I think everyone is feeling a little skittish since watching the multiple angle drama that unfolded at Jeffreys Bay during the final of the J-Bay Open 2015.
Three times world champion Mick Fanning disappeared under the water and, for a collective moment, we all assumed the worst. But, next thing you know, Mick was on all fours on the back of a jet ski, and despite breathing a sigh of relief, somewhere in the back of our minds a new demon was born. One that will be difficult to shake for some time, if not forever. It’s not like we didn’t think about sharks before, but this. This is different. If one of our surfing heroes was as vulnerable as Mick proved to be on that picture perfect South African morning, then what lies in wait for us? What about the fact that Mick spotted another shark on his very first paddle out since the incident.
It’s easy to say, well, only 5 people die per year as a result of shark attacks. In 2014 there were just 130 reported interactions between humans and sharks and only 72 of these were considered unprovoked. 50% of shark incidents tend to involve surfers and this is unsurprising, for we’re an easy target. A big old fish flake bobbing up on the surface, just waiting to be… have you ever seen what happens when a goldfish spots a fish flake. Gulp.
When you’re out there all alone – or perhaps even in a crowd – that image of the fin and tail slicing through the water behind Mick is not your friend. That image of him scrambling onto his board and then disappearing again beneath the surface. Your fear of sharks will niggle at you, and if you allow it to grow, the niggle becomes chit chat, and chit chat is exactly what ruins our experience of surfing– and of life.
Chit chat is precisely what the practice of meditation is designed to eliminate: that never-ending stream of generally worthless self-talk that permeates its way through our present moment. This noise results in something like the fear of death becoming an insidious killer of the joy we should otherwise experience doing what many of us live for, namely surfing. So how does one face the demon and return to the wonderland that is the ocean without fear of attack by a grey and white monster?
I believe the solution is to face the monster first and come to terms with the worst-case scenario. This may involve visualising the shark attack experience from your own perspective, acknowledging the potential that this experience may happen to you and then accepting one key aspect of the surfing experience: death is very close when you are in the ocean. Humans have evolved over millennia to be terranean creatures, suited to forests and plains. So returning to our ancestral home leaves us more vulnerable than in virtually any other environment. We need to face, accept and even embrace the possibility of death.
But before getting all morbid and visualising your grisly demise, step back and accept death as a natural part of life. The benefits of this acceptance extend far beyond the time you spend in the water.
Once you have achieved freedom from the fear of death, there is very little left to fear. And as soon as you are living a fearless life, you have been given a ticket to enjoy a fulfilled life. Because if you embrace every moment for all its potential and act with curiosity and spontaneity, rather than calculation and manipulation, you’ll find you become a creative person, and creativity is the highest form of religion. It is after all the base nature of nature. Nature casts out patterns and in a great, throbbing effervescence these patterns become new patterns, whether bundles of atoms magnetised into a unified energy or the forces that move them around.
Flowers do not fear their own mortality, neither do trees or stars or lions. When conditions are right, these entities exude power and beauty and they flourish; and when conditions are wrong, they wilt and fade or explode and die away, without tears or grief.
A shark attack is one way that your life may come to an abrupt halt. There are many other ways. Instead of being fearful that a creature may come and end your life too soon, be fearful that you’re not living your life to its full potential. Paddle harder, paddle faster. Be a lion and show nature your fearless creativity. We have only a blink of an eye in terms of time in this place. We should make sure that our time is spent with eyes wide open, not in fear, but in love with the present moment and all of the infinite gifts that flow forth to those who dare to look.
Get back out there and catch some waves. Or if you discover you no longer love surfing, then do something else. But whatever you do, make sure you do it well.