I have many loves in my life for which I’m grateful and recently I was blessed with a second child, Priya Luna Rose Kirwan. With each passing day the love grows as I appreciate new moments with her. It’s a wonderful gift to love the people around you. It’s also a wonderful gift to love what you do and in that I’m also blessed with my work as a shaman.
Yet life is dance and in dance we play so to love your playtime is perhaps the greatest gift you can give yourself. When we play in such a way that our presence is all consuming then we really are at the edge of living. Another great love and teacher that has entered my life this year has been surfing and the lessons have been so transferable I feel compelled to share them.
My first few attempts at surfing were largely unsuccessful, which is par for the course from what I hear. It takes a certain level of commitment to even get a smell of success with the board. Earlier this year in Morocco I was given the opportunity during a holiday with my family to give that commitment. It just so happened there was a surf shop right by us, which meant I could surf every morning for five days. Recently after a business trip to Portugal I was able to paddle out again and later when swimming, have a near death experience during which my surfboard learnings of the ocean would save my life and another.
Knowing the currents and rips meant that instead of struggling against them and getting washed out to sea, we were able to swim across them and let the waves take us back to shore, we found the right flow to carry us to safety.
Surfing is a pursuit in which man meets nature in the form of a challenge, the challenge being to ride a wave on a board made of foam or wood. Where the beauty lies here, is that the challenge is not to destroy or overcome nature, it’s to play with it, dance with it… in essence be part of it for a few fleeting moments of exhilarating ecstasy.
When you go to play with a force of nature such as the ocean the first thing you become aware of is its enormous and overwhelming power. In the grips of the ocean you gain first hand awareness of your own place in the natural order of the universe, and the insignificance of it is liberating. There’s nothing like a few heavy waves to knock the anger and ego out of you. At her mercy your survival depends on you learning to flow with her instead of fight and in this moment you become aligned.
The art of catching that wave for me carried some great practical teachings. The mistake I made in my first attempts at surfing was overthinking how I was going to stand up. In my own head, lost in technique and the rational sequence by which I was going to stand up, I was completely unconnected to the waves and what was going on around me.
The change came when I let myself feel instead of think. If you think… you’re slow, and the moment will either pass you by or chew you up. As any athlete or sports person knows, being in the moment is everything, thinking about the past or future in any athletic endeavour is a one way ticket to ruin.
With surfing though, there is an added dimension, that moment involves a wave of the ocean and your level of presence determines whether you ride the wave like a dolphin or get chewed up in the washing machine, swirling round like an unwanted piece of tissue paper that doesn’t really belong there.
In this sense, to think about standing up when you should be feeling with the wave for the moment to stand up, is a surefire way to become wet tissue paper beneath the waves, wondering when your next chance to take a breath will come. Yet when you feel it, you time it perfectly and everything combines to create a ride of pure bliss.
For me it’s not just that moment on the wave, it’s the joy I have of simply being in the ocean. As I paddled out through the waves in Portugal, each time the nose of my board crashed through the white water sending crystalline pearls skywards to glisten in the suns rays, I felt a serene pleasure unlike any I’ve ever felt before.
Long before I could ever surf a South African friend taught me this hand signal:
The thumb is your surfer, the fingers the wave - riding the wave. It was a sign that you’re present, you’re happy, you’re in love with life.
A clenched fist is a wipe out, you’re down, you’re beaten, you’re struggling to breathe.
Sometimes you’re riding the wave, sometimes you’re crushed beneath it. What counts is that you’ll get back on your board and paddle out again either way. You start again, you create again, this is the rhythm of life.