How can you learn to be calm in the face of unbearable pain?

What does it take to cling neither to the highs nor the lows of life, knowing that attachment to either comes at the cost of inner peace?

Jon Kabat-Zinn may have the answer. In his book Wherever You Go, There You Are, a critical book for anyone who wants to answer the questions above better, talks about a poster that taught him a lot about how to live in a world of constant change and uncertainty.

On the poster was a Buddhist teacher surfing a big wave with the caption “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” To me, this encapsulates a deep truth of living a good life that when the shit hits the fan, you must learn to accept what is, bring your awareness to the present, and move forward skillfully from a place of grounded intention.

It would be preposterous for a surfer to try to fight off a wave. Bashing his fists against the coming swell of water, hoping that with the sheer force of his being he may be able to stop the momentous power of the universe.

Crazy, right?

But we humans do this all the time in our everyday life.

Instead of accepting what is here at the moment, we constantly try to fight reality. We wish things could be different or better or easier or more secure. With all of this effort, how much is actually accomplished? Nothing.

That is why I believe the surfing metaphor is such a powerful visual of how to best live our daily lives.

Mindfulness Teaches You How to Surf

It is a widely held belief that mindfulness meditation is a way to shut off the pressures, worries, and anxieties of daily life, but this is not the case. Mindfulness is not a way to turn off the world or shut out worries of the future. Rather, it is a lens through which you can view your situation clearly, no matter how bad it is, and act out of a place of grounded intention, instead of reactivity.

Pain.

Fear.

Hardship.

These are all necessary pieces of a life well lived.

Struggles are what make you grow. Struggles are what sculpt your soul. Struggles are what makes you become more.

If you can realize that life is happening for you, not to you, you will start to see the immense beauty within all moments. No situation is innately good or bad. It is your perception that makes is so. If you can learn to change your perspective on the situation, you can find peace in the storm and light in the dark.

Making It Real

Imagine a time in your life when you had enormous personal growth. A time that you now look back on as a turning point in your life. A pivot. A period that changed the way you view the world or the way in which you operate in it.
Okay, do you have a timeframe in mind?

I know I do. The period of my life when I realized the most personal growth is when I struggled with chronic anxiety. It was a time in my life where I was lost, confused and afraid. I thought I would never get better.  My fear and worries almost trapped me forever.

But here is the catch, they didn’t.

Not because I had some unrealistic hope that I would get better. Not because I wished it into being or manifested my deepest reality. No. I was only able to heal when I changed my perspective on the situation and started to view anxiety as a gift rather than a curse.

It was, and remains, the hardest I have ever worked for anything in my life. What made the difference was a belief that the storm I was in was going to be the very thing that gave me the life I wanted. I just needed to grab my surfboard and ride out the waves.

What I believed to be the perfect storm was the very thing that shaped me into the person I am today. It gave me the confidence to take back the reins of my life and steer it in a more grounded way.

Life without stress is one in which you are not growing.

Life without fear is death.

Life is struggle. It is inevitable.

But suffering, what we do to ourselves when we fight the storm, is optional.

It is up to you. Will you fight the storms of your life? Or will see the billows of your life approaching and choose instead to surf them?

You always have a choice.

You Already Know How To Surf

  • Get out a piece of paper and draw out three columns.
  • In the first column write down a couple of storms that have come up in your life. They do not have to be “perfect storms.” Any little ripple of water that came unexpectedly will do.
  • In the second column, write down how you ‘surfed the waves’ or how you were finally able to overcome the situation.
  • In the third column, write down why you are grateful for the storm. This may be difficult, especially if you are still on the tail end of the storm. But dig deep. Find something in the rubble that you learned about yourself in the process.
  • Let me know in the comments a storm you overcame in your life and how you were able to surf the waves!

Now, take a step back and look at what you have accomplished. Appreciate how much worse your life could be. And now go on with your day feeling grateful for the life you have.

We can’t stop the waves of life from crashing down, but we CAN learn to surf. We can learn to ride the highs and the lows knowing that with each new wave comes a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.

With Peace and Gratitude, My Brothers and Sisters.

Go Deeper

Are you ready to wake up, get more focused, and find more happiness in your life?

If so, sign up for my free 5 Day Mindfulness Email Course. I’ll be sending you an email every day that will help you reduce stress, increase focus, and find more happiness!

If you are ready to take back control of your life and start living above stress and overwhelm…

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Ben Foley

Author Ben Foley

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Peg says:

    I was a caregiver for both of my parents as they dealt with Alzheimer’s. I am the middle child, I never expected that would become my responsibility. My mother died first, and I became everything to my dad. Without realizing it, he became everything to me. My husband, my children, my job, were all less important. I retired and spent even more time with dad. When he died, part of me died. I lost my surf board. I spent time with a grief counselor and checked in to the mental health unit at the hospital. With help, I’m regaining my footing and realizing that I was incredibly fortunate to spend those years with my father. Together we healed what had been, at times, a contentious relationship. I have a husband and a family that allowed me that room to spend time with my dad. I have special memories that will last forever. My sister and brother don’t have that. So what at times seemed like a burden, actually became an incredible gift. It is still painful everyday. I miss this new dad that I grew to love so very much. I’m still getting my act together. It has taken a lot of help to right my ship, but I’ve grown so much. I am a better, more compassionate person for having loved and learned from my father.

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