'My Octopus Teacher' & Why Healing Means Returning To The Same Place

Photo: Netflix
'My Octopus Teacher' & Healing By Returning To The Same Place
Self

Why return to the same place over and over? Because it can sometimes be healing.

Documentary filmmaker, editor, and cameraman Craig Foster says it best in his moving, life-altering, love-story, My Octopus Teacher.

"That’s when you see the subtle differences. That’s when you get to know the wild."

Going through a wildly tumultuous emotional time is not so different from the Cape of Storms.

The more you go deep inside, over and over, to look at the tangled underwater terrain of your feelings, the more you see the nuances that can set you free.

RELATED: 12 Gentle Ways To Help Yourself Heal From Grief

My Octopus Teacher illustrates healing by returning to the same place.

The demands of life can get in the way and take their toll on your peace of mind.

Sure, hard work is good for the soul, especially if it’s work you love. Yet, if you get too wrapped up and make it your whole world, you can easily lose sight of your inner needs.

That’s what happened to Craig Foster over years of demanding work. He loved it, but was left depleted, exhausted, and detached.

He hadn’t slept properly in months, he’d worn himself out, and his family was suffering.

Foster was getting sick and his mind couldn’t deal with all the pressure. He didn’t want to see a camera or editing room ever again, and had gone through two years of "absolute hell."

So, how did Foster find a way out of his grief?

He went back to his childhood roots by the sea, diving, and snorkeling, and was inspired by the amazing trackers he’d witnessed shooting a film in the Central Kalahari Desert.

How to track and find what you’ve lost.

Sometimes, you simply lose yourself. It happens when life takes you away from what you actually feel and where your priorities and emotional needs exist.

You need to re-connect and find ways of seeing reasons to be alive. This means learning how to search for and find what’s been pushed away and hidden inside you.

That’s the kind of thing Craig Foster watched the greatest trackers in the world do.

They "could go into incredible, subtle signs in nature — things my eye couldn’t even see — and follow them for hours; find hidden animals in the landscape, I could feel I was outside… I had a deep longing to be inside that world."

Now, 18 years later, he would.

At home on the Cape of Storms, Foster began diving again, "Getting in the water of one of the wildest, scariest places to swim on the planet."

It's useful to have a guide in these wild places.

Your stirred-up feelings can seem like that sometimes, so it’s useful to have a guide.

But Foster went on this journey alone at first, knowing it was best to have no barriers (and no wetsuit) to what he might encounter in the world to be explored.

Being openly receptive is an important part of healing. Yet, he found a teacher.

Picking up the camera he loved, Foster swam slowly in the kelp forest. It was foggy and difficult to see.

Finally, he arrived in an area where his vision was clear. Then, he saw her.

A strange spectacle at first, having made herself look like a shell-laden rock. A scared octopus wrapped herself in a piece of algae, staring at him.

Foster knew there was something special about her. He had a "crazy" idea: "What happens if I went every day? What happens if I never missed a day?"

This was his first lesson.

Consistency is key in getting to know yourself, or any other creature.

You can’t get to know anyone — or yourself — unless you go to the same place over and over inside and keep looking closely.

So, Foster watched for all the little signs of what was hidden away in this new world, the one she inhabited — the ways she’d learned to live.

She was a lone soul, as octopi are. Foster, too, was alone in this need to know himself again.

Much of this healing journey is about learning to trust yourself and not being afraid of what you need to see. The little octopus learned to see that Foster was a friend, not an enemy.

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Learning to trust yourself, others, and your longings to be close.

There were many interesting things about this little creature, but two stand out — curiosity and openness are vital, as well as trusting another.

The octopus was scared but curious.

Day after day, Foster came to watch her, waiting until she wanted to get closer to him. Soon, she came out of her den and just went about her usual activities, even if things would still scare her.

Dropping a piece of his camera, she left her den and he couldn’t find her for days.

This made Foster sensitized to tracking. He had to think like an octopus, find clues, and quietly swim through the waters until he found her.

He wasn’t a predator. But there were many.

Foster witnessed his Octopus Teacher’s incredible creativity to deceive and protect herself. She had to, since predators were everywhere.

Foster, too, had to have everything about his diving kit perfect because he didn’t know what might be lurking.

But they both craved and needed contact, which is interesting in an octopus who's used to living alone. He wondered, "What could she get out of this human — visiting her?"

She seemed to want something, approaching him more each time. Covering his hand with her body, riding with him to the surface when he needed a breath, and lunging onto his chest.

Watch out for ever-present predators.

Did the octopus also need to feel there’s something safe in the midst of what is not? Maybe.

In her and in Foster, there's a need for connection — a human thing.

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Foster fell in love with her because she reflected what he had to face in himself — her vulnerability and need to feel safe.

After a shark attack, she needed to re-grow her arm. Regrowing an arm and healing from grief and exhaustion are not so different. Foster had to feel her courage to reach out for the connections needed to heal.

There are internal predators to watch out for, who take you away from people you love or convince you to give up on your feelings and needs.

You have to know and be able to detect who and what is safe.

The octopus taught Foster how to be "sensitized to the other."

His son, Tom, needed his love and protection. But, first, Foster needed to feel safe.

The little octopus, always on the lookout for ways to protect herself by climbing on the back of a shark attacker, finds the most secure place to hide and escape.

In order to heal, it’s important to feel safe being open.

Foster learned this in time. He took his son to see and meet his Octopus Teacher, and he's no longer alone in his journey.

Why healing means returning to the same place.

Foster went to that same place, over and over, because that’s the only way to see more closely, to let what you see develop and expand, and to truly begin to know yourself.

And, as Foster says, "To connect the lines and the stories." Mostly, the diverse parts of him.

What he saw each time he returned was himself reflected in the octopus — how much she could give of herself, and how much he needed to take first in order to give.

He watched her mate and give over her body and her life to bring her young into the world. This meant the end of her life.

Not the same for Foster, but he learned to go into his son Tom’s world and bring him into his own once again.

And Foster sadly watched the little octopus die. He missed her. But My Octopus Teacher had given Foster his life back, reconnecting him to his capacity to feel and to love.

From going back to the same place over and over, Foster healed the wounds of his past.

Just as the little octopus helped Foster, he watched Tom — as they dived together — develop a strong sense of confidence and gentleness that Foster now had.

My Octopus Teacher taught Foster that he was a part of this wild, remote place where she lived. But also, that his previously remote feelings and needs for contact were now a part of him.

Going back to the same place over and over heals you, because now you can feel and are whole.

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Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst, who specializes in treating childhood trauma, persistent depressive states, and all types of anxiety. For more information, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Characters On The Couch. Reprinted with permission from the author.