The Seal Skin and the Sea Within

depositephotos ocean wave, Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids.

by Maria Ede-Weaving

It is always interesting to me how language shapes our understanding of reality. It fascinates me that in some languages there are words that cannot directly translate into English. This suggests that others can see or perceive something in life and in our world, that we just don’t have the words for, and therefore, it isn’t a reality for us. It’s a mind-blowing thought and illustrates that  language can not only be a key to opening our understanding of the world, it can also be a limitation.

It is also fun when we discover words from other languages that do have a direct translation but actually help us to deepen our understanding of that word. To give an example, I recently watched a wonderful documentary called InnSaei: The Power in Intuition by Icelandic film maker Hrund Gunnsteinsdottir. Innsaei is an Icelandic word for intuition but Hrund points out in her movie that the word has several meanings:

  1. The Sea Within
  2. To See Within
  3. To See From The Inside Out

Hrund describes these meanings in a rather beautiful way,

The sea within is the borderless nature of our inner world. It is constantly moving; it goes beyond words; it is a world of vision, feelings and imagination. The sea within cannot be put into boxes because then it ceases to flow.
To see within is to know yourself; to know yourself well enough to be able to put yourself into other people’s shoes and to bring out the best in you.
And finally, InnSaei means to see from the inside out. To see from the inside out is to have a strong inner compass so you can navigate your way in our ever-changing world.

I feel you could probably take each one of these three phrases and use them as journal prompts to explore the nuances of each.

I find myself drawn to ‘The Sea Within’; it is a phrase that calls to me. It is very easy to perceive our inner life as an ocean, one that has unknowable depths, the compelling pull of tides, the ebb and flow of connection and disconnection. It can be an alarming place with unexpected eddies that threaten to pull us under, leading us to yearn for the shallows that offer respite and safety.  I have often dreamt of the sea and until recently have always lived by it.

depositephotos ocean meets shore, Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids.
About a year or so ago, I had one of those dreams that seem to yell at you, those dreams when you know with an undeniable certainty that the ‘sea within’ is communicating something vital to your well-being. I was in the ocean, desperately trying to rescue a dying seal from circling sharks. I wanted to help the seal into the shallows, so that it could die in peace, without being predated. I knew the sharks were only being true to their nature and were hungry, but I couldn’t bear the thought of this beautiful seal being ripped apart. Like Popeye, I was bopping leaping sharks on the nose, trying to deter them from coming to shore where the seal lay exhausted. Upon waking, I knew that the Seal represented a part of me, a vital part that was in danger of being no more, and that my inner world was letting me know that this had to be addressed.

Myths and Folk Tales about Seal people, or Selkies as they are known here in Scotland, are many. Both Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Sharon Blackie have written wonderfully about these tales, getting inside the mythic and psychological truths that these stories gift us with.

My favourite is the Seal Wife, the tale of a Selkie who comes to shore, slipping off her seal skin and dancing on the sands. She is seen by a human man who falls desperately in love with her and steals her seal skin, hiding it away so that he will never lose her to the sea again. He plans to keep her as his wife on land forever and she bears him two children but painfully missing her ocean home and her seal skin – her true, authentic being – she becomes further and further outside herself. Gradually, with the memory of her true home haunting her, she begins to decline, her skin growing dry and her being listless, until one day she rediscovers her hidden seal skin, tucked away in the eves and stepping into that magical skin, slips joyfully back into the ocean, only occasionally being seen as she swims close to shore to visit her children.
depositephotos grey seal, Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids.

The seal skin is for all of us our true, authentic self; what that true self is only we can know. So many of us have our seal skins stolen, sometimes by our culture or our work, sometimes by our families or our partners, even by all of these. We have to keep checking in with that agile, soulful creature who so often symbolises our deepest passions and loves, our creativity and our life meaning and purpose. If we have our seal skins stolen, or if we give them away, we too can become dry and without joy, filled with a yearning for our true home and those that understand us.

In my dream, my own inner seal was in a pitiful state. Seals can spend long periods in the deep ocean but also need the shore to rest and recuperate. Difficult life circumstances over years can certainly make life feel like an unending deep dive in an unforgivingly dangerous sea. We all need rest and peace and life-giving oxygen. Since my dream, I have come to realise just how much I have neglected my creativity, and also my need to ponder and dream over recent years.

selkie by James Browne, Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids.
Selkie by James Browne

I have been watching some gorgeous videos by Michael Boyd. Michael takes some magical footage of Harbour Seals (do check him out on Instagram @michaelboyyd). I learned though his films that Harbour Seals, when they want a quick snooze, will lodge themselves between two rocks on the seabed, or wrap themselves in the strands of a kelp forest and float as they sleep. They need air and water and land too, and without these they could not survive.

Since my Seal dream, I have been thinking about that balance we all need to feel truly ourselves; about honoring all the elements that keep us well, truly alive and vibrantly connected to our life. I have also been thinking about the price we pay for bending ourselves out of our natural shape to fit in and be loved or accepted. The impact such self-denying  behaviour has on every level of our being can be devastating. In a world that demands so much of all of us, in lives where we are constantly pressured to let go of the things that truly matter in order to conform (or merely just to survive), remember to check in with your seal skin regularly. What condition is it in? Is it sleek and silky, or dry and cracked? Let your inner seal dive deep in that mysterious ‘sea within’, bringing back beautiful treasures that feed your soul and give you the courage to be true to yourself. Let it rest on dry land too, in sunny, sheltered coves – we were not made for everlasting storms.
depositephotos seals, Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids.


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