The science behind ocean love

Ocean sounds create pink noise which breaks up vibrational patterns. For example, if you are holding a stressful thought that is taking over your system, pink noise will literally break it up. This is why it’s hard to hold a thought when listening to pink or white noise. (Pink noise is white noise with more bass frequencies.) Have you ever found yourself mentally checking-out while drying your hair? The hair-dryer sound includes white noise.


Image(China Beach, San Francisco)

Unlike standard sounds, pink noise is made up of fragments of sine waves instead of complete waves. The brain tries to piece together the frequencies into a complete wave, and this effort drowns out any other vibrational patterns that try to occupy it (such as thoughts, other sounds, etc.). Since the sound of crashing waves is not constant, we can still put two thoughts together when are at the beach. But with each incoming wave, the ocean is rinsing your brain and literally cleansing stagnant, vibrational patterns away. This allows space for creative thinking, and leaves us feeling renewed. The therapeutic sound, combined with the fresh air, beautiful scenery, and soft sand beneath bare feet, makes for the perfect sensory experience.

DSC_0741(My childhood front lawn)

I’ve loved the ocean way before I understood the vibrational science behind why. Living on Cape Cod, the ocean was my playground and front yard. Since then, it’s been a necessity for me to live within 10 mins from the beach.

From Fort Lauderdale…


IMG_0122 - Version 2(J.D. MacArthur beach, North Palm Beach)

to San Francisco:



20130119_172443(Ocean Beach, San Francisco)

I’ve cherished my beach time to relax and rejuvenate. Even during the rare times I take a vacation, I usually plan around a beach destination.

DSC_0036(Sayulita, Mexico)

What I love most about the beach is the inner child it awakens. With all the mental clutter cleared away, all that is left is joy and liberation. Watching children on the beach is one of my favorite things. Screaming, laughing, running; they reflect the essence of joy.

IMG_0840(My nephews playing on the same beach I grew up on.)

It’s hard to not be happy when at the beach. What’s there not to love?

Detachment from labels

I’ve always considered myself a “music lover.” Not a music expert, per se, but someone who is passionate about music and takes it rather seriously. It is really hard for me to sit through a song (or god forbid playlist) I dislike. (Maybe this makes me a music snob?) This can make riding as a passenger in a car uncomfortable at times.

One of my reasons for moving to San Francisco was to have good live music available within a walk from my apartment. Over this last year I’ve made an effort to be on top of live shows that were happening – how could I call myself a music lover if I’m not regularly going to live shows? – and once I discovered music festivals, attending as many of these as possible also became a goal. By living my definition of what “music lover” meant (which included going to shows and music festivals), I was actively expressing who I was.

The world seems to run on labels and categories, as it seems to be the only way to make the least bit of sense of all craziness that encompasses it. I mean, isn’t that what language is after all, a socially recognized system for labeling things? Each word is simply a label, a commonly recognized set of sounds that corresponds to a thing (or action, descriptor, whatever). But what makes this tricky is that our definition of words and labels cannot help but be influenced by our prior experiences with those things we are referencing.

Now, this is not a problem for simple communication like “the door is locked”. Little room for interpretation there. But ask any two people in SF what the word “hipster” means and they each may have different connotations of the word. I can’t help but feel that our linguistic system of communication is simply archaic. If we can’t even agree on the exact definition of a noun, how are we to effectively communicate abstract concepts like feelings, dreams, or even who we are? How about creating an identity for ourselves, a definition to which we can ascribe and use as guide posts for how we live our lives? How can one even attempt to translate these ideas through the switchboard of language?

In the sound healing program I completed, our teacher would have us “make the sound” of our day at the beginning of each class. No need to search for words or navigate the linguistic code. Simply tune inwards to find the vocal sounds that best resonate with whatever you are feeling or wishing to express.  It takes almost the full hour of my therapy session to just catch my therapist up with how I’ve been doing since our last session. Putting all that in a 2-minute soundtrack, that is completely unique and authentic, is so much more efficient! (It should be noted that the concept behind sound healing is that all things – thoughts, feelings, objects, etc. – are simply energy, made up of vibrational waves, that have their own resonant frequency. So, by tuning into and sharing the “sound” of what it is we want to express, we are communicating the very essence of that thing.)

This is all to say that until this past weekend, I was still ascribing to the “music lover” definition I had mentioned earlier, which included festival-going. This was not a difficult conclusion to come to, as my four experiences with music festivals (each at the High Sierra and Harmony Festivals) were amazing. Based on those experiences, I concluded that I loved music festivals, and attributed that to the fact that I loved music. And I was very excited to finally make it to Outside Lands this year. I had not been quick enough to purchase tickets before they sold out last year, which had made me very bitter. I planned ahead this time and cleared my calendar for the day and time those puppies were going on sale, and made sure to get myself a 3-day pass. Nothing was gonna stop me now.

The terribly long walk from the Golden Gate park festival entrance to the actual concert entry gate was annoying, but I dismissed it as one of the necessary costs of attending a large festival. The fact that they made me pour out the tap water from my water bottle upon entry annoyed me more. Especially when I realized that they were charging for water refills, and the stations were very few and far between. Enter in the hopelessly large crowds that stood between me and the water refill stations, as well as my growing thirst as I navigated them, and my annoyance level was quickly rising.

But all was well with the world because soon I’d be seeing Beck. I’ve been listening to Beck since middle school and had yet to see him in concert. Odelay was in constant replay in my car as I drove to high school senior year, and I continue to be amazed by the variance of his music. Each album has a different sound, and he seems to collaborate with a different artist each month. Because of this I was willing to be pushed and jostled a bit by the crowd that filled in around me at the main stage 20 minutes before showtime. Those 20 minutes were uncomfortable, yes, and the people in the bear hats behind us who were talking obnoxiously loud were irritating. But they were also drunk. And this was a music festival after all. How did this not annoy me at High Sierra? Oh right, because the people there respected personal space and they were more chill and high than drunk and obnoxious. But no matter, I was a music lover and willing to put up with this to see Beck.

Beck fired up with Devil’s Haircut, and I was so excited and immediately started dancing. But something was not right. Aside from the two ladies in front of me, no one else around me was dancing!  All these people who felt compelled to push themselves toward the front and nearly run me over in the process seemed unengaged and bored. What was going on? Aside from the popular “two turn tables and a microphone” song, the climate of my immediate surroundings remained unchanged for the entire set. I could not help but feel irritated. I realized then that for me, music festivals were only as good as the crowd that attended them. The energy of a performance goes both ways between the artists and the crowd. And I like it when the crowd around me is as enthusiastic about the performance as I am – especially if they are taking up valuable personal space. My critical voice that sometimes rears its judgmental head could not help but conclude that a lot of those people were there more for the scene, and to have something cool to post on facebook, than for the music itself.

(Beck. Do you see anyone dancing?)

By the end of the night, the freezing weather, overpriced food and ridiculously long waits for the port-o-pots completely deflated what was left of my tolerance. The following morning, I sold my ticket for the remaining two days.

Though I had not consciously registered it, I had somehow connected going to Outside Lands as validation of my hardcore music-lover status. Over the last few months I was surprised to learn that many of my friends were not going, and I assumed that they simply did not care about music as much as I did. Because why else would you turn down a music festival? But as I stood freezing, looking at the 25 yard-long line for $8 hot chocolate, I understood. And I also realized my mistake. I, nor anyone else, has anything to prove when it comes to identity definition. No need to meet some fabricated definition of a label, even if you yourself fabricate it. I still love music (and therefore remain a music lover) and the fact that I will no longer go to Outside Lands does not change that. What has changed is my understanding of what “music lover” means, and my relationship with that label.

Each day, each moment, we are evolving beings with new thoughts, emotions, and experiences that shape who we are. How can you put a label on that?

A little encouragement goes a long way

My dad blasted opera music when I was in the womb to ensure that I’d soundly sleep through it once I was born. He didn’t want to have to adjust the volume on my account. I don’t blame him. Not only do I sleep soundly to any type of classical music to this day, but I’m also a music fanatic.

At 3 yrs old, I was placed at the piano and commenced piano lessons. When it was clear that my little fingers were still too young for the keys, lessons were postponed until I was 5. I am the youngest child in my family, and therefore a natural glutton for attention, so I was delighted by all the praise I’d get from family and visiting friends for my playing.

(I also like photographing pianos.)

Somewhere along the way, within the ten years of my lessons, this natural relationship with the piano turned sour. Maybe it was the long days at private prep school that stole time from my practicing, making me feel inadequate and behind in my lessons. Maybe it was not getting the music scholarship in high school, making me feel discouraged. Regardless from where this destructive seed originated, it was planted in my sensitive adolescent brain and just continued to grow. Stopping lessons was a relief since it meant no longer needing to face feelings of shame and inadequacy at my lessons. And I was now free to focus on “more important” things like academic work and college applications.

These negative associations with the piano settled into a painful estrangement. The longer I stayed away from the piano, the more my memory of previously perfected pieces diminished, along with my agility on the keys. This deterioration resulted in deeper feelings of incompetence and inadequacy, perpetuating the downward spiral. All the while, my love for the piano just continued to grow, which made things worse. I could barely listen to Chopin without being moved to tears – not for its beauty, but for its mocking quality of what I no longer had.

When I was earning money out of college, one of my first investments was in an electric piano and digital recorder. Not because I was a prolific songwriter, but because I secretly wanted nothing more than to become one. This was not a dream I shared often with others, since it made me shy and self-conscious to even think about it as a possibility, and part of me felt silly for even purchasing the equipment. And when the piano would sit in my apartment unused for months at a time, my feelings of silliness would return. Who am I really kidding, anyway?

Slowly, with help from writing, acting, and other creative outlets that allowed for healing self-expression, I began to revisit my relationship with the piano. I’d sit for only a few minutes at a time, but found myself naturally floating over keys in aimless improvisations here and there. I’d hear fun melodies in my head, and fumble on the keys to bring them to life. Those that I liked I recorded. This became my rare guilty pleasure that I allowed myself only when feeling especially indulgent, and when there were not “more important” things to do…you know, like laundry, cooking, shopping, etc. And I never bothered mentioning this pastime to others, lest they want to hear my little doodles and realize the hack that I was. What business did I have in making music anyway? I was even terrible at reading it! It was waste of time, really…

And this is how the next five or so years progressed. As my sense of self began to strengthen, the stranglehold that had developed around my self-permission to play began to loosen. My explorations on the piano began to become longer in length and freer of self-criticism. Lyrics for melodies began to present themselves, and I began filling a notebook with them. Pieces of songs began to form together.

(I like tinkering on the guitar too.)

This past month, I finally completed my first piano piece, complete with lyrics and voice. I hadn’t played piano in front of anyone for the last 12 years, never mind any original pieces. But I felt a shy need to share this one with my brother, a close sibling who strongly influenced my own musical palate. With a timid nervousness I sent him a recording via email. Just a rough draft of something I wrote, I told him.

Two hours later I got his email:

“So I just played this song a bunch of times. It is simply beautiful.  The piano, your voice, and the lyrics. It sounds professional, and that does not do it justice.  I am beyond impressed. I think you need to keep going on this. You have a gift.”

And so began the tears. Years of repression released. For so long I had replayed the story in my head that I was not good enough to write a song. I was not even worthy of the piano. And here was positive support and encouragement from a family member who has a track record of holding high standards for all things I do, from college essay writing, to choosing a career, to driving manual shift. Generally there is always room for improvement. But today I got his praise.

This push of encouragement inspired me to continue with other songs I had brewing, and with vigor I’ve been dedicating time to the the piano each day since. Over the last few weeks, I can honestly say that what was left of the darkness that had plagued my relationship with the piano has completely lifted. It is now my peer rather than my superior, my dancing partner instead of a disciplinarian, and playing music is a happy creative relief instead of a stress-inducer.  It is amazing how healing this familiar, old wound has greatly impacted my overall emotional health. A burden has lifted, and I simply feel more like myself.

While this healing process has certainly been going on for years, it is clear that a little encouragement from others may be the final push we need to get ourselves over a massive hill. Especially if we create that hill ourselves.