My reading list has been pre-dominated by self-help books the last few weeks. Books of encouragement, calling for self-reflection and questioning of inner beliefs. I’ve noticed, as I read them more and more, that they are finally starting to sink in, to become a natural part of my psyche rather than something external—an instinct, rather than a task.
That instinct is to question, to sit with the thoughts and listen, to take from them what I need or want and nothing more or less. It hasn’t been easy, and some days it doesn’t come naturally, yet slowly but surely thoughts are starting to sink in. Comprehension is taking shape.
My life hasn’t changed drastically, but my world has.
My mental state and my experience of life is slowly shifting, towards something kinder, more often gentle and peaceful than it used to be.
Which got me thinking about how we change and grow, and how that can start to affect others. Because for the longest time I stayed stuck in overwhelm. Overwhelmed by my emotions and the grief of the world; overwhelmed by time’s passing and turmoil and blood and heartache and sadness. Life hasn’t changed much, but I have.
Many of these books talk about how change starts with you. You are the first person who needs to change so you can start to change the world. I’ve always agreed with that, intellectually, but kept feeling frustrated by my own lacking in the face of it. I hold myself down, reminding myself of little lies I no longer believe, and closing my ears to the truths I know really do belong to me. We all hold ourselves down, sometimes. It’s that inherited nature and those old beliefs that tell us to do so.
For a long time, I thought it was arrogant to believe that changing myself could change the world. The tiny existence that is me couldn’t possibly do anything, right? What difference did my life make or not make in the grand scheme of the cosmos?
It’s taken me a long time to realize that if that statement were true: what difference could it truly make, then the answer is not to make myself smaller. It is to make myself as big as possible. Because if none of us can make too great a difference, then why not just go for it all the way? I kept myself held back, thinking that nothing I do could really matter.
But really, if nothing I do matters much, isn’t the opposite true as well?
“Why not?” goes both ways.
Why not be large? Why not try and fail and fall and get back up again just because.
If nothing matters, then everything also matters, and every little thought I think, even though it’s not doing anything, can be one of two things: important or worthless. Because they are the same. Telling yourself something cruel is the exact same act with the exact same effort as telling yourself something kind. The only difference is in how I feel. And if what I do sincerely doesn’t have an impact, doesn’t matter, then why not make it something beautiful?
Beauty, kindness, and love for the sake of themselves, I’ve come to realize, doesn’t mean you forget everything terrible exists. It doesn’t mean you become arrogant and self-absorbed. For so long I thought that I was serving some deeper purpose, unlocking some deeper meaning with my sadness. But if I found meaning in the sadness, can’t I just as easily find meaning in the joy, too? One without the other doesn’t mean anything except for what I decide it means.
And that made me think about life, and (of course) surfing.
Because when you paddle out into the line-up, there are all different kinds of people. There are happy people, sad people, grateful people, sincere people, angry people, scared people…you name it and someone out there probably has an emotion out there—good or bad.
So, I’m surrounded by all of these people—angry, sad, happy, joyful, frustrated, tired, and loving—and I can choose who I sit next to, who I paddle to and who I talk to. The other people don’t disappear, and they aren’t any less valuable for existing there in that moment, but I get to choose who I connect with. I get to choose who I listen to.
The ocean is a lot like life. It just does its thing we and we all try to figure out how to navigate it. The waves aren’t trying to hurt me, they just come and go and break and re-form and come again. Waves disappear and go flat, seasons change the currents and tides, and no matter how much I try to control or predict or manage any of it, I know I never can.
If I think about it that way… that life is one big ocean and all of us are getting to decide how to be in it and inhabit it (with nothing really changing one way or another because life simply is) then who do I want to be?
Do I want to be the person sitting there yelling and going on and on about this or that or poor conditions or everything not being right? Do I want to be the person loving just being there, just totally being in life and sitting through it whatever it is? Do I want to be the person smiling and existing or fighting and becoming bitter about everything that I never had a right to think I could control in the first place?
So, if I carry this metaphor backwards, back out of the water and into the grand scheme of the cosmos—it doesn’t really make a difference whether I live my life kindly and gently, or brutally and embittered—life cares about as much as the ocean about whatever wave I catch.
But I also know that nothing brightens up my day more than seeing someone in the ocean smile. Nothing lifts me up like waving at a fellow regular in the shared knowledge of “how freaking lucky are we to just be alive right now?”
The conditions are a bonus, sure, but when I’m out there in the ocean, I am also out there in life. And I know for a fact that the uplifting people in the line-up lift me up too. So how could I possibly keep bringing myself down on land when it’s so obvious that this tiny difference—a smile, a wave, a cheer—can have such a profound effect in the ocean.
When you think of it that way, of course, life deserves to be celebrated. We deserve to celebrate ourselves everywhere. And doing that? Bringing myself up, pushing myself to be better and love harder and see the good in the world?
That may not make much of a difference, but when you can choose one or the other why not choose the joy?
This whole time I’ve had it all wrong. I thought I had to do something to bring light into the world. Turns out, I just had to be me, fully and completely, sitting there in the ocean of life, smiling as the waves come and go.