Monday, January 7, 2013

Howz ya surfing?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has been fundamental in bringing mindfulness to the West, uses the expression: “you can’t stop the waves but you can learn how to surf”.

I love that phrase. It makes intuitive sense.  There are always waves on the water; there is always movement in our lives, either on a big or miniscule scale.   As waves are also churned by winds, the winds of stress and change stir up turbulence in our minds.

It is like the concept that we can’t stop things happening to us, but we can choose how we view and face them.  Learning to surf, learning to cultivate mindfulness helps us see what is happening more clearly and helps us to position ourselves differently in relation to those forces.

The surfing image though is so compelling.  The image of riding on those waves, wind in your hair, smiling in the sun, moving with the rhythm of the ocean, using its energy to propel yourself along, all the turbulence going on below and here you are just gliding through the highs and the lows ...

But hold on a minute Jon! 

I remember learning how to surf...and it is damn hard work.
  • Padding furiously and getting nowhere
  • Being relentlessly dunked
  • Struggling to leap on to my feet
  • Nearing the recommended daily intake of salt by swallowing all that sea water.  
  • Being thrown and bashed around by the turbulence
  • Getting hit on the head by my board
  • And those rare moments of actually getting up and feeling the exhilaration of riding a was all over in a flash...

Yep, you can watch all the Point Break (showing my age ;)) you like.  But to surf, you have to do time on the water, on your board.  And it is the same, with mindfulness.  It cannot be theorised, you have to do it.  What happens when you are out on the water is what counts.  It may not be easy; our habitual thinking patterns are tenacious.  Like with surfing, mindfulness can come naturally to some more than others. But whatever your level, cultivating it further takes a discipline of practice and patience.  And this requires spending time on your board, your ‘meditation cushion’.

  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994) Wherever you go there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. Piatkus Books, Great Britain, p. 30-32
  • And a photo of my gorgeous surfing sister who after years of living in Manly, has taken up the board. Here's her learning in Bali.


  1. great post Penny :-)I'm coming across quite a lot of emphasis on practise, Zen habits and other phrases that are helping me and my facilitation. I don't know if it's just me but there seems to be more being written about the importance of practice to reach your goals (whether mindfulness or other work and personal goals). Happy New Year, Ollie :-)

  2. thanks Ollie. I work with a British fencer drawing out the lessons of sport into business. She said one day, "what people forget is a lot of my success is just the sheer result of hours and hours of practice...". Happy practising in 2013!