A few days ago I paddled out for the second time at Arrifana beach in Portugal. It was a fairly big day for me: double overhead (which in non-surfer lingo means waves twice my height.) After sitting on the shoulder for a while to get a feel for the break I went in hoping to bag a monster. Instead I got bagged. I was surprised by a massive wave, the first of a rogue set that broke much farther outside than the rest. Not being familiar with the area, I’d unwittingly drifted directly into its impact zone. The first house-sized wave came crashing down on me top to bottom. Instincts kicked in: I tossed my board, took a deep breath and dove as deep as I could.
When I surfaced I turned to grab my board before the next wave landed and was sickened to see it snapped in half. Two more poundings and I felt my leash snap underwater. I made a desperate paddle for the flotsam now drifting away from me. I reached it just in time to bear hug it before another monster dragged me under. After a solid beating I washed onto the beach, happy to be on solid ground but already dreading the prospect of returning my friend’s board in multiple pieces.
In surfing there’s some common advice about wipeouts, which is that they are going to happen and the best thing you can do is accept them. This advice is intended literally, not spiritually. When you are held under and are going through what is called the “washing machine” the worst thing you can do is tense up, struggle or start panicking. The safest thing is to physically accept it—let go and let the wave do with you as she wants.
I think it’s good advice for all forms of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). Reacting to FUD when it overwhelms us is like panicking under water: you’ll only burn your remaining stores of oxygen. Avoiding FUD is like sitting on your board on an empty beach when you know your true place is out among the wild, thrilling swells of the ocean.
For me, choosing a more adventurous lifestyle has meant learning to simply be with FUD. To accept it as a healthy and natural part of the human experience. I like the metaphor Rumi uses of a guesthouse:
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
My life has shown me that the degree to which I am able to receive FUD as an honored guest is the degree to which I’m able to live authentically—to live a life that is truly my own. I’ve seen time and time again that the rewards come not in spite of FUD but because of FUD. I like the guest house metaphor because it reminds me that FUD is only a guest passing through—not who I am. Looking at it this way, it becomes easier to be kind when it arrives, patient when it stays and recognize the gifts it brings with it.
In many places in the East, guests are considered gods. The greeting namaste is often translated as “I see the divine in you.” It’s an incredibly grand way of seeing things: to welcome one and all, and treat each as a divine face of the Godhead. It’s also terrifying. And challenging. But so is not loosing your shit when a wave the size of a semi-truck lands on your head.
It takes practice.
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**Featured photo is of Arrifana beach on a more inviting day.