Beautiful shot filmmaker Sachi Cunningham took of me in El Salvador while we were on a Surf for Life adventure. Seemed like a good pairing for this new verse.
Rest on your laurels.
Whistle. Breathe. Splash. Dance.
The wave, after all, is a passing fancy,
A fleeting mirage ferrying a fleeting passenger
But this sea of grace…
This is the hammock of infinity.
As we continue editing, the Saltwater Buddha film is turning out to look both very similar and very different than the book, but I love that this intro is going to make it almost verbatim.
The ocean is in constant flux, and when you spend a lot of time in it you become like a floating bottle with a message inside; you know you’re going somewhere, sense you have a purpose, but you also know you’re at the mercy of the winds and currents, that surrendering may be your only good option.
Lately I’ve been surfing a lot. And there’s some- thing different about the saltwater life. One becomes floppy, like seaweed, while at the same time agile, like an eel. One becomes, I suppose, more like water itself.
The Tao Te Ching says, “Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it. They have no way to
This is a book in praise of water. On its surface, it is a series of short stories about my encounters with the sea and Zen practice. But underneath, it’s just a homily about water—to that which sustains life.
I am no expert on Zen, and certainly no expert surfer. But I have an ongoing love affair with the ocean, which, through years of meditation, I have come to view through what might be called Zen-colored glasses. If I have a message inside this empty vessel— if it hasn’t been completely dissolved by the saltwater leaking in—this book is it. May the winds blow it to shores where it will be useful.
To read more, pick up a copy of Saltwater Buddha below.
A while ago we put out a call for more music for the Saltwater Buddha film. We got some amazing tunes but one artist stood out, AJ Abberton. We’re using a couple of his songs in the film and today is his CD Release day. Please support him by listening and spreading the word. For one week only AJ is asking you to give whatever you can on https://ajabberton.bandcamp.com/releases
And here’s a little from AJ about how he got into music and how we met.
I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid. I would creep downstairs to the piano and write rudimentary songs about anything really. I always used the mute pedal. I hated the idea of anybody hearing me. Piano recitals were the worst. I started performing and recording music when I was in high school. My friends and I would get together and jam on the beach in between surfing sessions or while traveling. I make music cause it allows me to address things I find important. I can say whatever I want for 45 minutes when I’m on stage, whatever I need to get out of my system. It heals.
After I saw your post about submitting music for the film, I figured At Bay would be perfect. I send the demo to Luuk, who I’ve been working with for a long time, and we recorded it the day after. I read Saltwater Buddha on the exact same beach where I wrote the lyrics to that song (Jeffreys Bay). We went surfing and had to wait hours before we could go back in the water due to weather. So my friend got his guitar from the car and we just started jamming. Writing that song was pure therapy. Much like reading the book was. Working together with Luuk is the best. He creates these amazing soundscapes. I bring in the skeleton and he brings it to life.
Accepting your darker parts is like taking a submarine to the bottom of the sea. There are some creepy glow-in-the-dark creatures down there, but they are far less scary once you shine a light on them. Saltwater Buddha: B&N, Amazon, Indybound Turtles Don’t Surf: Amazon The Fear Project on: B&N, Indiebound, Amazon
A student recently asked me what my biggest tip for becoming a writer is. First I thought of the F Scott Fitzgerald quote, “Nothing any good isn’t hard,” which I may soon tattoo on my forehead.
But then I thought more and realized that, for me, the most important thing has been setting up a paradigm in which all my “failures” are lily-pads that help me cross the Swamp of BLAH.
When you start out writing, you have some writing heroes you try to emulate. That’s a good, but you are not those people and so, even if you can nail their style, you fail at being them. The writing is probably bad, but even if it’s decent, it’s still BLAH. Reading it feels like going to a gourmet restaurant where they shouldn’t be charging so much. And writing it feels like cooking from a cookbook. Nothing original. Nothing special.
Nobody wants that. And now you’ve spent months, maybe years, failing. You need money. Maybe you quit and get a real job. Or maybe you try journalism or marketing. Both are good options, but at least the latter helps you master the language. Still, even if you learn to a lot about punctuation and sentence structure and City Hall, in your heart, you’ll feel like a failure. You haven’t found that thing you’ve begun to doubt exists – YOUR voice – which is ultimately the only thing that makes writing worthwhile, the only way the words will find their Aretha Franklin power.
So, if you’re insane, you try again and again and again and, though each failure feels like death, you eventually see something – the Swamp of Blah has an end. And the lily-pads are becoming larger, more stable. The sun is filtering through the trees above onto the other shore.
After a decade of failing, I’ve found my voice, but it’s still cracking like an adolescent’s. I’m on the muddy edge of the Swamp all the time and often need to slip back in to shock myself.
After writing The Fear Project, I wrote no fewer than five different book proposals that I eventually scrapped because they felt like someone else’s book. Each time I scrapped a proposal I’d worked for weeks or months on, I screamed and wanted to bag groceries for the rest of my life, but these were the lily-pads I needed to finally arrive at the book I’m writing now, All Our Waves Are Water. When I finally stumbled on this narrative, it was the most obvious thing in the world. Of course it was. It was my voice, the thing that has been there all along at the center of my chest. Why had I been looking out there?
I don’t know why, but I do know this, when you find that book, you know. You know because that F. Scott Fitzgerald quote doesn’t make you want to cry or hide, it gets you high. Having found your book, you WANT nothing more then to crack open your heart and bleed onto the page. If you can rip out a few other organs and smear their juices on too, all the better. You know the pain will be pleasure. You know this is why you took on this hair-brained career path to begin with.
Until you feel that, I’d keep questioning your your impostor voice like Al Pacino in HEAT or – for younger readers – Jon Hamm in THE TOWN. Keep the heat high. Eventually, the criminal will crack and the truth will out.
So after the Giants WIN the World Series, come see an Andy Olive and San Franpsycho surf flick, hear amazing tunes by Deltron 3030 and Golden Age, and know that the money you spend will help us build schools for kids that don’t have one via Surf for Life. It’s a grand slam of awesome. It all starts at 9 PM at the Mezzanine. Details here
It seems we are finally at a point in history when most of us agree that strolling on beaches that aren’t covered in plastic, breathing air that is free of carcinogens, and living on an earth with regular ol’ healthy weather patterns is worth more than all the material wealth combined. Still, we seem to be having a hard time changing our ways at a rate that will allow us and our children to have those things. I count myself in this group that is having a hard time. I still drive too much and don’t always eat the right things and use too many plastic bags etc. But I’ve noticed that how much I’m able to reel myself in and live more sustainably is directly correlated to my mental state, and for me, this is directly related to meditation. So, I’d like to write a few sentences about why I think meditation could really help us get to a better earth.
It’s pretty simple. When you sit down to meditate by, say, following your breath, or when you kneel down and pray to a source that is greater than you, you do the opposite of what we spend the rest of the day doing. Instead of letting your senses go outward to achieve your goals, you turn inward. People without a regular contemplative practice may find this hard to believe, but when you do that regularly, it becomes unbelievably pleasant just to sit still, shut up, and breathe. And it doesn’t matter if you do this in a religious way or if you do it in a way that’s more based on something scientific like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which is used in a lot of hospitals these days. When you take, say, 30 minutes everyday to quiet down and let yourself just be, you often find that happiness, peace, love, insight, creativity is already yours for the taking, and without buying anything, or getting approval from the world, or going to some perfect peaceful place far away.
Now, just like anything in life, it often takes practice to get to that good stuff through meditation. But as I cover in The Fear Project, study after study shows that just a few weeks of daily meditation for 30 minutes per-day brings a lot of positive emotions into most people’s lives. If you can do more, or even a week-long retreat, the benefits are exponential.
So what does this have to do with a better earth? Well, I think we have such a hard time reducing our harmful emissions (via buying too much and driving and flying too much) because we find it difficult to be content with the most simple things in life – especially what’s always here, breath and life. I notice when I keep up my meditation practice, I stop searching so much for material stuff – new surfboards, a new car, a new vacation – that I think might make me feel great (but often just complicate my life) and start enjoying the stuff I have.
This isn’t to say we can meditate our environmental problems away. The technological innovations, the activism, the cutting edge science, the new legislations – we clearly need all of it at this point. Also, there are other ways of finding internal contentment than meditation. But imagine if the nearly 7 billion of us felt even 10-percent happier with what we already have. If that reduced 10-percent of our needless C02-producing purchasing, and needless transportation to get to “somewhere better,” that would be a massive step toward a better earth.
I can hardly contain my excitement that ALL OUR WAVES ARE WATER, my next book and a spiritual sequel to Saltwater Buddha, will be done with Harper Collins. I’m equally thrilled to have the great Karen Rinald editing it. Karen is an amazing literary mind as well as a surfer and big thinker. Apart from growing Bloomsbury to what it is today, she has worked with authors like Steven Kotler, Susanna Clark, Chelsea Handler, Alan Hollinghurst, Shannon Hale, and dozens of others. I’m excited to have my butt kicked by Karen, but above all, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to write straight from the heart and, of course, dive back in the sea. Thank you for all the support and love. This is going to be a fun ride!
Wishing the great and compassionate teacher Dr. Rick Hanson a happy birthday today. Rick is a scientist and meditation practitioner who is doing the courageous work of explaining the neuroscience behind contemplation, compassion, and mindfulness. I’m lucky to call Rick a friend but I’m posting this because I believe Rick and others like him will change our future in incredibly profound and positive ways. If you’ve never read Rick’s work, check out his amazing books like Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Hardwiring Happiness. Also, Rick has a year-long online course he’s teaching called The Foundations of Wellbeing that everyone could benefit from. Sign up at the link and please join me in sending Dr. Hanson some birthday metta.
Here’s a little meditation trick that, even if you only have one minute, always helps me. Stop what you’re doing, become still, breathe, and imagine your body is filling with crystal clear teal blue water (perhaps even with shimmering golden sun rays if you’re feeling creative). Let that clarity and light and freshness flood into your whole being and heart. Then Repeat as needed.
Like taking a shower, this is a great way of starting your day over. And even better, it doesn’t use any actual water.
Recently, I was writing at a cafe and couldn’t help overhearing two girls talking about a break-up one of them was going through.
“I just don’t know what to do anymore,” one girl said. “I’ve surrendered it to the universe, you know?”
“Totally,” her friend said.
You hear comments like this a lot these days, particularly in cities like San Francisco. People substitute an “intelligent universe” for the word God because the word God is associated with some dude in the sky sentencing people to hell or condemning gay marriage. This “dude in the sky” God, for many of us, feels like really lame and mean Santa Claus. Not only is he not believable. He’s not cool.
But I’m not sure we should toss God out so easily. Here’s why. Great religious mystics throughout the ages – take Rumi or Patanjali or Hafiz or Thomas Merton – all spoke of God in much the same way the Jedi use The Force – which is completely accessible to most modern people, secular or not. Unfortunately, political institutions have often changed the meaning of those mystics’ words about God into something fear-based, something for political control, making many of us who believe in an intelligent universe – or those of us who believe love unites us – wary of using the word God.
This is a shame because:
A.) The word God carries a lot of power and it’s sad to give that power up to people who, in my view, are just power hungry and looking to have some claim to truth.
B.) Those mystics are some of the greatest thinkers who have graced humanity. Their words and thoughts and deeds have made us who we are as much as Newton, Mendel or Einstein. Also, they discovered secrets about love and happiness that I personally haven’t found anywhere else.
I could use about 100,000 different quotes to show that many religious mystics – including those who are part of huge religious institutions – view God as an intelligent universe, or love, instead of that angry dude in the sky, but here’s one recent one by Anthony of Sourozh, the Russian Orthodox mystic who, for many, is the greatest Christian thinker of the past century.
“When we speak of God, and we say that God is love, we do not mean that He is infinite feeling. We mean something deeper than this: that God is a plenitude of life and of being. And this applies also to our human love. Someone who is possessed by love is a man who has a plenitude of life in himself, in whom the sense of life, the power of life is so full, so great, that life is sure of itself.”
“The plentitude of life” sure as heck sounds a lot like The Force or an Intelligent Universe to me – a force that underlies all creation and is ultimately good.
Einstein knew this well and had no qualms speaking about physics as researching “the thoughts of God.” As physics evolves, particularly on the quantum level, we are seeing more and more how intelligent our universe is. We have a long way to go, and clearly, there are huge differences in how scientists and spiritual folk go about their daily lives in finding “Truth.” But with the exception of the zealots out there who are using religion or science to divide us farther apart, everyone else seems to be trying to hear the secrets of an intelligent universe with an open mind and heart. Everyone is trying to decipher the thoughts of God.
This is a topic too vast for a mere blog post and I plan on writing about it in a lot more detail in my next book (also covering Buddhism and God, which is a topic for another day). But for now, I just have to say this: let’s not shy away from the word God just because some folks view God as something other other than the “Plentitude of Life” – of love – that Anthony of Sourozh spoke of, or the intelligent universe Einstein spoke of.
In reclaiming the word God, I think we take a step toward uniting humanity under the banner of truth seeking we’ve been on for millennia. We get closer to uniting our past with our present.
Well, I dropped off Kaifas, our 2.5-year-old, at pre-school this morning, and he threw his 154th separation-anxiety tantrum. These used to torture me, but I now know they only last about 30 seconds after I leave. He then goes and has a blast with trains or glue or flushing the potty too many times.
I also know that Kaifas suffers from the same sort of social anxiety his mom and I did as kids (we were both painfully shy) and that a supportive school is the best place for him to expand his boundaries. So, in sum, the tantrums don’t bother me anymore because I see Kaifas growing into a being who’s flexible – probably one of the most important traits in life.
But it struck me this morning that many of us big people stop dropping ourselves off at pre-school. What I mean by that is we avoid situations where we might want to throw an anxiety tantrum but that we know will be good for us over the long run. We’ve spent years seeking out patterns / places / relationships that are the most comfy for us. This is ok because life has a lot of difficulties as it is (getting old, paying taxes, dying) but still, we would all benefit from taking ourselves back to our first days at pre-school now and again.
So here is the Fear Project homework I’m giving to myself this month and I’m inviting y’all to join me. Pretend you’re your own parent and try this:
1.) As your own parent, first love yourself for the amazing, quirky, well-intentioned, imperfect being you are. And really feel that love just like you love your child (or can imagine loving your child). That’s real. You’re lovable just as you are.
2.) But once you’re done with the good self lovin’, think honestly about a few areas you would like to see yourself do better. Maybe you get sweaty palms at dinner parties and you’d like just be able to just be yourself and crack some silly jokes. Maybe being alone in silence makes you panic because you start to hear your own thinking. Maybe you’re scared of being creative because you decided at a young age that you’re a terrible artist. Whichever the case, commit to dropping yourself off at pre-school at least once a week this month. If you fear silence and loneliness, try sitting alone somewhere beautiful for 15 minutes with a cup of tea and just breathing. If you get sweaty palms at dinner parties, try throwing one this month with just a few people and commit to staying mindful through it so you see where your trigger points are.
3.) Whatever you decide to do, set up zero expectations for the outcome. I’ve dropped Kaifas off at pre-school hundreds of times. Sometimes he cries. Sometimes he doesn’t. But over the course of a year, I see growth regardless of the fact that he still throws a fit sometimes. We humans grow slowly. So be patient with yourself and know that by pushing boundaries, you are expanding through fear and toward more of the good stuff – peace, love, joy, courage, and compassion.
Had a dream last night that a polar bear was chasing me through the wild. He was batting and kicking me. I was terrified, but at some point I decided to just let go of the fear and face him straight on. Suddenly, he stopped attacking! And when I asked him why, he said it was because his instincts are trained to attack fear. Now, I’m not so sure this would have happened with a real polar bear, but it does seem to be a principle that humans and animals have an unconscious instinct to shun or even attack those who are afraid. Predators prey on the afraid because there is less of a chance they’ll be injured. When searching for mates or friends or employees — even if we have compassion for the afraid — we sense apprehension and fear and ultimately don’t trust it because we know fear is wild and unpredictable. We’re all afraid and nervous from time to time, and those who have read The Fear Project know I spend a lot of time talking about how to use good fear to your advantage. But this dream reminded me that when you’re doing something difficult, you don’t have to trust the fear as intuition. The fear will be there if you’re venturing into something new, but feeding it only makes the polar bear more ferocious. Facing it down will almost certainly yield unexpected results.
Like sea anemones
Battered by the brine
A heart will close and open
Retract and bloom
How natural to feel shut down
To be afraid
And how natural
That all nourishment
Comes with vulnerability
Arms stretched wide
Toward day or night
Sometimes when when we’re caught in the darkest storm waves and feel the most helpless, we’re actually being brought to the deepest insight. Here, Kai the sea turtle is not only caught in some terrifying waves. He’s sleeping!
But he’s about to wake up and see his life in a new light. And his new way of seeing will change the lives of turtles everywhere.
Turtles Don’t Surf will be printed in October folks. Get your pre-order on