Fear Focus Training: Let Me Tell You About Surfing.
Fear Focus Training: Let me tell you about surfing; from the “Love in the Time of Corona” a Corona Diaries series of Morning Pages entries, written while Cat is stranded in Australia.
“Yogi,” he said to me, “you’re supposed to be good at the calm. And you’re freaking out. I know you think of all of these terrible possibilities in how you’re going to die but right now – you need to stay focused.”
I’ve tried to be a surfer since the Blue Man Group took me out in the freezing waters of New Hampshire back in 2005. Back then, I just paddled in the freezing waves having no idea what I was doing. Seven months later I found myself in Bali, on a vacation after working in Japan for a few months. It was the first real vacation I could afford and now, writing this, I realize how when I first started surfing in New Hampshire I had no idea that a yoga teaching job in Japan would fall in my lap – nor would a trip to Bali – that changed the course of my life forever.
But this isn’t about that – this is about me trying to be a surfer.
I’m good at improving myself quickly. Three years ago I decided I wanted to join the circus and dedicated myself to all forms of trapeze. It was hard work and I spent many evenings feeling like I was hit by a truck. My lithe piano fingers turned into a gnarled gnome’s and my ultra-sensitive healing hands had callouses and remnants of white chalk packed on the pads.
But this is not about trapeze. This isn’t even about how much I dedicated myself to surfing and have had the slowest improvement rate ever. This is about me and my fear.
I will admit that I have improved.
As I finally hopped back on the board this year, and even am successfully riding a smaller board, I will admit that I have improved. Now knowing how to handle the waves, I can paddle. You will never get frustrated by me surfing near you. My board will not hit you and I won’t get in your way. I even have a little style when I’m standing up.
Unfortunately I’ve been so spoiled in Bali.
My waves are sunshine waves, deep water reef. We don’t have sharks. There are smaller greens for me even on big days. The temperature is perfect. I’m in the Bali magic. My favorite thing was waking up early and driving down to the beach. Sitting at the edge of the water watching the whole beach turn a light pink. Morning offerings placed everywhere, including on top of a collection of surfboards, light smoke swirling to the sky.
Now I’m in Australia. I’m fighting it.
I chose to be here before the borders closed. The land is beautiful. It’s also fierce and harsh. Weather changes its mind faster than my moods. I feel like I’m in Ireland – where it’s hot and then cold, windy and then rain. They keep warning me about the winter.
The water is sharp. Icy cold, shallow reef with rocks and things that poke you. I’ve had an accident almost every time when I surf here. I keep thinking maybe surfing isn’t for me. I’ve almost broken up with my boyfriend twice in the water. I think the other people who surf here have a certain toughness that I don’t have. And let’s not talk about the sharks.
But there’s a gift here. I call it the fear focus training.
Last September I went sea canyoning with a guy and he’d have me leap off small cliffs into big waves (I had a life preserver) and let the waves carry me. I thought I was going to die. He knew this area, worked in safety his whole life and also knew that, while I was freaked out, I was about to have a ride of my life. That’s where my training began.
“Yogi,” he said to me, “you’re supposed to be good at the calm.
And you’re freaking out. I know you think of all of these terrible possibilities in how you’re going to die but right now – you need to stay focused.” I have a terrible case of catastrophic thinking and, as a sidenote, it sucks to have my imagination and catastrophic thinking coupled in a global pandemic when the whole world is with you on the freaked out mental plane. This is the time, more than ever, to focus.
He had me look forward, follow his timing and leap when he said. I did. Of course I saw my whole life flash in front of me and then, as I screamed, the waves leapt up and held me and carried me back to safety.
Right now in Australia I am not surfing in these waters.
I’m doing something else. I get on this small board and in this wetsuit and I am slowly getting less mad and disappointed by how icy cold the water is. I get used to the reef. Sometimes there are dolphins and I want to be elated like I was in Hawaii (warm waters) but instead there’s a very grumpy person inside of me who just doesn’t like this and doesn’t want to even try to like this. I call her “Debby Downer took some extra downers.” Maybe I’m channeling “Sam I am, I do not like green eggs and ham.”
These days I watch the waves come down on me and I practice diving under and how relaxed I can stay in the turbulence. Yes, I get tossed around a lot and sometimes the board hits my head. Usually the waves are too big and fierce for me to ride and admittedly, any wave, even the smaller ones, make me sick to my stomach. I often ask myself, “Why am I doing this?”
I know the difference between real terror and perceived terror.
In the water my wildest fears are taking me over. I actually can’t articulate it – which makes sense – because panic does not have a logical calm voice. Panic is freaking out the world is ending run now. Panic does stupid shit. That’s me. Even small waves that are friendly I’m convinced that they are going to eat me up and throw me to the ground. I witness my own mangled death over and over. I’m upset because can’t you understand I’m dealing with my own torture? My boyfriend, who surfs barrels, just watches me and tries to remind me that it’s okay.
I have resigned myself to the fact that these waters are not my happy waters.
That they bring out this embarrassingly fearful part of me who can’t see straight. What a perfect reflection during a global pandemic. Do I want to spend my time in the water terrified of things that actually are pretty mellow – or do I want to enjoy diving under, enjoy the ride of the water? Enjoy even riding some waves? I mean the whole point is that if we are in the water with these boards, we can surf. Dance with the water. Instead I’m upset because the water is not behaving the way I want you to. You’re too cold, you’re too fast, you’re too fierce. You don’t break the way I want you to and sometimes you just dump. How can I ever like you?
I feel like that’s my whole life.
We all have our own private Hells and right now we might even feel like we are trapped in them right now. Mine is here. It would be a dream for some but I’m petulant and like a child stomping her feet, upset that she can’t move the way she wants to, that it’s getting cold, and fuck, even healthy relationships are hard.
Choices are plenty. I can keep getting in these waters, complain and re-enact my death in my head over and over again, escalating my fear into more. Or, I can be kind to myself (as I’m slightly ashamed that my drama queen can turn this soap opera) and decide to pull it together. I don’t expect myself to ride any waves perfectly but I can turn my fear into focus. Focus, right now, is essential.
It is a shift of state,
of not letting all of the potential chaos around infect me. To have borders with my own mind and get very real that what is happening is just me, a board, some waves. That I can handle this. The fear of my demise is not imminent. That in fact I have not put myself into barreling waters. That even children are surfing near me and they are in fact not dying.
I call this my fear focus training.
I will do It whenever I can in the water and this is a perfect way for me to deal with this global pandemic. Some of my friends are enjoying themselves right now, finding spaces for creative projects they’ve always wanted to do, relieved they aren’t running around. I’m not feeling this way. Instead I watch myself creep and sometimes leap into so many wormholes – what do I do when my money runs out? What value do I have in this world? I’ve had some tricky wormholes in my head my whole life and right now it’s like I’ve set up some extra special secret landmines that can leave me crippled.
Of course I don’t know what’s going to happen, ever. But this is my fear focus training: I have the power to focus, the power of presence, and the power of love. And this was actually my only power before the world shut down. We just were able to dance in a mirage of planning and control that is suddenly dissipating.
When I was 19 I spent the summer in the Amazon with an ayahuascero (another story).
I realized from our work together two things: one – my breath was my teacher and I didn’t need plants to take me to places, this power was was already in me; and two – we are dreaming this whole world together. Do I really want to infect the global consciousness with my most irrational fears? Or should I find the part of me who’s a warrior, who can focus, who can find some calm and compassion as we navigate our way through?
Do I have a choice right now in these waves that I hate? I can start to learn how to befriend the waves – or at least tolerate them. I can start to understand their patterns and my reactions. And maybe, just maybe, I can start riding, I can dance with the waves. And wouldn’t that be the ride of my life.
[Enjoyed reading Fear Focus Training? You may also like reading: Mystics Get Born our of Prison]