Immersed in the Now: Surfing and Present Moment Awareness

 "The more you live in the present moment, the more the fear of death disappears." -Eckhart Tolle. Surfer: Mike Hughes

“The more you live in the present moment, the more the fear of death disappears.” -Eckhart Tolle. Surfer: Mike Hughes

“The reality consists only of now, the present. It has nothing to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. It is so concentrated in this moment that if you can be in this moment, all that you are seeking and searching will be fulfilled. This moment is the door to the divine.” -Osho

I often ponder what it is about surfing that has me so enraptured after all these years, the enchanting qualities of the experience that draw me in almost uncontrollably. When I contemplate my love of surfing, a plentitude of reasons, emotions, and dreamy visuals come to the forefront of my mind. First, foremost, and most simply stated, surfing is fun; a pure unadulterated enjoyment. It truly is one of the most joyous activities I have ever practiced; the bliss is so powerful that I have dedicated the better part of my life to the pursuit of the path. Gliding across a peeling wall of salt water is just as much exhilarating as it is calming; a wonderful dance between two states of being that teaches us mental and physical balance. Riding waves is also a wonderful way in which we can have a direct focused interface with our natural surroundings. As we spend more time immersed in the ocean, returning to that place from which we all manifested, we once again become attuned to the voice and rhythmic patterns of Mother Nature. It’s wild to think that by paddling out to catch a few waves, we are returning to the womb of creation, the embryonic realm that life on Earth ascended from. Our ecstatic pastime bears multiple fruits for the willing recipient, awarding us with tools and understanding to apply to a variety of situations in our everyday life on land. One of the most rewarding aspects of the surfing experience for me is that it helps silence my inner chatter. I’ve always been someone who has oftentimes painfully thought too much, and being an active person, I’ve found solace from the patterns of my overactive mind in pursuits that demanded my undivided attention. I have yet to find anything as powerful as surfing that focuses my attention in such a positive and unalloyed manner. Surfing in a very practical sense has saved me from the pitfalls of my propensity to overthink and ruminate. It’s cleansing, it’s emptying, it washes away the psychic debris of the modern world.

I understand that I hold what many consider to be a lighthearted and somewhat frivolous activity in such high regard. The fact is, for me, experiential knowledge will not let me see surfing as anything less than a spiritual practice, a profound pursuit that can reveal the divine aspects of everyday life. That said, I will be the first to admit that many times surfing feels like an ego trip or a no holds barred fist fight with my inner critic. In either case, I still find these experiences to be sacred as well, revealing the ways in which my ego or false sense of self comes to crash the party. The ego and the inner critic are flip sides of the same coin so to speak, insecurity and fear demonstrating themselves in different forms. Through surfing I have learned to recognize when my lower self is flexing its metaphorical muscles, and overtime I become better at dealing with these unpleasant states of being.

Oftentimes when we hear or read spiritual teachers’ words, they call upon us to become immersed and fully aware in the present moment. In the present moment is where life exists, the soil of life is fertile for growth and action. Many will say the eternal present is all that is. The past and future are illusions, Maya, stifling phantoms of the mind’s eye. Looking at the past we may lament on times slipped away or fast forwarding to the future we can find ourselves fantasizing about dreams we would like to achieve. Personally I do find happiness thinking about good memories or envisioning a future I would like to bring into being, but if we become trapped in these dreamlike states, always focused on the past or future, we are never fully aware in the present. When we are never fully aware in the present moment, we lose our chance to truly live and appreciate the offerings of life.

“Life is available only in the present moment.” -Thích Nhất Hạnh. Surfer: Brian Bednarek

“Life is available only in the present moment.” -Thích Nhất Hạnh. Surfer: Brian Bednarek

What I’ve found in surfing is that it not only reveals my inner dialog while I sit in the lineup waiting for a wave, but it shows me how at peace or how unbalanced I am internally on any given day. Paddling, duck diving, and the myriad of maneuvers that can be done on a wave are not the only things we are doing during a surf session; sitting is a large part of the practice. It’s funny because in certain meditative practices, simply sitting, breathing and being unattached to the mental babble going on is all you are really doing. When the mind wanders from the breath and gets caught up in thoughts, you simply acknowledge that, and then bring your focus back to your breathing. Sitting on our surfboards is very much the same thing and a great place for us to practice this sort of breathing meditation. When I surf, even amongst a group of friends, I tend to be quiet and to myself. Sitting on my surfboard is a meditative space for me. It’s a time for me to see what’s going on in my head, and hope to gain some clarity. I’m also one who always likes to keep my eyes on the ocean before me, looking for the next batch of set waves to roll through.

When our wave comes to us, that is when we enter into a state of active meditation, or present moment awareness. We turn and begin to paddle, the energy of the wave starts to run up our center, traveling up our spine, reaching our head, and extending throughout our entire body. We pop up to our feet, it’s as if the mind shuts down, and the subconscious takes over. To surf well, we must put thinking aside, immersing ourselves fully in the present moment. I’ve always noticed that my best surfing takes place when there is a transparency to my mental state, when thought takes a backseat and there is an almost unexplainable clarity.

The entirety of riding a wave can help bring us into such states of clarity, yet I have found the tube ride to be the place where I find the utmost freedom from mental intrusion. As the wave pitches, the lip throwing out to the flats, the watery wall bending to wrap around you, it is then that you become covered up by the bowling hollowness of the wave. In this very moment it seems as if time as we know it slows down. As time appears to slow, all other thoughts fall away, and what exists in that space is the very moment you’re in. There is everything and nothing all at once, eternity stands before you.  That mental space is a beautiful thing and quite poetically wonderful that it takes place in the open space lent to us by hollow waves.

Go surf, get tubed, and enter into the eternal emptiness of the now.

All photos:

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” - Amit Ray

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray





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Growing up in New Jersey, Shawn discovered and quickly immersed himself in the sub-culture of surfing and skateboarding in the mid 80’s. With a diverse and eclectic background, Shawn has walked the path of a competitive surfer, Hare Krsna monk, action sports industry player in NYC, DIY theology and religions major, and a touring punk rock musician. Now a father and self-proclaimed seeker of the “soul” of surfing, Shawn enjoys sessions with friends at uncrowded peaks along his home state’s shoreline and writing about his surf related experiences.

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