Friday, June 24, 2011

God Bless Us, Everybody

Strangely enough, when I got to the beach, I saw these two Buddhist monks.
I guess I'll have good company in hell.

On Wednesday, I was at Euphoria Loves Rawvolution, a raw/vegan cafe near the beach in Santa Monica. It was my first chance to go surfing since being back in LA, but I was so hungry that I had the shakes and knew I'd better eat first. It was the raw/vegan lunch rush and the only seats available were at a community table already occupied by two older ladies. I asked if I could join them. They said yes and we started to chat. They asked what I did and I told them that I'm a stay-at-home mom and that I write. Then they asked  what I write about.

"Sports, family and spirituality," I said. When they asked what kind of spirituality I meant, I told them how much strength and wisdom I derive from the water and how I feel  god is everywhere and in all people and that spirit is alive in everything.

Who would have thought that those two nice looking ladies at the raw/vegan cafe in Santa Monica would be Born Again Christians with zero tolerance for earth-based spirituality? And that, minutes later, they would tell me I was going to burn in hell forever? I mean, really. It's not what I expect when I'm in Santa Monica drinking a spirulina warrior shake and about to go surfing.

On the one hand, I'd  never told a complete stranger that I write about sports, family and spirituality - and then gone so far as to describe what I mean by "spirituality." On the other, I'd never been told, to my face, that I was going to burn in hell for eternity due to said "spirituality".  It was certainly a day of firsts: one which made me see, unequivocally, that when a person chooses, with all his or her heart, to walk (and talk) their path, not everyone is going to like it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Save the world in 250 words or less...and win a surf vacation!

Late Thursday night, I was browsing the internet and discovered that the fabulous Las Olas Surf Camp was having a scholarship contest. The prize was a one week surf vacation. Because one of my goals for this year is to take a fabulous  surf vacation - and because I can't afford a  fabulous surf vacation - I jumped at the opportunity and wrote the required 250 word essay. In response I got a lovely email from Jackie at Las Olas saying she'd enjoyed my essay (and my blog) but that, because I'd missed the deadline - I'd missed the deadline.

In the past, I wouldn't have even applied in the first place. I KNEW I'D MISSED THE DEADLINE. But I took a chance. You can't win if you don't play, right?

The assignment was to name a challenge facing the world right now and to come up with a practical solution. Coming up with challenges is, well, not a challenge for me. Coming up with solutions? I usually plead ignorance. So I made one up on the spot. A first.

The challenge: America is prosperous and yet too many Americans feel they do not have enough. America is crowded and yet isolation and despair are epidemics. America has so much to offer and yet most American families struggle so hard to get by that they can't contribute to the world at large.

The fresh, concise, innovative and inspiring solution? Redesign education so that a peaceful future is possible. Redesign housing so that community is possible. Redesign technology so that health is possible. Redesign our society so that it flourishes. And do it in the name of the family.

For our solution to work, we need a team of interdisciplinary thinkers and doers who can put thoughts into action.

This solution demands synergy between visionaries, activists and entrepreneurs so that they all address the family as both the root of our present despair and the root of our future well-being. It demands that the people who create our culture not only dare to believe that sustainability, community and joy are possible, but excitedly work together to create those things and then inspire the American people to join them in the cause.

The solution demands we gather such people together on a retreat and maybe, just maybe, take them surfing. They’d catch waves, have beers and solve the world’s problems. It’d be like TED, with an agenda, on a beach. Who wouldn’t want to attend a summit like that?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Choosing Passion

   Recently I’ve been re-reading an old college favorite: Adrienne Rich's "Of Woman Born." In it, she writes how unreasonable it is for one person, or even two people, to be entirely responsible for the entire alpha-to-omega existence of a child, or children. What they need is so much more than any one or two people can give them. And then a mother is stressed, too much demand is put on her time and attention, and she turns on her own children and her partner. As Rich says, the mistake of the mother is in thinking that it is the children themselves, or as I like to add, the husband himself, who is to blame for her upset. When, in fact, the upset is a product of external circumstances which are so taken for granted as to be nearly invisible.

Contrary to what I've heard, rather than becoming more conservative  in my old age, I am getting re-radicalized. And it makes me nervous. The deeper I get into my new commitments to surfing, reading, writing, thinking and feeling, the more vulnerable and out of my comfort zone I feel. I am always comfortable if I can be logical and “safe,” if I can repeat what someone else has said, regardless of how provocative - and if I can stay detached from what I am saying.  

But when I begin to care, really care - as if what I think and say makes a difference - I feel like a target. I remember being in college, caring so much about my ideas, and getting into debates with boys that felt so mean-spirited. Boys I liked - not romantically, but whom I enjoyed – would, I felt, turn against me in debate when I was passionate. Because a passionate me is an easy target for teasing.   For them, it would just be an exercise – in legalese or debate – and they would enjoy how worked up I would get and how seriously I would take the discussion and myself. And I would get increasingly frustrated.  

Because, in the heat of the moment,  I would feel as if I had lost my faculties, as if my gifts had dissipated under a tornado storm of passion. And it's true, passion can turn into righteousness and, often, intelligent, educated people can dismiss the passionate as zealots.  So I fear this. That, because I am passionate, the people I most want to impact will not take me “seriously” and will be less likely to listen to me, not more.  

And yet, passion is a necessity isn’t it? It is the life force flowing through one. So I will continue to choose it and all the risks that accompany it. When I started surfing, I wanted transformation. But I wanted it to be effortless and beautiful, I wanted it to make me look better not worse. But true transformation is bound to take us to unfamiliar ground that leaves us, at least for a while, confused and at sea. And I can accept that.
Because I do care. And I do want to make the world a better place for all living beings.  And I believe it's possible.

So I'll take it - with all the insecurity and doubt that comes with it. Because it's better than the alternative. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What Surfing's Had Me Think About

Writing this blog for over a year has inspired me to know other mothers who have committed themselves to pursuing their own athletic dreams –  amateur or Olympian. Over the past few months, I’ve interviewed several such moms and started work on a book exploring the ways which such women have found to simultaneously pursue their passions and serve their families. But the more I've explored these women's experiences, the more convinced I’ve become that the very structure in which families exist is unstable,  unsustainable and just plain unfair.  

That structure, of course, being the nuclear family.

In my interviews, again and again, I’m reminded that family life, as it is lived by the vast majority of people in our country, seems to be a zero sum game - when one parent gains, another loses. If Dad plays golf, mom stays with the kids. If Mom surfs, Dad’s on house arrest. If a kid has an activity, one parent has to drive and then spend an hour or so sitting in a studio or on the bleachers.

The nuclear family – it’s clearly a game of winners and losers.

For women, the majority of whom are either inherently or culturally inclined to care for others, the thought that our pleasures come at the expense of the people we love can seem unbearable. In my case, it causes me to cut short my runs and my surf sessions. In other cases, a woman may not do anything she loves to begin with. Or when she does, she may do so overcome with a sense of doubt and guilt that diminishes what would otherwise be a purely joyful experience.

On the one hand, at times I imagine this is a small problem to have. So what if the average mainstream American middle class mom has no time to have fun? 

On the other hand, I believe that the more time a person spends in flow, experiencing authentic joy, the more he or she can give to the world at large. Conversely, the diminishment of joy leads to a diminishment of inner resources and to an experience of scarcity that is at the root of so much addiction, despair and general dysfunction. And let me just say it - so much divorce.

Over the years, we've heard much about the collapse of the nuclear family - as if  that's a bad thing - as if the shattered nuclear family is responsible for so much that is wrong with our otherwise healthy and wholesome country. But what if this model was not effective to begin with?

If the nuclear family was a product created by a manufacturer, it would have been discontinued a long time ago, recalled due to the many hazards it presents  the consumer – among them isolation,  stress, divorce, infidelity, child abuse and depression.

This week I’m reading an incredible book: "Half the Sky", by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It is reminding me that there is so much work to be done all over the world and that it is a crime that so many American families should be so drained by just getting by that they, that we,  are too overwhelmed and stressed to effectively help those who are so less fortunate than we are.

But if the nuclear family is not the way for us to live, then what is?