Seasons newsletter: Sand, tide, and memory

by | May 23, 2023 | Uncategorized | 5 comments




As the season releases into the quiet of winter, with Matariki still absent from the night sky, do you find memories surfacing? — especially when you consciously let go of things that once were treasures?


Two days ago when the sun was shining, I took a small bag of white sand to the beach. I also put some stones and shells in my backpack, ready to give to the sea.

The white sand was surprisingly heavy, maybe because of its density. It was fine, and ran through my fingers like silk.

I began with a circle on the beach. The white sand seemed to float above the coarse surface of the beach as if it belonged to another realm.




I was taken back to 1990 when I journeyed around Tai Tokerau/Northland, and gathered this sand from the beach at Rarawa. It was just after the 150-year commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.




As I travelled around the coast, I made rituals on the beaches. I inscribed the word PROMISES in the sand and watched how the incoming tide broke up the words.

All the time I reflected on and grieved the breaking of promises that occurred after the signing of the Treaty.

Later I collaged the images onto paintings: a series called ‘Against Broken Promises’. The series was created for the exhibition ‘Mana Tiriti: the Art of Protest and Partnership’, with contributions from Māori and Pākeha artists.


Small stones


I remembered all of this as I carried the white sand to a nearby beach on the  Waitemata harbour and made my circle. Its purity shone like the moon.

Next, I laid a circle of small stones on the Rarawa sand.

Each stone represented a role that I have let go of or am currently releasing: the psychotherapist, the mentor, the painter, the teacher . .


Coloured sand


In the centre, I emptied a basket of sand from the Coromandel. I had gathered it on one of the occasions when I led a workshop at the Mana Retreat Centre. The sand is sprinkled with red pieces from broken shells.

No more workshops.


Another circle


From my pocket, I drew a bag of small shells, some of them the same pinky-red as in the Coromandel sand, and made another circle within a circle.



And finally, a scatter of small, sea-broken shells around the whole piece.




I offered the circles to the sea, and watched as wave after wave approached, licked around the outer edges of the mandala until finally it was taken into the belly of the ocean.

Surrender can bring up angst and resistance, but when done completely, the result may be ecstasy and a sense of giddy freedom. I felt all of these in turn.

So much was released.

And yet, one thing remains.

When letting go, there is often treasure to be found.

What was it?

The joy of working with sand, sea and tide. It has never left me. I’ve been doing this since the 1970s and I will keep doing it when I move to another part of the coast, another beach, and a new phase of my life.

Giving up being an exhibiting artist does not mean giving up the creative process. Creativity simply finds its new, essential, and in this case, enduring, form of expression.

Have you found that to be true?

Blessings on your own releasing times,



PS Releasing is a strong theme in my latest book, The Persimmon Journal


  1. Peta

    So beautiful Juliet, I was particularly struck by the idea that surrendering to the sea also means transforming or transmuting the objects surrendered to the greater whole from which they came. A bit like what I hope happens to me when I die?

    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you Peta, I like that analogy. So many spiritual traditions talk of merging with the ocean when we return to consciousness.

  2. Lynne Holdem

    Thank you Juliet, so moving to hear of the Broken Promises and your experiences of surrender. Brought tears to my face. I have camped at the beautiful Rarawa beach and know the ethereal beauty of that least earthy but heavy and squeaky sand, so different from our black sand in Taranaki. I’m reading a book of reflections on Old Age by Helen Luke. One is on King Lear. She speaks of the proper occupations of old age as Shakespeare has Lear say And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh at gilded butterflies..”

    “So when after having made every effort to understand, we are ready to take on the mystery of things, then the most trivial of happenings is touched by wonder, and there may come to us, by grace, a moment of unclouded vision.” This book is a gem given to me by an old friend.

    • Juliet Batten

      Lynn, thank you so much for this response. So you also know Rarawa — squeaky sand, oh yes, I had forgotten that detail. I like the sound of the book by Helen Luke and will look for it. What a wonderful quote from King Lear. I was always in tears when it came to that part in the play, so didn’t take in the words so clearly. I love the idea of taking on ‘the mystery of things . . . it is a great gift of age, I am finding. I will enjoy pondering on your comment some more.

  3. Katherine Short

    Thank you


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