This quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn is a striking metaphor. One way to look at it, is that we will have to deal with the things life throws at us, whether we like them or not. Just as we cannot stop the waves when we are in the sea: the waves will come and go, and we’ll have to deal with them. Learning how to surf makes sense. Learning how to deal with what life throws at you makes sense, too. People are actually quite good at this. Our cognitive skills make us excellent planners. We can think things through before we do them, anticipating difficulties and pitfalls. However, these cognitive skills also make us very good at ruminating and worrying. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but habitual worrying can make us anxious, depressed, or angry.
Another wat to look at Kabat-Zinn’s quote is to relate it to what we learn by practicing mindfulness. “Surfing the waves of your breath” is how we often describe following your breath with your attention, since your belly and chest move up and down rhythmically when you breathe. Following the breath with our attention helps us to stop our mind from wandering, because unfortunately, the wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Sustaining your attention is actually something you can improve by practicing mindfulness.
Of course you can also take it literally: you can learn to surf. When you are surfing, you cannot focus your attention at anything else but riding the wave you are currently on, or you would instantly fall off the board. Moments like these, when you are completely absorbed with what you are doing, are called peak experience, or flow. It is in these moments where we are completely one with what we are doing that we are most happy.
We don’t teach how to surf, but if you are interested in learning how to practice mindfulness: our next mindfulness training starts on Monday November 14!