There’s nothing like being out in the middle of the ocean and falling a hundred times. Being a yogini, I thought myself strong, with an amazing ability to balance, focused, and resilient. Well, my pride quickly humbled because the ocean is a whole new ballgame.
My surf instructor, Al had trained famous actors. I was intimidated by him. He spoke with a thick Kiwi accent. His open vowels waved rhythmically like water and each syllable traversed some beautiful journey through the depths of the sea. Al had a long blond beard, dreaded in parts from the salty ocean air. I remember his beard most because while we were in the water I suddenly noticed a vast and unobstructed sky behind him, and for a second he looked like a depiction of Jesus or god of sorts. His sunburned cheeks and crystal blue eyes broke my heart. He could have arose from the ocean itself, exuding a Poseidon like confidence.
Soon, I was on my belly, on top of the surfboard, in cobra pose. Splash! Inhaling salt water is a clear sign of being alive. My throat raw and my eyes bleeding. Sneaking a breath here and there, because my life depended on it. The ocean rising into my body without discrimination, totally invading any sense of ownership I imagined belonged to me. There is no ground at all, only continuous swells of unpredicatbility. Timeless struggles of survival pulsing through my veins. BOOM! I make it to Chaturangadandasana to Malasana in the blink of an eye– and before I could think, Warrior II, quick like lightening. Finally tumbling into a wave that draws me in like a magnet. Then I do it again. This time, raising my gaze to the horizon. Al keeps shouting at me from across the waves to look up. I noticed the sky again. This time, I’m able to stand on my feet a second longer, which felt like an eternity.
I trust Al with my life because he spent most of his time preparing and training me to enter a dangerous situation. During the training period, he assigned long periods of time where I repeatedly exhausted my own resistance and hesitation. I was uncertain, doubtful, resentful and I felt small. Not in an unworthy way, but simply worn down to the point where I experienced and felt much more than I ever imagined possible. I was overwhelmed.
In time, Al ensured I was strong enough, so that when I fell, I could get up again and again. And again. And I did, several hundred times to the point hopelessness and total loss of faith. He also made sure I knew what I was getting into–the easy seduction into the power of feeling defeated, and the endless patience and exertion required to move through that loss.
When I was ready to go into the ocean, he explained that the board was my tool, yet also a weapon. One moment of miscommunication or lack of precision and you lose connection with the elements. I respected his humility and I felt it was his gift. Even though he was a badass, cutting waves like butter, he understood the fragility of life. This made him strong. He knew the dangers of the ocean and never appeared bloated by arrogance, which made him tenderly cautious and protective.
It is terrifying to be in constant flux and disorientation, never quite having it. In this fear, I began to awaken to the idea that to surf this ocean, one requires flexibility and strength, which I finally felt were at balance within me. To see clearly, one needs a teacher. To get back on the board, one needs the heart of a warrior.
We are always surfing.