My third day in the hostel in Santa Cruz, CA changed the way I see surfers. Tim, a surf instructor from Cape Town, South Africa demonstrated in the communal kitchen how one stands on the board, shifting slightly forward and slightly back to feel the subtle movements, beginning to sense the board as an extension of their body. He spoke of the freedom he saw in the inner-city kids and mid-life moms who stepped outside of a rigid world of threat and obligation into a fluid and intuitive way of being. “In what other sport do you see players staring lovely at the field even when they aren’t playing?” he asked with reverent sincerity. “You don’t see tennis players staring at the court saying, ‘I just can’t wait to get out there!’ If you’re sick and tired and say you’re just going out to watch, you’re kidding yourself. You can’t resist the draw.”
Donny, a sun-crisped, periodically homeless diabetic 45-year-old surf junkie shared a similar sentiment. I watched him boil eggs and sausages, so absorbed in his story he burned round after round of Dave’s Killer bread. He reflected on the pain of coming out of the water, stepping onto the sand and into a world of time and rigid constructs, where suddenly it matters that you are judged for camping in your van or got swindled out of a care-taking gig. Tim and Donny both spoke of their craft as interweaving body, heart, and mind in an expansion beyond our conditioning, beyond self, beyond time.
After my eco-therapy session in Marin a few days earlier, I saw these stories through a new lens. Every time these surfers go for a session, they follow the same process Amy guided me through of severance from my daily routine and habits, crossing the threshold to be absorbed into nature, and reincorporating with clarity and intuitive understanding. Where I had followed her into an urban forest in Larkspur, stepped across a fallen log smudged with sage and a turkey wing, and emerged with a deeper understanding of my roots, Tim and Donny step into the waves, feel themselves become the board and the movement of the water and everything that lives in it, and then step back onto solid ground. By doing so, we all participate in a vision quest that humans have been taking for millennia stepping away from the tribe into dreamtime – fasting, meeting spirit guides, and returning home with clarity about who they are and wisdom to share with the community.
Behind the stereotypes of slow intellect, simple pleasures, reggae and ganga, I understand the wisdom behind the surf culture: taking it slow, going with the flow, living for the moment, enjoying the pleasures of life. Our primal state as human beings is one of being in flow and feeling an inseparable sense of connection to our surroundings and all the life it contains – simultaneously nourishing and being nourished by it. Surfers want to protect the oceans not just because they want a clean ride, but because they are in constant, intimate dialogue with it. As all boundaries become fluid, and that heart-longing to dissolve and merge becomes the most important thing, they live the deep truth of unity that for most of us has become little more than intellectual cliché. By participating as members of our modern world in this innate, intimate, and deeply nourishing spiritual process, we ignite a deeper heart-break and longing for a way of being that is in our blood and our culture has forgotten.
How do those of us without surf boards, good balance, or access to oceans or woods feed this most universal human longing to feel secure, nourished, and meaningfully contributing to this web of life? And what do we do when what we encounter on our search breaks our hearts or fills us with rage? Before any sincere and effective call to action I believe we must first enter into a sincere and intimate dialogue with whatever we believe exists separately from us, starting with fully allowing and listening deeply to the parts of ourselves we have disowned and shamed. At the intensive breakthrough week in early November with Robert Masters and nine other women determined to be heard and healed, he invited us to consider that the road to forgiveness is paved not with good intentions, but with anger and resentment. We broke our silence with conscious rants. We shouted guttural “no’s” from deep in our bellies at our partners, parents, bosses and inner critics who reward us for our obedience, silence, and settling. We completed sentence stems with the spontaneous, uncensored truth in our hearts and brilliance of our spirits.
Through this process, things were rearranged in me of which my conscious mind is still only dimly aware. I emerged from that week with my feet planted firmly on the ground and a solid sense of certainty in my belly – feral, free, and fully capable of holding my little one close, even in her fear and longing, whatever our journey asks of us. This requires both a fierce determination to stay with her no matter what and a genuine inquiry into what she needs and what she wants me to understand. As she grows to trust me to listen to her and protect her from our inner critic, she will no longer need to hijack my intentions and compromise my integrity in order to feel safe and loved by others rendered unreliable by their own wounding. When the little one is calmed and secure, the woman in me is liberated to expand the dialogue beyond myself and respond with greater clarity, integrity, and creativity to the world around me.
This began with listening deeply to Donny, someone significantly marginalized by our culture, someone I likely would have passed by on the street without a second glance, and reflect back to him the ways his insights mirrored and enhanced my journey. This dialogue then expanded as I felt my belly rise with elation at the dignity of the misty cliffs of Big Sur and playfully rolling prairie dotted with live oaks, and then twist into the anguish of the hills flayed for mining and grasslands shorn for oil fields, strangled by concrete, phone wires, and aqueducts. What did the stripped grasslands and remaining isolated oaks want me to know as I opened myself to their grief? They told me that just as we mold the hills and fell the forests to erect our artificial world, we mold our appearance and fell our feral dreams to fit into it, taming and obscuring the wild both within and around us so that all we end up sharing is mutual despair nearly imperceptible beneath our appetite for distraction and ambition for more.
Out of the silence comes our disinherited pain and the agony of what we decimate and desecrate to feed our disharmonious, wholly unsustainable world of consumption and control. Derrick Jensen was writing “A Language Older Than Words” as my mother, who was the first to invite me to share our home with plants and animals as equal participants, was preparing to leave this world. Her life had silenced the truth in herself and those around her in just the way Derrick describes is characteristic of our culture. How can we admit the suffering we inflict on the natural world, our communities, our loved ones, and ourselves if our society denies us the full experience and expression of our feelings, sensations, and emotions? And how can we possibly transform our relationships if we cannot fully feel both the horror and the remorse? Genuine forgiveness rooted in full-bodied feeling frees the powerfully unencumbered flow of life force needed to birth a more sacred way of being.
Out of the silence my deepest voice is surfacing from where interwoven tendrils of therapy, ecology, slam poetry, meditation, the hero’s journey, and social activism have marinated underground. This place has been calling the addict, the depressed, the under-employed, the isolated, and the heart-broken who just want to be seen and heard, and feel a part of something life-giving. Uncensored by propriety and potential heart-break, my spirit simply longs to listen and share deeply, to feel those hard and defensive places in me soften, to lean into the fear of admitting I’m not in control and I don’t have the answers, and of letting myself simply love what I love. I can’t imagine anything more life-giving than entering into deep dialogue with you, with the trees and animals and landscapes that share our grief, fear, and rage over the condition of our world, what we must do to survive, and our most sacred and precious longings. Our voices may not stop the suffering, but the mere gesture of embracing the fullness of our experience – of stepping into the waves and feeling the ocean in our veins – brings us into alignment with all life and unearths our primal fluid, buoyant, and responsive way of being. The heart-felt dialogue that rises out of the silence is the foundation of our power to live in a new way.
Would you like to add your voice to the dialogue? Join my weekly on-line discussion group, Wednesdays at 8pm staring November 29th by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“My story isn’t sweet and harmonious like invented stories. It tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dreams, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves” – Herman Hess