Dropping Anchor 🌊
On surfing and exploring the unconscious
The wind is blowing strongly from the South East. It’s 9:30 on a Tuesday morning. Most people are at work, but a small group drifts in the cold South Atlantic, waiting for the next set of waves to roll in. We don’t know each other, but there is camaraderie in our common purpose. I paddle towards an oncoming wave with a tinge of hesitation and fear. I dig my arms deep into the water to gain speed to catch up with the wave. Everything clicks into place and the wave's energy lifts my board. I push up to my feet and fall through the air as the wave hollows out below me. With a burst of speed and power, I am gliding across the face of the wave.
Despite all the raw energy around me, everything is strangely still. I am in a state of suspended animation where only primal emotions register in my mind. I drive faster and faster down the line until I shift my weight to my front leg, lean back, and sink the board's rail into the water. All the momentum I have gathered pulls me through a deep carve until I turn back towards the open face of the wave.
After this burst of energy, the wave dissipates. I kick off and paddle out towards the back line again. The entire experience lasts for less than a minute, but I have been transported to another reality somewhere between conscious life and a meditative realm. For that fleeting moment, nothing else in the world matters. I am present.
In between these flashes of brilliance, surfing affords an inordinate amount of time to sit in the ocean and look at the horizon. All that time alone in the elements has become a vital part of my adventures into the unconscious. The ocean's vastness is a true refuge and dilutes a certain sense of self.
I used to feel ashamed of the amount of time I spent surfing. It’s one reason why I have resisted writing about surfing. Riding waves can be a lot of things but all of them require large amounts of time that most people don’t have.
In fact, riding waves makes up a surprisingly small amount of the time I spend out surfing. Most of my time is spent thinking about surfing, looking at weather charts, reading forecasts, talking with friends about which spots will be best on which swell, considering which board to use for the conditions, driving to different surf spots, putting on and taking off wetsuits, paddling around the lineup to get in the right position and, finally, reflecting on good sessions in the sea. Wallace J Nichols, the author of Blue Mind, argues that these activities “keep us anchored to the blue mind, a mildly meditative state of calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.”
The power of the sea moving you forward through walls of liquid with increasing speed is something that can’t be captured in words. It has to be experienced to be understood. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, this feeling is deeply connected to a sense of awe. Being in the presence of something vast that transcends ourselves is a surefire way to inspire a deep sense of awe.
Where riding waves was once an unrivaled experience, now I am always in the presence of something vast and transcendent: my own mind. The crux is remaining grounded while exploring these vast regions of the mind. Religious Jews say you can’t start learning Kabbalah until you have passed the age of 40 and have at least two children. The content is so ethereal that you need an anchor to the “real” world so that you don’t lose your mind.
It’s strange to think that surfing could be my anchor to the world. Yet, gliding across the face of a wave in a state of meditative calm is the perfect companion to the more robust adventures into the unconscious. If you want to get serious about going inside, you need to find your anchor.
This is another installment in my series on Carl Jung and how his ideas are influencing my personal journey of individuation. The series will culminate with a long essay I have written for The New Fatherhood about parenting, psychedelics, and Jung. I am told that essay is going live on the 5th of July. For now, the comment section is open and I would love to hear from you. See you next week.