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Weekly Mindfulness Support Blog - Riding Emotional Waves

Hello and welcome to Friday, February 11, 2022. Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again. Make it count!

Like waves on the ocean, emotions are bound to rise and fall, ebb and flow, advance and recede. About this, we have no choice. But we do have a choice about how we interact with those waves. We can either learn to respond wisely to emotional waves, or we may find ourselves being helplessly tossed around in the surf.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to mindfully observe some surfers on a rare, sunny February day on the Oregon Coast. Though I’ve never surfed, it didn’t take long to recognize the differences between the novice and skilled. The beginner awkwardly carries the surfboard into ocean, gets knocked back a time or two by the incoming waves, sets their board down on the choppy water, clumsily climbs on, and with my imagined trepidation, they start to paddle toward what could be a long, frustrating day. I admire their courage!

The veteran surfer, on the other hand, stands confidently before the ocean and takes a moment to assess the nature of the waves – where they’re breaking and the direction of travel, I assume. After determining the ideal location to take on and ride the waves, the experienced surfer runs confidently into the onslaught of breakers, gracefully carrying their board to the side, and at an intuitive moment, they leap into the air landing soundly on the surfboard, and with poise, they paddle swiftly into the vast ocean.

As the novice paddles out to their staging area, unlike the practiced surfer, they have yet to master diving under the oncoming waves. At exactly the right time, the veteran submarines below the oncoming wave being pushed back toward shore only a little, if any at all. But not so for the beginner. The beginner mistimes the wave, doesn't go deep enough, forgets or is too tired to dive, or just tries to power through. The wave wins. The rookie is tumbled and tossed all the way back to what must seem like the shore. How demoralizing this must feel.

Then there’s the whole learning to paddle with the wave, quickly springing to a balanced stance on the surfboard, and assertively riding the wave. I’m so baffled on how they do this I don’t feel I should even comment on their expertise. Nevertheless, I know that their ability to surf comes from determination and practice.

Our ability to engage skillfully with emotional waves also comes with determination and practice.

It comes as a surprise to me that, as children, we are not taught much about emotions and the effect that they have upon us. We learn to name the emotions, and that’s a start, but we are not generally instructed on how to respond to them, or even that we have a choice in how we respond.

We spend years learning to read, write, and to solve complicated mathematical equations, and while much of this knowledge serves us, there are many aspects of these lessons we have never needed to apply to any actual situation in our life. From the day we are born to the day we die, we experience emotions. And yet, so few of us have been taught anything on emotional intelligence. I know that until Mindfulness found me, I most certainly had not.

The good news is that it’s not too late for our children, and it’s not too late for us. We can learn to ride emotional waves – we can learn to surf.

Like the seasoned surfer understands their playground, we must first learn about the nature of emotions. Unlike waves that crash into the shore, emotions themselves can’t harm us. How we react and respond to these emotions, however, can be as destructive and damaging as the ocean’s tide.

While emotions can inform us about what is happening around us, the fact is, emotions are not facts. We feel emotions in the body as sensations – some uncomfortable, some pleasurable.

Similar to surfers who practice riding waves, we have been practicing emotions. The difference lies in intention. Largely without our awareness, we practice emotions when we identify with them. As opposed to experiencing anger, for instance, we say, “I am angry.” Practiced enough, emotions can become exaggerated habits. Think of road rage, for example. New drivers don’t get behind the wheel and immediately experience a sense of indignant rage. While humbly trying to do their best at this new skill, new drivers rarely spend time judging how others on the road are performing. Our discontent starts out as a mild irritation. As we put energy into and pay more attention to the triggering driving habits of others, the anger increases until it ultimately reaches a state of contemptuous volatile rage. At this point, it’s as if we have become the emotion.

But just like the surfer is not the waves, we are not our emotions.

Akin to the ocean’s surf, emotional waves are always present and ever changing. Sometimes they’re mild and can be considered pleasant and sometimes emotions feel like the crushing blow of a king tide. We can try to anesthetize them, try to ignore them, and can even try controlling the situations that give rise to them. These solutions are ultimately ineffective and exhausting. Though it may seem frighteningly insurmountable in the beginning, just like a novice surfer paddling into the vast blue ocean for the first time, we can learn to skillfully experience emotions instead of being under their influence and control.

Like thinking, emotions can be great servants, but they make terrible masters. Whatever their nature, we can learn to ride emotional waves with skill and self-assuredness.

I am here to help.

You are Loved by me, Unconditionally!


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