Suited up with my board tucked under my right arm, I walk up to the ocean’s edge and put my board down to check out this morning’s surf conditions. After 10 minutes, a group of regulars wish me luck and head back to their cars.
With that, I feel my trusty surfing sidekick emerge from within.
Hello again, fear.
“There’s a lot of water coming through today,” says one of my surf mates as I paddle out.
About 6 months have passed since I learned to surf in Nicaragua and lived to tell about it. As much as I wanted to wrap that blog up in a bow and let you know that I’d overcome my surfing fears, I couldn’t do that, and I’m here to tell you that for me, fear in surfing is real. It’s also been persistent.
But here’s the thing that I am learning about fear through surfing…
I am learning the value of being with it.
Day after day, I paddle out in waves that freak me out and take off on maybe a handful of them. Of those, I catch maybe a couple.
The first hour I spend out on big days, I am just feeling my fear. After about an hour of hustling to make it out to the horizon before clean up sets, paddling around wave after wave studying their form and velocity, and watching more experienced surfers take off and make it all look so easy, the fear dissipates a bit. I work up the courage to give a few a try.
I catch one, and confidence builds. A new energy ignites inside. I feel a flicker in my solar plexus, and I move towards the waves instead of around them. Now, the waves seem less big and scary.
I take off on one, and ride it towards the shore before it closes out, and I jump off my board. While I’m still inside, a big set comes in, and I dive to the bottom as each wave comes crashing over me.
I realize that being caught inside these giant masses of crashing ocean is not as scary as I thought it would be.
And I am with my fear and breathing.
I jump on my board and ride the white water in. I grab my board, and to my surprise, I notice the desire to paddle out there again!
I spend three and a half hours in the water at my regular surf spot here in Baja.
I am learning to be with my fear in surfing.
Turns out that while I am with my fear, I am also working on things like getting out through big waves and paddling around the monsters that come through without jumping off my board. As I paddle out there each morning, I am getting stronger, physically and in heart. Being out there is getting safer because I am studying both the way of the waves and what experienced surfers do on and around them.
While I may not yet have mastery over fear or surfing, I am learning important lessons and inching towards a bit more progress with each session.
Fear can be a tough thing to be with. Our instinct is to take action to fix the fearful situation, to change things or get rid of our angst when fear is present. But what happens when we can be with it…not needing it to change? What is happening through our ability to accept it?
If love is the opposite of fear, and I live to choose love, I am learning in surfing and life what is possible through an ability to be with love’s opposite.
Forcing oneself to choose love when in a strong current of fear can be like fighting against a big wave or rip tide in the ocean. We lose our momentum, our energy and our confidence. In fact, fighting against what a big mass of water is doing can be outright dangerous.
What if that’s the same with our emotions – to our instinctual response to fear?
What if our practice is really learning to tune into fear when it is strong and to surrender to the current until we are in a place where we can get our bearings and make a conscious next choice?
What skills and awarenesses can we develop to make riding out our fight or flight responses more conscious and safe?
When we are able to make that conscious choice to love, a choice that our heart believes in, then and perhaps only then, change is possible. But we have to be in the water to learn to catch the waves, and we have to be with the present moment to learn to choose love.
Photo cred: * Thank you, wave dancer Rick Kessler, for the awesome photo! *