I thought I was just learning to Surf… turns out I was learning how to live.
This series illustrate 10 life lessons I learned form surfing.
Trust Your Instinct
Full Moon Surf
Controlling my fear of dark water was only the first challenge to full moon surfing. The second challenge is catching a wave when you can’t see them coming.
As I’ve said before we were really blessed with perfect first time full moon surfing conditions. The waves were about 3 feet, and long waves, good for long-boarding in the day time, but challenging for doing it at night.
In the moonlight, you can only somewhat make out the contour of upcoming waves. Perceiving a peak is mostly guess work, estimating how far it is, well, that’s impossible.
This was a really good exercise for wave reading practice because it forced me to rely on semi-blind intuition. Instinct if you will.
What do I mean by instinct?
Instinct is subconscious knowledge.
That’s how I see it. But how do you develop such knowledge?
Believe it or not we all respond to things all the time that we might not actually be conscious of having perceived; such subconsciously perceived stimuli are called subliminal stimuli. (some of you might know this from subliminal messages, you know the kind you get when you play records backwards, or the ones they throw in Disney movies)
Most of the time we ignore our “instinctual” responses to these subliminal stimuli because it all sort of runs on automatic. A movie places a product (like an ice cold coke) in a scene and you take another sip, like a robot, from the 2 litter cup in your cup holder without even noticing.
That’s what I’m calling instinct; it’s a response you learned from something you didn’t even know you perceived…
It doesn’t always have to be automatic, or negative.
If we make ourselves aware of our instinctual responses, we can actually follow the trail back to the original stimulus we don’t remember noticing. Also, we can take control of our response. If I realize all of a sudden I take a sip of coke every time I see one in the movie, I can think about it next time. “Wait a sec, before I take that sip, do I actually want more coke right now?”
I spent most of my life running on automatic–from subliminal cues in the world around me, to the path my life was following–and a lot of it wasn’t really very conscious.
Having done studies in psychology I knew of these subliminal stimuli and instinctual responses, but I didn’t really believe in them very much. Not that I didn’t believe in them in the sense that you do or don’t believe in God, or Aliens; I had no doubt it was real.
No I didn’t believe in it like you don’t believe in your drunk uncle, in the “I believe in you, Son” sort of sense.
I didn’t TRUST my intuition, I didn’t believe it could do anything for me other than muddle everything and confuse my much more logical, pragmatic, useful, conscious decisions based on consciously perceived stimuli.
Before the full moon surf sess I had already started surrendering and making a lot of decisions based on instinct; yet I had done all of that out of desperation. Everything I had tried had failed, so I started going with this wishy-washy-fate-like thing I felt but couldn’t describe, just to see where it went.
But that night, something changed. If I wanted to catch something I had to trust in that thing that told me that a wave was coming but didn’t believe in. Now I really had no choice but to believe in it.
I still don’t know how it knew, maybe I subconsciously saw the faintest of peaks and paired it with the sound of the approaching waves. Maybe when you can’t see at all your brain is better at using your other senses unbeknownst to your conscious perception. Or maybe it’s something more mysterious.
Regardless, I felt completely blind, yet I trusted that gut feeling that told me a wave was coming, and every time I paddled for it, there the wave came, right when I expected it. HOW FUN!!
When you trust it you allow yourself to be in tune with it.
I think we’re a very visual culture, so it’s tough to break through to understanding something that isn’t visual.
In a sense, i feel like we even use our hearing and touch in a visual way, we use them mostly to “see” where things are in three dimensions with relation to us.
Smell and taste are a bit different, they’re much more emotional. We use them mostly in a way that tells us what is or isn’t good to ingest, we have “gut” reaction to them. A smell can make us want to throw up, but a smell can also make us weak at the knees if it’s the perfume of someone we used to know a long time ago.
We know if a smell is “good” or if it’s “bad” even if we’re never smelled that specific smell before, but we’re still aware of having sensed something, so we’re more likely to trust that over a broader undefined “intuition.” Instinct, in fact, is a bit more subtle.
In an inexplicable way, when you trust in your instinctual knowledge, you now KNOW exactly what your next move should be, but you don’t know WHY, and therefore don’t normally trust it.
By trusting it you open yourself up to the possibility that you have more subtle senses that you can use as real tools, just like sight.
Being in tune with it means you can develop it.
It only takes once to feel it and you can no longer can ignore it.
It’s a real thing.
It’s as if you opened your eyes one day whilst they had been closed your whole life, you couldn’t ignore that you can now see. Well once you trust your intuition enough to let it correctly predict a wave is coming, all of a sudden you’re aware of what a subliminal cue feels like.
It might manifest itself differently for everyone, or for different situations, but for me, that evening, I became aware of a sense that was more than the sum of its parts.
Before I was even conscious of having seen a shadow, felt a pull in the water, heard a distant rumble or felt the gentle breeze that precedes the coming of a wave, I was paddling for it.
I don’t have to know why I know the wave is coming, but by trusting it and responding to it, I am reinforcing my response to this subliminal cue. I am developing instinct as a tool, one just as useful and real as sight.
This is the hardest lesson to summarize because it’s hard to describe a colour no one’s ever seen. but because all of my normal senses were shut out the night we went full moon surfing, I had to rely on my intuition, whatever that really is.
I have my own theories as to how it all works, but feeling is more important that understanding and now that I know what intuition feels like, I can trust it and use it in other parts of my life.
I’m not going to lie, when the other senses turn back on it’s tough to listen to and continue to trust my intuition.
It’s like it gets lost under all of the other senses and I really have to listen hard to develop it.
Sometimes you listen better when your eyes are closed.
I don’t recommend relying solely on intuition, but it’s another tool to allow one to be more aware of their surroundings, which is next week’s lesson in 10 life lessons I learned from surfing.