Surfing the Tsunami: a Meditation on Inner Power
“….it’s those who can surf the waves of their own experience who can be sustained agents of change in this complex world. They don’t just collapse when things get hard. They can stay focused on the challenges and obstacles using their whole body, heart and mind to guide them….”
by Greg Heffron
When we talk about ‘inner power’ what do we mean? We don’t always have worldly power. When you get hit by a ‘tsunami of life,’ you might have no external power for a period of time. Just ask someone in a coma. Even great figures like Buddha or Jesus faced difficult circumstances, and weren’t able to ‘snap their fingers’ and make the challenge go away. Brave and powerful resistance fighters battling Hitler in WWII sometimes ended up prisoners. Kind people working to rescue others get swept away in floods. Some might even die.
To a lesser degree this even happens when life is basically overwhelming — like when we’re struggling every week to pay for food and rent while those around us have free time, get to rest, be creative, get to express their preferences and pursue their agendas… Sometimes life leaves us in harsh circumstances. There’s no denying it.
Life — like a tsunami — can simply be bigger and more powerful than we are.
But today I want to talk about an entirely different form of power. I want to talk about the unconditional power of connecting to our living human experience. Despite sometimes feeling grandiose, we’re not Gods. But lucky for us, being human is powerful. Unconditionally powerful. If only we can understand our real human opportunities to be awake and alive and vulnerable in this Big World.
The Beginning of Shutting Down: ‘This is Bad’
Many things push us towards shutting down. But every time, it’s us who decides whether to turn away from our experience. To go numb. To lash out in rage. To drop into destructive addictions. This happens because we lack confidence in our experience as being basically whole and decent and worthy. Doubting this, we can decide in a moment that our human tenderness, vulnerability, anxiety and fear is a kind of “betrayal.” We say that some of our most basic human experience is “fundamentally unacceptable.”
We begin to say, sometimes out loud, “This is bad… This is really bad…”
Of course, we could be “right.” Things could be really bad. Life includes shocking and painful moments. There’s no doubting that.
But while that’s true, we’re not usually just talking to ourselves about circumstances. We when say bad, we’re often saying, really: “me having this human experience right now is really bad.”
And that give us nowhere to go. We’ve trapped ourselves.
This is a kind of subtle/unintended side effect: a confusion between the reality of our pain in the moment and attacking our own fundamental ability to experience life. None of us tries to do this. Life is happening quickly, and since we haven’t trained our minds to notice the difference, we fuse the two into one thing.
This is bad gets turns into being alive right now is bad.
Creating ‘The Story’
Here, we just made a painful situation worse. As if the moment wasn’t challenging enough. We’ve now created the unconscious generalization that pain and challenge are ‘invalid experiences.’ This makes the moment even more confusing.
We often don’t know what to do with this wild energy.
“What do I do when I’m not allowed to have the experience I’m having???”
So we begin inside ourselves to create a little storyline. A little “container” to put this energy into:
“It must be me that’s bad — that’s why this pain is happening. I’m bad!”
This a moment that deepens our crisis.
Why do we do this? Why torture ourselves? Somehow, we prefer having a painful story to having no story at all. We’re willing to throw ourselves onto our own fire just so we can “know what’s going on.”
Is this what’s really going on? Are we really “bad?” Absolutely not. It’s imaginary.
And yet the pain of this imaginary storyline is exactly why we flee into even more shutdown states. States where we essentially “yank the cables out” so that we can no longer perceive our pain — or anything — accurately. This is how we humans unintentionally create the negative behaviors in our world.
The Open Approach of Realistic Optimism
In contrast to this, consider a mind that understands basic truths and has trained properly to see what’s real:
- that every human life includes pain (shock, surprise, disappointment, etc);
- that we are so interdependent with others that our lives are inextricably tied together (i.e. you affecting me is a natural process);
- that even painful experiences deliver real truth (which can build our compassion for ourselves and others and also our understanding of how the world works).
- that our deepest challenge isn’t avoiding all painful situations — which is nearly impossible — but learning to ride the waves of our own basic experience, so that we become ‘expert surfers.’
The power of this ability is insurmountable. When we gain an unshakable connection with ourselves, no outside force can take it from us. No oppressive regime can ‘outlaw’ us having our experience. You could be put into prison and commanded to disconnect with yourself. But regardless, you could still do it — if you had the confidence that your experience was 100% valid.
The power of this ability is insurmountable. When we gain an unshakable connection with ourselves, no outside force can take it from us. No oppressive regime can ‘outlaw’ us having our experience.
The Benefits of Trusting Our Decency
Trusting ourselves feels good, even under harsh circumstances. One thinks of great figures like Nobel Peace Prize Winners Nelson Mandela, Rigobeta Menchu, Malala Yousafzai and Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama… Or many others who’ve survived oppression, heartbreak and suffering and came out with brave, smiling faces, working tirelessly to make the world a better place for all of us. These humans reflect our real human heritage. We do have power. And this power is important for ourselves, our communities and for our future.
Ironically, it’s those who can surf the waves of their own experience who can be sustained agents of change in this complex world. They don’t just sink when things get hard. Or I should say — they don’t sink even when they do sink. Even when life holds them underwater, they stay focused (mindful) on life’s challenges and obstacles, using their whole body, heart and mind to guide them through the dark water.
Staying open and awake, they can wait for the right opportunities to make positive interventions — inside and outside themselves. They keep considering the totality of what is going on, and who is being affected. Far from wallowing in painful experience (one flavor of shut down) they connect to their experience as it’s happening, and use it like a kind of “morning star” to guide them on the long and poignant journey that is life.
With the right perspective and the some dedicated training, we can do the same.
How are you training? What wisdom are you seeking out on your journey?
Find the best you can. Train hard. It matters.
We’re all in this world together.