Learning to Surf

Photo credit: Alamy


The caption accompanying this delightful picture of Snoopy is:

“I think I’ve discovered the secret of life—you just hang around until you get used to it.”

–Charles M. Schulz

And what does surfing Snoopy have in common with William Blake?

“Man has no body distinct from his soul, for that called body is a portion of soul discern’d by the five senses, the chief inlets of soul in this age,” writes Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Life cultivates soul.  The more we live, the more soul.  Soul is deep knowing, deep seeing.   We experience soul in those moments when the clouds of self-absorbed ignorance part—moments when we suddenly perceive the deeper truth of reality.  There is always a deeper truth.  In the Theravada Buddhist tradition, this is insight (vipassana-bhavana).   According to the scholar monk Bhikkhu Bodhi insight is  fathoming “the truth of our being in the only sphere where it is directly accessible to us, namely, in our own experience.”

There is no path or way apart from the body.  To stretch the surfing metaphor, this realization has been crashing over me like a wave.  The body is the way.  Insight means seeing into life.  The door to understanding opens inward:  we must stand under or experience the truth.  We must embody it.

Once when the Buddha was gravely ill he asked a monk to recite the seven Factors of Enlightenment to him. This cured him.Why would that be?  I think it is because remembering the seven factors are a way of opening the door of life, leading us to the wellsprings of interest, energy, joy.

In Buddhism, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment are:

  • Mindfulness i.e. to remember there is a deeper truth, that we are fish swimming in water.
  • Investigation, i.e. to be interested in that deeper truth.
  • Energy
  • Joy or rapture
  • Relaxation or tranquility
  • Concentration
  • Equanimity, to be able to face life in all its vicissitudes—the art of surfing.


During vipassana or insight meditation, remembering one of the seven factors may be an antidote to a particular state—remembering or allowing the first four, mindfulness, investigation, energy, and joy are medicine against sleepiness, depression, sloth.

Actually, according to the Buddha mindfulness is “always useful” –remembering that there is a deeper truth makes awakening possible.  But it is also important to remember if we are to awaken, it must happen in this very body, in this very life.

The Sanskrit word virya, the word for the factor of energy means “hero.” In Sanskrit, virya came to refer to the power of a great warrior to overcome his enemies. The English word virile evolved from virya.

Waking up does take courageous or heroic effort.  But it doesn’t necessarily mean buckling ourselves into armor and thrusting away our feelings.  Just the opposite.  As Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron writes in The Wisdom of No Escape: “It isn’t easy and it’s accompanied by a lot of fear, a lot of resentment, and a lot of doubt. That’s what it means to be human, that’s what it means to be a warrior. You go through the process of taking off the armor that you might have had some illusion was protecting you from something only to find that actually it’s shielding you from being fully alive and fully awake. Then you go forward and you meet the dragon and every meeting shows you where there’s still some armor to take off. Take refuge in the courage and the potential of fearlessness of removing all the armor that covers awakeness.”

The great paradox is that it is only by hanging around living that we can wake up.  It is only in via this body that we can find the deeper truth, that we can have in-sight, that we can under-stand.

3 thoughts on “Learning to Surf

  1. I can really relate to this post, I discovered I had built so many walls to protect myself and which had actually stopped me from living life to the full. One of the greatest realisations was this year when I realised I had been having panic attacks in relation to formal social events. My way of handling them had been to create an argument and because YOU had upset me so much, well I was too upset to go. I still don’t do formal social events-can only change so much but I have stopped creating arguments around them :-)

    1. I can relate to what you share, Fiona. It’s an amazing moment of freedom, realizing that we can relate to life in a new way…at least for moments.

  2. Hi Tracy

    Snoopy seems to be surfing the wave as it involves further into creation. However there is the possibility of consciously transcending the involving force of the Great Wave and using its force for the purpose of conscious evolution

    It seems that we are as Paul describes in Romans 7:

    21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

    I am pulled by two forms of authority. One is pulling me down into creation and the other attracts me to the source of my being.

    I am planning to write something on “Authority” for the April American Weil Society colloquy described here:


    Of course Simone referred to the downward mechanical pull as gravity and the evolutionary pull as the result of “grace.”

    The American Weil Society is really a labor of love. That is why annual dues are a whopping $12. But for those concerned with the natural relationship between science and spirit, Simone’s influence is very valuable. IMO it is good for bright young people to meet older people and discuss Simone’s life and ideas. She provokes many meaningful questions.

    Anyhow, if anyone would like to post some useful thoughts on resistance that opposes conscious surfing, perhaps I can use it for my contribution. Of course anyone wishing to join AWS is welcome to do so.

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