nichols says: We are inspired by water—hearing it, smelling it in the air, playing in it, walking next to it, painting it, surfing, swimming or fishing in it, writing about it, photographing it, and creating lasting moments along its edge. And I loved the quote he includes, from science writer Loren Eiseley, who described human beings as: a way that water has of going about, beyond the reach of rivers. 

So strong is our connection to water, in any shape or form, that—as numerous experiments have shown—even a visual or aural representation of it can be enough to lift the spirits, speed healing, facilitate learning and improve mood.

Nichols draws a comparison between two primary states of mind that he refers to as ‘red mind’ and ‘blue mind.’ Red mind is the busy mind, the distracted mind, the mind under stress. Blue mind is calm, peaceful and crystal clear, like fresh water. And instinctively we often seek out water in order to achieve this latter state. Which is why even the colour blue has a calming effect on us.

This is such a rich sourcebook of quotes and such an impressive collection of research studies that it could certainly be used as a study text, but at the same time it makes fascinating reading for the lay person. And the combination of first-person accounts and research findings was deliberate. For as the author explains: It’s time to drop the old notions of separation between emotion and science…for ourselves and our future. Just as rivers join on their way to the ocean, to understand Blue Mind we need to draw together separate streams: analysis and affection; elations and experimentation; head and heart.

My only slight disappointment with Blue Mind is that despite all that the author says about the deep, instinctive and heartfelt connection that we humans feel with the natural world, he never actually spells out the fact that we feel that way because we are part of the Earth, not simply ‘on’ it or ‘in’ it. Nonetheless, I think he knows it.