The Fears That Dwell In The Break

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Crashing waves along the coast of southern Chile, the surf just beyond the rocks awaits.

The cold water wraps itself all around my body, threatening to find a way into my wetsuit and overwhelm my senses further. I paddle hard toward the break, the heavy waves crashing upon my head and back as I work to overcome them. Suddenly I’m lifted from below, my surfboard abruptly torn out from under me, my ankle roughly pulled to the surface and my body thrown into a backwards somersault. I swim to the surface, gasping for breath; another wave crashes down on me and I again find myself under water- eyes closed, holding my breath. I kick hard, back to the surface I go, frantically grabbing my surfboard and sliding atop it, just in time to be rolled over by another wave.

I have to get past the break, I have to get through the crashing waves to the calmer waters beyond, where I can sit upon my board with a clear, quiet mind and watch the ocean as she moves. In this moment, I must dig for every ounce of strength to keep coming up for air while being rolled over by the heavy, powerful water.

I feel fear creeping in, slowly, like the cold saltwater entering my wetsuit, making its way through the hood of my suit as I’m barreled once again. As the water rushes down my back and legs, my mind begins to feed into the fear and discomfort.

I should get out, I’m not strong enough. I am tired, the ocean is too rough today and I cannot do this.

The comforts of the shore beg me to retreat- I can feel the ease of the motion of the wave pushing me forward instead of against me, feel the relief to those first few solid steps as my feet touch sand again, feel the warm sunshine on my face without the spray of saltwater burning my eyes. My mind pulls my attention to the warm towel that has been gathering heat on the dashboard in the front of the car, I long to feel the liberation of my skin as I pull myself out of the heavy, flooded wetsuit. It would be so easy to swim back to the shore, it would be so easy to just come back another day, to try again some other time, when the break isn’t so long, or the waves aren’t so persistent.

Pulling us into the present, I write this post in the midst of confronting my own moments of doubt and fears and longing for the comfort of the familiar shore as I embrace the act of “paddling through” the break. And by break, I mean literally, as I’m currently on a “break” from my career. It’s one that I orchestrated myself, even with great opportunity at a great company, doing work that I loved, I decided to walk away.

While I’m a passionate believer that you should do work that matters to you, I also believe that we are more than our careers, and that there are times that we need to reconsider what we value most in our current state of living.

We have one life. One.Precious.Life.

We’re on this planet for an incredibly short amount of time, in the grand scheme of things, and therefore if you don’t feel that the dots are connecting in your life, and by that I mean ALL the dots, it’s up to you to change that. For me, there was a restlessness in my heart, an intuitive “knowing” that it was time for some significant evolution, it was time for me to look beyond the safety of an “employed” status, beyond the comforts of a steady paycheck, beyond the familiarity of a daily routine. Innately, I knew that I needed a break, I needed an abrupt challenge that would push my boundaries and would usher me to the next chapter of my life, one that could not be statistically predicted based on my income, my age and my marital status. Perhaps I could see too far down the road of my future for my own comfort. Perhaps I really did just miss spending hours on end in wild places without the constraint of a two day weekend window. The point is that I decided to choose the path with no road map, and as a result I now face all the opportunity (and the challenges) that this decision brings.

Just because I chose this path doesn’t mean that moments of fear don’t creep in. They always do, and always have whenever I have embarked on a journey such as this. At every large crossroad I have faced in my life, there have been fears dwelling in the break, fears that remain no matter how conscious I am of my own ability to overcome anything that lies between me and living the life that I love.

In this particular case living on the road does get tiresome.  There are days I miss having my own kitchen where I can cook up lovely things like freshly baked pies and yummy meals comprised of fresh ingredients rather than the standard rice or pasta mixture of the day.  Days I would love to simply wake up late, see the rain outside and decide to spend the day in bed with Ale and our dog Check. Although we’ve had a few days in the mountains where we awoke to rain and decided to stay holed up in the tent all day, the comforts of a soft bed and lazy movie remained absent. There are days I miss engaging in thought-provoking work that is familiar, where I can flex my expertise and eloquently communicate my thoughts rather than fumbling my way through a simple conversation in a language that still feels foreign on my tongue and frustrates me in my lack of ability.

And yet, it’s the break that pushes us in unexpected ways; it’s the break that can test us in exactly the way that we need to be tested, even when we are unaware of how desperately we need it. It’s in the break that we can retreat to the restorative practice of taking our minds away from the norms that we use as the foundation for the walls of “perspective” we’ve constructed to funnel our vision of the world. And when you are trying to “be the change you wish to see”, sometimes you need to tear down the funnel in order to shift your perspective enough to be inspired by that which you couldn’t previously catch in your peripheral.

Over the years, I find that I’m much more willing to face my fears head on, to challenge them and their substance when they feed on momentary doubts. Through meditation and yoga I’ve found it easier to connect internally with my intuition, to immediately reconnect with my “why”, and I can draw strength from this practice when I’m anywhere in the world. The point is not necessarily that the more balanced/energetically conscious/self-aware you are the less likely you are to face fear, although I do believe you are better prepared to face it, and better able to quickly disarm it before it wreaks havoc on your hopes and inspiration.

The point is that we should never choose not to do something simply due to fear- because the fear will always lie quietly waiting for us no matter what.  Whether we embrace the unknown or we choose the familiar, it will find a way to taunt us, to distract and discourage us; and sometimes, should we choose to perceive it as such, it can also inspire us. It challenges us to go inward, to understand our “why”, to understand what is driving us and what is worth living for. In that sense, I can’t help but dive headfirst into the pursuits that might draw these fears out, so that I can fully face what might silently be holding me back without my even knowing.

So, I pull myself from the tempting thoughts of the shore, the thoughts of comforts I know await me eventually, but currently only distract me from my present endeavor if given too much contemplation. I appreciate the fact that those comforts are there, when I need them. But I came into the ocean today to surf. I came into this ocean to push myself, to take myself out of my comfort zone, to face another challenge in a part of nature that still feels foreign to me.

I lie on my board and reach forward into the icy water, counting my strokes, focusing only on the strength of my arms as I paddle forward and scan the coming waves for the low end of the break. Once I’ve spotted it I paddle ferociously, with all my strength, powering the board forward swiftly, my eyes searching for the next wave on my left, calculating the seconds I have before I must turn again and face the wave head on. The water begins to pull; I point myself into the wave and push down into a duck dive as the water rushes at me. Without nearly as much grace as the duck dives you have probably seen in surfing movies, I somehow find myself still on top of my board when I resurface. I quickly wipe the salt water from my eyes and paddle hard, head down, body balanced, catching momentum. I face one more wave, this time smoothly sailing up over the top, and suddenly I have arrived, I am in calm water, the break is behind me now.

I take a deep breath, several deep breaths.

I pull myself up into a sitting position and blow warm air onto my fingers which are numb from the cold water. I smile. Broadly. My arms are burning a bit, but they feel good. They feel ready. The shockingly cold water that had entered my wetsuit has been warmed by my body heat and it no longer makes me cold. I look out over the vast body of water I now sit quietly in and I’m overwhelmed by all that lies before me.

The surface of the water about ten feet from me suddenly breaks and I see the large, smooth fins and backs of three dolphins pop up. They swim in quick succession, the third one significantly smaller, a baby. I laugh out loud as I see them catch the next wave, swimming into the shore just like surfers, with ever so much more grace and power. They pop up again after having swum back beneath the water’s surface, proceeding to play nearby for the next hour. I catch my breath, I rest my arms, I watch the coming waves.

As I see the water gathering, the wave building, I begin to paddle, my fears in the break have been silenced; my concentration with the experience at hand taking full hold of my senses. I am on top of the wave, it is time to tip the board, time to stand back up, time to drop in and ride this wave. There’s a very good chance I might fall, there’s an even better chance I may end up back in the middle of that break.

There’s also a chance that I will succeed, that I will move with the energy of the ocean, that I will feel the gorgeous adrenaline pumping in my veins, experience the beauty of this wave in a way that will forever live in my memory. But even if I fall, I know I have the strength to get back up. I know I made it past the break before and I can do it again. So, I take the chance, and I go for it.

Here in Chile I have my moments where I’m fighting for breath in the break. I have my moments of intense frustration with my challenges in communicating. I’m learning to dance with my uncertainty that when I do decide to stay put again, I will manage to do work that I love as deeply as before, that I will build the lifestyle that takes me out into wild places whenever my heart desires, that I will protect wild places I love and have a positive impact in the world.

At the end of the day though, when I go inward, the “why” is solid, the doubts and fears dissolve when I look back on what I left and why I left it.  At the end of the day, I can face my fears with a steadfastness that I believed I had, but have only now been able to put to the test. And for that, I have the break to thank.

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A photo I took of myself after the day I describe in this post, I was exhausted, but so blissed out from spending the afternoon in the surf with the dolphins.

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