Riding it out

bikeAtDusk_web-1

We recently got back from our usual summer vacation down to Southern California. I got to rest, catch up on some movies, spend time with the family, and watch the kids swim and play with their cousins. My daughters are starting to seem so much more grown up all of a sudden given the new activities they can do. My older daughter has been riding a bike for a couple of years now, but usually is very nervous and scared to go fast. On this trip she was riding much faster and confidently than usual. My younger daughter has improved a lot in swimming, up to where she can kind of float on her back, and can go underwater and is also doing much better on the bike with training wheels.

As part of this growing up my eldest has begun to start listing all the things she wants and begins to get unhappy that she doesn’t have them. Some of these things are typical kid things like certain clothes or toys, but others include the desire for us to own a house in Berkeley (rather then rent in Oaklnd)and for us to buy a car with a 3rd row so “mommy” can drive her and a bunch of friends around. It’s humorous, but I think also illuminating. It helped me realize how I deal with my desires can affect my mood.

On my trips down south, I try to go for an early morning surf session as often as I can. The conditions are more consistent down there, and I have more time to go than at home. I find that these sessions serve as the fuel for my day and also helps me keep my surfing ability up. Spending time in the water gives me a chance to slow down and ponder my life and run across new ideas and insights. This time around if felt different. I was able to enjoy my surroundings, but the surfing itself didn’t give me energy, moreover it left me feeling frustrated. This went on for almost 2 weeks.

Analyzing it a bit I have come to believe that, like my daughter, I was letting my desire for something bring me down. In my case, I wanted to be a better surfer. I felt horribly limited by, what I found to be diminished, abilities. I wanted to pick better waves, be more aware of what the wave was doing and respond in an appropriate fashion. I wanted to be able to go across the wave rather than just make the drop then find myself surrounded by white water. I wanted to be in better shape and not get winded so easily. So many wants!

All this wanting left me frustrated and very unfulfilled. This in turn started a downwards spiral in which I felt that since I would never have enough access to the ocean to improve my skills then I would always be stuck and frustrated. Therefore, I should consider giving up surfing. Then I got knocked underwater and found that my ability to hold my breath seemed much reduced relative to even a few months ago, and then I started beating myself about getting so out of shape. My ongoing back issues(and a new sprain after surfing) just added to the misery. It sounds ridiculous reading it now as I write it, but at the time the thoughts felt very real and strong.

One of the tenets of Buddhism that I ran across in my reading up on mindfulness a few years ago is that attachment is often the root of suffering. It turns out upon further investigation that it is one of the three poisons of Buddhism. It often gets mistranslated as desire is the root of suffering, but I think it helps to keep the two clear. To me, attachment is fixating on a particular desire. I can want to be a better surfer; if I can acknowledge that thought,and let it pass, then it doesn’t affect me too much. However, if I fixate on that thought,and keep coming back to it, I can get very depressed.

On some level I was aware of this, and was able to prevent the negative thoughts from taking a complete hold. I kept telling myself that these were just negative thoughts and that the feeling would pass. It kept happening, but I kept going out when my back would allow it. Towards the end of the trip, I went out on a smaller day and actually managed to have a good time. I think I wasn’t too worked up about making the most of the waves, since they didn’t look as good as the previous days, my expectations were lowered and I was able to have more fun rather than beat myself up for not having caught that last gorgeous wave.

On our return, it kind of hit me what a great trip we’d had as a family. We spent a lot of time together, survived the drive there and back (a first), had a great time in Catalina, where my older daughter overcame her fear of the ocean and went snorkeling with me. We got to see a bunch of the famous Garibaldi and various other fishes. I arrived much more energized at work, eager to follow up on projects and get things done. Even if the surfing hadn’t provided the usual energy, the time with the family certainly did.

I was reading the latest issue of the excellent magazine,Surfer’s Journal (my neighbor gave me a subscription for my birthday),and ran across a column in which the author expressed the view that surfing doesn’t have to be about finding the “perfect” wave or having the perfect ride. At its core, surfing should be about catching a wave and having fun. During this trip it seems that I forgot to enjoy the basics, and got caught up in the things I couldn’t do well. I still would like to improve my surfing skills. I’m not sure where the time for that is going to come from, and how exactly that will happen, but I will try to focus on finding the basic joys in life in the meantime. I’d like to teach that lesson to my daughter somehow. There are so many things that she will want in life and not get, I’d like for her to be able to not let those desires overwhelm her. Rather, I’d like for her to focus on the joys right in front of her, even if it’s something small like racing as fast as she can on her bike.