February 21, 2023


Pippa Ehrlich

Life as a modern human is overwhelming: filled with an overload of stimulation and task completion, that leaves little room for our hearts and minds to breathe. Only in specific moments, prompted by important life events or milestones in our calendar, do we give ourselves space to slow down and expand, but the truth is that as a species, we have always been creatures of ritual.  

Rituals are part of our blueprint and although most of them may be subconscious, our days are full of small habitual actions that helps us to make sense of the world and how we move within it: morning cups of coffee or weekly yoga classes, or glasses raised as the sun goes down, we are wedded to our rituals and bonded to the people we share them with. As the year changes over, the rituals intensify. For some of us these include the giving of gifts, holiday pilgrimages to relaxed places or the celebration of the dawn of a new year. 

I have a ritual that is not bound to any particular time of year or day, rather a state of being. It started about 5 years ago when a friend walked me to a very remote beach and pointed to the top of the beach. There I saw a huge white sculpture. Enormous and intriguing. Unrecognisable from that distance. When we got closer I saw the cavernous form of a Southern right whale. The biggest I had ever seen. The skull was so huge it had enough space beneath it for two adults to shelter out of the glaring sun. 

I have now spent many hours in the shade of that whale skull. I visit it when I need some guidance or perspective. Sometimes I fall asleep, deep and calm, guarded by the ancient bone. Other times I sit quietly against a cheekbone allowing my mind to defragment. I’ve talked to the skull and prayed to her. In a moment of extreme anguish I’ve even draped myself over her. She knows my secrets and has offered me generous moments of healing in her shade and quiet.

In the first week of 2023 I visited the whale to start the new year: a reassuring landmark in the shifting sands of space and time. It’s nice to feel like something new is beginning and old projects and thought patterns can be put to rest, but a new year can be frightening too, particularly given the pace at which the world is changing and the accompanying degradation of the natural environments that we depend on. That’s why I am so grateful for my whale rituals. When I’m at the skull I can think clearly and notice those things that are closest and most important to me, without feeling overwhelmed.

As human beings we are filled with unimaginable potential. We can be destructive or creative and nurturing or exploitative in equal measure. At Sea Change, our intention for 2023 is to continue to create stories that nourish the collective human need for nature connection and experience. We have some big things planned this year. Our 1001 Seaforest Species project is taking shape. We have a new book and film in production and have partnered with South African National Parks, SapienCE and others, on an early modern human origins and innovations exhibition, that opens in the Cape of Good Hope Buffelsfontein visitor centre in April 2023. We are also going to be entering some new territory in the audio world, so watch this space…

In the meantime, we hope in 2023 you find time for your own rituals that allow you to find calm and meaning in our beautiful, wild and sometimes frightening world. 


Words and photos by Pippa Ehrlich. 

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