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Learning To Surf

The full analogy, as articulated by Jonathan Kabat-Zinn, is: "We can't stop the waves, but we can learn to surf". Surf's up, and it's Summertime (at least, here, in the Northern Hemisphere). Let's get our meditation on!

For reasons I've never been able to fully fathom, the practice of meditation and the resulting state of mindfulness, have traditionally been cloaked in mystery and other-worldliness. Respectfully, they needn't be, and I think the surfing analogy is a great way to begin the process of demystifying them.

The challenges of life will come, and there's nothing we can do about them. The trick is learning to respond skillfully--that's where the surfing comes into play. Let thoughts come (good or bad) and let them go. We're not our thoughts, unless we allow them to rule us. Let emotions come (good or bad) and let them go. We're not our emotions, unless we allow them to rule us.

It's not about control. Our minds will think thoughts--that's what they do. Our bodies will feel emotion--that's what they do. But we don't have to be ruled by our thoughts, and we don't have to be ruled by our emotions. Rather, we can choose to be a neutral observer, who recognizes thought and feels emotion, without allowing ourselves to be caught up in them.

If we can stay on the proverbial surfboard, the thoughts and emotions will break like a wave, and pass. Sure, some waves are bigger and stronger than others, and may take longer to pass, but the endgame remains certain--they will break, and they will pass. That's what they do.

And with practice, we can learn to get inside the curl of our thoughts and emotions. Become curious. See, and hear, and touch the inside of the wave. Maybe even smell it, and taste it. What a concept--maybe the Beach Boys were really on to something. As they famously sang in a tremendous song: "Catch a wave, and you're sittin' on top of the world"!

Surfing, like meditation, is simple but it's not easy. Which is why we need to work at it--much like physical fitness, mental or emotional fitness is hard-earned. It's not easy to find the zone, but the zone is attainable for those who are willing to keep plugging away at it--that's why it's called a practice.

Extending the analogy a bit further, we will no doubt end up swallowing a lot of water before we learn to surf inside the curl, but nothing that scary--and beautiful--comes easy!


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