Braving the waves of challenges and change
I was born and grew up on a small Dutch island in the Caribbean. As a child, some weekends were spent playing with my friends by the ocean. Several of our family friends would get together, and we either boat to the smaller private islands off the coast or we pitch tents on any one of the beautiful beaches on the island for the day. The northern and wilder side of the island is very rocky and rugged, boasting more secluded beaches. Tourists are not recommended to swim in these areas. However, locals and experienced swimmers, kiteboarders, bodyboarders, and surfers traverse some of these rugged beaches. The waves came in with moderate force, and the currents were moderately strong. As much as it was a rough area, the waters we swam were relatively safe.
Early memories and learning to manage the waves.
I still remember the first time I “dared” a wave. What a rush! I was ill-prepared, however. The wave pounds and rolls you, and the undercurrent’s strength twirls you around in the water like a wild dance partner. The ocean wave, clearly not tame nor a playful or sympathetic partner in your underwater dance, is a force to be reckoned with. In this encounter, for a moment that can feel like forever, you are completely out of control until the current spits you back out to shore, and your body hits the sandy beach. Believe it or not, swimming in the wilder and choppier northern ocean side was fun for us. The older we got, the farther out we swam, showing off our skills. We learned strategies, and developed skills to manage the waves and currents. To tackle the waves, for example, you perform an underwater pulldown, or you dive deep. To the extent that you dive deep into the water and allow the wave to pass, you feel the swell above you and remain in control. When caught in a rip current, you rest- yes, r e s t. You let the current and wave take you. You try to float, and you swim or tread water parallel to it on the white ripples created. You never panic and try to swim against it back to shore! You drain your energy and adrenaline fatigue sets in motion the possibility of drowning. Eventually the current circles back.
The waves and rip currents in life.
Life also brings waves and rip currents with a steady flow. I never thought I would live through a pandemic. These are certainly perplexing times. However you tackle the waves of life, two things are certain: a) they roll in with consistency in our lives and b) how you prepare and practice to develop the skills to handle them determines your experience and perspectives, whether euphoric or devastating- a thrilling or adventuresome ride or a destructive blow. How we eventually emerge will ultimately demonstrate our character, soul depth, and worldview. It is my personal opinion that our society and culture do not prepare us to swim in the difficult surfs of life very well. The average person prefers and seeks at all costs to lie on the beach, by shallow water. Alternatively, we are more concerned with exploring beautiful coves and shallow waters in search of peace and comfort. We have defined happiness in so many ways, and every person represents their utopian life ideal differently. When a wave inevitably comes, or a riptide pulls in unexpectedly, it finds us so unprepared and left panicking. We seek the familiar and turn our backs to what we might be experiencing as an insurmountable challenge. In an effort to try to swim back to shore- the familiar, the comfortable- we are only swirled, pulled under, and pounded, to resurface farther away than imagined in life. Fatigue intensifies the cycle, and we are tempted to search for more control in the face of disruptions, changes, and challenges, resulting in more self-destructive behaviors and less forward movement.
An invitation to play, to grow deeper.
In my earlier days, waves were an invitation to play. It is hard to see challenges and change we face in life as invitations to play. This thrilling and adventuresome ride grows us deeper. Problems and difficulty, are often perceived as burdens that might just do us in. Of course, a wise and ethical life leads to experiencing goodness in life, nevertheless even the best of people, however, face tragedy, difficulty, life interuptions, problems, and pain. Over the years, I have noted a qualitative difference in some people that makes them stand out above the rest. I believe this quality relates to their soul. These people have learned to go deeper and ride the currents through inner soul work and discipline. Their worldview is counter-cultural to the societal tide gripping us all, which promotes shallowness, stupidity, vanity, and various vices. This counter-cultural worldview values wisdom over intelligence, a purpose-driven life over a successful one, love over lust, generosity over greed and materialism, people over profits, character over accomplishments, self-denial over egotism, discipline over vanity, to name a few.
Embracing a counter-cultural worldview.
What if we began to see every wave and every rip current as an opportunity to crystalize our vision, our purpose, to reset our course, to ask difficult questions about our characters, to accept pain, problems, and loss as equal and important components of life as are joy, happiness, pleasure, and comfort? What if these challenges teach us humility, and we grow to see the world anew? What if this soul work makes us embrace gratitude, and thus we become more present to one another, more willing to listen and be open to other perspectives? What if it allows us to rest and be still for a bit and not have all the answers? Why do we fear the waves of life, which are a great opportunity to forward and foster soul work, and instead often choose to control or cope through various addictions? The more counter-cultural we become, the more our perspectives, and strategic and performative actions will shift. As a result, I believe the more impactful we will become! The waves and currents will become invitations to play, invitations to rise, invitations to soul work, invitations to a thrilling and adventuresome ride. Let's embrace the waves we are currently facing. Let's dive deep, and together shift our collective worldview.