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Identity, expanded

Part of the work behind Bodies of Water deals with the idea of a diffuseness of identity. Ingrained in my biography, these are issues I keep returning to; from multiple readings, there are two ideas that stayed in my mind, I think from Mozambican writer Mia Couto. In one, he speaks about being a “creature of the border” - an in between, nearby, or even simultaneously on different sides, in relation to identity, place, and certainty. An expanding notion of the “I”, that while potentially anchored in a concrete place, also belongs to several of them, and to its cultures, simultaneously, in all its unclear, indefinable features. Which is good. Although certainty plays a central role in human behaviour, life is, by definition, nuanced; and we are adaptable. Living as I am now in a place where two countries meet, where a river meets the ocean and in a land surrounded by water on three of its sides made me value more deeply the kind ways in which people from one side greet and meet the other; their friendliness, curiosity and presence towards the different other, and their desire to enquire, relate, get to know better and bond. Having interchangeable degrees of identifying with, being part of or being with, as when the river meets the sea, is an undefined territory of beauty, attentive listening and dialogue. Is this wave on the river or on the sea?, I often wonder. Maybe it depends on the days, currents and tides, more than on the physical geography of the place – itself, constantly changing sandbars and sediments; a perpetually transforming, and transformative, natural landscape.

Then, there’s also the idea of instead of having a motherland, having a mothersea – again, an identity that is flexible, adaptable, open yet offering a sense of belonging, and expressing itself as multitudes. These are notions that I take seriously into my life, and by extension, into my work; with its un-rigor, discomfort, and endless possibilities in regard to staying in the fringes of things supposedly as limited as specifications and boundaries. Being on the border, in the in-between or even in-both, or several, simultaneously, can feel confusing yet reflexive, and bring about curiosity and a deeper layer of be-ing and be-longing; of discovery, and joy. It’s a possibility of growth and expansion, and a practice that acknowledges some of our defying characteristics: the adaptable, changing, constantly learning and diverse nature of our collective and individual narratives and lives. I find it paradoxically comforting to stay in that edge. Not always, but as it comes; and I find it to be an expansive practice of creativity, as well.

Being on water, floating on water, is somewhat of a materialisation of this metaphor; a way of resting upon uncertainty and paradox. Of letting go; a profound trust on the solidity of the water mass. When I’m in the water, I find it difficult to define the limits of my own body; my skin sensations indicate there’s perhaps a boundary, a line where body ends and water begins, but its very difficult, if not impossible, to define that precisely. In a way, it’s even more mysterious that I can conceive that there’s actually no separation between me and water; it’s there, and it isn’t, at the same time. It’s as if being held in a loving embrace that acknowledges the strangeness of the normative constraint of the “I”. Not a merging, as there’s gladly a differentiation; but an embodied experience of interconnection. “If you sustain, I’ll gladly float with you”, I would speak to the water in kind words - if only language would make any sense at all, before swirling in its depths.

I wonder about our collective and individual identities, in what concerns the relationships between human and human, but also between human and landscape, seascape, the elements, whatever the place and its features, and other species, can be. If good relationships are understood as essential to our individual health, then why isn’t the quality of the relationship we share with our surrounding places more of a factor of inquiry and development? Some of the most intelligent people know how to relate well with other people, but also to nature: the way they deal with plants, trees, rivers, rocks, animals, denotes a friendliness that seems to derive from a profound knowing, respect and admiration from these living, and non living, things. They establish living bonds with them, in both a palpable way – with their hands, arms, legs, feet, the entire movement of their bodies -, and in an emotional, and deeply rational way. Behaviour, in the way it transmits values and identities, can have many forms, outside the norm. And in profound ways, the habits that weave into these small daily practices structure an enriching emotional landscape of relationship to Earth.

Back into the sea, I was amazed to hear about Cliff Kapono’s research into our bodies’ microbiome. His research found ocean bacteria in the bodies of surfers - those who go to the ocean often; and found that the more they go, the more they have these bacteria. The molecular composition of their biology became genetically different from that of non-surfers, due to their time spent in water; said composition became more similar to whales, dolphins and other mammals. Who are we, really? Again, this time on a less philosophical yet profoundly visceral quality, the relationship and experience of a particular place - in this case, the sea -, becomes a defining feature of the “I”, in which expansion, nuance, adaptability and multiplicity, arise as a natural, transformative on-going way of being.


Immersions in nature are said to provide sensory cues to the body that calm the thinking mind. There’s a knowing of the body, a state of being of openness and awareness. Physical contact is of primary importance to us, mammals. It nurtures and builds trust. A soft touch brings us in connection to others, communicating feelings of care, safety and belonging. Water can bring this touch, as well, either in quietness or from buoyancy in movement. Through swimming, but mostly through sailing and surfing, I have lived the constant, seemingly opposition between surrender and action, movement and stillness; of flowing through with the present senses. Other sensory experiences arise as well: feeling the wind on the skin indicates its direction; the sense of balance, and its impermanence. There’s a quality of focus and presence while in movement, but also the contrasting soft touch of water, so very often arriving with a sensation of care, rhythm and surprise – as the liquid form that it is, expressing itself in multitudes, contradictions and paradoxes, that perhaps because reflecting our own constantly changing nature, can be so engaging, connecting and a resting place of awe and delight. To which, in all its different places and different waters, I am grateful to belong.


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