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I went out for lunch with a friend today, and as she added salt to her soup she offered this quotation from Isak Dinesen: “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”
We shared a smile at the cleverness of Dinesen’s insight and then resumed our own conversation. Now, a few hours later, I am thinking about salt being more than an ingredient in food or useful in food preservation.
To begin with the obvious, salt is part of our natural environment. Present in our body cells and in most living tissues, it is so essential to life that entire cities and economies have been developed around it. It served as a chief factor in trade, transportation systems, the building of empires, and even wars.
The quotation begins with salt’s role in healing, starting with the salt in our own sweat.
Inducing sweat is a well-accepted health practice, such as in a sauna or a ceremonial sweat lodge, or the sweat we produce through physical labor or daily living. Even if my job doesn’t literally make me sweat, I do feel refreshed and invigorated when I work hard and produce results.
To consider the second part of the quotation, what about our tears? Well, science tells us that we release toxins through tears, and on that basis tears can heal. Crying also shows that we care. This is true in both good and not-so-good times, and even when we are emotionally stirred, such as through music, a sunset, or thrilling news.
Dinesen’s quotation concludes with the sea. Commercially sold sea salts are called “designer salt” by many people, akin to snake oil. Yet these salts are part of many people’s regular health regime. For example, Dead Sea mud is used for health treatments by people who believe that the specific concentration of mineral salts has healing powers. Beyond these admittedly debatable examples, we do know that the movement of the tides, the ebb and flow of the sea, and the negative ions released by this movement have a soothing effect.
The sea appears prominently in literature and the arts, often metaphorically. Within the Baha’i writings are many passages comparing the sea to humanity. Just to list a few from Abdu’l-Baha:
The sea of the unity of mankind is lifting up its waves with joy … – Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 19.
You are all waves of one sea, mirrors of one reflection. – Ibid., p. 48.
All mankind will dwell together as one family, blend as the waves of one sea, shine as stars of one firmament and appear as fruits of the same tree. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 145.
Returning to Dinesen’s quotation, in these instances salt is essential, and possibly even a cure. But this is only true if it is present in a moderate amount. Too much salt in our diets contributes to cardiovascular disease and other illnesses, while not enough can lead to dehydration and even death. Moderation, as the Baha’i teachings tell us, is the key:
It is incumbent upon the loved ones of God to exercise the greatest care and prudence in all things, whether great or small. Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 233.
We want to work, but not too much. We are enriched by our emotions, though we don’t want them to overwhelm us. We depend on the seas but are threatened by floods and tsunamis.
Salt is not rare. Nevertheless, like all other natural substances, we must use it wisely. The environment and our place in it must always be balanced. Practicing moderation keeps it beneficial and sustaining to us. Since the reverse is true, we are reminded to respect salt as we do everything else that comprises our natural world.
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