The following morning found Michael and Varuna sitting on the beach after their first surf. The sun was warmer than the previous day and they had their wetsuits peeled down to their waists. The faintest hint of an offshore was blowing and the swell direction had changed, causing the inside to speed up and section at times. You had to look closely to see that the swell had dropped slightly; even so, it had not lost its power. The new angle it approached the reef from made the whole situation more critical and called for acute sensitivity.
They watched the waves for a long while in silence before Michael spoke. “You know, Varuna, I’ve been thinking about what you were saying yesterday. It seemed to come at just the right time—so obvious, in fact, that I wonder why it took your saying it to make me understand. I can really feel that my approach to surfing can’t really be separated from my approach to life, especially in regard to the development of sensitivity. I mean, sensitivity is just not the kind of thing you can turn off and on, on and off at will. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’d like to become more sensitive and aware, but I’m not really sure how. I know that for me, at least, it’s got to be an individual experience. I can’t relate to religions or organizations. I want something more personal and practical, something that fits into my own life. Besides, the fanatics I’ve had the misfortune of running into weren’t very sensitive anyway.”
“What you’re saying is true,” replied Varuna. “Obviously that is not the solution. If it were, the world would be full of sensitive persons, but it isn’t.” Michael wanted to hear more, so Varuna continued speaking. “Being sensitive means having the ability to feel or perceive the force or energy beneath all things, and to avoid conflicting with it. A sensitive person is subservient to that Energy. His life complements it.
“For instance, in surfing there are those who complement the wave, and those who fight it. The insensitive surfer cannot perceive the subtle energy that is causing the wave to move, so he often ends up battling it. He sees only the wave and not the energy. The refined surfer, on the other hand, sees both. He sees the wave but can also feel how the subtle energy is moving, and he can thereby tune into and move with it.
“A sensitive person sees the Essence of all things. He feels himself to be a part of that Essence. The insensitive person sees the external only and does not realize the Essence in himself and all things. To cut a long story short, the most sensitive person is one who knows himself. He understands he is not the body or the mind, but the sustaining energy, the spark of life force within them. Though he is still of course limited by being in the body, his deeper insight helps him to stretch that limitation, to work around it.”
“In a way,” Michael replied, “I can understand what you’re saying, Varuna. I’ve heard similar ideas before and I believe them to be true, but to bring it all back home, how can I develop that sensitivity? In other words, unless I can experience what you’re talking about, it’s only a fairy story.”
Varuna looked out to sea and scooped up a handful of sand. As it sifted through his fingers, he looked back to Michael and began to speak in a casual manner. “There is a simple meditation I sometimes practice; you can try it if you like. Say to yourself, ‘I am not the body. I am the silent witness within the body. I sit here quietly and watch my body act, but I do not act. I am the witness to the body and the mind.’ Then go about your activities, but watch yourself do them. Be aware of yourself doing them. For instance, when you are walking, watch yourself walk. Say to yourself, ‘I am aware that I am walking.’ Gradually you will experience more and more the separation between you and your body, and your awareness will naturally expand.” He paused, then said, “Let’s have a surf, and you can try it while you are paddling out.” Varuna stood up and stretched, pulled his wetsuit up his torso, and stretched the sleeves over his arms. “I am aware that I am putting on my wetsuit,” he laughed, then grabbed his board and trotted down to the water’s edge.
Michael sat in silence for a few moments, contemplating Varuna’s words. As he picked up his board and moved slowly toward the sea, he watched Varuna pick up a smaller wave on the inside. He turned high and raced gracefully across the wall. As the inside section caved in, Varuna dropped with it and drew a smooth arc around the whitewater up into the pocket. There was something about Varuna that Michael couldn’t quite put his finger on. It wasn’t that what he was doing with the wave was anything exceptional; rather, it was the way he was doing it.
There was a gull overhead, and Michael watched it momentarily. It soared effortlessly. Without a flap of its wings, the gull climbed and dropped, arced and circled, riding the air currents that were invisible to even its own eyes. Varuna’s like that with waves and people too, Michael flashed; on the sea and the land.
He pulled the zip on his wetsuit then stepped into the water. “I am aware that I am stepping into the water,” he observed, and began to paddle out. “I am the silent witness. I am aloof from the body’s activities. I am sitting here watching my body paddle, but I am not the body.” As Michael arrived at the take-off zone, a set approached the reef. The first wave was six feet, and he positioned himself in mid-peak and took off. “I am aware that I am taking off … dropping down the face … turning.”
Michael watched himself surf, and as the autumn days went by, surfing took on a whole new color for him. He no longer felt himself hemmed in or limited by his past conceptions of his own ability. His mind no longer balked in “unmakeable” situations. And most important, he no longer considered success to be synonymous with making the wave or failure with not making it. Michael’s success was no longer visible to the eyes of others; it was an internal thing. If he could maintain the consciousness he desired to maintain throughout his manoeuvres, he felt good, and if he couldn’t, he didn’t.
To be continued… (Part 3)
Written with Ted Spencer
Missed Part 1 of the 3 Part Series on Surfing & Meditation by Tusta Krishna Das? Read it here.
Learn and practice Silent Witness Meditation here.
Read more about surfing and meditation in Riding Transcendental Waves by Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda.