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Taking the ups with the downs

14 March 2019, at 9:30am

Could we change our mindsets to enjoy the paddle to sea as well as the surf back to shore?

A tiny proportion of each surf session is spent actually standing up on your surfboard on a wave–maybe 1 percent of the time – so if you’re looking to enjoy yourself, it’s essential to find a way to enjoy, or at least good-naturedly bear, paddling out to catch the wave. And in that way, I thought, surfing is a good metaphor for life.

The extremely good stuff –eating chocolate, having great sex, attending weddings and hearing hilarious jokes – fills a minute portion of an adult lifespan. The rest of life is the paddling: working, paying bills, flossing, getting sick.

I started to entertain the thought that maybe I could start to deal better with that kind of paddling too...

In his book, Saltwater Buddha, Jaimal Yogis describes how he discovered Zen Buddhism, creatively using the sea as a metaphor for life: the mundane majority of life and the occasional highs which thrill us and bring huge amounts of satisfaction, albeit concentrated into a short amount of time. The bread and butter daily working life with the predictable commute, punctuated with the odd great night out with friends and the annual awesome ski holiday.

These fabulous times are captured in our memories forever and recorded in our albums on our iPhones. We recount stories of great times to friends and colleagues, which further consolidates the good feelings they bring. It’s easy to be mindful while on a mogul field under an icy blue sky or when chilling in an infinity pool with views of the ocean. We are totally present and immersed in the moment,which adds to the pleasure.

Could we apply this concept to the rest of life?

What if we could enjoy the post-holiday period instead of feeling post-holiday blues and quickly booking the next holiday in order to banish them? Wouldn’t life be amazing if we could appreciate the highs and the lows and everything in between as part of regular life?

I’m not recommending for a minute that we stop having the great moments, or that we don’t try to plan amazing holidays. However, by living life from great time to great time and “killing” the time in between, we are in danger of spending the majority of our time in a state of low level, subconscious grumbling dissatisfaction, which ultimately leads to the Buddhist concept of “suffering”.

If we can accept the impermanence of life, that everything changes, nothing stays the same, and that’s ok – then the stark contrast of good times compared to regular daily life doesn’t hurt or even bother us.

Acceptance of all that we experience isn’t about lying down like a submissive dog and taking it on the chin. It isn’t about being soft and bullied without defending ourselves; it is about being truly present at all times, so that the small, previously unnoticed details of what we felt was mundane, can be seen with fresh eyes and “awaken” us to the fact that daily, predictable life isn’t so bad or boring after all.

As Sylvia Boorstein said, “Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.”

Laura Woodward Counselling

Laura Woodward has been the surgeon at Village Vet Hampstead for over 10 years. Laura is also a qualified therapeutic counsellor and is affiliated with the ACPNL and the ISPC. She runs Laurawoodward.co.uk – a counselling service for vets and nurses.

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