Immersion: a short essay on inspiration

‘The sea is the favourite symbol for the unconscious, the Mother of all that lives.’

Carl Jung

The outcrop juts into the Indian Ocean, solid against the shifting surface of the sea. Waves surge in, white froth leaping as the rolling edge meets rock. The water’s fringe sings as it goes, a playful high trill above the deep booming bulk of the wave. I come here to watch the waves as they change from day to day and season to season. From one year to another. I witness endless variation in their song, shape, and movement.

Earth is the only planet in our solar system that has liquid water on its surface. Our ocean is unique, and every wave that breaks on every shore has a character all of its own. This particular rock, on a beach in the far south-west of Australia, draws me back again and again. It’s one of the granites in the Leeuwin Complex, formed and remoulded by the collision of continents a billion years ago. Now it’s weathered by the onslaught of the sea.

Some days I take a camera and film the waves coming in: videos that follow the leading edge as it rolls along the rock. Still shots that capture an ephemeral beauty, the split-second expression on the face of a wave. Or I sit down on the warm crystalline surface and let the wavelets break over my toes. Watch the water running along the veins of feldspar, quartz and hornblende lining the surface of the rock. I slide down and slip silently into the ocean, splash-less like a seal. The water is bright and effervescent. It tastes of seaweed and unseen fishy things.

The sea holds echoes of the primordial soup, a combination of geologic elements that went into the first oceans and gave birth to the earliest life-forms. The idea that life may have originated from chemical compounds in ‘a warm little pond’ was first raised by Charles Darwin in 1871. Scientists now believe that sea soup wasn’t enough to generate life by itself. The sparking of life required an extraordinary source of energy such as volcanic springs on land, or deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Energy created by the Earth’s iron core spinning like a dynamo in its dance with the Sun.

Water is motion. A wave rolls in and I dig my fingertips into the gritty coarseness of the rock, closing my eyes while the water flashes and fizzes over my head. I let go and allow the wave to drag me along the surface of the rock and out again, as it meets the backwash of the wave before. I surrender to the action of the water, to the complex ebb and flow as wave energy meets the solidity of stone.

Psychologist Carl Jung described the ocean as a metaphor for the unconscious. Creative inspiration and dream life is generated from the depths, a place where we have no access and no control. Ideas, themes, characters, connections: sometimes they surprise me with a life of their own, generated somewhere below the surface, where I cannot see them coming. Where does it spring from, this vast ocean of inspiration?

Water itself is thought to be from space. Much of it comes from asteroids which collided with our embryonic planet at the genesis of the solar system.  Now, astrophysicists from the University of Arizona have discovered another origin for water. Samples taken from the Earth’s inner core have a lower ratio of deuterium, or heavy hydrogen, to normal hydrogen. A ratio to match the hydrogen found in the solar nebula, the cloud of dust and gas way back at the beginning of everything. Only one in a hundred molecules in the ocean possesses this ratio, but it mirrors that found in the Earth’s inner seas, formed when the Earth had just begun to pull itself together from the nebula of dust and gas. Alchemical mysteries of the universe transformed into water.

Drifting amongst the waves I feel I am immersed in the sea of time and space. The water is everywhere, and everywhen. Within are unfathomable depths, unseen creatures, and dreams. I emerge, crawl out onto the warm granite and bask there. Life springs again from the sea.

The discovery of a source for water in the solar nebula has implications for life in the rest of the universe. Life needs water. A scenario where asteroids supply water to a forming planet may have been a rare event, and scientists are unsure if this happened elsewhere. Finding evidence of the generation of water from solar nebulae gives hope that the right conditions have formed on other planets, in other solar systems, and other galaxies.

 I sit and dry on the rock, with its cloak of green algae dotted with tiny triangular shells. Light-line traceries from the sun cast flickering networks of gold on the sea floor. I watch, and wonder what might surface from the depths.

Splashing wave with sun