On Saturday morning, after a luxurious no-alarm sleep and a lazy cup of coffee, I wiggled into my wetsuit, grabbed my board (well, J did actually, my surfing sherpa), and headed to the beach. Although the waves always grow between my fourth-floor lookout and when I’m eye level about to enter the water, there were some nice little waves closer to shore and the main set outside. For me, who’s still learning and not standing up all the time, the smaller waves were perfect—I don’t have to paddle out as far, which means I can try on more waves since each one I catch doesn’t mean a long swim. In fact, on Saturday, the tide was out enough that I could basically walk past the shore break and stand until I was ready to jump on my board and start riding.
Even though the inside waves were small, they were still about head-high, and they were crashing pretty close together. At one point, before I had really gotten into the groove, I found myself frustrated. I had fallen, I was trying to get out again, and here were these stupid waves crashing in my way. I cursed them, wishing they’d stop just long enough for me to get situated. I was tired of jumping over them, having them push me under or back, I just wanted to get past them to the other side where I could chill for a second before trying again.
When you find yourself out surfing and cursing the very waves you’re out there to enjoy, it doesn’t take long before you realize what you’re doing.
I mean, that’s really silly, right? To become frustrated over the power of nature and wish it would stop? Just because of a little bit of challenge and discomfort?
As soon as I realized what I was doing, I was able to shake my head at my hubris and folly. Relaxing into the water, suddenly it was easier to accept the waves as they came, to understand that part of the allure of surfing is to paddle out beyond a huge force trying to push me back to shore, and then to use that force to my advantage to carry me. It is not to conquer the force and make it disappear; rather, it is to become part of the force and understand my place in it. Waves do not crash on the same scale as a solitary human trying to surf.
I know an obvious metaphor when I see one. Nature and sport are full of them. But I’ve been thinking since then, what are the other waves in my life I’m stuck on, cursing and trying to control or stop rather than understanding their inevitability and relaxing my way over? Waves that may appear to have intent to crash on me but that serve a greater purpose, or at least will be worth the struggle, if I can stop pushing long enough to consider beyond myself.
They can be small, every day things, and some of them are waves only if I allow them to be: traffic lights changing out of my favor (the utility and timing of traffic lights is certainly on a scale larger than a single person); someone parking diagonally over two spots (I’m witnessing this right now out my window—their parking has absolutely zero affect on my life but I’m sitting here judging them and wondering what they’re thinking, allowing myself to be swept away rather than just hopping over the annoyance to more productive thoughts).
They can be much larger, too. My work year last year seemed like one huge wave after another. I definitely fell into the trap of wanting to force my way through just so I could be at the other side, rather than relaxing into the process. (Whether or not it’s even possible to relax all the time without superhuman strength is another issue—sometimes life is hard and stormy and it’s a struggle to even stay afloat, let alone paddle through. But still, arguing with the storm or wishing or expecting it will stop isn’t going to make anything easier. There has to be trust that there is life on the other side and the struggle will be worth it. And relaxing doesn’t mean trying to make it easy or even enjoying it. It means accepting that it’s hard and giving myself permission to struggle.)
The waves don’t have to be external forces, either. Sometimes my own brain seems like a wave, conspiring to push me back with little waves of internal chatter or huge walls of anxiety and depression. Again, here is where a large dose of acceptance is needed, which is still hard for me. Expecting things to be smooth sailing or expecting to be able to get to the fun part without having to work for it makes the inevitable waves even harder. Accepting that my brain is going to throw waves at me sometimes makes it easier for me to navigate them. I can think, “Oh, here’s a wave. I wonder what’s on the other side?” rather than, “Damn wave, what are you doing here? I just want to float.” I’m finding more and more that if I can pick a big enough board and wear a thick enough wetsuit (if I can give myself the tools I need), I can get to the other side, catch my breath, and ride those waves, which from the other side look like creativity, like motivation, like vulnerability.