Ebb and flow - the power of cycles
Dr Easkey Britton is an internationally-renowned surfer, artist, scientist and explorer from Ireland. Easkey pioneered women’s big-wave surfing in Ireland as the first woman to surf Aileen’s at the Cliffs of Moher and Mullaghmore. Easkey is a five-time Irish national surf champion, and holds a Ph.D. in Marine Environment and Society. She is the founder of Be Like Water, a platform to explore innovative ways to reconnect with who we are, our environment and each other, through water.
Our bodies have been shaped and formed by water. We have an ocean inside us – like the Earth, we are 70% salt-water. And like our mammalian cousins, seals and dolphins, we too have evolutionary aquatic markers. Amniotic fluid is the same density as sea water. Our mammalian dive reflex causes our heart rate to slow when in water. Cold water stimulates the vagus nerve, calming our fight or flight response, lowering cortisol and releasing feel-good hormones. Our blood, our sweat, our tears all return, ultimately, to the ocean. Each drop of water has been here forever and continually returns to the ocean where it is recycled and renewed. Cycles are everywhere in nature, and within our bodies. Women, especially have an incredible in-built intelligence system that directly links to the natural cycles and rhythms of the world around us. Yet, for so many of us, we remain unaware of the power of this potential. We live in a society where the natural rhythms of our cycles are suppressed in order to ‘perform (conform) well’. Increasingly, I see examples of disconnectedness not just from each other and our environment, but our own bodies.
As a lifelong surfer and someone who has a passion for sea, I’ve also wondered how it would be if we could learn to move with the tides in and out of the water, honour our inner ebb and flow? Cycle awareness has always influenced every aspect of my life. As a woman who surfs, I naturally move with the tides. Since early childhood I was already attuned to the rhythms of my local environment. I was born on a new moon and an awareness of the lunar cycle and its influence on me and my environment was instilled in me from an early age. That said, this inner-wisdom and innate sea-connection was something I often felt I had to suppress or conceal in my young adult years. As a competitive athlete the emphasis was always on performance, being more ‘aggressive’ and ‘attacking’ the wave. I felt silenced.
This conscious awareness of my inner cycle has only recently been awakened in me. At the beginning of this year my intention was to enter it open-hearted, self-connected, and full of courage. Instead, it has felt like an intense and at times bewildering shadow dance. The power of discernment abandoned me, I struggled with fear daily, and there were times I never felt more disconnected. Adrift, lost, alone, sometimes feeling like I’d gone crazy with a longing I couldn’t name. By the time the end of January came I felt exhausted, emotionally and physically spent. But then I noticed the moon. And remembered. It would be full on February 1st, Imbolc. In more ancient times, Imbolc was celebrated as the beginning of the year, the first day of Spring in the Celtic calendar. I decided to start my year on the full moon of Imbolc. A new beginning. And I could use the cycle of the moon to help guide me back to myself, to help me tune in to my own inner cycle, the power that we all carry within us. This beautiful ability of our bodies to communicate with the world and let us know what it is that we need to be whole. A wisdom too long oppressed, was stirring inside me. Without understanding why, I spent the early morning chasing the blue moon as it set through squalls and weather fronts, all the way from the hill where I live on the west coast of Ireland down to the seashore. Moon bathing.
Beginning to consciously link and chart the influence of the tides, moon and menstrual cycle alongside my experience of surfing this last winter was profoundly powerful. Noticing when and how the outer seascape might mirror my inner cycle was the inspiration behind a new short film, A Lunar Cycle. The creative process of making the film allowed me to explore what it would be like to let the energy of the different phases of my cycle express itself through how I surf. Fusing cold water surfing, dance and poetry, I explored a synodic month from a female perspective. It became an emotive journey through the places in-between, where instability reigns supreme. Embracing the imperfections as we connect with ourselves and the environment around us. This awareness of cycles helps me reconnect with my body in nature, understand my own inner ebb and flow. It reveals the high cost of being always ‘on’ in a society that fosters a toxic relationship with time, and the equally important need for stillness and reflection.
I feel a process of recovery is underway. In a society that rewards ‘busyness’ I think understanding the influence of cycles becomes even more important. We all have them, men and women. We’re living beings influenced by our environment and are affected by the cycles of night and day, the moon, the seasons, the tides. Our body tells us when it’s time to act and when it’s time to rest. Those of us who work with the sea are perhaps already attuned to the rhythms of our local environment. What if we could learn to live more intimately with the world around us and come to know our rhythms more deeply? What would it be like to let the energy of the different phases of our cycle express itself through how we engage with the ocean? In the surf, instead of always glorifying high performance, hyper-masculine, shortboard surfing, what if we celebrated surfing and surfers in all their cycles? Through the life cycle, the seasons, the tides, the breath. Young and old, smooth lines, explosive surrender. Allowing for the days when we’re just not feeling it. Listening to when our bodies are telling us it is time to take the leap, now, just go! Trust. Breathe. Be.
Today’s society puts a high price on ‘productivity’. It values consistency and stasis, not fluctuations of ebb and flow. To ‘do nothing’ is shameful. So is bleeding. We’re not just disconnected from each other and our environment, but our own bodies. When I return to my 2018 intention for greater ‘self-connection’ I realise it’s a desire to be fully in my own skin. Where and when do I feel that aliveness most? In the sea. Where there is that constant ebb and flow. The sensation of water enveloping me whole. Where all of my body is suspended for a moment, held in a great embrace that asks nothing at all from me, just to be.
It doesn’t have to be surfing or the sea. Maybe for you it is the mountains, rivers or lakes. It’s what it symbolises that matters. It’s about reclaiming sites for celebrating the fullness of who we are. How do we create a space for that kind of celebration in the water? What ritual can you create around your routine, whether you are an outdoor weekend warrior, a full-time competitor or die-hard soul-surfer, that honours your unique cycle? Maybe it’s deciding to leave the equipment behind and simply play in the shore break, bodysurfing like we used to as kids. Creating a temporary tidal altar or offering on the reef before or after we enter the ocean. On those wilder days, breathe into your belly, be present and embrace the mystery.
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