The Teachings Of The Ocean is a book that I came across in a surf shop whilst passing through the city of Coolangatta on the Gold Coast of Australia last July (2015). I suppose it was the somewhat philosophical title(with reference to the ocean) that initially drew and led me to pick up the book. Finding out that the book’s author, Jernej Rakuscek, was born and raised in a landlocked European country made things all the more interesting too.
I think the book resonated with me because of my firm belief in surfing and the ocean as providers of good life lessons: which, really, is what Rakuscek aims to demonstrate and emphasize through this written account of his relationship with water (primarily) over the past several years of his life.
With the turn of the new year, and with several things having changed in my life since I first read the book, I decided to re-visit this ‘secular surfers’ bible’, making note of and contemplating some of the more prominent experiences and beliefs/opinions of Rakuscek. I’d like to use the first half of this two-part post to share some of the most interesting points and useful advice that I came across in the hope that they/it may also provide some benefit to yourself: whether that benefit takes the form of some interesting thoughts/discussions; as inspiration to view problematic situations as opportunities in disguise; or as the catalyst of a positive change in your life. Rakuscek’s story has certainly given me a fresh perspective on a few things in my own life. I’ll be passing the book on to several friends.
“Whatever creates a joyful session in the ocean has got the power to create a fulfilling life when practised on land. […] It started opening up to me that it was indeed possible to experience every day on land as a direct metaphor of a surf session in the ocean. That it was possible to use the same approach of acting in the ocean for deciding and acting in everyday situations.”
– J. Rakuscek
On a final note I think it should be clarified that this book is, of course, on the surface (pardon the pun!), one about water, the ocean and surfing. However what it truly concerns (at least in my view), is how we respond to the more difficult events, decisions and consequences in our personal lives. How we learn from our mistakes and become stronger people. How we should learn to listen to and believe in our instincts. It helps us to realise that the knowledge and wisdom gained from surfing in the ocean can be utilised within, and to enhance, our lives ‘on land’. And it also serves to remind us that there will always be more waves to ride: in both our personal/dry land lives and in the water! So relax…
SOMETIMES WE PERCEIVE THE SCALE AND/OR CONSEQUENCES OF PROBLEMS AS LARGER THAN THEY ARE IN REALITY. ‘PROBLEMS’ CAN SOMETIMES PROVIDE US WITH PRICELESS OPPORTUNITIES: TO CREATE OR FIND CREATIVE SOLUTIONS AND GAIN EXPERIENCE/GROW AS A PERSON IN THE PROCESS.
“There was no problem in reality. […] Some people say that there is no problem without a solution. […] I began thinking that it is the solution that causes the problem. That the problem appears, so that the solution could be found.” (p.16)
Here Rakuscek tries to get us to view what we see as problems, small and large, differently. Admittedly, ‘problems’ of any nature can be an inconvenience – to varying extents. And every individual is affected by life’s obstacles in their own unique way. But, whether you believe things happen for a reason or not – and regardless of how much pain or loss we may experience – problems provide us with an opportunity to flex our creative muscles, learn new things, and grow as people. If we can’t change something that has already happened (or is currently taking place but is out of our hands), although it can be easier said than done, we should try to minimise how much we let ourselves become stressed or anxious about it. Focus on the positive side: the opportunity to overcome a challenge and potentially learn something new in the process.
WE SHOULD TRY TO VIEW CERTAIN PROBLEMS AS OPPORTUNITIES FOR CREATIVE AND PERSONAL GROWTH: AND FOCUS ON THIS BENEFIT AS APPOSE TO THE PROBLEM ITSELF.
“Next time when something you see as a problem comes along, simply ask: what solution is this problem guiding me to? After all, life is not complicated if we do not make it complicated.” (p.17)
When a problem arises, if possible, try to focus on the opportunity that it provides us with as appose to the inconvenience or loss that it may have caused. That is, the opportunity to be creative and find or create a solution to whatever the problem at hand may be. As previously mentioned, we may end up learning something new – and become richer in knowledge and wisdom. The search for a solution may even lead us to cross paths with people we otherwise may never have met – perhaps future friends or even partners!
LESSONS AND PROBLEM SOLVING LEARNED THROUGH SURFING AND TIME SPENT IN THE OCEAN CAN BE TRANSFERRED TO DAILY LIFE/EVERYDAY SITUATIONS.
“I started to realise how my view of surfing through life had been correct. It started opening up to me that it was indeed possible to experience every day on land as a direct metaphor of a surf session in the ocean. That it was possible to use the same approach of acting in the ocean for deciding and acting in everyday situations.” (p.27)
This is where the overarching theme in Rakuscek’s journal begins to emerge.
“When we say ‘Aloha’ we are basically expressing that (I) joyfully share (my)life’s energy with you in this moment.” (p.28)
IF WE MISS, OR ‘FAIL’ AT, AN OPPORTUNITY IN LIFE, WE SHOULD REMIND OURSELVES THAT THERE WILL ALWAYS BE ANOTHER (IN SOME FORM) COMING OUR WAY. WE MUST TAKE WHAT WE CAN FROM THE OVERALL EXPERIENCE AND TRY NOT TO DWELL ON THE LOSS.
“There is always a wave behind. Sure, no two waves are the same. You get one chance to ride that wave. But you always get a chance for another ride. Always. That, to me, is a soothing realisation.” (p.30)
Another aspect of surfing that applies to life on land… Although, as Rakuscek rightly says, no two waves (whether in the form of personal relationships, a career or job you loved, or some point in your life etc) are the same, there will always be another. I.e. another chance at something you may have moved on from, lost or ‘failed’ at. Surfing helps us to realise/demonstrates this – but on a smaller time scale.
“Whatever is worth having is worth sharing.” (p.33)
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE THINGS IN LIFE MORE POWERFUL THAN OURSELVES AND WHICH ARE OUT OF OUR CONTROL. ONCE WE ACCEPT THIS FACT WE CAN SAVE OUR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL ENERGY FOR THE MORE BENEFICIAL/PLEASURABLE THINGS IN LIFE.
“[…] Why fight an ocean, when it is so much more powerful than you? Why not learn from it, adapt to it and use it’s endless energy to play, express, recreate and live?” (p.38)
Again, we can transfer this scenario to other situations in life – where we may be fighting/up against something bigger or more powerful than ourselves. We don’t necessarily have the power as individuals to affect change on a global scale: ending wars, alleviating world hunger and fixing environmental catastrophes etc. We can however change ourselves for the better, and then spread positive philosophies and behaviours amongst our friends, family, colleagues and our local community etc – and then take collective action on forces too big for us to take on alone. The very least that will come from this effort is social cohesion: new friends and a stronger sense of community.
BEING IN THE OCEAN HELPS TO KEEP US IN THE PRESENT MOMENT: PROVIDING RELIEF FROM REGRETS ABOUT OUR PAST AND ANXIETIES ABOUT OUR FUTURE.
“On land it is easy to think about the past and worry about the future. When you enter the ocean you enter the present moment. Our feet leave the solid ground and we swim into the ocean. With faith, we paddle into a vast, powerful space hoping to realise our desire to ride waves. Instantly the focus shifts to the present movements of the surfboard. What is our reassurance that the ride will happen?” (p.53)
As someone who is prone to over-thinking, I think (no pun intended!) that this is one of the reasons that surfing (sub-conciously) became, and has remained, so appealing and important to me. Initially I started surfing because, growing up, I was always a skateboarder and then ending up living in Cornwall – so it was inevitable. The fun of surfing aside, surfing (without me knowing) became a great refuge for me from worries and problems on land – for turning my attention to, and keeping me in, the ‘present’ moment.
PERSISTENCE, PATIENCE AND FAITH ARE KEY IN ACHIEVING LONG-TERM GOALS.
“Ever such a long journey starts with the first step and continues with one step at a time.” (p.54)
Simple, but true. No matter how big a journey, mission, or problem, reaching your final destination/end goal begins with a single (small) step. Persistence and patience is key.
OUR FOOD CHOICES (UNSURPRISINGLY TO YOU READERS!) SIGNIFICANTLY AFFECT OUR ENERGY LEVELS AND, SUBSEQUENTLY, OUR PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE (E.G. WHILST SURFING).
“Why should we care about what we eat as long as we’re not hungry? […] You are what you eat – literally. The food choices you make, create your energy, your ability to maintain it while surfing, recover from an intense session or full day in the water so you can charge even harder next time.” (p.55)
Sometimes, I must admit, even as a (majority of the time) health-concious vegan, it is nice to just eat ‘junk’ that provides instant hunger gratification and fills a void in the stomach! Whatever your guilty junk food is, I believe that this is perfectly fine to do every so often: we’re just human after all! In terms of energy levels though – which are essential for our general happiness/mood and our ability to perform everyday activities, tasks and recreation – we need foods that aren’t a huge task for our body to digest and absorb nutrition from. I’m an advocate of a theory put forward by Canadian tri-athlete and vegan Brandon Brazier. His emphasis, in terms of nutrition, is on foods with a high ratio of minerals, vitamins, anti-oxidants and proteins to calories – i.e more nutrition per calorie. Eating a diet rich in such foods reduces the work required by our bodies and leaves us with more energy for our physical and mental activity. (re-check & add link to Brazier)
‘IGNORANCE IS BLISS’.
“Not knowing should happen spontaneously and only for the reason of achieving what would, with knowledge, be impossible to achieve.” (p.58)
Sometimes our lack of knowledge and subsequent ignorance can lead us to try, do, and accomplish things that we may never have done if there was something more we knew about a particular situation. Take Rakuscek’s example:
“If I would have checked my board after the first wave, I am sure I wouldn’t have gone after even bigger waves. Madness. Missing a right fin and attempting to realise a take-off and a bottom turn on a ten meter right hand wave is craziness. Yet, not knowing enabled me to be free of that problem.” (p.58)
I.e. Sometimes maybe we don’t need to, or it’s best not to, know everything or be in complete control.
“THE ONLY CONSTANT IS CHANGE”
” “The only thing true in life is change.” […] The more we try to resist that fundamental truth, the more we suffer in one way or another.” (p.60)
This idea is spoken of a lot and applies to numerous areas of our personal lives, wider society and the physical/inanimate world. The effects of ‘change’ are evident in small ways on a daily basis: our moods for example, or the weather. Some changes in life can have profound impacts on us though: for example the death of a loved one, the end of an important personal relationship or a loss of a home (and the loss of corresponding parts of our identity/sense of self/purpose that results from the aforementioned losses). As Rakuscek says, it is important for us to accept that change, even if it is hard to overcome, will always happen. Parts of your life or personality that you come to view as concrete can sometimes crumble away in what seems like a flash: something I have learnt over the past year. I think the point here is that if that we always bear in mind that change is inevitable, we can reduce the level of suffering/unhappiness/dissapointment that we feel/experience when something significant in life changes ‘for the (perceived) worse’. Always remember to make the most of what you have whilst it’s around (friends, family, material goods etc) and remember that, following change, there’ll be another ride traveling towards you.
WE SHOULD TRY TO LIMIT OUR EXPECTATIONS OF OURSELVES (PARTICULARLY WHEN ENTERING THE OCEAN) AND FORCES WHICH ARE OUT OF OUR CONTROL. WE WILL EXPERIENCE LESS DISAPPOINTMENT AND HAVE MORE FUN.
“Entering the impersonal arena of the ocean, we are the ones who carry personal attitude. The ocean has no personal interest to do this or that to us. We choose what time, where, and how we enter it. Whatever feelings and/or thoughts are being provoked in us, are reflections of the areas of our personality that we need to address. […] Whatever you bring into the ocean, the ocean turns around and shows it to you. […] Hint: Best sessions happen when we enter without any other expectation but to have fun.” (p.62)
Rakuscek’s ‘hint’ is something that I began writing an article on just over a year ago now but never finished (though I’m now reminded and re-motivated to get it done!). When I first began surfing, the more I surfed and the more I improved, the more I expected myself to have ‘good’ sessions and further improve my surfing/manouveres on the wave. The higher my expectations became of myself and the ocean though, the more pissed off I started to get when I didn’t surf so well or when surfing conditions weren’t so great. Whilst at university, where I lived on a part of the English coast (Dorset) less blessed with swell than where I’d grown up and learned to surf in Cornwall, I was forced to make the best of (technically) poor surf conditions. Choppy waist-high wind swell was the only thing at hand 99% of the time, so I learned to take surfing less seriously and just aim to have fun. I would surf an 8ft foamie the majority of the time (meaning a super-high wave count) whilst many locals would (sometimes stubbornly) go out on performance shortboards. Because I ended up not expecting amazing surf, or surfing from myself, I had so much more fun. And I also learned to control/manouvere a different type of surf craft than I would normally ride.
OPPORTUNITIES, LIKE WAVES, ARE CONSTANTLY TRAVELLING TOWARDS US: BUT WE NEED TO PUT OURSELVES IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME IN ORDER TO ‘CATCH’ AND ‘RIDE’ THEM AND REAP THEIR REWARDS.
“The wave comes to you. You need to know where to wait for it. Follow aloha. […]” (p.12)
“In order for me to catch a wave, I need to be in a certain place at a certain time. I need to be where the wave will come and start breaking. So in life. If you wish to realise something, you need to put yourself in a situation where it would be possible to realise it.” (p.70)
Much like the art of positioning yourself in the line-up in order to catch a wave that will allow you a good ride, we must learn to identify incoming waves (i.e. potential opportunities) on dry land and practice placing ourselves in the right place, and at the right time, to make full use of any such opportunities.
That’s it for part 1!
I hope that you’ve both enjoyed and found useful at least some of the points discussed here. If you want to get a physical or e- copy of Rakuscek‘s Teachings Of The Ocean I believe the only way to do so is through Amazon/Kindle Store (or similar) – http://tinyurl.com/zgoga2v.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this post, which will be arriving in a couple of weeks time!
Until then, Aloha!