During the lockdown in March 2020, I started making a list of all the things I'd like to learn. One of the things on that list is surfing. I have always loved the idea of riding the waves, becoming one with the ocean, and somehow being equal, even if just for a moment, to the power of the ocean. As I picture myself riding a wave, it gives me romantic notions of being one with Nature.
I have been told that surfing is hard to learn. It takes balance, agility and timing, and a little luck too. Sometimes you'll catch the wave at just the right moment and stand tall on your surfboard as you ride into shore. Other times no matter how hard you try you'll miss the wave and crash upon the rocks or swallow too much water. You can spend hours trying to catch a single wave without success. And let’s not forget that surfing is dangerous – you’re in a foreign environment where you’re not the apex predator. So, if you're having a really bad day you might even get attacked by a shark. Just ask Mick Fanning. And yet people still love to surf. I want to be one of them. And then, I realised that I already am a surfer. I do surf. Just not ocean waves.
Let me explain. The analogy of a wave is powerful. We use it in society and in science to describe all sorts of things, from light, to sound, to energy itself. Life itself is like a wave. You can learn to ride the wave, but you will never control the ocean. But waves are also used to describe emotions.
We’ve all experienced emotional waves. They are intense, so intense that we often try to turn away from them. The grief of losing a loved one, the fear of lost income, the joy of holding your child for the first time. Any life experience which draws out strong emotions from us can be described as an emotional wave. If you feel like you’re drowning in the emotion, then it’s a wave.
We’re not naturally equipped to deal with overwhelming, strong emotions. It’s easier to turn off or turn away. You know, fight or flight or freeze. But if we’re not present, if we’re not consciously aware, then the emotion takes us over and we get lost in it. Some experiences contain such strong emotions that even decades later, recalling the event causes the emotions to wash over us again as though it just happened. We’re suddenly back at the beach, in the surf, getting thrashed by the ocean again.
And then there’s your dumb friend, your mind talk. If you allow it to, dumb friend will take over and tell you a story about the emotion, turning it against you and overwhelming you until you get dumped in the surf. But if you ride the emotion like a wave, staying present and consciously aware, then it will eventually lose momentum and you’ll end up in the shallows, adrenaline-fuelled but unharmed.
According to a psychologist I know who studied Gestalt therapy, emotions are intensely powerful for approximately two minutes and then they dissipate. TWO MINUTES. If you can ride the wave of that emotion for two minutes, you’ve won. You won’t have to carry the emotional intensity of that experience forward with you into the future. Each time you remember the event and ride the wave, the emotional intensity lessens, until eventually it’s gone. The scientific term is called extinguishing the trauma cycle.
So go ahead, take a surfing lesson. Start facing the emotional intensity of the experiences life sometimes hands you. Keys 3 and 4 contain the tools to get you riding high! There are numerous techniques available to you. Try talking to the reptilian brain, climbing the emotional ladder, getting into being energy and out of doing energy, doing the reset technique. Whatever technique you choose, stay present, and stay in your body, not in your head. You’re in charge, not the emotion(s) and not your dumb friend.
I am compelled to point out that there is one major difference between riding ocean waves and emotional waves. If you ride the emotional wave until it dissipates, you really are more powerful than the wave. Whereas with the ocean, you’ll always be second best. And who doesn’t want to be the boss?
Now where is that surfboard…