Monday, August 30, 2010

Life in the slow lane

I went out twice this weekend and I can feel the progress being made. On Saturday I was having trouble popping up. Every time I caught a wave, I only made it to my knees. One of my mom/surf companions told me she'd practiced in slow motion til she got it right. On Sunday that's what I did. Took it really slow. Not only did I improve my technique but I realized how habitual it is for me to move quickly and how unnecessary that is. Slowing down caused me to have fun, to laugh more in the water and to have a better time in general.

On the waves isn't the only place I've been slowing down. Since starting to surf, I've also started taking some time during the afternoon to lay on my bed while the kids do something else. I don't read, I don't nap, I just lay there laying there. And then I make it through the day. I haven't had my own personal meltdown in months. I've come close, but there's been no blowing of mom's stack in recent memory. This is particularly impressive considering that, almost exactly a year ago, my temper had gotten so bad I feared I was a danger to my family.

We consulted a family therapist. Before dealing with any family, he said, he had to deal with the mom. After a few weeks, this is basically what he told me:

"You're a mom and nothing you've told me is out of the ordinary for a mom. You're a talented woman, a smart woman, but all you do all day is take care of your family. You need to do more."

And then he asked "If you could be doing anything right now, what would it be?"

And I said "Writing a book."

And he said "Don't come back until you've started writing."

And that was it. I'd been hoping for a more exotic diagnosis than "stay-at-home mom" but there it was. So I started writing.

And surfing.

And sleep training one of my kids for the first time since becoming a parent. Because I can't get up and surf dawn patrol if I have a toddler sleeping next to me, attached at the nipple and hysterically crying the moment I step out of bed, now can I? That would wake everyone up. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I received some beautiful feedback from my last post. I only wish I/people could figure out a simple/foolproof way to use the Blogger comments feature, so that I wasn't the only one in on the conversation. 

To summarize briefly:  my movie-going companion was inspired to go wind-surfing for the first time in, I think, a long time. She is also starting a blog. Another friend wrote that drumming is his way of connecting to something bigger.  And Brian, my surfing instructor/husband clarified this weekend that he too is simultaneously seeking to "find himself" and claim a distinct spiritual path.

This made me wonder:

Is there a difference between cultivating joy and pursuing a spiritual path? Between "finding oneself" and finding the divine?

What is a spiritual journey in the first place? And what are the spiritual traveler's equivalents to a ticket, a backpack, a map and a good pair of walking shoes?

Does the spiritual "journey" ever end? What is gained at the conclusion of a spiritual "quest"? And isn't every "path," ultimately a spiritual one?

I am, of course, not the inventor of these questions. If I were, well, at the very least there would be no such thing as The University of Chicago Divinity School - of which I am a graduate. And about which I will be very tactful and say very little.

I will say this...the spiritual endeavor ("endeavor" being one of my favorite words and "endeavors" being some of my favorite things) is all about the discovery of these questions and not necessarily the finding of definitive answers. Or rather, while we may find answers that suit us for a while, if we are alive, we may find, equally, that the answers change with time and mileage.

I am not a newbie to the spiritual questing thing. It may have taken decades for me to give a name to the way in which I live my life - my "lifestyle" - but it has always been characterized by an overwhelming drive for wisdom of a deep, enduring and useful kind. 

In its current manifestation,  my spiritual quest is not only about surfing and water spirits, and it is not about writing for my own amusement. It is also about sharing my experiences with the intention that each failure, success and musing may touch someone and inspire him or her to ask and seek answers to their own authentic questions.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Surf, Eat, Pray, Love, Whatever...

I haven't been posting much lately.  What I have been doing is nitpicking myself like crazy over tone and content and, in the process, forgetting why I started this project in the first place.  Today I went to see Eat, Love, Pray and, thankfully, was reminded.

Modern life (at least here in L.A.) is a post-apocalyptic, globally warmed, technological ordeal - definitely not nurturing to spiritual equanimity, restful contemplation or, dare I say it, bliss. Add parenting to the mix, and it presents a recipe for rampant mental dis-ease, and a deep, deep cultural appetite for anti-depressants and other mood stabilizers/enhancers.

Admittedly, there are those of us who are blessed enough, through our own determination, inheritances, or luck, to be daily "living the dream." But for those of us stuck managing the crap that passes for daily life in a constant struggle to just get by...the desire for escape can be a pretty constant thing.

In fact, after watching Eat, Pray, Love, my viewing companion, an astute, married, mother of two,  asked: "Doesn't everyone want to run away? Like all the time?” Then added indignantly “But you can't just do that! Not with kids."

Which is why I started this particular project. Julie Powell hated her government job and needed some meaning in her life - so she found Julia Child. Divorced and at loose ends, Elizabeth Gilbert found meditation and Bali. But neither of them had to do their thing while simultaneously nursing, changing diapers, scheduling playdates, home schooling and generally caring for a family. By omitting just those particular tasks from their daily to-do lists, in fact, they gave themselves quite a transformational leg up on us equally desperate and spiritually thirsty  breeders.

That said…

I started surfing as a personal quest. I started surfing because I was going to go even more crazy than I already was if I didn't do...something. I started surfing because I looked at Elizabeth Gilbert with envy but didn’t feel desperate enough to abandon my family. I  started surfing because it seemed, and still seems, kind of impossible -  just the kind of thing that could prompt a profound spiritual transformation.

I started surfing because I wanted other people to know that just because you’re married and have children, or are imprisoned, or disabled, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have your own spiritual quest right in your own backyard. Elizabeth traveled because she was already a world traveler. Julie - already a cook. Surfing is not a possibility for everyone, but for me…the Pacific Ocean is four miles from my driveway. 

Everyone has something.

Life is full of easy excuses for not finding oneself, for not finding bliss. And instead of looking within themselves, a lot of people are conveniently pointing fingers at Elizabeth Gilbert and the impossibility of her journey for the average person. But as Andrew O’Hehir said in his review of the movie for

 "Eat, Pray, Love" is a minor and superficial summer diversion that offers female viewers not much more than a two-hour escape fantasy, but that's not a crime. The fact that we find it almost impossible to talk seriously about the pervasive emotional or spiritual or psychological yearning that a story like this represents -- that's a bigger problem.”

So I’m here to talk about the yearning - and about the journey: its despair, its highs, its lows. I've been wondering which areas of my life are off limits to this adventure, but I see now that it’s all of the piece.  I started surfing because I sensed that there was no area of my life that it wouldn't impact and I think I was right about that.

I started surfing because I thought it would make me instantly mellower and more happy. In that I was wrong. Since surfing, I'm perhaps even more disgruntled than I was before. 

But therein lies the tale.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I am surfing...

I am praying. I am loving.
I am writing. I am reading. A lot.

I just finished Shaun Tomson's book "Surfer's Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life."

As a human being, Shaun Tomson doesn't floor me the way Gerry Lopez does, but humility isn't really his thing the way it is for Gerry. When Gerry Lopez tells a story, he's so authentically present to every detail, every person, every other point of view, everything, period - that he disappears and  what's left is a simple truth. Shaun's book feels more about Shaun. But that's okay. He was world champion many times - and he has valuable lessons to impart.

At the beach yesterday, I focused on Lesson 8" "I will always ride into shore." It was tempting for me to ignore this lesson because I don't do much "riding" still. But the deeper meaning Shaun gives to this lesson is the importance of doing complete work. If you go surfing, finish strong, surf out. Don't let your session fade away and just decide you're gonna paddle in for whatever reason. Wait for that last wave and give it your all, even though you're leaving for home.

So I did it. I waited for that last wave. It was a tiny little thing. Just right for me. And it delivered me right to the shore, like a cute little wet-suited package.


Friday, August 6, 2010

The Mamas Surf and The Mamas Sit

In the past year or so, I've noticed something.

If I've committed to something and am in the car, on my way to doing it, and I start thinking that I want to turn back and go home - I'm doing the right thing.

If I start thinking there's nothing in it for me, the reverse will be true.

And if I suspect an upcoming experience will be boring and pointless, most likely it will be very important and fulfilling.

The reverse of that quiet inner voice of intuition - it's the booming and convincing voice of self-sabotage. Why that is I can't say.

I can only say that I dragged my feet to the beach on Friday for the kick-off meeting of surf mamas at Venice Beach and considered blowing it off continually - until I got there. And then I was very happy I went.

Four moms showed up, and one dad. Plus three little girls and Ashton. Two moms brought their boards and it was clear - this thing is gonna work.

There's even a picture.


Monday, August 2, 2010


I’ve been watching surf videos but not enjoying them as much as I’d expected. While they're certainly easy on the eyes, there isn’t much connection between the pro surfing onscreen and surfing as I've experienced it so far. Because most shots depict surfers already upright on their boards, there are few visual cues as to how they got up there in the first place.

And, right now, getting up there in the first place is what I'm all about.

Fortunately, this weekend, our good friends were staying over and agreed to watch the kids while Brian took me to the beach for an actual, bona fide, one-on-one, 8:30-in-the-morning-before-the- wind-blows-out-the-waves, lesson.

With a divine and glassy surf before us,  Brian worked with me for about forty minutes on the proper way to go from lying on my stomach to standing on my board.  

If there's anything I can't stand, it's doing something wrong and not knowing exactly how I'm doing it wrong. From dancing, I know that, without feedback from someone more experienced, a beginner at anything can get stuck developing bad habits.  And given the clumsiness of my previous attempts at standing on my board, I've known I was doing something very, very wrong.

It turns out I was habitually shifting my weight to the rear. Popping up this way on a board that’s about to barrel down the face of a cresting wave automatically throws a person off-balance and “over the falls.” It took a lot of tries but, ultimately, I got the correct position with my weight on the front foot. As soon as I did, my body felt much more “surfer-like” – as if there was an invisible template carved by millions of surfers over time and I’d finally made the fit.

Surfboards are a lot more wobbly than they look, so popping up in the water is obviously a greater challenge than on dry sand.   

There is, however, a sensation of solidity that occurs when you’re in the right position to catch a wave that makes it easier to pop up at that moment than at any other time. The mush of the water’s surface disappears and it feels almost as if you’re on solid ground – but better. The force of the wave pushes you upwards, encouraging you to stand and practically doing half the work for you.  The wobbliness disappears and the potential materializes, even for me, even if only for a moment, for oneness between rider and board.

That said, I still haven’t made it all the way up - but I did make it to my knees, which is more upright than I’d gotten before.