Turning inner space into outer space

October 4, 2020

Connecting with an octopus can make you a better person

Craig Foster and the octopus

They say watching TV shows about nature is one of the most soothing things you can do for yourself. I can vouch for that.

There have been times when I’ve had a bad case of insomnia, so I get up in the middle of the night, turn on Netflix, and look for a nature show — preferably one narrated by David Attenborough.

It’s possible that I learn a few things about nature, but mostly I just let David’s voice lull me to sleep. Even when he talks about the danger of an animal going extinct, which is a terrible thought, his voice remains calm and relaxing.

There is a new nature show on Netflix called My Octopus Teacher that is also soothing, but it will definitely not put you to sleep. And I really did learn something this time — something so profound that it will stick with me for a long time.

It’s basically the story of diver Craig Foster, who befriends an octopus in the ocean waters off the southern tip of Africa. The key word here is “story,” because this is a journey of personal awakening, an experience that deepens his connection with the world we are part of.

As it turns out, the octopus is quite intelligent — roughly on par with a dog or cat. After she becomes habituated to the diver, she starts reaching out and they make physical contact. She never becomes a pet, of course, but she does allow him in her space without fear.

An octopus only lives for a little over a year, so he is able to follow about 80 per cent of her life, even recording her bittersweet death. During that time we discover many amazing things about the octopus, and become so attached that we find ourselves rooting for her as she evades a shark and cheering her on as she plays with a school of fish.

When it was all over, I was left with the feeling that a more fulfilling life would mean getting closer to nature. But getting out of the house is not always easy. It’s pretty darn comfortable inside. I need to make more of an effort.