Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Learning to Surf

I spent the afternoon today at a nearby state college at the invitation of a friend who is teaching a credited course on meditation and stress management. Last year, my wife and I went to this same college as guest "lecturers", offering Laughter Yoga to the hesitant and oh-so-self-conscious young students. This time, I was on my own, and while I had trepidations about doing laughter exercises with this age group again, I'm happy to report that the presentation and experience actually met with great success.

At the end of the class, my friend offered homework which I myself took to heart. She described a poster from the 1970's of Swami Satchinanda. On the poster was a photo of the Swami on a surf board, robes and hair flying in the wind. At the bottom of the poster were the following words: "You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf." The students' (and my) homework is to write a short paragraph or two on what that statement means to us personally. Some of the students stared blankly until my friend explained further, and I watched as the message sank in.

Considering such a statement, I think first of the veritable deluge of information and images in which we are bathed each day. With junk mail, email, bills, loans, passwords, user names and appointments, we are utterly bathed in a river of data---both physical and virtual---in which we must sink or swim.

Next, emotions and thoughts wash through our minds and bodies from moment to moment. Depending upon our (learned or innate) skills in navigating such potentially tumultuous waters, we ride those waves throughout each day, doing so both mindfully and mindlessly, with relative measures of "success".

Throughout the minutes, hours, days and weeks of our lives, we can simply ask ourselves some pointed questions: Am I awake? Am I aware? Am I mindful? Am I allowing myself to be emotionally hijacked by my reactions, or am I able to be a witness to my own thoughts and emotions?

In the end, the waves move us and we move with the currents. At times we ride the waves with ease, skimming the surface like warriors of the heart and mind. At other times, we struggle and sink, swallowing water and flailing our arms, anxiously looking for the lifeguard to save our sorry selves.

No, we cannot stop the waves, and with the proper tools we can occasionally rise above the waters, sailing on with grace and grit. At other moments, there is just nothing to do but dive deep, braving those waters with conscious awareness, mindful of our choice to enter this uncertain and frightening realm of our own accord.

Today I sailed and tomorrow I may sink. The next day I may sink again. But if I can simply foster gratitude for the privilege of doing so, then the waves are just another manifestation of my own personal journey, and I can simply grab my board, dipping my toes once again in the undulating waters. And when the surf's up, there's nothing more to do but enter with mindful abandon.
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