Surfing has almost always been tied to spirituality in the West. It is the one sport, maybe more than any, that evokes images of peace and serenity. We know that this is just one side of the many faces of the surfing world, but it is one side that shouldn’t be ignored. The archetype of the soul surfer is for good reason….
Surfing can teach us a lot about mindfulness. There is something about riding a wave of energy that has travelled half way around the globe to get to you, that evokes a deep feeling of connection.
But what exactly is surfing’s connection to mindful practice?
For starters, Timothy Leary used surfing as his great metaphor.
The famous psychologist of 1960’s counter culture seemed fascinated with surfers and was quoted as saying that “surfing is the spiritual aesthetic of the liberated self”. Leary saw something in surfing that lended itself to his studies of the mind and transcendence and continuously used it as a metaphor in his lectures. Here are three of his most profound quotes on surfing:
“Surfers have somehow been able to get in touch with the infinity, with the turbulence of the power of their own brain. You can talk about surfing brain waves as you would about surfing external waves.”
“I want to have film of a surfer moving along constantly right at the edge of the tube. That position is the metaphor of life to me, the highly conscious life. You think of the tube as being the past, and I'm an evolutionary agent, and what I try to do is to be at that point where you're going into the future, but you have to keep in touch with the past. That’s where you get the power...and sure you're most helpless, but you also have most precise control at that moment.”
“It’s a merging of your own body neuromuscular, or brain body, with the power/energy/rhythm of nature. That's what's so jewel-like about mind/body/sea energy interfacing together. One thing I like about surfing is that it is all out. You can't be half-hearted, or you can't be thinking about something else. You've got to be totally there.”
Surfing promotes the flow state.
As Dr. Leary stated, surfing requires the rider to be completely present. Many practices focused on mindfulness, such as meditation and yoga (learn about integrating yoga into your daily routine), are aimed at achieving a state of present awareness in the practitioner. Surfing is really no exception. The next time you get barreled, take a second on your paddle back out to notice just how present you were in that moment of riding the wave. One of the greatest gifts of surfing is that it allows us to achieve a blissful state of awareness. The mind, body, and wave are synced in a way that transcends time, and in that single moment we glimpse the infinite.
Surfers are able to take mindfulness a step further by entering the flow-state, a mental state where a person is so intensely focused and immersed in an activity that they seem completely connected to it. This state has been referred to under various manifestations in certain Eastern religions, such as Buddhism.
Surfing greatest gift may be gratitude.
Maybe one of the most obvious experiences we have as surfers is the level of gratitude we have after a session. Whether it is that feeling of stoke we share with friends or that sense of awe we experience as we watch the reflection of the sunset color the glassy water at dusk, some overpowering feelings keep us presently engaged with the surf. Gratitude keeps us connected to the now and fills our life with meaning. Many mindful practices seek to evoke this emotion, yet surfing nurtures it effortlessly in our lives so long as we continue to paddle out.
So many religious and spiritual teachings utilize symbols of the ocean and water to evoke a sense of awareness and tranquility. Surfing is a rare and beautiful opportunity to interact with the natural force that has inspired and informed our ancestors for thousands of years.
Written by: AJ Letterel