I can’t really remember when I became so insecure and scared of high ocean waves. Being born and raised in an island you would think I am an excellent swimmer with no fear of the big blue ocean. Well, let me tell you. I’m not. In my case, fear has been passed down generation through generation. My father lost a niece when she was about thirteen years old, a strong rip current claimed her life. I always thought that was the reason my parents decided never to take me to swim class. Maybe they’d figure, if I didn’t know how to swim then I wouldn’t try to go deep into the water? I really wasn’t asking for lessons either. I liked other sports when I was little. But the interesting thing is. As a teenager I cannonballed into pools, played in the waves (some of them relatively big) and jumped from boats into the deep. What happened? Why, as an adult have I become afraid of the high waves and deep water?
Traveling now for some time. I decided to try surfing. I love the sport. I have been following it since high school. Cutting class to go see competitions. The sea has always called me (cue the song from Moana!). If I had a choice between living in the mountains, city or ocean. I would quickly answer, ocean. Call me a romantic. But I think William Shakespeare’s Juliet was right when she said:
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite (Act 2, Scene 2)
The sea feeds dreamers, in my opinion. With its immensity, it’s infiniteness, it’s mystery. Making you feel as full of possibility as the ocean is of the unknown. I have been lucky enough to have some great friends on this adventure who have tried to teach me how to surf. In Popoyo, Nicaragua and now here in Costa Rica. But every time the panic wins. Yesterday, it felt worse than ever before. I got caught in the rip current. The storm and the tide coming in, made the waves wild and choppy and over my head. I felt helpless. Trying my best to swim back out. I couldn’t. Everything became darker and I allowed the panic attack to take over. Again (trying to say that with some compassion for myself).
I hope, dear reader. You never experience one. You lose all sense of control. The throat closes up, making it hard to breathe and concentrate. Your body has a mind of it’s own. I’m still practicing how to use the breath to regain control. It’ll be a long time before I master that.
My friend knew I was struggling. Thankfully he reached out and with a soothing tone reassured me, I would be ok. He pulled me out and helped me onto the board. As I rode the wave back to the shore, part of me wanted to go back. Face the fear. Easier said than done. I’m not giving up yet. Today I am naming my fear. No longer referring to it as something “that shall not be named”. Though it’s embarrassing sometimes. Knowing I love the sea so much but cannot fully enjoy it’s company. Naming it makes it something tangible. It is no longer stored in the unconscious. Waiting to surprise me. A wise friend once told me back in Popoyo, “you can’t let the ocean control you. You have to control the ocean.” Well, not literally. There’s no way I can control anything, really. Only my reaction to it. But that’s the point! The ocean of thought doesn’t control me anymore. I know who the fear is. It doesn’t matter where it came from. I see it now. It’s habits are predictable and I will make every attempt I can while at this Surfcamp, to calm the monster. With patience, compassion and deep breaths. This beautiful beach I call home, for now will be my training ground.
The search for the reason why I’m so afraid is less important. The main key lies in practicing empathy towards my inner being when I feel afraid. And to surround myself with courageous people who brave the ocean everyday and are caring and open to helping me when I lose it out there. A life jacket of sorts or maybe just a really cute surfer 😉.