Surfing the Waves of Emotion

Today I want to share a little insight that came to me while conversing with a fellow Business School member earlier in this week.


I was speaking about the personal challenge I have as a recurring theme in my life since as far back as I can remember, which is that I feel profoundly sensitive to the emotional vibrations of the people, and even animals, around me.


In many instances, especially when I was smaller, but even today still, I would be touched emotionally by something seemingly trivial to most others, with my eyes easily watering up at the sound of a particularly entrancing piece of music, or bursting out into uncontrollable laughter at the sight of a silly comical skit on YouTube, for instance.


While those little moments are indeed trivial and nothing to be concerned about, it also happens that it can lead me to spiral down easily into a mild case of depression after having had a seemingly superficial argument or simple disagreement with someone that I allowed myself to become connected to emotionally to a relatively significant degree.


As a result, I generally tend to avoid constant close contact with people, mainly as a manner of “coping” with the intensity of feelings coursing through my body on a regular basis several times a week, sometimes even bouncing up and down within a single day.  Not because I dislike being with or around people.  But simply because I feel too deeply and then get frustrated, sad, or angry when others seem to be completely oblivious to the depth of emotional dynamic that actually exists out in the world.


More often than not throughout my life, I’ve had the tendency to degrade myself as being weak and over-sensitive as a result, wishing that I could be more icy and unaffected by the torrents of emotion that seem to bombard me on a daily basis.


However, by way of relatively recent self-transformational work I’ve done in the form of a series of workshops and in-depth self-inquiry, I’ve come to embrace this aspect of myself more as a gift, rather than a curse, and I am getting to the point of realizing and knowing deep down that, instead of running away and hiding from this, I have the opportunity to put it on show for others as an example of what is possible when one fully embraces one’s own eccentricities.


The challenge aspect of becoming easily affected by emotional turbulence in a way that can negatively affect my own performance in other, more concrete areas of my life, has been brought to my awareness once again recently, and in particular in terms of my current study of business and productivity.  I came to the realization that, left unchecked, the torrents of emotion can easily become a source of procrastination and distraction from actually maintaining the desired level of productivity which, in turn, can lead to frustration, sadness, and anger.


When sharing about this, the consequent conversations I’ve had with fellow students on this topic has revealed to me a realization of an alternative way of looking at this “problem”, one that may very well lead to a much more efficient way of “coping” with the challenges so presented.


The realization came to me in the form of a metaphor (as many epiphanies tend to present themselves to me regularly), which goes as follows:


If the basis of physiological causes for the experience of emotion can be distilled to the fact that they boil down to hormones circulating through the bodily blood stream, being mostly liquid in form, then the experience of feeling those emotions can be likened to being immersed in an ocean, the person experiencing the emotion floating along within the ocean of emotion.

Furthermore, it then follows that a state of being of calm contentment can be likened to a calm, windless, sunny day out on smooth waters deep at sea.  The torrents of anger or deep sadness can then be visualized as waves rising from within the depths of this ocean, fueled on by external forces that act upon the ocean, such as storms from above, or earth quakes from below.

Though I’m no sailor myself, it is well known from the many stories told across the world that in such instances, the most successful sailors that have been caught in such storms and survived, did so when they stopped fighting against the raging waters and instead turned their ships to ride the currents and massive waves in harmony, becoming one with the storm, in a sense.

In the same way, the most successful pro surfers are able to catch and ride the biggest, most majestic waves, not by fighting against them, but by riding with them, in harmony, harnessing the full power of the wave and allowing it to carry them as high as it will, riding with the wave, instead of against it.

So too, I believe and have come to realize, we should look at emotion.  That wave of anger that comes flooding through your body when a taxi cuts in front of you in traffic will only throw you off balance if you try and go against it by either denying that it’s there or fighting it down by attempting to suppress it.  Instead, see the wave, feel it, become it, and ride it out with all the glory and passion that it presents, beautifully, allowing it to run its course and subside naturally and without effort.

The same holds true for other waves of emotion.  The art lies in surfing the waves of emotion majestically, allowing yourself to embrace it fully and flow with it, without resisting, which will allow the wave to unfold in all of its own majestic, natural beauty.  

In this way, Anger becomes Passion.  Sadness becomes Self-love.  Judgment becomes Empathy.  Hurt becomes Compassion.  Pain becomes Growth.  Fear becomes Courage.


I can not say how this transformative embracing of your emotional waves will look for you personally, and honestly, I can not truly say that they will look the same for me every time either.  Sometimes a massive, once in a lifetime swell comes along and catches us by surprise completely and we’re simply not ready for it, that leads us to be toppled off of our board and get near annihilated under the crushing torrent of turbulence underneath, instead of riding the crest of the wave in full glory of its majestic beauty.


And that’s OK.  The trick is to not judge yourself for it.  Instead, learn from it.  See it for what it was and how it happened, and know that next time, you will be more ready for it.

Surfing is, after all, an acquired skill, not an inborn gift.  Even the best surfers in the world still tumble and fall on a regular basis.


So, treat your emotional waves as a surfer would treat the rising and falling waves in the ocean.  Let the small ones slide by and simply ride them out peacefully, without resisting, but look for those big ones and throw yourself upon them fully, riding them to their crests in their full glory.


But most importantly, have fun and keep learning as you go, without being critical of yourself along the way.  It’s all just water, after all.


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