Emotional surfing

I heard someone use the term “emotional surfing” the other day and it struck a unique chord with me. We were talking about the experience of “reliving” previous life experiences and leaning into the emotions and feelings that come with particular memories. That adventure—dubbed my friend as “emotional surfing”—makes me feel “some type of way.”

Do you know what I mean? Do you _feel_ what I mean when I use the term?

It does not refer to a particular positive or negative emotion. You can emotional surf ANY emotion. Similar to riding a wave, the job of the emotional surfer is to find FLOW with the emotion and lean into it, rather than resist. I am not an expert surfer, but I have stood up on the board more than my fair share of times and what I do know to be true is that trying to FIGHT THE WAVE does not end well. It inevitably finds a path to flipping you over and toppling you.

The solution, rather, is to ACCEPT THE POWER OF THE SEA and allow it consume you such that it powers you and your board to shore. Sure, you can carve up and down it, but that requires you to accept the idea that the wave is more powerful than you and your measly board.

The same can be said about emotions. You can try to understand them fully and analyze them using all the cognitive skills you have. You—and when I say you I am really referring to ME—will often find that emotions are UNEXPLAINABLE. While we may try to use SCIENCE to explain all things, we must accept (Feynman style) that THE WORLD CONTAINS DOUBT. And the same is true with our cognition and FEELINGS. We may feel a type of way that is unexplainable, but that does not make the feeling INADEQUATE OR NOT FELT. We must accept this ambiguity rather than fight it such that we can RIDE THE WAVE.

So be it a POSITIVE MEMORY or a NEGATIVE SENSATION—step one is often just to label the emotion as an EMOTION, not a judgement. The emotion is just an object, sitting in space and time. Before placing judgement, we must recognize it as a _thing_ that exists—one that is actually not tied to our sense of ego or identity.

Once we do this; once we simply look at the emotion as an emotion, we can then figure out what to do with it. Similar to surfing, once you catch the wave, once you are being propelled, you can then decide what to do. You can jump off the board. You can carve up the wave and turn left or right. And you can simply ride things to shore. But step one is catching the wave. And then once you are there, you can figure out what to do.

The same can be said with emotions—you can throw them out and choose not to react (this is a powerful idea!) OR you can choose to allow them to pass through you so you move onto the next wave.

Great emotional surfers can CHOOSE TO BE INTENTIONAL. Naive surfers get pummeled by every wave. This is exhausting. Great emotional surfers can lean into or out of particular waves such that they actually LOVE THE EXPERIENCE. They can choose to suffer OR choose happiness, but having the choice is what truly brings presence and value. Great emotional surfers are present. They are on top of things, and not distracted by the past or future, because they know the wave is HERE, NOW, and they must make decisions around the present.

The cool part about emotional surfing, unlike, say, ocean wave surfing, is that you do not need to find a beach or bring a board in order to surf.

You just need you and your brain.

Sometimes emotional surfing is done intentionally; you sit down and intentionally try to relive and reFEEL an experience. This is often done through some form of meditation, where a sherpa/soundtrack of sorts guides you through your personal memory palace. Meditation is a practice I have experimented with in the past, but I have lately been forming a habit around it (i.e. doing it daily) and I am starting to see the benefits.

But emotional surfing is also sometimes triggered inadvertently.

This often happens to me when I am listening to music, as I am reminded of a distinct past moment simply from hearing a particular song. Has this ever happened to you? It sometimes springs on me in a rather emotional manner—I hear a song, perhaps one I have not heard in quite a while, and my FEELINGS are transported back to a memory. The feelings are REAL, they truly bring me back in time. It feels like a version of time travel. Perhaps feeling travel, as I re-experience a world that I had once forgotten. Sometimes I travel quite far—some songs bring me back ten plus years. Some songs bring me around the world, to times I was traveling alone in China or India or Vietnam. These experiences can be extremely powerful, and reliving them can sometimes feel GOOD (bring you joy) or SCARY (take away your breath) or something in between (can be good AND scary).

Emotional surfing is a way for me to accept the flow of life. So often, I find myself resisting emotions, when in reality the MOST EFFECTIVE PATH is to lean into the wave.

So here is to leaning into the wave.

It can be scary. It can be anxiety-provoking. It can require vulnerability.

But it is a path I believe in. And believing in something is often (not always) the first step towards experimentation.

So what I am doing is giving myself the space—it could be as little as ten minutes per day—to go surfing. In my brain. And allow my emotions to consume me. And to promise myself that I will not judge these emotions; I just accept them as THINGS that are rotating around the galaxy of my brain. They can pass through me, or I can ride them to shore.

Surf’s up.


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