Sunday, 14 October 2012

a beginner's guide to surfing

I've said it before and I'll say it again (and again), Death is the most important card in Tarot when it comes to the subject of change. Change is inevitable and unavoidable, but it can also be traumatising, disconcerting and loathed on too many levels to count. The kind of change we can comfortably instigate and adequately prepare for is the kind that fills us with a sense of purpose and control. No problem. That's the kind of change we can all handle. But the kind of change that comes out of absolutely nowhere on an unremarkable weekday, just as it seemed that life was a calm, flat sea with no surprises in store - that's the kind of change that leaves us floored, unsure, totally terrified. Change only leaves permanent damage if we don't yield to it and move with it. If trees couldn't bend with the wind, there would be a lot less of them still rooted to the earth! They'd be blown away, unable to sustain themselves against the strength of the elements. Human beings are the same. If we refuse to bend with the inevitable and sometimes inhospitable nature of our ever-changing environment, we're toast.

Let's consider surfing as a metaphor. (Humour me.) Predicting the ebb and flow of the water is possible up to a certain point. Experience dictates that a surfer will be able to foresee how a certain, often observed pattern is likely to unfold. As the surfer gains confidence, they can move with the tide and make it look ridiculously easy. Getting to that stage is the result of incredible effort and the benefit of many mistakes. Death is a card that will hold your hand through your attempts to roll with the punches and let the surf take you. Eventually, once you've learned how to adapt quickly to unforeseen change, you will begin to trust yourself and will spend more time with your head above water than flailing for your life beneath the waves.

One of the first things a surfing newbie will learn is how to paddle. This involves lying down on the board and turning it left and right with your arms on the water. Paddling belly-down on the board allows you to feel the movement of the water and get used to the idea of surfing.If you're a micromanager who enjoys a notably tight control over every aspect of your life, it may be beneficial for you to break with your own habits by instigating small changes to your schedule first of all in an effort to see change as a friend rather than an enemy. Introduce the occasional spontaneous break from routine. See time as something that organises and punctuates, rather than something that rules and dominates. Use time to pack more in, rather than to filter more out, which is what you're doing when you're trying to stick doggedly to a plan and avoid any surprises or unexpected stimuli. Learning not to sweat the small stuff means that when the big stuff comes along, you're much more equipped to handle it with poise. Learning to 'paddle' in this way means you can put strategies in place to deal with unexpected change. When I was younger I never realised I was a bit of a control freak. I was liberal, verbose and extroverted in many ways, so I thought of myself as a free spirit. It was only when a boyfriend of mine mentioned how irritated and disappointed I tended to be when things didn't go exactly to plan that I realised I was one of those people who couldn't be flexible. I allowed myself to be ruled by my expectations, and I hadn't even realised it! That's when I started 'paddling'. I'd give myself little chances to take a different road or let the day go in the opposite direction to the one I'd planned and imagined.

Duck Diving
This is the art of avoiding the break of a big wave when paddling by diving beneath it on your surf board just as it's crashing. This ensures that your body is not beaten back by the force of every breaking wave, but instead smoothly glides beneath and emerges on the other side. This is where you start to get clever. Change can feel destructive, disruptive and unfair when it messes up your plans, breaks your heart or seems to leave you high and dry. Disappointment is part of the process with anything that puts a spanner in the works, but dealing well with change is about moving beyond that disappointment and valuing the lesson that the change has offered. Each time something fails to go your way or there are unexpected situations to deal with, you could act as though a wave just smacked you straight in the face. You could let the ups and downs of life beat you up and do nothing but complain about them. Or, you could duck dive. Allow the change to roll over you, make the effort to adapt to it so that you can continue on your path without feeling too dishevelled and weary. When you see chaos coming your way, consider for a second what the most dynamic and stress-free way of dealing with it really is. Trying to swim away from it? Letting it smash you against the rocks? Freezing from fear? No - dive in head first, make your body and mind adapt to the natural, unpredictable flow of things. In this way, you become one with all that surrounds you. The course of life is no longer your enemy or something that's separate from you and out to inconvenience you. Only when you learn from change do you emerge on the other side of it. If you only ever let it hurt you or hold you back, you're never going to get where you want to go. It's all about perception.

Standing up
Once you've become accustomed to the mental strategies you can put in place to deal with change in a healthy way and learn from its power, you can really start to live your life with more confidence. This is the part where you begin to stand up on the board and dare to catch those big waves. You begin to view change as a challenge, not a disaster. You toughen up. This doesn't mean you don't feel disappointment when you fail to take a wave or do a trick and instead hit the water with a graceless thud. Of course you'll be disappointed, but you'll use hindsight to your advantage, looking at what went wrong and what to improve upon next time. Mastering the art of living means accepting and adapting to change whilst not losing your inner strength, stability and belief in your right to succeed, to heal and to be who you are. Once you're on your feet you know that you have a strong base from which to go on your travels and improve your skills. Self-respect that comes as the result of knowing you've gotten better at the art of living is a beautiful thing. When you're miles from the shore, you can look back and see just how far you've come.

Happy surfing!