Surfing and SUP riding can give us a great chance to calm our mind-body. Despite this, some of us surf with a consciousness that is out of balance. We sometimes become scatter-brained and defocused. Thoughts of work problems and other issues chatter away in our minds incessantly. By allowing or consciousness to be “out of control”, we ruin our surf session and can become frustrated.
The following article will give us tools to counteract our agitated minds, which in turn will allow us to enhance our enjoyment of the surfing experience. These techniques can be traced back from the modern world to the time of the Buddha and have been used to great effect by hundreds of generations of meditators. Even today, modern science is documenting the positive effects of meditation as it relates to both physical and mental health. We will start with very basic techniques and proceed to apply these techniques to our surfing.
1. Breathing Meditation Introduction
Concentration and mindfulness is a natural activity of our minds. One may use it in many different ways without even thinking about it. We may watch a loved one, use a word processor, or read. These are all due to the minds natural capability to be mindful.
Sadly, in our modern day and age of hyperactivity, cell phones, texts, and multi-tasking, we erode the minds natural ability to pay attention or to be mindful. The result of this is a type of monkey-mind. This mind bounces around from one thing to another. It is as if we are on an out of control horse, heading to the nearest cliff. We are not in control. Our actions become reactive, not reflective? Due to this, we often get ourselves into trouble. This may lead to depression, excess anxiety and a poor state of affairs.
If you want to get out of this negative situation, you must develop a motivation or commitment to climb over a treacherous mountain. The rope that will allow you to traverse the mountain is meditation and mindfulness. You must understand that in order to climb a rocky mountain (in other words, our "rocky" minds); one cannot do it in a few steps. You must develop a strong motivation to want to climb the mountain and understand that only a sustained and consistent effort will allow you to reach the peak and get back down.
The carrot on the end of the stick is a happier and stable mind that is able to enjoy life! Would that not be nice? For our purposes as surfers, mindfulness can greatly improve our technique and enjoyment of the sport.
2. Breathing meditation: What is your real motivation?
Begin your meditation by finding an environment that is quiet and calm. Turn off your cell phone (yes, it can be done!) and dedicate at least ten minutes to your session. This time will be increased as your capacity to concentrate is increased.
You must start you session by developing a motivation. For example state “I am going to meditate in order to generate in my mind concentration to benefit my family members, society and my ability to surf”. Do not forget this motivation as it will allow you to drive forward fearlessly against the delusive thoughts of the mind. Meditations based on compassionate grounds will always be more powerful.
It is important to note that if you are meditating purely for personal gain, it simply will not work. The goal of meditation is to diminish the self into concentration so we can be free, compassionate people, not greedy beings. This is very important to note as American society can be overtly individualistic.
3. Starting Up
Now you will learn how to focus the mind on your breathing. Begin by finding a comfortable position. You may sit down cross legged (or a Half or Full Lotus for those with Yoga training) or in whatever position you find most comfortable. The most important feature of any position that you have is a STRAIT SPINE. This is key; as it will help you pay attention to your breathing. If there is any tension in your body, let it dissolve by relaxing the area of tightness.
Now focus your attention and mind on your breathing. Breathe in. Then count your exhalation as 1. Repeat this process. Count up to 10 and start at 1 again.
Notice the subtle sensations of the breath as it passes through the tip of your nostrils. Pay attention to the rising and falling of your abdomen. The idea is to make the breath an OBJECT of your meditation. Look at it from every direction and every single manner while keeping your attention on only the breath. It is an odd thing to say, yet your breath alone will get you through any crisis
Don’t be intimidated! If you can read this article, you are already proving that you can do this. When you are reading, the OBJECT of your attention is the words on the page. Don’t be afraid to meditate as you have been born with the tools to do so.
Invariably, as you are counting your breaths, thoughts will come into your mind. These thoughts can manifest in any form. “Jon owes me money”, “I need to call my work”, “I hope no one sees me meditating”.....any thought is possible. The key thing to understand is to just go back to your breathing as the object of your meditation.
If you concentration gets interrupted at number 3 breath exhalation, just return back to 1. Don’t worry if you cannot get past 2 or 3. As a novice your mind may be very “jumpy” moving from one thought to the next. When I was beginning my meditation many years ago I could not get to 10 for over a month! This is proof that most of our minds are in disarray. This state only produces a type of “scatter-brained effect” that will lead us to be reactive in behavior not reflective in manner. In this confused mode of being, we may develop anxiety for ourselves and trouble for others among other things.
It is a scary thought to realize that many of us are not in control of our own minds and actions. This fact should provide us with ample motivation to meditate as to do so would be to move towards happiness, control and calmness. Would this not be nice?
For our purpose as surfers and SUP participants, an agitated mind can only lead to a bad session. This frustration will inevitably affect our technique and progress in our sport.
4. Keep meditating consistently
Don’t give up. Meditating can be the hardest thing to do. Most importantly, to get the positive effects of meditation one must keep up a consistent regime of practice. Meditating is like surfing. You will not get good on the first day. If you quit due to frustration with your mind you will be like a beginner surfer who has given up on his first surf session. To become a good surfer, or a good meditator you must “surf/meditate” for years. Even when you attain a certain level of proficiency in both surfing and meditation, there exists a billion ways to improve your practice. For this reason it is important to keep our practice up.
5. Surfing/ SUP Meditation
The next portion of this article will show us how to transfer our abilities gained in meditation to the ocean. In this we will explore ways to use SUP and surfing as objects of our meditation practice. This is not unusual. The Zen folk of old stated that Zen is an everyday activity. One should pay attention while gardening, walking, washing the dishes and the like. Why not create every day into a magical experience? So, dear reader, please begin your meditation practices as described above and don’t give up.
Part 2: Surfing and SUP Meditation
Objects of Meditation: A Wave Meditation
SUP and surfing can be used to great effect to calm the mind. This is very important for our discussion as we live in a hyper-active world of e-mails, cell phones, face-book and multi-tasking. Our ability to pay attention is degraded by the fast pace of our modern world. This may lead to anxiety, depression and a poor state of affairs. To be happy we must pay attention and meditation is the key to this end.
Surfing and SUP can be an important tool to focus our concentration to improve our technical form and selves. Our sport provides us with many objects of meditation. One of the keys in meditation is to select an object to focus on; or immerse our concentration “ into”. The previous article focused on our breath as the object of our meditation. This article will use the ocean’s waves for object of meditation.
The ocean is filled with many things to be mindful of. Ocean waves are magical to look at and can serve as objects of our meditation. Start your meditation on your board with the following practice. Focus your attention on your breathing (as described in the previous article) and count two sets of ten breaths. This should be sufficient to calm the mind. After this turn your mental focus (or attention) attained in breathing meditation to the swell in the water. Sit (or stand) on your board and face the ocean. Pick a single swell out with your eyes (the wave can be 20 to 30 yards out but should be directly in front of you) and immerse your concentration in to it. Ask yourself the following questions. Is the swell coming strait in, or at a slight angle? As the wave approaches you, is it turning at an angle towards or away from you? Is the wave the combination of two swell directions?
As the wave comes under you, feel the swell lift your board up and then slowly turn your head and follow the progress of the swell as it moves away from you toward the inside. How does the wave move as it” feels” the bottom. Does the swell focus or defocus on a certain area of the reef? Does the wave “dissolve” as it fans out into the channel? Any observation is valid as long as you are concentrating. If you get distracted by thoughts in your head, just go back to concentrating on the swell just as you would go back to your breathing in normal sitting meditation.
The swell as the object of analytic meditation
Another form of meditation that is widely used by Tibetans and others is called analytic meditation. For our purposes, it is especially useful. One focuses on the object and analyzes ”what” is the wave (or object of the meditation)? Questions you may use to start your analysis are numerous. Does the swell have a name? If it does not, why do I have a name? Is the phenomena of this wave related to any other phenomena; a storm off of New Zealand perhaps? Does the gale have a cause and condition like the suns radiation?
What is important is to reflect on is the wave’s interdependence with many other factors. To do this is to realize that the wave is truly a “dependently originated” miracle. Logically the wave has the whole universe behind it (or in it)! What a joy it is to surf.
I will leave you with a type of Koan (Zen riddle). A wonderful question to ask your-self is: “Am I like the wave?” Do I have many causes and conditions that are an integral part of my-self? Does a wave die and similarly do I die?
With these thoughts we may come to a deeper awareness and appreciation of nature, others and ourselves. Would that not be nice?
Len Barrow Ph.D.
January 12, 2011