One of the traps that I have noticed in spiritual circles is hypocrisy. The human ego is a tricky character. Any little piece of information will be wielded in a way that will help reinforce its’ belief that it is the one in control. In this way a teaching can be manipulated to help someone feel powerful and knowledgeable rather than bringing one closer to loving unconditionally, being more open or connecting to Source.
For example, a friend of mine started to learn about Non-Violent Communication. This is a beautiful teaching by Marshal Rosenberg. It essentially provides a way of communicating that brings self-responsibility for all your feelings, thus removing blame of others so that you no longer feel like you are a victim to life. Eventually my friend started to use this tool as a weapon in which he could punish his partner for not being self-responsible, instead of applying the teaching to his own life. It is much easier to point out the ways in which the other is failing than to do the work ourselves.
With this in mind, I thought to write an article on how surfing has provided me a setting in which to put the teachings I have learnt along the way, into lived experiences.
Presence seems to be the common thread in all spiritual teachings. Peace can only exist in this moment, right here, right now. The past no longer exists and the future is a figment of our imagination. The metaphor of balancing on a tight rope is used to describe this phenomenon. If our awareness leans too far to the past or future, we will fall.
This couldn’t be truer in respect to surfing. There is no space to be thinking of what you need from the store, why you are fighting with your girlfriend, what work is pending, while you are paddling for a wave. If you are not completely present, there is no doubt that in a millisecond you will be being flung around by the ocean. This can be likened to the Zen teacher whacking their student with a stick the moment they drift off and lose the awareness of the present moment.
Fear is one of the most primitive responses for all of the animal kingdom. It is an appropriate reaction and can save us from being hurt. Many of these fears will develop when we are young. We may touch a hotplate and get a little burnt and then have a proportional fear of touching hot things. The problem is when the fear is out of proportion to the situation. For example, while at a fair a child may get separated from their parents in a crowd and become traumatised. This fear may get ingrained halting the emotional growth of the child. As the child matures they may become fearful of being in crowded places. This can be debilitating and have significant ramifications. Fear prevents us from loving unconditionally, from being open in this world, which limits us from true connection with life. By facing our fears in an intelligent way we can unfreeze the maturing of our emotions and begin to act in a way aligned with our beliefs.
This is undeniably true in surfing. After getting dumped for the first time its impossible to not become a little scared of the ocean. This is useful and appropriate to limit you from pushing beyond your skill level. If this fear persists though you will not be able to progress. You won’t paddle fast enough or with enough commitment and all the waves will pass you by. You will be left on the sidelines just watching “life” pass you by.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describe Santosha (Contentment) as one of the attributes that will lead to union. We spend our whole lives chasing objects we desire thinking that one day they will bring us happiness. Sri Prem Baba describes this beautifully:
“Desire adds value to the idea of ‘me.’ When one buys a new car and then drives it, one feels fulfilled and self-satisfied. One identifies with it – one actually becomes the car. But this satisfaction doesn’t last very long. Soon we yearn for something else to add value to the idea of ‘me’ – maybe a house or a partner. So we live our lives seeking and wishing for things that could fill the inner void. This desire becomes compulsive and stimulates comparisons, envy, jealousy and many other negative feelings. But at some point this compulsive desire starts to weaken because you notice that nothing outside you will bring the satisfaction you are seeking.”
– Sri Prem Baba
I have noticed that this feeling of wanting has permeated almost all the aspects of my life. When surfing I could wish for the wave to be bigger, smaller, cleaner, less crowded and even when everything is perfect I can find myself wishing that it was always like this and still not being satisfied with how it actually is. It has become a practice to notice these desires when in the water and to let them go. To be able to be grateful of the present session, whatever may be the circumstances.
Patience and Perseverance
These two qualities are said to be the greatest qualities one can have while on the spiritual path. The journey to waking up can be a long one with many ups and downs. It requires a lot of commitment to walk this path with all of your being for an entire lifetime. There can be moments of doubt, pain, boredom, hardships and austerities. Without these two qualities it is so easy to give up and settle back into the day dream of life. When these qualities are present you are never hesitant to dust yourself off and get back up again.
With surfing it can be no other way, especially if you are like me and you start later in life. In the beginning you may get a little glimpse of the joy of surfing, but it certainly takes a lot of effort to make any progress. Each step of the way seems monumental and progress is slow. Then you see a little kid who couldn’t be more than 10 surfing at a level you couldn’t even dream of! It is only patience and perseverance that can allow you to keep going.
Often people tell me that they cannot meditate as their mind never stops running. This is all the more reason that you need to practice more. Your task is to commit to the practice and show up each day with renewed vows.
No Such Thing as a Bad Session
One of my earliest teachers told me that there is no such thing as bad meditation. Each time you show up to your mat, you are surely learning something about the way your mind works and the many labyrinths that it contains. It can be likened to a child learning to walk. Falling over is unfortunately part of the learning process. It is the majority of cases that we actually learn the most when we fail. The first steps that a child takes is actually the product of all the failures on the way there.
This couldn’t be more true in surfing. Most of the time you feel like nothing is changing, you are not able to do any of the manoeuvres you try so hard to do, and then suddenly in a quantum leap, you are in a barrel having the ride of your life.
So no matter how your practice is that day, just remember, it is one more brick that you have added to building your dream home.