How to Surf the Waves of Change
It’s the early summer of 2019. I’m at a beach town in Bali called Sanur. And I’m overcome by a desire to learn paddle-boarding.
The moment I see a paddle-boarding poster in front of a water-sports shop, I walk right inside. There, I meet Charlie, the shop’s owner. He’s an Australian in his 50s. A surfer himself, Charlie has a slender body, shiny tanned skin, and a wide, kind smile. He came to Bali 30 years ago, fell in love with a Balinese girl, and decided to stay. His shop, right by the Sanur beach, rents equipment and teaches water-sports classes for curious tourists (like me.)
In case you don’t know what paddle-boarding is, it’s a water sport where you stand or kneel on a large board and use a paddle to move through the water.
It’s a windy afternoon, but Charlie is saying: “You’re a yoga teacher, you’ll be okay.”
Though I’m not a strong swimmer, the beach in Sanur is only two meters deep if you don’t go past the rift. Plus, I’ll wear a life jacket.
In short, in order to drown, I’ll have to be either phenomenal unlucky or strikingly stupid.
Charlie sends one of his staff to give me Paddle-boarding 101.
I don’t remember my teacher’s name. But it is probably Putu or Wayan or Kadek (almost everyone in Bali has those names anyway - for the reason I will not mention here.)
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll call him Putu. Putu is my age, but he has two kids and an impressive six-pack. I’m glad that he’s coming with me.
Putu points at a blue finishing boat far faaaaaaar away, and - to my dismay - says: “We’re going there.”
I get on my board and instantly regret my decision. The wind today is strong. The waves keep hurling at my board, and I can barely keep myself from falling off.
I’m supposed to go to that blue fishing boat, but instead, I’m bumping at the nearby boats, posing a threat to my fellow paddle-boarders. I’m turning in circles like a confused ballerina.
I can see tourists sitting at the beach restaurants, sipping pina colada, getting themselves entertained by my pathetic water-ballet performance.
After 10 minutes of public humiliation, I remember an advice from my friend Hazel. (She has just learned swimming and diving in the same week in Egypt.)
She shared with me a secret passed down from her diving instructor - whom she considered the most inspiring man she never met.
The secret is three words:
“Trust the water.”
I take a deep breath and repeat the secret mantra in my head: “I trust the water. I trust the water.”
Spontaneously, I also add: “I trust my body.”
Trust the water. Trust my body.
Trust the water. Trust my body.
The breath and those sentences relax me. My intuition opens. My senses sharpen. Now I can feel the paddle in my hands - its weight, its length. I can feel my board and its subtle movements. Interestingly, I can also feel the water through my paddle.
“Good. Now swap!” I hear Putu’s voice.
Kneeling on my board, I swap the paddle to my left and plunge it in the water. My board turns to the right.
“Good. Now more! ” Putu hollers from a distance.
I lift the paddle and plunge it down again. The tip of my board now is pointing towards the blue fishing boat.
Lo and behold! I’m no longer a confused ballerina!
I begin to paddle towards our destination. Putu is next to me, saying nothing other than “Now swap!” or “Now more!” (That’s his entire teaching vocabulary.)
I notice how my body instinctively knows how to stay balanced on the board.
I start to understand what spiritual teachers mean when they tell us to “surrender.”
To surrender isn’t to give up. It’s to accept the humbling truth that you cannot control most things in your life.
To surrender is to participate in the flow of Life, instead of resisting it.
It’s to stop fighting. So you can start steering.
To surrender takes courage, humility, and most of all - trust.
Trust in Life. Trust in yourself.
It’s a leap of faith that you must take if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life being at war with, well, Life.
I don’t know how long it takes for Putu and me to reach the blue fishing boat. (Or, more accurately, for me to snail towards that damn boat while he proves himself to be the most patient man in Bali.)
But eventually, we get there.
I can’t believe it!
I’ve never been so far away from the shore with so little: a board and a paddle.
I’m sitting on my board, legs dangling on the sides. I’m holding my paddle in my hands, resting it flat on my thighs. I’m gazing out to the horizon where the sky and the ocean meet.
The waves are tapping gently at my knees. The wind is playing with my tangled hair. My body and mind are quiet.
Suddenly, and strangely, I feel as if the ocean is cradling me.
The loneliness and isolation that I’ve felt for as long as I can remember vanishes.
Here, alone in the vast ocean, I feel more connected than ever before.
It dawns upon me that the ocean, despite its infinite unknown, is friendly. As if every drop of warm salty water beneath me is made of pure liquid love.
I understand now that the anxiety, stress, and control issue I struggled with all my life came from a simple misunderstanding that Life is not Love.
The truth is: Life is Love.
I once read that when you ask for something in Life, Life only responds in 3 ways:
“No, I love you too much.”
This afternoon the ocean has told me:
“No, I love you too much not to send winds and waves hurling at you. I love you too much to not giving you a chance to grow.”
So when I say Life is Love, I don’t mean you’ll always and only get what you want. Many times, you’ll get what you think will never happen to you.
You miss the subway. You spill your coffee - on your new white top, right before a meeting. Your favourite boss joins another company, leaving her job for Medusa’s angrier sister. You think the interview goes well, but after a week they tell you they need someone with more experience. Your grandfather passes away after six months being unable to recall your name. The sudden abandonment from a lover gives you a crash landing. You’re left undone. Tumbling down your disillusion, you realise, “I love you.” doesn’t mean “I’ll stay.”
And now what?
You can clench your jaws, tighten your fists, freeze your body, dig a hole in the dirt to hide in shame, blame, self-punishment.
But that would be like beating yourself in the head with your own paddle every time the wind comes your way.
Or you can embrace it all: the loss, the defeat, the pain.
You can let go of your “should-haves,” your “could-haves,” your “I’m such a loser,” your “why does this happen to me?”.
You can choose to hear what Life is telling you:
“No, sweetheart. I love you too much to protect you from hardship. Because within hardship lies the seed of your evolution.”
You can take a deep breath.
Feel the wind, feel the waves.
Let them come.
Trust the water. Trust your body. Surrender.
Where are you going?
What is your “blue fishing boat”?
That’s it, my dear.
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