Meditation and Surfing – A Path Towards Happiness

Why is there even the need for meditation and surfing?

We live in such a fast and busy world these days. It really feels like nobody has time anymore to reflect and watch back. Everyone is eyeing tomorrow, next week, the next vacation, the next paycheck. We have become so decoupled from the here and now it seems.

Contents


1. Causes of unhappiness
2. How meditation affects the brain
3. The various ways of meditating
4. Meditation and Surfing – How do they connect?
5. How meditation might even help your surfing
6. How to apply meditation into your daily life
7. Closing Thoughts

Causes of unhappiness

Bertrand Russell wrote in his book “The Conquest of Happiness” about causes of unhappiness. Let me single a few of them out and how they apply to our modern society.
There are 5 causes I want to put an emphasis on and these are πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Meaninglessness, Competition, Boredom, Anxiety and Envy. That list reads like a highlight of modern society’s struggles. Interestingly enough though – Bertrand Russell published that book already in 1930. Let’s take a quick dive into these 5.

1. Meaninglessness

Depending on where you are in your life you have probably felt meaningless before in one way or another. Doesn’t it seem as if it was almost impossible these days to really make an impact on the world. We are so lost in globalization, big brands and social media that the individual seems to lose more and more of its meaning.

2. Competition

I really don’t think I need to tell you that competition is a serious problem we are all living through on a daily basis. While competition is great for people to develop, strive and reach levels nobody has thought were possible – there is a component to competition that some people might forget from time to time πŸ‘‰πŸ½ for every winner there must be a loser. And that’s why competition ultimately is a cause of unhappiness.

3. Boredom

Our brains are hardwired to grave the immediate gratification. Cleverly programmed algorithms in social media, ever ongoing sales in the retail world and seemingly limitless ways to get credit loans and indulge in the material world. Access to instant gratification is very easy nowadays. Our brains jump from dopamine rush to dopamine rush. We have grown accustomed to it, so when it falls short for a period of time, we tend to become bored just as fast.

4. Envy

Social media and billions of dollars spent in advertisement are the many faces of presenting a life to us that we can’t have. A life that we envy instead. Never has it been as easy to see people from all around the globe leading apparently awesome lifes with the latest tech, always on vacation, in the finest clothing and in sport-model like physiques. How would one not get a bit envious from time to time looking at all that?

5. Anxiety

With the awesome lifes of our peers right in front of our eyes there aren’t too many steps left to be taken to fall into the trap that’s called anxiety. Shouldn’t you be doing just as well? Shouldn’t you be able to go on vacation 5 times a year? Should you get a better job? Work more and work harder? How will you be able to be as happy as they are? What is the missing ingredient?

I think we have established that there are many causes of unhappiness out there and we are facing them on a daily basis. That is not to say that one should fall victim to any of these. For now I just wanted to show that causes of unhappiness are all around us. Which is the reason we need to take action to be happy and more importantly remain happy. So how does meditation and surfing tie into all of this?

How meditation affects the brain

To show the scientifically proven effects of meditation I want to give a little insight into two studies. The first one compared brain activity in Tibetan monks using a method called electroencephalography (EEG). An EEG is taken by a series of electrodes placed on the head. The study has found that long-term, active meditative practice decreases activity in the default network. This basically is the brain network associated with a brain at rest – meaning your thinking of nothing particular but just letting your thoughts roam freely – it includes brain areas like the medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex.
Further the study found, the longer a monk had been practicing, the bigger the reduction in activity tended to be. Bin He concluded πŸ‘‡πŸ½

It seems the longer you do meditation, the better your brain will be at self-regulation. You don’t have to consume as much energy at rest and you can more easily get yourself into a more relaxed state.”

Well that seems to be a pretty handy thing to have in your toolbox. Now let’s see what the second study was able to find. The neuropsychologist Michael Posner from the Universtiy of Oregon has shown the distinct changes to the nerve fibers that allow different brain regions to more efficiently communicate with one another in his works. Using a special neruoimaging technique Posner and colleagues found increased levels of myelin, sometimes called the brainsΒ insulationΒ after only a few weeks of regular meditation practice. Here is a quote to put that into broader terms.

Those changes are linked to improved attention in different tasks. And as the anterior cingulate has vast connections to the lymbic system, or emotional system, it helps us understand why meditation can help improve mood and reduce anxiety, too.”


So the regular practice of meditation can help us get into a more calm state of mind. Furthermore the second study suggests that we will see benefits of practicing meditation after a few weeks already.

The various ways of meditating

When you think of meditation, do you see a tibetan monk in robes sitting cross legged on a tiny pillow? You’re not alone with that conviction. Sitting meditation called Zazen isn’t the only method of meditating however. There are many more ways to practice meditation and some of them are quite easy to implement into your daily life.

Monk Meditation and surfing
A Monk in Zazen Practice

The most important part of meditation is fully being in the present moment – the Here and Now. Thich Nhat Hanh, buddhist monk, author and well known mindfulness advocat has put it that way in his book Happiness πŸ‘‡πŸ½.

Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment.

I couldn’t put it any more beautiful and simple that that. He goes on explaining that “Practicing mindfulness does not require that we go anywhere different. We can practice mindfulness in our room or on our way from one place to another. We can do very much the same things we always do – walking, sitting, working, eating, talking – except we learn to do tem with an awareness of what we are doing.”
Let me put this into an example πŸ‘‰πŸ½ You might be standing there watching a beautiful sunrise but you can’t fully sink into it. Instead you are preoccupied withyour projects and worries. You think about the future and the past. So you let the richness of the moment slip by.
This is called the “Monkey Mind” whithin Zen-Buddhism. Meaning your mind behaves like a wild, crazy monkey. Jumping from thought to thought like a monkey is leaping from branch to branch. Always revolving never to stand still.

Meditation and Surfing – How do they connect?!

So how do meditation and surfing connect to each other. There are very few places left, where we aren’t occupying our mind with something additionally. We listen to music when running, maybe listen to a podcast when walking somewhere, listen to an audio book when doing the dishes or laundry and watching Netflix or YouTube when eating.
Surfing is still pristine in that way. Waterproof headphones with internal music storage haven’t really made it yet fortunately.
We are surrounded by nature when surfing. Surfing is almost a blueprint of a meditaiton practice and should be used as such. We are sitting in the ocean, a salty breeze blowing into our faces, the sun gently touching our skin, a beautiful wave is approaching, we are riding that wave and become one with nature for a moment right there. A moment like no second, because no single wave is like the other. A fleeting moment in time. What a beautiful sport surfing is.
Meanwhile the Monkey Mind has become quiet. We just whitnessed for a short moment the beauty that lies within meditation.

How meditation might even help your surfing

All good and fine, but how does that help you as a surfer from a performance standpoint? What often holds athletes back the most are their minds. In surfing for you and me – the average joe (sorry if you’re Kelly Slater and reading this, I meant no offense) – that could mean being afraid of the huge swell. It could mean being unhappy with the small swell and preoccupied with frustration. It could mean you’re not progressing in your ability and get all rigid in the water because of it. It could mean so many things.
Wouldn’t it be handy if you had the possibility to get back into the present moment? If you had a method and practice to ease your mind and become relaxed? If you had a way of brushing off the anxiety and frustration? As we have learned above meditation might just be the right way to fix all of these.

How to apply meditation into your daily life and surfing

So how do we make the most out of meditation and surfing? Or rather how exactly can we apply meditation into our surfing and daily lifes? Let me give you two examples of excercises that you can start today.
They are easy to do and you don’t need to become a buddhist monk to apply them

1. Daily Zazen Practice

Okay the first one is the most obvious. Make room in your day for as little as 10 minutes and find a quiet space. This could be after your morning cup of coffee or before you go to the bed in the evening. In case you’re happy enough to surf everyday this could also be right before you put your wetsuit on and grab your board.
As I find it hard to just get into a sitting meditaiton practice by yourself, it is probably easier if you start with guided meditation sessions.
The app that has tremendously helped me is called “Waking Up” by Sam Harris and you can follow this link to the AppStore. (I have no connections to that app and are not benefiting in any way from it, so this is no advertisement) You can have a free trial period for your first few days and it has a full beginner course of daily guided sessions to take you through your first 28 days of meditating. There are roughly 10 minutes each and cover a lot of aspects.
There are many other apps, YouTube videos and all kind of resources for this out there – this is just the one I have tried and can fully recommend to anybody. Even though it is probably the toughest path πŸ‘‰πŸ½ you can of course just sit still with no help and try to quiet your Monkey Mind all by yourself.

2. Turn your surf session into a meditation practice

The next time you are in the water just combine meditation and surfing. To do this you have to be in the here and now while out there. Well how can you accomplish this?
You have to try and keep your mind as controlled as possible. In moments where you are sitting, looking towards the horizon and waiting for the next set. You might want to control your breath and count from 1 to 10 while slowly ex- and inhaling. Really concentrate on breathing that will help your mind from striving too far. In case you get lost in thoughts simply restart from 1.
If it’s more of a busy session and you are paddling a lot. Try to slow your mind by saying to yourself. “I’m out here surfing. I enjoy surfing. This is really great.”. Repeat this as many times as needed and whenever your mind starts to wander. Focusing on your breath, even in hectic moments, is always a nice technique to slow everything down by the way and should be used in all stressful situations in and out of the water. Try it for yourself and you will find the beautify and simplicity in just focusing on your breath and resting within yourself.

Closing thoughts

I have found amazing value in meditation on so many levels. I feel more calm in everyday life. I feel less stressed. And it helped me battle depression and anxiety. (This is where I have written about the experience of suffering from depression)
On top of all that I have found to better perform in the water when I’m in a relaxed state of mind. I can easily focus on new maneuvers and better my technique without getting to hung up on my previously bad habits. It seems like being in the present moment has made me a better surfer, happier person and way more enjoying of everyday aspects in daily life.
Start your own journey into meditation today and enjoy the process while you go along. To finish this thought – let me send you on your way with one more Zen-Buddhism quote πŸ‘‡πŸ½.

Wherever you go, there you are.

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