If you aren’t a surfer and you aren’t familiar with the challenges of paddling out through a set of waves to get to the line-up, let me hip you to something…
When you’re pointed in the direction of the breaking surf and you come face to face with a wave that is about to pummel you, you have two options. One, keep paddling and get trashed or go under and let the wave do the work of popping you out the other side. This maneuver is called “duck diving” and all seasoned surfers become expert at it because it saves you pain and energy, ultimately allowing you to do more surfing and less drowning.
I think about duck diving a lot because it’s a really good analogy for how I’ve learned to deal with pain or discomfort on dry land. I really became proficient at it when I had an incredible toothache and wasn’t going to be able to see a dentist for a few days. It was two a.m. on a Friday night and I had an appointment the following Tuesday. I was sitting on my couch in terrible pain, wishing I was somewhere else and trying to figure out what I could do just to feel even incrementally better. If we return to the surfing analogy for a second, I was letting the wave (tooth pain) pummel me at this point.
I had two options: Go to an emergency dentist and spend an exorbitant amount of money, or figure out how to be with the pain in a way that was useful until my appointment. I know that sounds weird, but if we return again to our wave, maybe I can clear it up.
A wave is just a wave. It’s not good or bad. It’s just water+wind+geography. If you are being held under water and thrashed by it, you might have the view that it’s bad, but that’s just a judgement you are making based on the temporary experience you are having. On the other hand, if you duck dive and let the energy of the wave pop you out the other side, you might change your belief about the wave’s role in your experience.
So, back to the pain again. In this dry land version of duck diving, the key for me was to stop wishing for escape and to deal with the reality of the wave. To realize that I was making a choice about how I was relating to the pain. I was, in effect, sitting on my board with my arms spread wide and saying: “Do as you will” instead of realizing that I could use the power of the wave (the very power I was being pummeled by) to push through and come out the other side.
In a practical sense that meant fully accepting the pain and letting myself feel it without wanting to push it away. I was, in a way, showing the pain some love. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but if you think about the old adage “whatever you resist, persists”…this falls right in line with that. As soon as I faced the pain and invited it in instead of resisting, I felt immediately better…emotionally and physically. And within thirty minutes, the pain had gone down to a totally manageable level and stayed that way until my appointment on Tuesday. By really being inside of the pain and inhabiting it, I had done what no amount of drugs could.
Since then, I’ve tried to duck dive everything that is, on its surface, unpleasant or unsatisfactory. There are lots of waves. I have two options with each one that comes my way…and even when I momentarily forget to duck dive and end up getting trashed, I still learn something. But on the whole, I’ve found it to be much better to go under than to end up sucking whitewater. Maybe you will too.