“I live my life in widening circles.” Rilke
When a wave makes its way across the ocean and finally breaks on shore, the water doesn’t move far. Waves transport energy, not water. The water molecules rotate in small circles, and, after the wave passes, they wind up not that far from where they began. But anyone who watches or rides waves knows that energy is transformative. Surfers are much the same. We go back and forth, rarely moving very far but, once in awhile, we catch and ride a wave, and are transformed.
I’d like to take this blog post as an opportunity to introduce myself, and invite you to the presentation I’ll be offering on May 18th. That night, when I have the opportunity to meet and spend time with whomever decides to show up for the Waves to Wisdom talk, will be my first time back at work at Townsend, Bertram & Company in a long time. An enormous amount of activity and energy and beauty have transpired but, in some ways, not much has changed, and I haven’t moved very far from where I started.
It was 2003 when, in my second year of teaching, I reluctantly gave Audrey my notice. Seven years earlier she’d been gracious enough to hire me part time when my photography business, with its inherently short term relationships, proved too lonely. The Sunday afternoon shifts I’d been holding onto to keep in touch with this beloved, vibrant community had to give way to my new, increasingly busy life as a college photography instructor. It was still near the beginning of a great, revelatory adventure for me, one that would unearth the fact that guiding others towards success was much more valuable and fulfilling to me than worrying over, planning for, or even achieving my own. Teaching seemed the best possible teacher, at least to one who had not yet encountered the surfboard.
One of the things I loved as much as the thriving community the TB&C culture instigated and nurtured, was meeting people who were getting ready to go on a big trip. I could often spot them as they came through the door. They had a luminous, gathering hope in them. It wasn’t just in their eyes but in their step, emanating from their whole body, as if by coming in to buy the boots or pack or stove that act would allow them to unearth or create something new about themselves and their world, they were already stepping across some interior threshold. They had begun walking the path of intention, of determination, and were readying themselves to learn from, perhaps even delight in, adversity. Of course, many folks were in the shop to run an errand. But others were taking a small step on a grand journey, setting out to revise, to create a re-vision of their lives, to widen their circles.
After I left the shop, I expended a great deal of energy trying to figure out how to be a good teacher. But it turned out being a teacher was not such a distance from working at the shop. Instead of boots that would fit and wear well, be resilient and tough no matter what, my students and I worked together to find the ideas and practices, habits and plans that would fit and wear well, that would allow for resilient creativity as they prepared to emerge, equipped, into uncertainty. In both cases, the best part of the work was guiding people through the sort of transformation that outfitted them, that gave them the confidence to undertake great adventures, to understand challenge and a dearth of guarantees was integral to what made the trail worth climbing.
If you know most of your life is behind you and you want to do all you can to make a difference in the lives of others, what equipment do you need? Surfing, or just playing hard in powerful water, turned out to be the most potent transformational tool I’d ever encountered. And it wasn’t just me. Among my fellow surfers there were, inevitably, the fierce competitors, gear heads, bums, and the hopelessly cool. But there was this subset, this smaller population who seemed to treat their wave riding habit more like a practice or a spiritual discipline. One that had more to do with seeking wisdom than perfect waves. These folks appeared to have a primary concern with being good people, and saw the pursuit of grace and strength on the board as a way to cultivate grace and strength in their worlds. They shared a profound reverence for the ocean and all who dwell where we can’t breathe.
It was probably around 2000 when a T,B &C customer named Sam first told me about the surf camp I’d send myself off to in 2006, to fulfill a childhood dream, give myself a memorable 40th birthday present, and check an item off the bucket list. But surfing re-created me. Artificial barriers I’d erected in my perception as a teacher, mentor, guide, photographer or just plain old person on the planet slowly began dissolving in the face of sight revised by breaking waves.
As the seven long years it took me to learn to surf (and most of my 40s) went by, I came to know what Pablo Neruda knew.
“Necesito el mar, por que me enseña.”
The natural world offers answers, teachings, metaphors and meanings that, if we stay in regular contact with them, re-create us. These encounters, if undertaken with intention and followed up with a playful discipline of continuing to unpack their gifts, can help us solve problems, innovate, make radical change in our lives, communities, and offices. We have emerging scientific research that backs this up, but the wisdom that points in that direction is ancient.
My career in higher education is now behind me, it turns out grades and GPA’s are not the most potent transformative tool I can imagine. Through individual coaching, Waves to Wisdom surf-centered adventures for individuals and groups, a podcast, and speaking, I intend to continue the work of equipping others for great adventures.
I look forward to having a chance to get to meet all of you who can come out for the talk!