On September 6, Miami-Dade County issued a Mandatory Evacuation Order in preparation for Hurricane Irma, and in that moment, my family and I became environmental evacuees. A Mandatory Evacuation Order meant that we—and the other 5.6 million Floridians living within coastal storm surge zones—had to leave as soon as possible. Storm waters would soon surge into Downtown Miami. In Brickell, streets would turn into rivers. Seawater would fill the cars parked along coastal avenues.
My wife and I secured our home and loaded the car with our boys, our dog, and some personal belongings. We drove for16 hours straight to avoid the havoc that Irma would eventually wreak on South Florida. Like everyone else evacuating by car, we drove in the only direction available to us: north. The highways were congested. Evacuees spent countless hours idling in traffic. Patience (and gas) was dwindling.
We didn’t appreciate the irony at the time, but we drove to the water for refuge. We rented a cabin near Chatuge Lake, a man-made reservoir in the Chattahoochee National Forest. We took long walks along the lakeshore, played fetch with our dog, and went tubing down the Hiwassee River. Our minds and bodies, strained and stressed from the last-minute packing and interminable driving, were instantly soothed in the water. The lake healed the parts of us that had been broken in the turmoil.
Dr. Wallace J. Nichols uses the term “Blue Mind” to describe this state of peace in the water. Research shows that we associate blue spaces with happiness. Blue spaces promote exercise and make us healthier. Fresh, clean water is crucial to our physiological and psychological well-being, as well as our ecology and economy. Being in, on, under, or near water simply makes our lives better.
Non-profit organizations like Shake-A-Leg Miami and Force Blue can attest to water’s therapeutic powers. Dedicated to getting people of all abilities out on the water, Shake-A-Leg Miami offers marine activities and education to children and adults with physical, developmental and economic challenges. Founded in New York, Force Blue unites combat divers and Special Operations veterans with the world of reef conservation. Men and women who were trained to engage in underwater warfare are retrained to preserve and protect our coral reefs—allowing them to help the world and heal themselves at the same time.
I know instinctively that being around water makes me a better person. It elevates my mood, reduces my stress, and brings me much-needed peace. When life is hectic or challenging (or, in this case, threatening), I beeline to the water. I drive to the beach and dive into the ocean. Kayak through the mangroves. Run along the canal or fish from the dock. Even a dip in the pool or a warm bath can relax, restore, and make life’s challenges seem trivial.
In an age when we are constantly overwhelmed by work, politics, technology and impending natural disasters, blue mindfulness is a welcome relief. To have a Blue Mind is to have an awakened heart and a renewed perspective. As an ocean advocate and educator, I encourage you to rekindle your relationship with the water. Jump into the ocean. Open your heart. Adopt a Blue Mind.
Leopoldo Llinas is a forward-thinking father who hopes to educate the young men and woman who will make this world a better place. He holds a PhD in Marine Biology and Fisheries from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. firstname.lastname@example.org