You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf. – Jon Kabat-Zinn
What does that mean?
Waves are unstoppable. They are a force of nature. They may change heights and intensity, but still they come. We can brace against them, but they are as unstoppable as anything on this Earth.
However, while we cannot stop them, we can learn to tame and even enjoy them. It doesn’t make the waves smaller or less dangerous, but it does make them a little less scary, and a lot more fun.
This quote, to me, is about worrying a little less about the things we have little control over, and learning to have a little more fun with them instead.
Yes, they are still dangerous, and we need to respect their power, but fighting them will gain us little and cost us much. While we must do what we can, we should do no more, except enjoy them.
Why is learning to ride the waves important?
What are the other options? We can fight them, but to what effect and to what end? We can ignore them, but only to our own peril and loss of opportunity. Or we can learn to surf, to ride the waves, to harness them to our benefit and enjoyment. That sounds like a lot more fun to me.
While this is a metaphor, surfing does look like it is fun, if a bit challenging for those of us with poor balance. I believe the quote can be applied to other parts of our lives, including anything which rushes at us and is (to our eyes) an unstoppable force of nature. Anger, depression, emotions in general, and anything else outside our control.
How does one surf anger? That would depend on the person and their skill, but the point is to ride the wave, knowing it will peak, and then resolve itself. Sometimes we’ll do well, and ride it out, and other times it will wreck us. But surfers get back up, and ride the next one. And with each attempt, they get better, until they make it look easy.
The same could be said of any other life event or emotion. Nothing lasts forever, unless you choose to embrace it and hold it tight. Instead, let it go. Let the wave swell and break and recede. You can remain, and even learn to surf it, if you choose to try. Or you can weather it as best you can. But even though you can’t stop it, you can still endure, and even enjoy the experience.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Decades ago, while living in in Houston (very near the Gulf of Mexico), I was driving out of town, headed north away from an approaching hurricane. All the lanes of traffic were full of others headed the same direction, and the opposing lanes were empty. Then, like something out of a cartoon, a VW Bus with surfboards on top, headed down the other side, headed towards the waves.
The Gulf of Mexico isn’t known for big waves, and certainly not for surfing. But these crazy guys were headed for one of the few times there is some surfable waves, and they weren’t going to miss the chance. To me, that is the very heart of the quote. They were going to make the most of this chance to surf the waves, rather than fear them.
What kinds of waves have you faced in the past? How did you deal with them? Small children often try to fight, even throw tantrums. But nap-time is a wave rushing at them, and it will not be stopped. How the parent helps the kid surf the waves is a big part of how that scenario will play out, but we’ve been there, at some point in our lives.
Have any of your friends ever complimented you on something you handled well, but they might not have? Have you ever complimented someone else who handled something well that might have wrecked you? Think about what you have done, or what they did, which helped the waves be a little less worrisome, more fun, or less dangerous.
Can you think of ways to apply those ideas to other parts of your life? Can you research the topics which represent your big waves, and learn how to better ride them out, or even how to surf them? How would your life be different if you could gain even a little skill in these areas of your life?
Better yet, who could you mentor, coach, guide, or teach some of the ways you ride the waves? How might that help them face the waves they fear most, the waves they can’t stop, and don’t know how to ride out or surf over? How much better would your life be for helping them? And how might their life improve?
What are you willing to do? Who might you help? How could you do it? When will you do it? Yes, it’s a challenge, but (like all waves), it can be surfed, if you’re willing to be patient and risk the occasional wipe-out.