Years ago, when I surfed, I was seduced by an empty ocean and paddled out to surf on water that was rowdy, powerful, and dangerous. After fighting to get out of the crash zone, getting hammered by waves much larger and more powerful than they looked, I knew I was not equipped to be out in the water. I don’t remember exactly, but I probably panicked and went in too quickly rather than watching and waiting for a break. I caught a wave, wiped out, and got held under as a big set of waves rolled in.
There was churning and crashing above me, but I simply felt my body relax and spin somersault after somersault after somersault… effortlessly, slowly, rhythmically. As the set passed, I was released. Opening my eyes to orient towards light and air, I surged through the water to the surface. There was a gap in the waves and I pulled the leash until my surfboard was under me and paddled back to the sand.
I was lucky to be alive, I suppose, lucky that my instinct was to relax and not fight the ocean, that I trusted that instinct completely.
A few weeks ago, I had my final meeting with a manager at work who was quitting her job. She offered me the unsolicited advice “to ask for more, don’t just go with the flow.” She was being kind, but even if I wanted to be a person who makes demands of the world, going with the flow isn’t really optional.
With awareness and sensitivity one can learn to move with ease in the world, dive into the rapids or eddy out for a while to enjoy the view. I don’t have any interest in drowning in goals, fears, or a sense of importance, and honestly, I doubt I could muster the motivation.
Visiting Hawaii last week, when Lisa suggested we go for an adventurous mountain hike, I, of course, said yes. In what turned out to be a full-body effort, climbing 3500 feet in 3.5 miles, using “ropes” (some webbing, some frayed, some crafted from knotted telephone wire!), we hoisted and lowered ourselves up and down boulders And steep roots on a knife-edged ridge just a tad wider than the trail and dropping off on both sides to the bottom of the ravines below. When I started to indulge in fearful thoughts about exposure and the climb down, Lisa pushed ahead and left me to sort it out.
The top of the mountain revealed itself to be a magical bog of native Hawaiian plants, carefully guarded by fencing (to keep out feral pigs) and an elevated walkway. We moved slowly and reverently, admiring a world entirely different from the jungle we had traveled through and a place that neither one of us had expected to find. This was not a hike for epic views (though we had those, as well) but for finding tiny plants, trees wrapped in mossy pillows, and listening to birds filling up space with their songs.
The hike down was quick and not scary after all, just more work for the arms.
Without the burden of expectations, I can leave for a run in the dark and see the beauty in an overcast sky rather than be disappointed at the lack of a glorious sunrise. I can show up to work and be appreciative of the kind people around me rather than bitter at not having a larger paycheck. And I can bob in the ocean, drink a beer on the beach, and call it a successful day because of everything that I learned about the color of the waves. Going with the flow is where it’s at.
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