Originally published: March 26, 2012 by remingtoncooney | Edit
As an Australian who grew up overseas, I always felt dislocated from the place where my true identity lay; a place defined by its sporting culture and searing hot beach days. Growing up in Singapore, I always felt my roots were still stuck in the red, earthy, Aussie soil, and that moving countries had somehow stretched me across the ocean, pulling me between two places; my heart in Australia, the remainder of my body in Singapore. So, when I finally moved to Melbourne in early 2009, it wasn’t long before I decided to consolidate my reunion with my homeland through one of Australia’s favorite past-times: surfing. Finally, I could bring out the true Aussie in me.
At the beginning of our freshman year, my best friend Kevin and I signed up for university surf camp. Days later, we were driving down to one of Victoria’s best surfing beaches – Tourquay – with boards in the back, sunnies on and the harsh rays pouring through the wound down windows, burning our delighted faces. Oh, what fun this would be!
Cut to the first day of surfing: splashing through the waves, smiles on our faces, ready to take on the white breakers. Cut to my first wave: there I am, rolling around off my board like a drowning rat. No big deal. Happens to the best of us. “No worries mate, just get back up on your board and you’ll come good.” That’s what I would tell myself. And it was reassuring…for the first 20 attempts. Then I started to get a little aggravated. At the end of the first day, I maybe got up and rode (in a very wobbly sort of a way) 2 waves out of 50 attempts. I was a little put off to say the least.
The next day went fairly much the same way. Maybe I caught 3 this time and my aggro levels were steadily rising. Everytime I fell, I would paddle back into the wave twice as hard. Then I was trying 3 times as hard, 4 times as hard. What I learnt quickly from this was that the harder I tried, the more tired I grew, and the less I achieved. Rememeber our good friend Han Solo? Put him on a surfboard and that was me: flailing like a mad man, completely out of breath, as I put in every ounce of strength and effort into paddling through the waves, hardly making ground. You know what the most frustrating thing was? I would lie there panting and bobbing on the water and see these tanned, 10-year-olds come gliding past me; zinc on their little smiling faces, laughing as their skinny little arms pushed them along like dolphins skimming the water. And there was me; old aquatic Han Solo, breathless and mesmerized as I watched them pop up on these 6 footers and ride down them like it was nothing at all. The same 6 footers that were bouldering me back to the beach. Oh the humanity!
I wouldn’t say surf camp was my fondest experience. That night, after my failed surfing attempts, I had the pleasure of listening to my tent roomie (“bilby” they called him) lullaby me to sleep with noises of late night chundering, outside our tent. A result of a few too many hits of the infamous surf camp ‘beer bong’ (there was a song that went along with it, but it’s more of a ‘you had to be there’ moment).
There were a few more occasions when I ventured down to the beaches outside Melbourne with buddies and gave surfing the same full-hearted attempt. Each time the results were fairly similar. I got a little better and caught a few more waves, but by the end of each session I would always be extremely frustrated, spluttering, and completely exhausted after giving it my all. I kind of gave up with surfing and thought of it as something that just wasn’t for me.
Looking back on it now, I have realized that surfing is the perfect depiction of the Taoist term Wu-Wei. As described in previous posts, Wu-Wei can be translated into non-action; a sort of effortless effort where you empty yourself of all resistance so that you can be filled with the Tao, which then guides you. It’s not so much the Tao acting for you, but rather, it’s more of a team effort where you are working with the Tao rather than against it.
I am convinced that the reason I was struggling so much with surfing time and time again, is not so much my inexperience, but rather, it was more to do with my resistance, which resulted from my stubbornness; my unwillingness to just ‘let go.’ It is rather typical of me when trying to achieve something, to plough into it with sheer determination and stubbornness with only the end result in mind. It doesn’t matter about the journey along the way, I just want to get to the end and be good at whatever I’m doing, and the harder I try, the faster I’ll get there. It is this kind of mentality that causes one to slip out of the living poetry that is the result of working with the Tao. We cling to the end goal and become so focused on the future that we really forget about the importance of the present journey. When you forget about the present journey and the present moment, you detune yourself from the Tao.
For example, with surfing you really have to just sit back and listen to nature, just like the old Taoist Sages used to. You have to read the ocean, feel the waves, and adjust yourself to their rhythm. One who conditions themselves to the Tao must remain protean at all times for you never can truly know when the current will change or the waves will grow. An experienced surfer demonstrates this perfectly. They will sit there and bob up and down, just feeling the ocean for an hour, maybe even two, before catching their first wave. A very different approach to ol’ aquatic Han Solo, smashing through the waves, trying to catch any one that comes his way, right from the get-go. What’s more, the smooth, languid paddling that superior surfers display, is definitive of how more effort does not necessarily equate to more speed. They take their time with each stroke, allowing themselves to work with the ocean rather than against it.
These days I’ve taken up surfing again. However, I no longer have to go down to the ocean to practice it. Instead I’m surfing in the city, on the buses on my way to work, through the supermarket. I even surf at work! And you know what? It really makes a difference. But it does take that sense of awareness. That sense of waking up each day and taking the time out to bob on your board for a while and assess the set of waves that are rolling your way. I allow myself to really feel the ocean under me and I breathe into it as best I can. Waiting, patiently, and when that perfect wave arrives, I just mount my board and ride into the day. Too easy, mate.
Obviously, I still have those days where I don’t quite make it up onto my board and a wave hits me like a freight train, but they have become fewer and farther between. It took me a long while to realize that life doesn’t have to be a struggle. That’s old news, you know? That’s old energy. For some reason, so many of us are under that impression that life is about working against the grain, and to make it in this so called big, bad, ‘real’ world you have to push and shove and force your way through. Balderdash, I say! Life is really about learning how to surf. And the best way to learn how to surf is to become non-resistant. To just let go with that same awareness and respect that a good surfer has for the ocean. Any experienced surfer is very aware that the ocean is infinitely more powerful than man. So, why bother being at loggerheads with it? It’s frivolous and my own surfing experience is a case in point. So, stop paddling at a thousand paddles per minute, and instead reassess your technique. Use those same effective, languid strokes that the pro’s use. Breathe at the start of every session and get a sense of which waves you want to catch. Observe the difference it makes.
We all have those days every now and again where everything just works. Everything just falls into place so effortlessly. This is what it feels like to be in union with the Tao. This is what it’s like to be riding the wave of life, and I’m here to say that this is something we can gain control of. We can shape each and everyday to be like that. It just takes time and practice and the willingness to let go; just like surfing: you can’t rush it, you just have to work with what’s at hand.
For me, one of the best ways to feel the ocean and to condition myself to the oncoming waves, is through breath meditation. In my next post, I will go into detail about meditation, and how we can make it an accessible part of everyday, modern-living. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and mount our board too soon. For now, just practice the paddling.
Fair dinkem, mate. Have a good one.