*The following is Part 2 of a 3-part series called “Surfing Lessons that Have Nothing to Do with Catching Waves (you can read Part 1 here). Read it, love it, live it!
If you try surfing and you get hooked, you’re going to catch yourself thinking about it a lot. You might be in line at the bank, or at the dentist, maybe even at your own wedding – no matter where you are or what you’re doing, surfing will be somewhere in the back of your mind. I love this part about the sport because there is just so much to learn.
And every minute you spend obsessing/studying/analyzing surfing, you’re obsessing/studying/analyzing aspects of it that enhance your whole life. That’s because surfing is perhaps life’s easiest giant metaphor. That’s what this series is all about. On Monday, I wrote about the power of positivity. Today I’m writing about something else: The challenge of doing absolutely nothing. LESSON TWO: THE ART OF SITTING STILL Sometimes when paddling out, you’re forced to accept a cruel reality – the waves just aren’t going to let up for you. You’re going to have to endure an exhausting paddle session before you even start catching waves. Whack after whack, you fight that whitewater with everything you have. You go from mad, to sad, to pissed, to calm and focused, all in a matter of five minutes. You look around to see how everyone else is doing – they all seem to be calmly paddling through it. How are THEY not freaking out like you? (Newsflash: they are. Remember, you can’t see their thoughts.) You suppress the consideration of turning around and going back for a beer and some Nachos as Big as Your Ass. You continue digging your arms into the ocean, making headway towards the heavenly lineup. By the grace of God, FINALLY you make it out. You catch your breath, splash water on your face, and maybe do a stretch or two. “Whew, that was rough.” After a few moments, you feel recharged and ready, and begin checking the horizon for a wave worthy of your time. But wait… what happened to all the waves? You just had to fight forty of them to get where you are, and now that you’re ready – it’s flat. Where’d they go? Now what? The fact that you’re ready for waves means basically nothing. You are by no means the boss of them. In fact, you are at their mercy so get comfortable. It could be a while. … Let me guess – your schedule at home is always jam-packed, right? You walk around with a laundry list of things to take care of. Some of them have been on that list for years. While you’re checking off one thing, you’re falling behind on another. It grows at an impossible and stressful pace and there’s not much you can do about it. And God forbid you take a little time for yourself to just hang out. Sure you do it from time to time, but whenever you indulge you can’t escape the faint feeling of guilt lingering in the air. It suffocates you. There’s no time to just sit around. Do ANYTHING, never doing NOTHING. Well you know what? Screw that….
Doing nothing IS doing something – it’s keeping you sane. You’re a human, not a robot. Clearing your mind is essential!
Even though we know we need it, sitting still just isn’t in our nature. If you’ve ever done a yoga class, you understand why they say Savasana is the hardest pose (it’s the one where you just lay on the mat at the end of class). It’s just you and your annoying thoughts hanging out on a floor. Am I the only one with an inner monologue that won’t shut the hell up? Relaxing with a clear mind is incredibly challenging. Sometimes, the time between sets feels like an eternity and it becomes a waiting game. What do you do with yourself? You’re sitting in the middle of the ocean, so forget playing Angry Birds to occupy your time. You have only one option: sit and wait. With the city life still in my body, when I first started surfing I resisted sitting still and did things like… re-do my ponytail. Or scrape some wax off a random spot on my board. Or I’d adjust my bikini that didn’t need adjusting. And I would constantly hop off my board and then hop back on. Over and over, I’d repeat the entire process until I finally saw a set coming. One day, as I was redoing my ponytail for the 14th time in three minutes, I looked around and noticed I was the only tourist out there. Everyone else was a local. And you know what? They weren’t moving around at all. They were peaceful statues focused on the horizon. I was the only one not giving multi-tasking the middle finger, so I thought I’d give it a try. “Okay,” I thought, “I can be a statue too.” I quit adjusting myself, raised my eyes to the horizon, and paused. …Tic. Toc. Tic. Toc… I looked at my watch – 43 seconds had gone by. Wow, Sara. 43 whole seconds. Clearly I had a problem. For most of us, doing nothing is an uncomfortable feeling. I don’t mean sitting around being lazy (I’m actually quite good at that), I’m talking about the art of sitting still. Finding a way to enjoy turning off the TV or putting down the book and just sitting there quietly. THAT is true relaxation, and when you are relaxed you can find clarity. Good decisions are made with healthy serene brains, and anxiety can drive us mad. If I had truly understood this before I started surfing, I would have had some better years. Thankfully I understand it now. Funny how we spend our busy days longing for a time that we’ll be able to do nothing, and then we have the chance and we think, “WTF am I supposed to do now?!” The ocean gives us that chance. We’re out there with nothing but our boards and each other, and sometimes it’s going to make us wait. Maybe it knows what’s best for us.
We need to enjoy that time because there’s really no other place we’re offered such a gift. The gift of doing nothing for a moment. How great does that sound when your kids won’t stop running around the house or your inbox won’t stop chiming? So next time you’re out in the water, try to not freak out that you’re wasting minutes by waiting for a set. Instead, try to consciously appreciate it. It’s the rare feeling of boredom, and it’s pretty great. Make yourself sit still. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Surfers have mastered the art of sitting still. Patience is indeed a virtue. I challenge you to try stillness even when you’re not surfing. Maybe just for a minute or two until you have to get back to that annoying laundry list. A moment of silence can recharge us for the next set which, whenever it’s ready, will be coming our way.
Sara is a freelance writer and surfing addict. See her portfolio at www.meetsarashelton.com, and if you’re interested in working with her or want to say hi, shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org