Last weekend I happened to catch the documentary “My Octopus Teacher”. Had been hearing rave reviews about it since it won the academy award for best documentary in 2022.
I was looking forward to catching a good underwater documentary with my son who is quite an early stage marine biology enthusiast.
But I never expected to feel what I felt when the 85 mins movie ended. It touched a chord.
“I was left with moist eyes and a sweet ache in my heart.”
All for the deep relationship between the 2 protagonists….a man and an octopus….Of course, this sounds a bit far fetched. It would to me honestly. But I felt what I felt.
The resonance of the emotions, the depth of the feelings and the simplicity of the lessons learnt compelled me to write about it. To record my own thoughts on what seemed like an intimate journey of 2 living beings which had the power to carry all those witnessing it to a higher, softer, deeper plane.
I don’t intend to make this a review of the documentary. I don’t have that expertise. My intention is to share my thoughts/learnings or rather what I reckon as some interesting perspectives I gained with this experience. This has more to do with recording and replaying out loud some learnings without intellectualising or jargonising…( I don’t know how to do that either)… Yes, that is how important I feel they were for me.
The filmmaker Craig Foster was at a bleak phase in life and what started as a hobby turned into a life-changing journey for him. A single year of a religiously repeated routine and obsessively researched material changed not only him but also his connections, and the world around him. While we see the edited 85 minutes of what must have been countless hours of recorded, edited, reviewed and revised material, it was immersive enough for me to feel like a live experience. Here is my list of learnings.
Learning 1 – The answers are usually simple. Quite often in life we complicate and layer our thoughts about situations, people, and feelings. These layers are again not externally forced but are projections of our own insecurities and fears. We consciously avoid the simple answers to our problems because they do not fit in with our view of perfect solutions with perfect closures and perfect outcomes. They are not what I like to call “our perfect miracles “. In fact this desire to seek the perfect answer ruins the problem further till it looks like a horror movie version of the Triwizard Maze in Harry Potter. (I love the movies) .
“Am I Happy? Is this right? Do I have enough? Am I being unreasonable? Is the situation really that bad ? is there truly no alternative? Can I leave this?…..most times it’s a simple response….maybe not one you want to hear.”
Learning 2 – being truly present needs intuition and instinct to overpower the intellect. Whether it’s about savouring a beautiful moment or facing a dreaded minute, the best way to use your faculties optimally would be to use them instinctively at that moment. Very often we play, replay, revise and overcorrect these instincts till it’s no longer in their original form but now clouded by our fears and biases our fears and biases. Both Craig and the tiny octopus connected with each other only because they could be so completely present in each other’s environment. Both did it instinctively in their own time and their own way. There was no protocol. They just found a way. We have the same instinct and intuition. It’s inbuilt. We did live by them. But have misaligned now because we became too arrogant about our intellect.
Learning 3 – To grow you need an open mind, not an elite guru. There are lessons everywhere. Because there is life everywhere. And all life has at its core the strong desire to not only survive but thrive. We may have transcended as intellectual beings. it will not take away our very basic connection with universal life. Of wanting to survive and be happy. So every once in a while looking around. Look up at the sky, look down to the earth and you will be surprised at the learnings that lie scattered abundantly. From a tree struggling to keep its green alive in the middle of a concrete jungle, to a dog trying to cross a traffic signal. From a child smiling face up in torrential rains to an invertebrate octopus sacrificing its life for its young ones. Lessons, motivations, and meanings are everywhere. You just need to be receptive.
Learning 4 – Disconnecting to reconnect. Silence is what stirs those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Ones that demand honesty from us. And we shush them with the noise of muddles business and frenzied activities because we can’t stand the discomfort. They catch up sooner or later. In the form of poor health, failing relationships, and broken hearts. It’s in the absolute silence of those waters that Craig could fully experience admit his current brokenness and experience healing. We can”t all dive away to be with ourselves. But we can begin by creating our own oasis of silence as part of our daily living.
Learning 5 – expectations are the roadblock to true connections. As humans, we are wired for kickbacks. For validations and affirmations. Every connection we invest in must have a return promised (said or unsaid). Rarely do we connect just cause it feels great to us. In the documentary too, there is a moment where Craig asks himself this question, “what is this creature getting out of this interaction ?”. Replace this invertebrate with another human being in this equation and I wouldn’t be surprised if neither took steps to connect with each other without processing where this could go and what this could be.
“Trying the approach of doing something just cause it feels good to you may be just the thing your soul needs.”
Lesson 6 – life happens… your only option is to go with it. You may scream, fight, cry, or break down. No matter what the issue, life will go on the very next second. While you stood there frozen, angry, afraid to move forward it still went on. That’s the nature of life. It finds its way. You may challenge it, or flow with it. The choice is yours. The octopus regrew its lost tentacles. Chris reconnected with his Son. The octopus died of starvation trying to ensure the survival of its young ones. Its carcass was devoured by the rest of the sea life. Life moved on.
Lesson 7 – Being vulnerable is a strength. Contrary to what the world has taught you. Chris starts off the documentary talking about his struggle with where he was in life, the connections that he was losing and the opacity of the world around him making him feel so alone. He takes to the waters to renew and reconnect. At the same time, he discovers a creature known to be a loner, someone who rarely is seen even in pairs. And then when the creature actually shows signs of recognising his daily visitor first with fear, then curiosity and lastly with an openness to explore and connect was a lesson in using vulnerability as a strength. Even in the face of a near-death experience, the octopus refused to let its future interactions get affected. You may not always have the end picture perfected, but you owe it to yourself to open up to feelings, connections and experiences. You owe it to yourself to move from a constant mode of survival to experiencing this one Life completely. It would be a shame to miss out on possibilities of love, friendships, and growth just because you were too afraid to step out of your den.
These were my thoughts. You could view the documentary and derive your own meaning. I believe the meanings we attach do depend on where we are at that point of time in life. We all come from our own context.
The inspiration that struck Chris from his year with the octopus, changed the course of his life for the better. He now has a healthier relationship with his son who likes his father has taken to diving and Marine biology. Chris also founded the Sea Change Project where now he and a few other like-minded people work towards preserving marine biodiversity.
Dr Bhavana Gautam is a Holistic Health Coach at Rachna Restores and you can find more details about her HERE. For more such articles and content on health & wellness, don’t forget to follow us!